openSUSE, the community developed Linux distribution sponsored by SUSE, has released version 12.1 today. At first glance, openSUSE 12.1 is pretty much in line with recent releases from Fedora and Ubuntu: GNOME 3.2, systemd, etc. But a closer look starts to reveal some real divergence between the various Linux offerings today. For example, while Fedora 16 allows you to choose btrfs for your filesystem, openSUSE 12.1 uses btrfs by default. There’s a number of other interesting advancements packed in this release, too.
The filesystem features provided by btrfs are enhanced on openSUSE 12.1 with Snapper, a user-space utility to take, compare, and revert snapshots of files. This has huge potential to make life better for users. It certainly won’t eliminate the need for backups, but it’s a strong step in the right direction. Similarly, openSUSE 12.1 includes support for ownCloud, “slim yet powerful private cloud software”. Again, this isn’t going to eliminate Dropbox or similar services, but it’s a step in the right direction toward self-sufficiency for regular end users in the Free Software space.
For power users looking to stay current with the state of the art in Free Software, openSUSE 12.1 includes Tumbleweed, a rolling update of tested, stable software. This replaces the rigid periodic release of a complete, complex system. Instead of upgrading all the software in your entire system every six or twelve months, Tumbleweed will upgrade individual components as new stable releases are made available.
As Zonker opined on G+, there’s a lot to differentiate one Linux distribution from another right now. It used to mostly be Red Hat-like versus Debian-like, but now each distribution has its own stable of compelling features.