|GNOME: Main Screen|
openSUSE doesn't really need much of an introduction here. There are a few new things with this release, though. The first is that GNOME 3 has become an official part of openSUSE; this is not surprising considering that openSUSE and Fedora were the only distributions who provided vanilla live CD previews of GNOME 3 before its official release. The second is that the release numbering and schedule have changed. Now, there will be releases in November, July, and March, and they will respectively have decimal numbers ".1", ".2", and ".3" before the number before the decimal point gets incremented by one with the next November release. This means that there will be no more ".0" or ".4" releases, and that the jump from, for example, version 13.1 to 13.2 will be just as significant as the jump from version 12.3 to 13.1.
|KDE: Main Screen|
GNOMEI decided to try the GNOME edition first because the KDE edition seems to have experienced only minimal changes, while the GNOME edition has of course experienced huge changes. After the boot menu came a wall of scrolling text. This is better than the black screen from version 11.4, because I could tell that the system was actually working and hadn't frozen. Plus, the boot process seemed to have become quicker, and the time that the openSUSE desktop splash screen showed also became quicker, so all in all, the time required to get to a working desktop was shortened quite a bit, which is a great thing.
Mozilla Firefox, at version 7.0, is the default browser. Proprietary codecs are not included, so they must be installed, but once I did that, YouTube, Hulu, and other such sites worked fine. Plus, my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts worked out-of-the-box as well.
|GNOME: Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice Writer|
The other present programs are standard GNOME and/or openSUSE/Mono fare, including the GNOME Games, Banshee, Tomboy Notes, the Totem Media Player, and some others.
The YaST2 Package Manager is essentially unchanged from last time in terms of functionality, though the interface looks a lot prettier and simpler than before. Installing packages is as easy as clicking checkboxes and clicking "Apply". This is what I used to install Adobe Flash.
I installed Skype and the Google Talk plugin by downloading the RPM files and opening them in YaST2. Thankfully, in contrast to version 11.4, PackageKit/KPackageKit has been completely removed, so now Mozilla Firefox automatically suggests opening all RPM files in YaST2, which is great. Also, YaST2 did not ask me for an administrator password in the live session, which is another nice improvement to the live experience. However, installing Skype prompted the installation of 150 MB worth of unrelated packages. Plus, compared to last time, YaST2 did not give me the option of deselecting those suggestions; I had to go with it, which is rather wasteful (and I would call it a regression too).
|GNOME: Nautilus + Sushi|
Nautilus is of course the default file manager. It also comes with GNOME Documents, but when I tried creating a document and viewing it in GNOME Documents, nothing appeared. It seems like GNOME Documents only works for cloud document services, which is odd. Also, Nautilus comes with the Sushi file previewer, which is basically a slightly slower but better-integrated version of Gloobus Preview.
Speaking of slow, openSUSE 12.1 GNOME used about 330 MB of RAM at idle. Compared to GNOME 2.X, that is of course far from impressive, but it's on par with KDE 4.X, and it's quite a bit better than some other implementations of GNOME 3.X that I've seen so far. That said, ironically, where other GNOME 3.X distributions used more RAM but felt quite fast, this did have slight but noticeable loading times. I could tell the system was hard at work to provide all the smooth animations built into GNOME 3 Shell. Anyway, that's where my time with the GNOME edition ended.
KDEThe KDE boot process was much the same as that of GNOME, with the exception of the addition of a KDE 4 startup splash screen. Interestingly enough, the openSUSE developers have made the splash screen into a slight variant of the standard splash screen rather than doing something completely unique as has been the case for previous releases of openSUSE. After that came the desktop.
|KDE: Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice Calc + Desktop Cube|
Speaking of YaST2, unlike in GNOME where it looks like a stock GNOME application, in KDE it has a rather interesting appearance, with important buttons highlighted in a nice shade of green and with glossy dark gray scrollbars. Also, I figured out that in GNOME YaST2 defaults to the nice category-based view, whereas in KDE it defaults to the more complicated view I remember seeing in version 11.4. This also meant that it was possible, as in version 11.4, to deselect the suggested packages to be installed alongside things like Skype and Adobe Flash; it's just that in the GNOME edition, I didn't realize it the first time around, so that complaint is now moot.
Desktop effects worked fine, which is great. Also, at idle, openSUSE used...650 MB of RAM. Although it didn't feel any noticeably more sluggish than before, that's way more than most KDE distributions I've used, and in absolute terms, it's way too much! Compared to this, the GNOME edition might as well be Openbox in terms of its relative light weight.
It was at this point that I started the installation. Unfortunately, VirtualBox kept crashing in the openSUSE live USB session, so I switched to Xubuntu 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot" which was also present in the multiboot setup. That worked fine, and when starting the VM, I decided to go directly to the installation rather than starting it from within the live session.
So what's the deal? Most of the problems I encountered were just minor quirks that I could deal with, except for the issue with the laptop mic. That is one issue that's big enough to make me not use it on a regular basis, because I use video chat on Skype and Google Talk a lot, so I just can't see why I should use openSUSE over another distribution that provides all the same cool features plus working mic support. But that doesn't mean openSUSE 12.1 is bad. I would say that it's still a good distribution, but it's not quite as awesome as version 11.4, so I would recommend it, but not as much as version 11.4.
You can get it here.