The world of Linux and open-source operating systems is populated with what seems like an absurd number of competing options, with new ones popping up all the time. And yet, owing to the depth of their corporate and community support, a few particular Linux distributions command the bulk of our attention.
One such distribution, Novell's OpenSUSE, reached its 11.1 release late last year, packed with the (at times, overreaching) desktop feature ambition on which the SUSE name was built, but also enhanced with the sort of community-embracing capabilities that the distribution will require to hang on to its prominence.
In particular, OpenSUSE 11.1 is the first release to ship since Novell's OpenSUSE Build Service hit Version 1.0. The Build Service enables users to create, compile and host software packages for OpenSUSE, as well as for several other Linux distributions, such as SUSE Linux Enterprise, Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Fedora, and Ubuntu.
As for the distribution itself, OpenSUSE 11.1 ships with a slate of freshened open-source components, including Version 126.96.36.199 of the Linux kernel, the Firefox 3 Web browser, the OpenOffice.org 3 productivity suite and the GNOME 2.24.1 desktop environment. OpenSUSE 11.1 also ships with KDE 4.1.3 and KDE 3.5.10, but I stuck to GNOME for my testing.
As in previous SUSE releases, OpenSUSE 11.1 seems to err on the side of complexity (or bloat, depending on your point of view) when it comes to packing in its desktop-focused features. For instance, my OpenSUSE installation gave me more configuration options for setting up my display settings than I'm accustomed to seeing from Red Hat or Ubuntu releases, but I had to use a combination of two separate, partially overlapping display settings tools to arrive at my desired setup.
In any case, OpenSUSE 11.1 is an excellent general-purpose Linux distribution that's more focused on providing a friendly end-user experience than is the more leading-edge oriented Fedora. Although I still prefer the complete community support, software availability and system administration package that Ubuntu Linux offers, OpenSUSE 11.1 is a very compelling desktop option in its own right, and certainly worthy of consideration.
OpenSUSE 11.1 comes in versions for x86, AMD64 and PowerPC systems, and can be freely downloaded here. What's more, the x86 and AMD64 flavors of the distribution are also available in a $60 boxed retail version that comes with 90-day installation support, physical media and a printed "Getting Started" guide.
I tested the x86 version of OpenSUSE 11.1 on a Lenovo ThinkPad T60 and on a virtual machine running under Sun Microsystems' VirtualBox 2.0 desktop virtualization application. The distribution supported my hardware without issue, including suspend-to-disk (hibernate) and suspend-to-RAM power management scenarios.