openSUSE and desktop environments
When GNU/Linux distributions provide both KDE and GNOME, it’s usually very clear which desktop environment (DE) is recommended, gets the most developer attention, etc. However there seems to be some confusion about where openSUSE (previously SUSE Linux) stands with regards to DEs. It’s been about a month since openSUSE 10.3 was released, and most tests and reviews seem to focus on GNOME. The Linux Action Show podcast even went as far as saying something along the lines of “openSUSE is obviously a very GNOME centric distribution”. Of course most reviewers are new users who don’t follow the openSUSE project closely and admittedly the situation is a little complicated, so you can understand they’re confused. This is my attempt to explain what is what. I’m a community person and thus don’t have to worry about corporate policy. I’m also a KDE user but I will be as objective as possible.
First things first, openSUSE has no default desktop. If you get the DVD the installer will force you to actively choose which DE to use. You can also download KDE or GNOME single CDs respectively – which again forces you to choose.
KDE in openSUSE
In 2003 Novell acquired the German GNU/Linux distributor SUSE. Historically a very KDE centric distribution, with a very large KDE userbase and community, with most developers also using KDE. openSUSE is still primarily developed by these people in Germany and Czech Republic. Former openSUSE project manager Andreas Jaeger uses KDE, and his successor Stephan Kulow is a very high profile KDE developer. SUSE still employs more high profile KDE developers than any other distributor. Novell are corporate patrons of KDE, and silver sponsors of Akademy.
openSUSE provides excellent service for KDE users. A stable and polished KDE, which is furthermore enhanced with components developed by openSUSE such as Kickoff menu, KNetworkManager, Sysinfo kioslave, Kerry beagle-frontend, KPowersave etc. Build service repositories provide lots of goodies – newest KDE applications backported to shipped KDE version, newest KDE3 builds, snapshots of KDE4 that are updated weekly, at least.
A survey done for openSUSE 10.2 with >27.000 openSUSE users participating, showed 71% using KDE and only 22% using GNOME. Naturally, this vast majority of KDE users also affects testing and the availability of online help and support. Currently kdedevelopers.org is running a survey about which distribution provides the best KDE, which openSUSE is leading at the time of writing.
GNOME in openSUSE
In 2003 Novell also acquired Ximian – a GNOME company with some high profile GNOME developers. However most of these guys have little or nothing to do with the openSUSE project. People like Nat Friedman and Miguel de Icaza take no part in the development. Their focus is steadily on SUSE Linux Enterprise where most development and marketing is centered around GNOME. Maybe this is why some people seem to automatically expect that the same thing goes for openSUSE. Novell also sponsor GUADEC, and various GNOME-related projects such as Banshee or Beagle.
Lately there have been improvements as for GNOME in openSUSE – both with regards to features and organization. There’s now a native GNOME updater applet, there’s YaST-gtk providing better integration with GNOME than YaST-qt. The slab menu and gnome-xgl-settings developed for SLED10 are of course part of openSUSE now. These things are mostly still rather immature though. GNOME also has some build service repositories providing latest stable versions and also unstable. They’re having frequent IRC meetings to improve things etc.
I hope this post has helped make things clearer. To sum it up, openSUSE puts a lot of emphasis on both large DEs, and it would probably be wrong to say it’s centered around either one, but a significant majority of its developers, active community members and normal users prefer KDE.