Since my first Linux experience was with OpenSuse 10.1 way back nearly ten months ago, I was eager to see what the latest 10.3 Alpha release (5) had to offer from Novell.
This was done with a bit of trepidation, however; if you're not aware, some months back Novell signed an agreement with Microsoft that allowed the latter to sell coupons redeemable for Novell products, at which time Microsoft promised not to sue any of Novell's customers for patent infringement.
Microsoft then went on to claim that Linux was infringing on 235 of its patents, though so far has refused to specify which exactly those 235 patents are, leading the greater bulk of the Linux community (with the minor exceptions of Xandros and Linspire) to scoff at said claims.
OpenSuse does put out an exceptional Linux distribution, so regardless of the political or legal implications, I decided to download and try out 10.3 Alpha 5, the latest release of OpenSuse.
Some significant differences since last installing this distro: the installer now comes in the form of an installable CD or a DVD, whereas previously one had only the option to download a DVD; Google has repositories available for updating 10.2 (and presumably this release in the future); Zenworks is no longer bogging down the overall responsiveness, having been replaced by zypper as an updater; the slab menu is default; and internet connectivity is much improved.
One another thing to mention is a couple of minor changes in the end user license agreement (EULA): some new terms, such as 'eternal souls', 'in the hereafter known as the damned' and 'first-born progeny' stood out. Just kidding.
The installer was much the same as in 10.2; the ability to truly micromanage what gets installed, while likely unnecessary for less seasoned users is a boon to those more experienced in the way of the Tux; just as before, the countdown clock on how long it will take to install varies wildly once installation begins, the initial read out being the most accurate--approximately sixteen minutes for the KDE CD installer.
Startup and shutdown times are much improved, and the installer is more reasonable about how much space it sets aside for root and user spaces; I was able to install it on a 5G partition (under vmware-server) using 700+M of ram--it ran respectably under those conditions, though I believe 1G of ram would be optimal for this distro.
OpenSuse is, in my view the most polished and professional looking Linux distro around. Now that they have eliminated the problems that plagued release 10.1, and improved on the minor shortcomings of 10.2, I fully expect 10.3 to be an exceptional product, when it comes out this fall.
Some of the major strengths of OpenSuse are its power management, the support for many languages and the ease of setting up non-English language input, particularly Asian languages, exceptional hardware and peripheral recognition, plus the ability to not get sued for using something other than Vista. OK, I made that last one up.
This is still an Alpha release, so don't even think of installing on your main machine--the best bet, if you really want to check it out, is the invaluable vmware-server, which allows you to run distros, Windows, and pretty much anything except OS X in a virtual environment, safe from the threat of malware (in the case of Windows) which you can shut down at a moment's notice. Once you've had your share of fun, you just chuck the file in the trash, and your hard drive space is reclaimed. It's a free download (for a short while longer) and available for OS X, Windows and most Linux distributions. If you are a distro-hopper, or just curious as to what's available in the world of open source, then there is no finer product around.
In the near future, I hope to look at DesktopBSD and the latest from Gentoo, all in the safety of a virtual machine. I eventually want to get around to checking out LinuxMint and DreamLinux, both of which have released major upgrades in the past few days. So many distros, so little time.