[Review] Comparison OpenSUSE 12.1 vs Fedora 16

These are good times for users of RPM-based distributions. The two behemoths of RPM-land, OpenSUSE and Fedora, have just released new iterations and here we pit them against each other to see if they have what it takes to win the coveted real estate on your hard disk.

Both offer similar download options. You can grab a DVD or try installable live CDs for your favorite graphical environment. Gnome or KDE. Both also have loads of theme-based spins or derivatives, with apps and tools for deployments in specialized fields.

Behind the scenes, both are running on patched versions of Linux kernel 3.1. which boasts improved support for Wi-Fi drivers and lots more. SystemD, the replacement for the SysV init daemon, was already a part of Fedora 15. but it’s been further improved here. The Red Hat developers also collaborated with OpenSUSE to get SystemD onto 12.1.

While OpenSUSE is still using Grub Legacy for booting duties. Fedora has finally switched to Grub 2. Conversely. OpenSUSE, like the latest Ubuntu 11.10. uses the lightweight and zippy LightDM display manager, while Fedora continues with Gdm.


For this comparison, we’re using the install-only DVDs of both distros. Both Fedora’s Anaconda and OpenSUSE’s Yast have mastered the art of user friendly installations. OpenSUSE 12.1 suggests a default partitioning scheme and gives you the option to edit it. Advanced users can create their own layout using the in-built partitioning tool. If you don’t have free space, the installer offers to carve some out from existing partitions.

Similarly, Fedora 16 lets you create a new partition if you have space. If not. you can either wipe all other operating systems, wipe just the existing Linux system, or ask the installer to shrink a partition. Advanced users get the flexibility to create a custom layout.

Both distros default to ext4 and offer the option to use newer filesystems, such as Btrfs. This rrakes more sense in OpenSUSE, which has a tool called Snapper that wraps the ability of Btrfs to take snapshots of the filesystems in a graphical shell. You can use it to revert to an earlier snapshot if a filesystem change botches up the install.

What edges Fedora into the lead when it comes to installation, though, is Anacondas support for enterprise devices such as SANs with iSCSI disks.

Desktop performance

The one major difference between the two distros is the default desktop. Fedora has always been the first to bundle upstream releases of Gnome and the tradition continues with Gnome 3.2. OpenSUSE, on the other hand, has always been known as a KDE distro. although the developers stress that they give equal attention to both. Since there can be only one default, though. OpenSUSE defaults to KDE and Fedora to Gnome.

In addition to the defaults, we tweaked the package selection in both to install Gnome and KDE. This is the first OpenSUSE release with a Gnome 3.x-series desktop, and it’s done a nice job integrating it. This really isn’t much of a surprise, though, considering the number of Novell-employed Gnome developers.

What is surprising is KDE on top of Fedora. It’s probably the first time KDE doesn’t feel like a second-class citizen. We didn’t notice any kinks in 4.7 and it works as advertised, which is especially noteworthy as this release has several performance improvements.

Both distros also implement new Gnome 3.2 features, such as online desktop integration, documents and contacts apps and the Sushi file previewer But OpenSUSE’s KDE 4.7 implementation has a few experimental add-ons, such as the integration of the ownCloud applet Mirall.

Ease of configuration

Configuration has always been an OpenSUSE specialty thanks to Yast. Fedora does have a few custom configuration utilities but it lacks a centralized tool to house them all.
Gnome’s System Settings have replaced the functionality of most of Fedora’s system ccnfig tools, and the overlap can be confusing to new users. OpenSUSE 12.1 also has the System Settings option in Gnome, with an additional pointer to Yast.

This dual-configuration scheme works in OpenSUSE’s favor, Newbies can use the minimal configuration options in Gnome’s System Settings, and for everything else, such as package management, there’s Yast.

It’s worth noting that Fedora 16 doesn’t stop users accessing additional configuration options, but as Gnome 3 abandons menus, those tools can be difficult to get to.

When it comes to configuration. Yast makes OpenSUSE a clear winner.

Software management

Fedora uses the Yum package manager, while OpenSUSE uses Zypper. Historically, we’ve dumped Fedora’s Yum front end, in favour of Yum Extender but we were pleasantly surprised with PackageKit in Fedora 16. It worked flawlessly while we were installing packages from the official Fedora 16 repos but it all fell apart when we tried to install plugins for Flash and MP3 files from external repos such as RPMFusion. After trying (and failing) to install the non-free GStreamer plugins and hook them with Rhythmbox from within PackageKit, we finally installed them via the Yum CLI.

In OpenSUSE 12.1 we just had to ensure the non-OSS repository was enabled in Yast and use the place holder to pull in the required packages.

This simplicity delivers OpenSUSE a first-round knockout.

And the winner is…

There’s no difference between the two in terms of usability since they both have the same graphical environments. They also have almost identical software and there’s no noticeable performance degradation when running apps from one on top of the other.

The real differences become apparent when it comes to fine-tuning the system and Yast gives OpenSUSE the upper hand, although this only matters if you want to configure the system at all. Out of the box, both work equally well for the average user.

Chances are. if you’re currently running Fedora you’re a Gnome user and unless you really don’t like its package management ways, you should be happy upgrading. The same goes for KDE users and OpenSUSE.

If you’re thinking of switching from your existing distro, though, OpenSUSE 12.1 is one of the best RPM-based desktop distros you’ll find. Sure, it defaults to KDE, but it also does a top notch job of implementing the latest Gnome desktop.


OpenSUSE 12.1

Fedora 16

Developer Novell/OpenSUSE community Red Hat/Fedora community
WEB www.opensuse.org www.fedoraproject.org
Licence Various open source licences
Features 9/10 8/10
Performance 9/10 9/10
Ease of use 9/10 7/10
Documentation 9/10 8/10
The best RPM distro for the desktop thanks to Yast KDE’s improved performance has to be the highlight of this release.



Source: LXF 153


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