OpenSUSE Linux 12.1: A Flexible Front-Runner, in Pictures

With four bundled desktop options, this free Linux OS has something for everyone.

Packed with the Power of Choice

Choice is nothing if not abundant in the world of Linux distributions, but for openSUSE, it's a defining feature. No fewer than four desktop options come standard with the software's latest release, which is notable also for its winning power and stability, among many other features.

OpenSUSE may not get as much media attention as Ubuntu Linux, but that's not for lack of fans or compelling advantages. The Novell-sponsored software currently ranks at No. 4 on DistroWatch's popularity rankings, behind only Ubuntu, Mint, and Fedora. As a cousin to the award-winning SUSE Linux Enterprise offering, openSUSE has numerous advantages to recommend it, including not just four desktop choices but also a power-packed array of more than 1,000 applications, the new Snapper tool for file versioning, and OwnCloud integration.

The team behind openSUSE aims to make it “the easiest Linux for anyone to obtain and the most widely used Linux distribution,” in the project's own words. Will it succeed? Take a look, try it out, and decide for yourself.

A Popular Contender

The public eye might be focused more on Ubuntu Linux in recent months, as a result of some of the bold decisions that project has made, but openSUSE has long been a favorite choice for many Linux users. Dating back to 2006, the free and open source operating system is available in numerous languages, and it targets small businesses along with consumers and developers. The culmination of eight months of work, its latest stable release--version 12.1--came out in November.


Among the four desktop options offered in openSUSE 12.1 is GNOME 3.2, a recent iteration of the long-standing GNOME desktop many Linux users have become accustomed to. There's no denying the mobile-inspired GNOME 3 line has been more controversial than its predecessors; on the other hand, it also boasts a significant contingent of fans. And of course, in openSUSE 12.1, there are three alternatives for those seeking something else.

KDE 4.7

Second on hand among the desktop options in openSUSE 12.1 is KDE 4.7, the software that's renowned in the Linux world for its visual appeal. With a strong focus on usability, KDE offers a highly polished look along with a similarity to Windows that can be comforting for those making the transition to Linux. OpenSUSE 12.1 is actually the first major Linux distribution to ship both GNOME and KDE with color management, the openSUSE project says.

KDE's Gwenview

Part of KDE 4.7 is Gwenview, an image viewer that functions both as a standalone application and as an embedded viewer in the Konqueror Web browser. The KDE community's new tablet project, meanwhile--called Plasma Active--is not yet an integral part of openSUSE, but with version 12.1 it is available to tablet users. The project aims to integrate that component in the distribution's next release, it says.


A third desktop option in openSUSE 12.1 is Xfce, a simple and lightweight alternative to many of today's fuller-featured interfaces. With a small footprint and modest need for computing resources, Xfce was just recently updated to version 4.10, though that update isn't yet incorporated into openSUSE. Shown here is the Xfce desktop and main menu.


Last but not least among openSUSE 12.1's four desktop alternatives is LXDE, another lightweight option that's known for speed and energy savings. LXDE uses less CPU and RAM than other desktop environments, according to its makers, and so it is particularly suitable for cloud computers with low hardware specifications, including netbooks, mobile devices, and older computers.

Firefox and More

Mozilla's Firefox browser comes as a default part of openSUSE 12.1. Google's Chromium 17 is included in the software's standard repositories for the first time in this release as well. Also included in openSUSE are Mozilla's Thunderbird for email, the Banshee media player, Scribus for desktop publishing, and GIMP for image editing and retouching. More than 1,000 open source applications come with openSUSE, the project says.


Like most modern Linux distributions, openSUSE 12.1 includes LibreOffice as its office productivity software suite. After emerging as a fork of the widely used in late 2010, LibreOffice has been widely accepted as the default Microsoft Office alternative in popular distributions including Ubuntu Linux and Fedora Linux as well. The software is robust and power-packed with countless business-oriented features.


OpenSUSE 12.1 is the first Linux distribution to take advantage of the snapshot functionality in the upcoming btrfs Linux file system, the software's developers say. The distribution's brand-new Snapper tool, shown here, allows users to interface with this technology to view older versions of files and revert changes. Also included in openSUSE 12.1 are the systemd init system for a faster boot process and Google's Go programming language.


One of openSUSE's best-known features is YaST, an installation and configuration tool for managing tasks such as hard disk partitioning, system setup, RPM package management, online updates, network and firewall configuration, user administration, and more. New in openSUSE 12.1 is a fresh look for YaST thanks to new CSS themes now available for the software, which is designed to make it easy to customize your system.

OwnCloud Integration

In addition to being able to run directly on the Amazon EC2 cloud, openSUSE is the first Linux distribution to ship OwnCloud integrated right into the desktop, the project says. OwnCloud is an open source alternative to proprietary cloud storage services that gives users universal access to their data via any mobile device, workstation, or Web client. “OwnCloud is different from solutions like Google Docs, Dropbox, or Ubuntu One in that it lets you own the data,” the openSUSE developers explain.

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