Anyone reading this blog (both of you) know I don't run Microsoft's proprietary OS better known as Windows in it's various forms. As such I use and test various open source operating systems ranging from Ubuntu to Arch and everything in between. It's rare that I am moved to comment and review any of them. As what some people would describe as an advanced user they all more or less work, with little differences in real world usability that necessitate a commentary.
A quick description of my test system and what I look for. All of my testing is done on a ThinkPad T61 with a full Intel system. Meaning all of my drivers are built into the kernel and I can make observations NOT based on some third party driver or conflict as is usually the case. This laptop I use is right in the Linux wheelhouse with complete open source driver support and should run FLAWLESSLY by default. Being able to remove hardware in my tests gives me a leg up as a distro can rise and fall under it's own powers without needless worrying if I have some hardware conflict. Now to the goodness.
I had been running xubuntu 12.04 on this laptop, which of all of the Ubuntu versions and derivatives I have tried is the easiest to get running on my meager hardware. Having tried almost all the Ubuntu "children" and their spawn I've settled on 12.04 in some flavor as my fallback, absolute MUST run now distro. Canonical does an excellent job with hardware detection and has a sensible base configuration to get up and running quickly.
On a whim I came across several review's and blog posts extolling the virtues of openSuse 12.3. Not one to shy away from bulldozing my HDD and starting from scratch I was surprisingly intrigued by some of the features they offer, and to give KDE a roll for the first time in a long time. It's been over 6 years since I ran a KDE based distro always deffering to my beloved XFCE or a gnome2 derivative. Lately though XFCE has been lagging in what I consider basic features (thunar.........why you no tabs?) and depending on the implementation has shown to be as bad a resource hog as Gnome shell.
I downloaded openSuse by torrent in short order, picking the live KDE version to give me an initial impression of what we were working with. Upon boot the only problem I had was not seeing my Wireless device. An Intel 3XXX series to be blunt. This wasn't surprising. For all the talk few distros see this device in a live environment (12.04 being the exception) and as such was a not unexpected development even if it was slightly disappointing. Other than that minor hiccup thing were all working exactly like one would expect. Two finger scrolling? check. Suspend? check. etc.
Once I was convinced openSuse would love my hardware I kicked off the install from the live environment. All proceeded as one could hope with a really nice install wizard that balances fine granular control with ease of use. All other distros should look long and hard look at openSuse's installer and do their best to try to match it's balance of control and simplicity. As such I have new base level installer to match the rest against. As of now all others are found wanting in various way's alternating between lack of control and ease of use. Kudo's to the openSuse team.
Post install was...eventful. On first boot my T61 hung at "loading initial ramdisk". A telltale sign the Grub config was borked. Knowing the LiveDVD was a good entity, I can only assume the live environment had some other config that it couldn't pass on to Grub during the actual install to bare metal. Undaunted I popped into the Grub file, passed the nomodeset command and booted to a recovery. In openSuse's defense it realized the issue, fixed it and I rebooted to my working install.
As a side note, this is NOT really acceptable in my opinion. My hardware, by choice, works flawlessly with Linux. Not seeing basic kernel modules is a serious flaw in this day and age. You can forget a new Linux convert being comfortable or even likely to stick around with such basic flaws in moving. If I was running a bumblebee or some other exotic GPU slack would be given. Running an Intel x3100 though none will be given.
After that though openSuse could teach every other distro what the Desktop is all about. Sensible and secure initial configurations? Check. FAST booting and responsive DE? God yes. Polished? To within an inch of it's life. From Yast to the studio to the best power management out of the box in Linux openSuse GETS the desktop like no other distro right now. GUI's for almost everything will make you a happy convert from the closed source world. It's balance of fine granular control over your system, with the ability to be lazy and make a couple clicks to accomplish the same task is quite simply brilliant. The amount of work openSuse put into making the desktop work for you vs. appealing to the mobile market has put all other distros in sharp relief to this user. Once I handled the piss poor Grub config, I find openSuse to stand head and shoulders above the rest of the Linux crowd for a desktop experience.
The final dilemma is how to rate openSuse 12.3. In one facet I am utterly disappointed. Not seeing basic Intel drivers, or being able to configure them properly is simply inexcusable today. I can't think of a single distro that would choke on this hardware other than openSuse 12.3. Shameful is the best way to describe it. Lest you think I am a solitary case, feel free to check the various bug reports via google. I am not an anomaly.
Once we get to the meat of it though, openSuse is a cut above the rest of the field. Unlike distros with old software (leaning on the false argument of stablility), or those interested in being a one size fits all solution to a question no one is asking this distro gets it. This one lets you work or play how you see fit. Looks good doing it quickly and gives you all the control you could want while being accessible to the most novice of users. Fix the install issues, and your really REALLY on to the best Linux has to offer on the desktop.