Tuesday, October 16, 2007

OpenSUSE 10.3: Does it satisfy?

In a way.

I'm coming from a more Ubuntu climate, so immediately I see some regressions:
  • The main installer requires a DVD, not a CD.
  • The CD installers are split between KDE, Gnome, and Non-Free programs. This wouldn't be a problem, except...
  • The hardware detection, particularly for networking, fails where Ubuntu and Puppy succeed. And once I find a decent (wired) ethernet connection, avoiding that problem, I discover that...
  • The software repositories are crap compared to Debian & family.

Every full-grown Debian tribesman and -woman should know this: You have been coddled with your software repositories. OpenSUSE's main repository has enough basic software (and an inappropriate amount of Mono stuff) to overflow a DVD, and that's about where it ends.

To manage additional software with the built-in package manager (bundled with the mighty YaST), there's a helpful "Community Packages" module in YaST, which makes it easy-peasy to connect to a few more community-maintained repositories, as well as the official Gnome and KDE repositories. The catch is that these repositories also suck. For developers, there's little additional material in the semi-official community repositories that can't be found in the main or mostly-official repositories. Meanwhile, the searching and filtering mechanism gets a "meh," while adding and updating repositories seems to take an absurd amount of time compared to APT-based systems. If you're a (non-Mono) developer, this situation is a problem.

There's hope. To compensate for certain underwhelming package managers, Linspire Inc. created Click 'n' Run, a (now) cross-distro packaging system. Unfortunately, it's taken some time to get off the ground -- it's currently in alpha, after a year or so in the announced-with-fanfare-but-still-vaporware stage -- and it doesn't support OpenSUSE. However, the site does support Linspire's own distros, plus Ubuntu. Debian, Fedora, and OpenSUSE will also have supported CNR clients in... the future. Clearly CRN.com has high ambitions, but today, on OpenSUSE, they're just ambitions.

On the other hand, OpenSUSE does have YaST. And animals. In fact, that was the main thing my fiancée appreciated about these new distros I keep installing everywhere: so many exciting animals. She was transfixed by the green lizard guarding the KDE menu in OpenSUSE -- envious, you might say. Especially when it flashed red. Other animals in my menagerie are a Kerry beagle in the system tray, and a Pidgin pigeon on the quick launch applet.

I believe that as Gnome and KDE mature, and spawn their own tools for easy and error-resistant system administration, YaST will become increasingly unnecessary. For now, it's mighty handy for setting up a new system, particularly without an Internet connection for locating and reading the proverbial manual. Then again, in a perfect Linux, much of this would have already been ready to go after a fresh install. Another issue: the YaST configuration scripts occasionally tweak unrelated settings as YaST finishes up, resulting in occasional mysterious and disconcertingly Windows-like behavior.

Also, 10 points off for having a "My Computer" icon on ~/Desktop.

Let's say: If you were traumatized by Arch or Slackware, if you (deep inside) genuinely like having Windows on your desktop, if you just want to set up a Linux box and never fuss with it again, you might like OpenSUSE. But if you were deeply offended by OpenSUSE, if you want Linux in your morning coffee, you might like Arch. And if you just want a desktop that works, if you're feeling a little Gutsy, wait two more days and grab a copy of Ubuntu 7.10.