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OpenSUSE 11.2: A promising future for the Linux Desktop?

Recently, OpenSUSE 11.2 has been released. Although this is a completely open source project, the additions and new features of OpenSUSE 11.2 do give an indication of what's to expect in the future enterprise versions of SUSE

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Linux. Some of the desktop-related features are especially promising.

If you still think about driver problems when thinking about a Linux desktop, think again. Modern Linux kernels offer a broad support for different drivers straight from the installation media, and in case a driver isn't offered by default, chances are the hardware vendor offers an easy solution to install it. Take for example the video card in your laptop or desktop computer. Major vendors such as ATI and NVidia don't have open source drivers, so after installation the 800x600 resolution from the default generic VESA driver is what you will see. But, in a two step procedure you can download and install the driver from your vendor to OpenSUSE.

With regard to communication on the network, OpenSUSE has taken one of the last hurdles. Wired and WiFi networking were available for some time already, with OpenSUSE 11.2, support for wireless 3G networking has matured as well. In past versions, there was some limited support for USB dongles already, in this version the 3G card integrated in your laptop also works.

Software management made easy
In the past, software management on Linux was the best reason to stay on Windows. Current Linux distributions, including OpenSUSE have made software management easy. The basis for software management is offered by the repository system, basically a list of locations where your computer should look for new software packages. From the repository, your distribution will download a list of all the available software, which makes it easy to search for and to install new software. In OpenSUSE, the zypper tool is used for this purpose. Using this tool, you can easily look for software packages that you want to install, using the zypper search command, or install new packages using zypper install. And in case you don't want to use command line, you can do the same thing using graphical utilities such as SUSE's versatile configuration tool YaST, or the more generic packagekit utility that you will find on other distributions as well.

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Easy command line
The OpenSUSE command line has a very useful new feature. If you make a mistake in the name of the command or try to run a command that hasn't been installed, OpenSUSE will inform you that the command was not found and invite you to run the cnf (command not found) tool, which helps find the package containing the command you want to run. Once found, the only thing you need to do to get started with this command, is to install it, using a tool like zypper install. By adding this feature, OpenSUSE has succeeded in making the command line a lot easier to use.

Ready for business
OpenSUSE is not an enterprise Linux release. It is the open source version of one of the most succesful Linux distributions which shows the future enhancements in its Enterprise version, SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED). As such, OpenSUSE 11.2 is promising. This also comes from the method that Novell is using to develop new features for SLED. Major customers ask for new features and Novell starts developing it. Some of the new features are offered first in the enterprise version of SUSE, but most features are added to OpenSUSE first, so that the Open Source community can test them and find out if they really work. With the enterprise customer in mind, the OpenSUSE project has created a distribution that is better than any of the SUSE releases from the past.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sander van Vugt is an author and independent technical trainer, specializing in Linux since 1994. Vugt is also a technical consultant for high-availability (HA) clustering and performance optimization, as well as an expert on SLED 10 administration. 

This was first published in January 2010

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