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But Unity has proved to be the opposite of its name, sharply dividing the Ubuntu user community, many of whom appear to have started looking for alternatives. What these people want is a distribution that has all the ease of use that Ubuntu does, but something that has an interface more like the old-style GNOME interface.


The fact that the GNOME developers also got it into their heads to go in the direction of a mobile-like interface - GNOME 3 is as bad or as good as Unity - meant that there was an opportunity to be exploited.

If one looks at a couple of recent releases, there appear to be two distinct approaches. Some, like openSUSE, have chosen to implement GNOME 3 and jazz it up as well. openSUSE is the community distribution run by SUSE Linux and serves as a gateway for changes to the enterprise distribution, SUSE Enterprise Linux.

The way openSUSE has implemented GNOME 3 is reminiscent of its past. When SUSE was a German company, it used KDE as its default desktop and did not merely implement the stock KDE; the desktop was nicely designed, changed a bit here and there to look very polished, and a number of very individualistic touches were added. At that time, GNOME was not adorned in any way by SUSE; the stock GNOME was all one would get.

After Novell bought SUSE, the default desktop became GNOME in keeping with its American ownership. GNOME is implemented the same way KDE was then, with little tweaks, and looks very, very good. It is memory-intensive but then these days that is a relative term given that 4GB of DDR3 memory sells for $A35. openSUSE has retained the shade of green for which it was well known, and it looks like a nice rich desktop.

The old warhorses haven't gone away - utilities like YaST (Yet Another Setup Tool), the configuration tool that was present in SUSE 12 years ago, is still around and still doing a very capable job. It is a good mix if you like the GNOME 3 layout and the concept of the shell that it implements. GNOME permits only limited tweaking by the user - that, to some, may well be a drawback. But one really can't find fault with the openSUSE implementation of the desktop environment. It means a bit of learning but then all computer use encompasses learning a bit here and there all the time.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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