5 things that set openSUSE, elementary OS and Ubuntu apart

What makes each of these Linux distributions unique?

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Credit: Alan Levine/Flickr

I am a huge fan of openSUSE and Arch Linux; those are the two distributions that I run on my main system. But I don't belong to any fan-base; I also run some of the major Linux distributions on my machines, to keep an eye on their development.

One distribution that’s getting a lot of attention lately is elementary OS. I have been using it on a virtual machine and I love what they are doing. Then there is Ubuntu, one of the most popular Linux-based operating systems. The latest release of Ubuntu was announced this week and since I use all three in some capacity, I decided to see where they stand against each other.

1. Polish

This is an area where elementary OS shines, elegantly. It is one of the most polished Linux-based distributions. Period. elementary OS developers have paid attention to minute details -- fonts, spacing between UI elements, color. It's amazing. With openSUSE you can use any desktop environment (DE) you like, I use both Plasma and Gnome and they are both beautiful; I lean towards Plasma. But Ubuntu Unity leaves a lot to be desired. Look at the screen shot below, the spacing between fonts and UI element needs a lot of work. Going to Ubuntu Unity after using elementary OS, Mac OS or Windows 10 can be a bit painful on the eyes. I wish Canonical would hire some full time ace designers to make it look good, aesthetically. 

polish Swapnil Bhartiya

I found elementary OS and Plasma to be much more polished than Unity UI.

2. Software

openSUSE has openSUSE Build Service (OBS), which is one of the most mature and powerful places for developers to package their apps. Sadly, it doesn’t get the media attention that it deserves. openSUSE has a huge repository of packages through official and third party repositories like Packman, in addition to OBS. But it doesn’t come close to Ubuntu. Ubuntu has more mindshare and as a result many developers who target desktop users offer their apps for Ubuntu. elementary OS is a totally different case. Even if they are based on Ubuntu, they are very rigid in terms of how an application looks and behaves. So their repository is much smaller and they are further trying to become a platform where apps are written exclusively for elementary OS. 

3. Support

openSUSE and elementary OS are community distributions so there is no ‘commercial’ support. However, openSUSE can move to paid SUSE Linux Enterprise, which now shares a lot of code with openSUSE and gets commercial support. Ubuntu has an edge here as they offer the same OS for enterprise and community users. If you need official support you can simply sign-up for Canonical’s paid support. From a community point of view both openSUSE and Ubuntu have mature and big communities that can be extremely helpful for a new user. elementary OS is a relatively new distribution, so its community is still growing up.

4. Customization

One of the biggest benefits of using a Linux based distribution is customization. You can personalize your computer to reflect your personality. That’s is where openSUSE has an edge over other distributions. You can install multiple desktop environments on the same system without breaking it. openSUSE comes with Plasma as the default DE and Plasma is known to be extremely customizable; it's the same case with Gnome. At the same time, openSUSE’s YaST offers a lot of customization options. That makes openSUSE the most customizable distribution from among the three we are talking about here.

Ubuntu comes in different flavors and due to compatibility issues you can’t really install different DEs on the same system without breaking it. On top of that Ubuntu’s Unity is quite restrictive about customization. They have added some customization features in the latest release, but you may need third party tools to do that.

Also, elementary OS is extremely rigid about customization so there is not much personalization you can do there.

5. Ease of use

I use Arch and openSUSE so I am not the right person to talk about 'ease of use,' but I feel that from among the three distros, elementary OS is the easiest one to use. They try to keep things simple.  Ubuntu is also very easy to use. The simple reason is that these two distributions target the same user-base: average PC users, who are not very tech savvy. And these two distributions do an excellent job there.

openSUSE can be tricky. It’s a much more mature operating system that doesn’t do a lot of spoon feeding. You do need some kind of understanding about operating systems to use openSUSE. A simple example is: if you install Plex Media Server in openSUSE, you need to open appropriate ports in firewall settings to make it work. An average user won't know that. It’s not a deal breaker, but openSUSE seems to have targeted a more mature Linux user


I like all three distributions. They target different audiences. elementary OS is focusing on look and feel, inspired by Mac OS to offer a seamless experience. Ubuntu offers a great, easy to use Linux distribution. openSUSE remains a mature ‘distribution’ that allows users to use whatever desktop environment or technologies they want on their system. So there is no winner or loser here. It depends on what you want. Use whatever floats your boat.

It’s a win-win-win situation. Isn’t it?

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