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OpenSUSE 13.1: Oh look, a Linux with YOU in mind (and 64-bit ARMs)

Modest, reliable, not trying to be cool. Bit like Debian, then

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Review Linux distro OpenSUSE 13.1 is a modest but important update that concentrates on stability and overall polish.

There are quite a few new features - like the rewritten system configuration utility YaST, new developer tools even a new version of OpenSUSE for Raspberry Pi - but 13.1 is really focused on building a rock-solid Linux distro that "just works."

Recently released, OpenSUSE 13.1 is stable enough that Suse has deemed this an "Evergreen" release.

Evergreen is Suse-speak for a long-term release, and that means OpenSUSE 13.1 will be supported well beyond the usual 18 months, with security updates and important bug fixes coming for at least three years.

Part of the reason for the stability improvements revolves around OpenSUSE's automated testing tools. The OpenSUSE project sponsored a global bug fixing hackathon, which helped.

The Evergreen status is well deserved. OpenSUSE is always a stable distro – like Debian it prioritizes stability over bells and whistles – and in my testing OpenSUSE 13.1 has been exceptionally fast and stable, with no problems at all. That said, if you need proprietary Nvidia drivers, you may want to wait. At the time of writing there's no Nvidia repository available, though one is reportedly in the works.

OpenSuse 13.1 Yast panel

GNOME works seamlessly on OpenSuSE 13.1 (click to enlarge images)

If the lack of Nvidia drivers brings you down, perhaps news that OpenSUSE now considers the btrfs file system "stable for everyday usage" will lift your spirits. Btrfs is still not the default file system – at least in the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink DVD installer I used – but it's a single click away.

I took the plunge and have had no problems at all in two months of testing.

OpenSUSE 13.1 ships with the latest Linux kernel, the 3.11 series. That's a full four releases ahead of the last OpenSUSE release, which means more hardware support, better power management and all the new features in the 3.11 kernel.

OpenSUSE is somewhat unique in the Linux world in that it remains surprisingly desktop agnostic. It's put more effort into the cosmetics of the KDE version for sure, but in terms of actual tools everything works roughly the same. Even YaST, an openSUSE strong point, works the same whether you're on KDE or GNOME. It just uses Qt on KDE and GTK on GNOME.

Provided you download the DVD installer, OpenSUSE gives every desktop equal footing. True, KDE is checked by default, but GNOME, Xfce, LXDE and even a plain text-based interface for server installations are all there, just a radio button away.

I've always used KDE as my OpenSUSE desktop because it offers, to my mind anyway, the best KDE-based desktop around. As of this release, OpenSUSE is using KDE 4.11, which isn't a radical departure from its predecessor, but it does bring some improvements to KDE's NEPOMUK search tool, making it a little speedier when indexing your files.

As I've said in past reviews, the default KDE desktop theme for OpenSUSE is one of the nicest you're likely to find. The OpenSUSE team even manages to make outside apps such as Firefox or GIMP feel like a natural part of the KDE desktop. If you're a KDE fan and you don't want to spend a bunch of time tricking out your desktop, OpenSUSE has you covered.

While KDE is check by default during installation, GNOME is still there for those who want it. Lately the OpenSUSE project has been pouring a bit more effort into giving GNOME the same sort of OpenSUSE visual flavoring that the KDE desktop has long enjoyed. At the moment that theming seems limited to the background image, which thankfully works well with GNOME's default darker theme.

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