Ubuntu is one of the most popular GNU/Linux-based operating system, along with Linux Mint. Ubuntu started off as a great operating system which, with the help of LUGs and communities, became extremely popular.
However it’s not an easy task to crack the desktop market dominated by Microsoft – that’s one of the reasons why both SUSE/Novell and Red Hat decided to leave the desktop space and focus on enterprise.
Canonical started off in the same year when Facebook started and is still struggling to get a hold of the market.
The decline of PC sales forced the company to look at the other booming markets – mainlysmartphones and tablets. But the company started off too late. Android is already established as a dominant Linux player in the mobile space, making it even harder for Canonical to succeed – especially when they don’t have any concrete plans and most of what they are doing is improvisation instead of initiation.
With the increasing focus on mobile has put desktop at the back-burner. Most of the talk and development is going on for mobile devices.
So from what I see desktop is no more Canonical’s priority.
At the same time Canonical/Ubuntu has been a lot in news for all the wrong reasons. It’s dispute with EFF, FSF, X.org, KDE and the larger open source community has also raised serious concerns over it’s role as a good open source citizen.
So I am noticing quite a lot of people who have started to look else where. Being a convert from Ubuntu to openSUSE I tasked myself to find can an Ubuntu user switch to openSUSE? Will openSUSE be able to address his/her computing needs? At the same time I am someone using GNU/Linux for practical as well as philosophical reasons as well which distro is closer to the Open Source community?
I have adopted Devil’s advocate approach to challenge openSUSE at doing the tasks that Ubuntu can do well and which one is better open source citizen.
Ease of use
Gnome was one of the reasons it was extremely easy to use Ubuntu, then Canonical did some great job with jockey and other stuff which made it easy to use Linux. A concept popularized by Klaus Knopper – Live CD – also contributed to this as people were able to test it before trying. But it’s passe today every GNU/Linux distribution out there is easy to install and use.
Ease of use heavily depends on what Desktop Environment you use. But if we look at the core openSUSE experience everything is extremely easy whether it’s setting up network, configuring printer, installing or managing apps or customizing the OS to your liking.
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The installation of openSUSE is as easy as is that of Ubuntu (you can see the comparison in this video – coming soon).
Better experience with desktop environment of choice
openSUSE offers GNOME, KDE, Xfce, LXDE & E17 so one can use which ever desktop environment (DE) he/she prefers. As far as base OS is concerned irrespective of the DE you use you will have access to all core features of openSUSE – whether it be YaST or anything else. In case of Ubuntu, Unity is Canonical’s baby and none of it’s features are available for other Ubuntu-based distros. openSUSE treats each DE as the first class citizen and here you can install different DEs on the same system without breaking it. Under Ubuntu Unity and Gnome don’t work very well together. With KDE apps like Ubuntu Software Center look out of place and instead of a pleasant experience it looks more or less like a Frankenstein’s monster which pieces have been stitched together.
So here openSUSE has better offering than Ubuntu
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Apps & Apps
Every app that is available for GNU/Linux based distributions is available for openSUSE as well including but not limited to Skype, Dropbox, Copy, Google Hangout plugin, etc and, of course, the Steam Client. The only semi-proprietary which is available only for Ubuntu and not for openSUSE is Ubuntu 1 as Canonical chose to release the app for Windows and Mac but not for fellow Linux players.
App installation is as easy in openSUSE as it is in Ubuntu. In my opinion it’s actually a bit more pleasant in openSUSE due to sluggish and borky Ubuntu Software Center – you have to log into your Ubuntu One account in order to install ‘free’ apps like Plex Media Server. At the same time even when the app is free you have to click on ‘BUY’ button.
If you want to install 3rd party apps which are available via PPA it’s quite painful in Ubuntu as you have to hunt for the PPA using Google and then manually add the PPA using the terminal, update the repo and then install the package or the app. Under openSUSE it’s quite easy just visit the software.opensuse.org and search for the package, select the version of openSUSE you are running click on the One Click install button and it will take care of the rest – it will open YaST where you will have to say yes/no to the GPG key or the developer (to ensure it’s from the right source) and automatically add that repo to your system so you get updates and will install the app. openSUSE teams are working on some tool which will allow users to install 3rd party packages and apps from OBS without having to open the browser.
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The great hardware support Canonical often boasts of doesn’t come not from Canonical, but from the hard work done by ex-SUSE developers like Greg KH (who now works for Linux Foundation and also maintains openSUSE Tumbleweed). So everything that is well supported under Linux will work on both openSUSE and Ubuntu.
All of my hardware works fine under openSUSE as well as Ubuntu
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Both openSUSE and Ubuntu have great and friendly communities. Ubuntu has a very strict Code of Conduct so as to maintain a decency and comfortable environment for users. (I wish Ubuntu leadership also start following that CoC). openSUSE is also a very friendly community, especially for women as they run out reach programs for women to increase their participation. If you have any problem both communities are always ready to help.
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You can get Ubuntu in any color as long as it’s purple. There is very little customization for Ubuntu. At most you can change the wallpaper or the size of Launcher. There is nothing more you can do, even Mac OSX and Windows allow a user to move the panel where they find it better.
On the contrary openSUSE offers complete customization of your system. KDE Plasma (the default DE of openSUSE) is known for extreme customization and you can do anything that you want with it. You can actually get a Unity-like experience with KDE sans all of it’s drawbacks.
