Featured Review: openSUSE 12.1 Vs. Ubuntu 11.10

Ubuntu is considered as a bit of a reject of the Linux distributions to people of my generation. Most of us grew up with distro’s like Suse and Redhat being the de facto standard, with Debian being the go to server iteration of Linux and self compile distributions line Gentoo, Slackware and LFS (Linux from Scratch) being something to do instead of slitting your wrists – although many people did and probably do resort to that after having more problems then they can handle – or if you had an entire Christmas holiday to spare (and no friends). Up until the birth of Ubuntu, Linux was the stable of either ex Unix admins, technically savvy engineers – like myself – or brave and dismayed Windows users that were looking for greener pastures. Then Ubuntu came along with it’s new, and some would say, un-Linux like ethos of hiding things from the user and dictating what could and could not be done. It also came out championing GNOME which by this time had fallen out of favour with most of the hardcore Linux base.

So who will win this match up? Read on to find out.

Round 1: The Installers.

The differences in ideals is evident even at this early stage. openSUSE has a more feature filled installer than Ubuntu. It has options that allow you configure pretty much everything. Right down to the partition layout and the advanced options for the many compatible file systems. If you choose to run with the default options, you will end up with a full featured operating system running Either GNOME3 or KDE4 (there are options to install XFCE and LXDE as well). It will even install all the latest patches for you if have an active internet connection. In places the openSUSE installer does look a little daunting and in an effort to hide some of the more advanced options for the unwary user it does get a little cluttered.

Ubuntu in contrast, seems very overly simplified. I was unable to configure the partition layout or select what programs I wanted to be installed and much of the locale configuration is done while files are actively being copied which is an interesting choice but on my test bed it just made the interface stutter horribly. Also, when it came to configure the user accounts I was unable to use upper case letters, which makes for a very untidy looking login screen. I could say more about it but there is so little to see and interact with there isn’t much I can say.

Round 2: First Impressions

For my openSUSE installation I picked KDE4, which is my personal preference, but there is no choice in Ubuntu so we got GNOME3. Both desktop environments are very different to each other. KDE has always gone for a more traditional, Windows-esk interface, with a task bar like panel along the bottom and a start menu like list of install application on the left. With KDE4 though plasma was introduce and is a very interesting and unique take on the main section of the desktop. It’s very similar to aero in Windows 7 but much more fluid although I will say at first it’s a bit difficult to get your head around as things like icons are treated as desktop widgets but once you get used to it, it’s a very powerful thing

Unity is a very different animal and I will say now that I find it confusing and difficult to work with if I want to do anything more complex than browse the web or write a document. Canonical has also made some interesting choices with the stock interface. While making it easy to access office, web, email and media applications they have also chosen to place shortcuts to the system settings panel, software updater and their software repository browser. Which would seem to contradict their wish to protect the end user from anything that could be potentially harmful to the everyday workings of the system.

Round 3: System configuration

Traditionally Linux distributions have been hard to configure, requiring lots of work in the command line to get everything just so. openSUSE is still very guilty of this. Although it has the YaST system manger, YaST is now over 10 years old and attempts to update it have not really gone far enough to bring it up to a modern standard both visually and functionally have not gone any where near far enough. It still feels and looks clunky and the configuration applets suffer from a large amount of unfriendliness and most of the Suse users I know will still dart for the CLI when there is a problem. Ubuntu excels here. The Software Centre both looks and feels like an early version of the android market to it and because of those odd interface choices most the settings are but a click away. Although, more advanced settings like the system services appear to be well hidden from view.

Summary: What’s the score on the doors?

Both distributions are very capable and well polished pieces of software – Ubuntu more in some respects – but we are effectively comparing apples to oranges here. Each distro is aimed at two completely different sectors of the Linux community. openSUSE is aimed at the hardcore, more technical user and it shows in the areas where those users want it to. Whereas, Ubuntu is aimed at the newcomer to Linux. The sort of person that only switches their pc on for a couple of hours a night and just wants to check their emails, surf the web and maybe listen to music. The type of user that doesn’t want to spend hours tweaking every tweak-able thing so it’s just so. They want it to just work.

So was that friend that recommended you try Ubuntu on the money? That all depends on which person you are, how much you dislike Windows and how well you can adapt to change.

Install or Not Scorecard - openSUSE 12.1

Install or Not Scorecard - Ubuntu 11.10

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