openSUSE 12.1 is the best openSUSE ever as far as I can tell -- whether it be Gnome 3 or KDE. Interestingly, openSUSE is the major contributor to the Gnome project, yet its KDE implementation is considered to be the finest integrations.
Being an Ubuntu user (and apt-get fan), I never flirted with openSUSE much. I did try it every time a new version comes out, but from a home user's point of view it was more work than Ubuntu and the pay off wasn't that much so I stayed away from it. But everything has changed with version 12.1. It is much more stable (compared to Ubuntu 11.10) and useful for me.
I love Gnome 3 (thanks to the shell-extensions), yet I needed something for those who are not comfortable with Gnome 3 Shell and want a windows like environment. KDE always fascinated me and I thought of giving KDE a try on openSUSE.
KDE has matured quite a lot in these years and under openSUSE, KDE looks extremely beautiful. Yes, it does look like Windows, and there is no harm in looking like Windows as it makes it easier for users to switch.
KDE is amazingly polished and looks stunning from the boot screen till the shutdown. It's not just the looks of KDE which are stunning, deep down at its core KDE is much more powerful than Windows in the hands of a power user.
Dolphin: The Smartest File Manager
KDE's file manager Dolphin is one of the most powerful and configurable File Managers around. It looks beautiful and beats pants off Windows' explorer. While Gnome's Nautilus, known for simplicity and less options, has taken a full blown minimalistic route, Dolphin offers everything that a user may need.
Nautilus & Dolphin
Gnome's Nautilus offers 4 options – the path, back/forward button and search icon. On the contrary as I wrote above Dolphin offers many more features, depends on what you want. KDE has always been a favorite of power-users who want to be able to customize the system as they want. On the other hand Nautilus is appropriate for my wife who doesn't need such customization. It's all about what you want.
Dolphin also allows a user to open 'privileged' folders with root user mode. It comes quite handy if you want to simply copy-paste files to the 'privileged' folders. A simple example would be copying some hundreds of fonts to the fonts folder, which needs roots rights. Yes, you can do it quickly and easily with the Konsole, but there are mortals like me who also use mouse once in a while ;-)
By default Dolphin doesn't show previews of files. You can enable this by clicking on the Configure button> View Properties and then under the settings “Apply View Properties To” select 'All folders' and check “use these views properties as default'. Now you will be able to see previews/thumbnails. Dolphin also allows you to open multiple tabs which makes it easier to copy-paste content.
Does that mean Dolphin is better than Nautilus? No. It's all about what you want, how much control and customization you need. To someone Nautilus is perfect with its simplicity and to someone else Dolphin is perfect because of its customization.
In a nutshell, you will love Dolphin.
YaST: The Command Center
One of the 'biggest' USPs of openSUSE is YaST, which is like a command center for the galactic army. You can do almost everything from YaST to control your PC. I won't write much about it here as there is so much to write about it. I will suggest you should explore it and see what you want to do.
Apps, Apps & Apps
openSUSE KDE is no different from openSUSE Gnome. Yes, the interface is definitely different. You can add and remove apps using … there are so many options. I prefer The YaST Software Management tool, you can choose the one you like. [Read: How To Set-up Networking In openSUSE]
Before installing any apps you will need to enable some repositories (to install apps that are not in the default repos) by simply visiting the 'configuration' option on the YaST Software Management tool. You can add Community repositories such a Pacman, depending on your needs. You can also add a repository by simply entering its URL. There are a lot of options there, you can 'explore' more on that page.
Once all the repositories are added you can use Software Management to search and install apps easily – it is simple 1-click install. openSUSE has a huge repository of applications so you will never be hunting for needed apps. If you don't find one you can always search this page [http://software.opensuse.org/121/en] to find your app.
If you have enabled repositories from Mozilla and LibreOffice it will enable you to upgrade to the latest versions of these apps – so no worry of manually upgrading the apps. I am running Firefox/ThunderBird 8 on my machine – which is the latest stable release. I have also removed quite some apps that I don't use -- it keeps my PC less bloated.
So, coming from Ubuntu I did not struggle at all to install any app. Either way I was using Synaptic Package Manager and YaST is an icing on the cake as now I can configure my system to they way I want it. No more my way or the highway approach.
Yes, if you are using proprietary GPUs, you need to be very careful. You may end up with no GUI if you do something wrong. OpenSUSE offers open source drivers which work fine. If you do want to install proprietary drivers be careful and read about it before going ahead with them. [Read: How To Install Restricted Drivers, Formats In openSUSE]
While I had stability issues with Ubuntu 11.10 (Firefox and Thunderbird was hanging randomly and my system froze twice and I lost some unsaved work. It also did not play very well on my Dell XPS laptop where upon waking it will not detect the touchpad and I will have to reboot. No such issue on openSUSE so far.
OpenSUSE Is Not For Home Users
OK. I was wrong. Yes, it does take a little bit more effort than you need with Ubuntu. But if you compare it with Windows, its nothing where you have to hunt for every single CD you need for network cards or web-cam drivers.
Under openSUSE KDE 12.1 everything is just 1-click away. Yes, it is an environment different from hat I am used to, but I pick up fast. It is unfamiliar not unfriendly. The more I am using openSUSE KDE the more I am liking it. Now, I think I like Dolphin more than Nautilus, earlier I was intimidated by it.
The openSUSE community is extremely helpful and you will get help if you ask the right question. Their documentation is amazing and you will find all the answers and solution on the official site.
So, I take my words back that openSUSE is meant only for advanced users – anyone can use openSUSE as long as he is ready for a 'one-time' investment in getting familiar with the system. It's similar to buying a new TV, you need some time to get familiar with the menu which is a bit different from your other TV. Make sure you are not the one who gets an heart-attack if he doesn't find something where he expected it to be. It's there, just look for it. In the end everything will work fine.
Your life will be easier if you are not using any proprietary hardware on your PC. So, next time when you go out to buy a printer or a webcam, make sure it works well under Linux. [Read: How To Setup Printers In openSUSE]
KDE vs Gnome & Ubuntu vs openSUSE?
Does that mean KDE is better than Gnome 3 or openSUSE is better than Ubuntu? My answer is NO. A big NO. Gnome 3 has its own advantages, which is simplicity, KDE has its own advantages – which is greater level of customization. It depends on what you want. When I go to withdraw money from ATM, I just insert the card punch the pin, enter the amount and done. I don't need any customization there. So, someone who doesn't want that much customization Gnome is perfect – that's what it has always been like – simple, elegant and works out of the box.
Ubuntu has its own advantages, which are many. So it's not about Ubuntu or openSUSE or KDE or Gnome, it's all about knowing that there are many options within the umbrella of GNU/Linux and you can use what suits your needs. Period.
Use what works for you – it could be Ubuntu, openSUSE, Fedora, KDE or Gnome. There is no war here :-) It's like a big garden, pick the flowers you like.
openSUSE KDE is a perfect desktop for those are not comfortable with the changes Gnome 3 or Unity is bringing. Not that I have any issues with Gnome 3 or Unity – I recommend both. But, if you are not comfortable, and as free software is all about options, I heavily recommend openSUSE KDE. You get the stability of openSUSE, the ease of use, elegance, customization of KDE and a familiar interface.
OpenSUSE KDE offers everything that is missing from Gnome 3 Shell, whether it be the ability to add icons to panels, whether it be moving panels around or adding new panels. You can do almost everything that you want on openSUSE KDE.
OpenSUSE KDE, I think is a perfect desktop for 'home' and 'advanced' users.
Go ahead, try it.