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 Should I Try SUSE Linux?

Part Three: Is SUSE the Right Distribution For Me?

If you haven't done so, make sure you check out the first two parts of this series, What Linux Is Not and Making the Switch.

Linux is actually made up of a kernel which is the "core" of the operating system, and a lot of other software packages piled on top. Linux needs both the kernel and the "extra software" to work. These two items can be put together in a nearly infinite number of different combinations, with each configuration having their own uses, strengths, weaknesses, and appealing to a certain kind of user. These software configurations are called "Distributions" or simply "distros".

A company, community, or other group choose which kernel they want to use and what additional software they want to include and create a fully functioning operating system. Some distributions are created to be used specifically for serving files or web pages, others strive to be as user-friendly as possible, some are made to be able to fit on a single CD (some Linux distributions can fit on a single floppy disk), or boast enhanced security measures. Many distributions seek to find a balance of these things so that users can modify their distribution to make it work for them.

So choosing a distribution is all about deciding what you want to use your computer for. Linux Online maintains a large database of Linux distributions with a short description of each. LinuxISO.org offers free downloads of nearly every major Linux ISO. LinuxISO.org also has a lot of information to help you decide which distribution is right for you.

Distributions like Mandriva, Linspire, and Xandros are famous for being easy for new Linux users to install and use, unfortunately many reviews of these distributions say that they are user friendly at the expense of some of the more attractive features of Linux like security, stability, and customization. However, if you are wanting to "test the waters" with Linux or only want to perform basic desktop computing, they would be an excellent choice.

At the other end of the spectrum you have the "power user" Linux distros. These distros allow the user to take maximum advantage of all that Linux has to offer. Some of the more popular distributions in this category include Slackware, Debian, and Gentoo. I would say these distributions are more for the advanced Linux user. Often installation, software management, and configuration can leave a new Linux user totally lost and frustrated (even those users who were Windows power-users).

And finally you have what I would call the more "balanced" Linux distributions. These distros are extremely powerful but maintain a nice level of user friendliness. I would include Ubuntu, Fedora, and SUSE is this category.

SUSE works extremely well as a desktop operating system. Installation is at least as easy as it is with Windows XP. Software management is done through SUSE's "YaST" system, this allows users to install, update, and keep track of any software you could possibly want to install on your computer. You simply find the software you want, install it with YaST and you're ready to go. It is very easy to keep track of what packages you have installed, uninstall them, and update them. SUSE comes loaded with software, it includes anything you could need for the basic operation of a desktop computer plus much, much more. Using YaST you can pick what you want and remove everything else, keeping your machine as lean as possible.

SUSE offers tech support and printed manuals with the retail versions of their operating systems. There is a great community of users that help new SUSE users with questions, you never feel like "you're on your own".

I have not found anything that you can do with the more "advanced" Linux distros that I can't do with SUSE. I have read plenty of reviews and heard plenty of times that "you can do more with Debian or Slackware (more control)", and I believe it, I just haven't run into anything yet.

I run very recent versions of Apache, PHP, mySQL, Firefox, and Thunderbird. I develop webpages, ftp, image editing, listen to MP3s (actually ogg's, but mp3's work, too), burn CDs, do word processing, and run SETI@Home. I have a network at home and one at my office, I share printers, files and internet connections with both Windows and Linux machines. Once I got the "hang" of how to use SUSE (and Linux) I was able to do these tasks with at least as much (often much more) ease and efficiency as I did with Windows XP; I certainly have more control over these tasks now. I've installed SUSE as a dual-boot, I've installed it a laptop, and I've installed it on a desktop.

If you're not willing to spend some time learning your new OS, I would not reccommend SUSE, in fact, I would question your decision to consider using Linux at all. If you have no, or very little technical aptitude, I would recommend either one of the easier distributions I mentioned above or getting someone to help you with your transition to SUSE.

On the other hand, if you have the time and patience that learning a new operating system requires, have at least a basic understanding of how hardware and software interact to make a compouter work, and want an operating system that will "grow with you" as you become more experienced at using it, I strongly suggest at least downloading a free version of SUSE and giving it a try.

Conclusion

Hopefully this has helped someone decide if switching to SUSE Linux and indeed Linux itself, is something they want to do. SUSE and Linux aren't for everyone. If you do decide to try SUSE or another Linux distribution, do some research to find out which one is right for you, make sure your hardaware is compatible, switch with realistic expectations, and realize that there will be a phase where you will be confused and frustrated a lot of the time. SUSE and Linux are evolving very quickly, if you do try Linux and find that you don't like it, give it another try later on, you may find that it has become easier for you or the feature you needed has been incorporated. Learn more about how to get SUSE. Good luck and have fun!
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