I have long been a user of Suse Linux. Two months back, I had the opportunity to install & use uBuntu on PC and ubuntu Studio on a laptop. And recently updated my main PC Suse Linux Enterprise Editon 10 to Open Suse 11.1.
The differences are only skin deep if you are a user. But if you install them on your own, they both show completely different traits. It can make or break a linux usage experience for a new user. This post is an attempt to help choose between the two.
Since I was using Suse Linux for more than a year, I should be comfortable with Open Suse than ubuntu. But after 2 months of using ubuntu alternatively, I feel both have it's own strengths. And were best fit for different situations & requirements.
Both distros (in fact all linux distros) use the same linux kernels, same gnome or kde (or other lesser known) GUI packages. So the main applications & packages were available in both versions.
Once your PC is fully installed & set, the difference between two distros are only the way it was presented.
Installing Linux is a no brainer these days. If you can install Windows in your PC, you can certainly install either one of them in your computer without hassle. A primer on linux partition will help though.
Other than that, you get a similar set of screens & get a coffee or something to spend 20 - 30 minutes while linux installs itself AND most of the basic packages you need.
ubuntu scores highly in this important part. No doubt about it.
Thanks to the enthusiastic community around ubuntu. It has a wide variety of applications are packaged for ubuntu and listed in Add/Remove box. We just have to click them to download & install.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for OpenSuse. While it does have a similar system & a growing list of packages which covers all basic necessities, it still lags largely behind ubuntu.
If you don't get a .rpm package specifically built for your version of Opensuse, you need to be a geek to install them. Previously I liked the way I need to explore Suse to install software. But as Linus Torvalds famously said, ubuntu showed me that my time is better spent on using it rather than making it work.
There is not big difference between ubuntu & opensuse in detecting hardwares. What ubuntu does not detect (Dell laptop camera) is also not detected by OpenSuse.
Open in terminal option is handy in OpenSuse One thing I like most about OpenSuse is the 'Open in terminal' option available in right click menu. Being a web developer, I often need to work in command line. If I have to work in an interior folder, in open suse - I will reach the folder in file browser (Nautilus) & right click to select 'Open in terminal'. A terminal window opens with the specific folder as the current path. Very handy, as I don't have to type long path names. This may be trivial for a normal user, but I severely miss this option in ubuntu.
I have a feeling that ubuntu is more oriented towards a normal user than a geek. The 'Open in terminal' mentioned above is one. A major indication is that default 'root' user login access is locked in ubuntu desktop (no such restrictions for ubuntu server - obviously).
Overall I feel that ubuntu or their other desktop flavors were more oriented towards normal users who don't know or care what Operating System runs in their computer. The wide range of applications that easily install on ubuntu is a big plus for all types of users. OpenSuse is convenient for more involved users, but I feel it is only slightly better than ubuntu.