OpenSUSE 10.3 is the fourth stable release from the OpenSUSE project, the online community founded by Novell to further develop the SUSE Linux operating system.

OpenSUSE 10.3 ships stuffed to the gills with the usual assortment of open-source applications, including the OpenOffice.org office suite, The GIMP image-manipulation software, and many multimedia bells and whistles.

In fact, OpenSUSE 10.3 has more software and features crammed into it than you know what to do with, which proves a mixed blessing.

The OpenSUSE 10.3 distribution DVD disc boots to the familiar SUSE Linux installer. A Live CD approach, such as that found in Ubuntu 7.10, would have been more versatile; but even though OpenSUSE's method seems old-fashioned, it's at least effective.

The SUSE installer is top-notch, and OpenSUSE 10.3 dresses it in attractive, professional-looking new graphics. It's not as effortless as it could be - the installation process gives you enough options to get you into trouble - but novices should have no problems if they play along with the default selections.

Desktop interface debate

OpenSUSE 10.3 offers a choice between two different desktop environments, KDE or Gnome. Superficially, they both provide graphical user interface (GUI) features similar to Windows or Mac OS X, but they differ in the details - enough so that desktop preference has become a hot debate within the desktop Linux community.

Gnome arguably has become the favourite with recent SUSE releases, now that many of the prominent Gnome developers work full-time for Novell, but OpenSUSE 10.3's Gnome desktop differs from the stock version. The menu bar on the top of the screen has been removed, consolidated into a single taskbar along the bottom.

The chief feature of the taskbar is a new menu, code-named Slab, that gives one-stop access to the most important applications, control panels, and recently used documents. The overall effect is very Windows-like, but unfortunately it doesn't do much to improve productivity.

The action of reaching for the lower-left corner of the screen feels familiar, but finding applications among OpenSUSE 10.3's Slab menus can be tedious. It's too sluggish, and the organisation of the menu icons does not seem particularly intuitive - if you're looking for a spreadsheet, for example, you must first scroll through almost a full page of games.

The same must be said of YAST (Yet Another Setup Tool), OpenSUSE 10.3's other major contribution to the Linux desktop interface. YAST tries to gather all of the important control panels and system-configuration tools into a single, combined application. It's a noble goal, but users have often complained of YAST's poor performance in the past, and OpenSUSE 10.3 doesn't seem to have made any significant improvement in this respect.

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