openSUSE does not come with a dedicated netbook desktop, because the developers say that KDE and GNOME work just as well on netbooks. However, KDE users can activate the netbook shell. This is done by choosing the "Netbook" form factor in the workspace settings (System settings > Desktop > Workspace and set Form factor to Netbook). A nice feature for netbook users is the uncomplicated option to install openSUSE 11.3 from a USB Flash drive. The graphical Imagewriter tool can be used to transfer ISO images to a USB Flash drive.
The included software is as comprehensive and current as usual. For instance, programs include Firefox 3.6.6, Thunderbird 3.05 and OpenOffice 3.2.1. A new addition in the contrib repository is GoogleCL, which offers command line access to a range of Google services such as Picasa and Google Docs. The openSUSE server package repositories now include the MariaDB NoSQL database. Under the bonnet, the system uses kernel version 2.6.34 as well as the Xorg 7.5 graphical system with Xserver version 1.8. Kernel-based Mode Setting (KMS) is now enabled by default for graphics hardware by Intel, AMD and NVIDIA, and openSUSE's default driver for NVIDIA cards is Nouveau. However, the owners of NVIDIA cards still need to manually install the vendor's driver to achieve 3D acceleration, as the driver for openSUSE 11.3 wasn't available in the repositories at the time of our test.
Admins will find many practical new package management features – whether via zypper on the command line or via Yast. The developers have integrated the long-awaited auto-detect feature for orphaned packages. When removing a program, users can now specify that the package manager is also to uninstall all the libraries that were only used by this program. The appropriate zypper option is called -clean-deps, and in Yast the function can be activated via the menu item "Options / Cleanup when deleting packages". The options menu also offers an "Allow vendor change" feature. If this option is enabled, Yast will notify the user of software updates located in a third-party repository. For instance, if the Packman package repository is activated and a new version of K3B is uploaded to this repository, Yast will show this version as an update even if the openSUSE burner software is still being used.
A large number of improvements have been made to Gtk's software installation front end. Programs can now be selected for installation or removal via simple check boxes. Instead of displaying upgrades as well as installed and available to install packages in tabs, these can now be displayed via a status filter link in the bottom left corner of the window. The "Show History of Changes" item in the "Extras" menu allows users to keep track of when exactly they installed or removed packages. The only drawback is that most of the menu items in the Gtk front end haven't yet been localised.
A current, comprehensive and stable range of software, a stylish and uniform look and convenient configuration tools – it would all be great if it weren't for the remaining rough edges that could still do with some polishing. Many small things crop up and cause annoyance in the first few days of using openSUSE 11.3 – but this shouldn't prevent anyone from installing it. We found no real show-stopping bugs, and all the problems encountered during our test can be solved even by inexperienced Linux users. Furthermore, we can expect the openSUSE team to supply the first update packages shortly after the final release.