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Privacy and Security
FSF calls Ubuntu a spyware ever since they introduced a feature in Ubuntu’s Dash where all the keywords entered by a user a sent to Canonical servers where it uses them to display ads from 3rd party to users. Canonical has made the feature enabled by default and automatically acquires a user’s consent as soon as someone uses Dash. A user is never warned that the keywords are sent to and stored on Canonical server along with information like IP address. That’s a very serious privacy risk.
openSUSE doesn’t have any such privacy violating hole. On the contrary to Ubuntu openSUSE comes with a very advanced Firewall with some ports block to give additional protection to users.
So from privacy point of view while Ubuntu invades a user’s privacy, openSUSE respects and protects it.
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As I stated above Canonical has been struggling for a while and has shifted focus from desktop to mobile devices (it looks like their phone plan is not working out so they are now now going to increase focus on tablets) which leaves Ubuntu desktop as an after-thought instead of priority.
On the contrary openSUSE is committed to the desktop as they are not desperate to make money from Linux – they are doing fine in the enterprise space (SUSE) which pays these developers. The same codebase of openSUSE is used in SUSE so the desktop is as important for openSUSE/SUSE as it is for Red Hat.
That’s not the case with Ubuntu/Canonical. So if we look at ‘desktop experience’ and its future, openSUSE seems more promising than Ubuntu.
We are now in the dangerous waters of philosophy and politics and let’s see how Ubuntu fare here against openSUSE.
While Canonical has built a great ‘Ubuntu Community’ it’s relationship with the larger open source community has remained strained from the early days – most of it has to do with extreme bad communication from Canonical.
Canonical has strained relationship with Debian in the early days, they have stained relationship with Gnome, Banshee, KDE, Xorg (Wayland), FSF and lately EFF also joined this list.
Except for the Dash online integration I don’t remember any incident when anyone from the open source community attacked Canonical or Ubuntu. It was always an attack from Canonical – whether it was the email sent to openSUSE developers after the Microsoft deal, or ‘pissing’ on Wayland, demanding more cut from Banshee, assault on SystemD, assault on Red Hat, pricking KDE developers or belief that since Intel is now a competitor of Ubuntu (due to Tizen), they did not accept XMir patches.
All of this takes Ubuntu/Canonical further from the open source community and alienates them – no wonder why no one from the open source community came forward to endorse Ubuntu Edge.
At the same time openSUSE folk mind their own business and refrain from mudslinging or dragging others into a tribal warfare. They use their time create technologies which are used by ‘everyone’ else including Ubuntu.
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Contribution: “Ubuntu doesn’t contribute to Linux”
If you pick any leading open source project (including the Linux Kernel, Gnome or LibreOffice) you won’t find Canonical among the leading contributor.
Ubuntu relies heavily on Gnome yet they are not among the top contributors. It’s Red Hat and openSUSE/SUSE that lead the contribution.
Since Ubuntu is gradually moving towards Qt/QML I am curious how much are they contributing there. Unfortunately, I did not find any Canonical/Ubuntu developers on this page.
openSUSE (SUSE) along with Red Hat leads all the charts where Canonical/Ubuntu is either missing or very low.
There is an argument that Canonical contributes by bringing more users to Linux. That’s not the case as Canonical/Ubuntu doesn’t even use the word Linux anywhere in the marketing material of even on Ubuntu.com. So they are definitely not contributing to the popularity of ‘Linux’, all they are doing is the popularity of Ubuntu.
If that’s how Canonical contributes to Linux & Open Source then Facebook should be the largest contributor as they have over 1 billion users and they use Linux and other open source technologies in the back-end.
On the contrary the word Linux is there 4 times on opensuse.org home page and you keep hearing the word Linux in all of their communications.
So whether its the contribution of the code or spreading words about Linux – Ubuntu/Canonical is nowhere in comparison to the giant contribution made by openSUSE/SUSE.
How does it matter to a user? When I use Ubuntu I only help Ubuntu and Canonical, on the contrary when I use openSUSE I am directly supporting those who are building the very Linux kernel we know; I am using the word who are maintaining Gnome, KDE, LibreOffice and other technologies even used by Ubuntu.
It makes me feel better because by using their work I am in a way saying ‘Thank You!’
The Linux Experience
I often hear the argument that Android is not Linux or Chrome OS is not Linux. Technically that’s not true. Linux is just the kernel and both these operating systems user Linux so they are Linux-based operating systems.
What people are actually trying to say is they don’t get the same ‘Linux experience’ when they use these operating systems. What’s that Linux experience?
When I chose to use Linux the reasons were simple. I wanted a system:
1. which was secure, protects my data and privacy,.
2. which was developed by community so I was never locked into a company.
3. which gave me complete control over my system and make it easy to change things if I wanted.
3. which valued the open source community, which valued me as a user and paid heed to my concern.
4. which was contributing to the development and progress of Linux.
5. which created a harmonious environment within the Open Source community (which comes naturally if you are doing above 4 well).
Which one of the two comes the closest to offering the ‘Linux Experience’ I am talking about.
Just try to jot down the answers to these five questions you will know which operating system gives you the Linux Experience.
I won’t argue that there are a lot of Windows to Linux migrants who don’t even know what Open Source is and are mainly attracted by the fact that it’s also ‘free as in beer’. These users won’t care about the ‘Linux experience’ I am talking about and are fine with any OS which is available for free of cost.
And that’s fine.
Not everyone who goes to a zoo love animals, many go there just for the outing.
So use any operating system that you want. In fact use the one that works for you whether it’s openSUSE or Ubuntu. The idea of this story was not to tell you which OS to use, but to see what sets these two operating systems apart from each other so you can make more informed decision.