[Edit: For now I will read Groklaw and see what they have to say on the matter and say this: openSUSE 10.2 really is a very good distribution; as for the deal regarding Microsoft and Novell, I'm no legal expert so I would point people to Groklaw to hear one side of the argument and to the openSUSE wiki where you can find Novell's response, and ask that you make up your own mind. Edit of the edit: You may also want to do a google search for information from Eben Moglen and Richard Stallman to get their points of view on the deal; someone in the comments has suggested their responses are also very useful.]
[Edit 2: After reading Groklaw, although I am still unsure, I don't want to make the mistake of endorsing a Novell product (or any product related to Novell) because of my ignorance! The review stands, it is a good distro, but in terms of what Novell have agreed with Microsoft including the agreement to include OpenXML support in Novell OpenOffice, I can't recommend it. In fact, I will be changing. I'm not sure what to but I think I'm going to have to think long and hard about it. ]
I must say I'm impressed. So much so I'm going to attempt to write my first ever distribution review! I'm not going to go over every step of installation and use, rather just try and pick some of, what are in my opinion, highlights (and real negatives!) of the distribution.
The installer was as good as any other graphical installer I've ever used. What was really great about it was the package selection: here the user had complete control over the installation packages with detailed descriptions of each to help you make your choices. The other thing I liked about the installer was the good default partitioning layout, using ext3 and a separate home partition. Add to these two things it worked, detected and configured my hardware properly, had a nice slideshow while installing telling me about all the great features I was going to find in the OS, and had me online quickly and easily.
The default themes throughout, including the boot splash, the GDM and Gnome's desktop backgrounds are all really attractive with nice blues and curvy lines and a, in my opinion, very cool openSUSE logo. Once logged in it took me a while to get used to Gnome with just a single panel across the bottom, with a single menu "Computer". This menu is so different to any other Gnome menu and I really love it!
Rather than try to explain it all, which will undoubtedly end in failure I'm going to link to some screenshots:
If you click the image you should hopefully be taken to where you can find a complete screenshot walk through of installation and the main features of the distro. Saves me a lot of time :-)
You might be wondering how to see the rest of your applications? Well, you just click the "More Applications" button and you're taken to a window with all your applications nicely catagorized and looking quite attractive, and a filter search to help you find them quickly.
The best thing about this, in my opinion, is that it's clean and there's nicely integrated beagle search which is just such a fantastic idea! Also in this menu is a link to openSUSE's help documentation which covers a wide range of topics, although I fear it won't be much good for any problems requiring more in depth knowledge - IRC, mailing lists and forums will still be important!
The other thing that's really different about this distro is that they actually make use of Gnome control center. This is a really good point I think as it looks much cleaner than the system menu used in other Gnome distros and makes it feel more complete.
Although none of these things are crucial functionality they make the whole experience a lot more pleasant. Things that are different to other distros are the default installer, which has a simple interface and makes installing applications easy to do, with repositories setup by default during installation; linked to this as well is the Yast2 set of graphical applications for configuring your system, hardware, software etc. I haven't had much chance to try it out yet, but it's accessible from the Gnome control center and appears to have a wide range of tools. I have used it for adding new repositories and that was straight forward, so I can't really fault it yet.
I should also add Firefox 2.0 is present here and is really great to use. The new spell checker feature is proving it's worth while I write this post :-p While talking about applications, F-spot and Banshee are both installed and clearly promoted in the default install which I think is fantastic because they look great and they work great too. I even think Banshee is using Helix as the backend by default, and if I'm correct this provides out of the box support for WMA and mp3 from an open source application. Please feel free to correct me on this. Although it's a shame not to try and support ogg etc a bit stronger this will certainly appeal to people coming from Windows.
There's only two thing so far I'm not impressed with: it seems slugish at times, certainly when compared to Debian or Fedore (with out SELinux enabled), and I wonder if this is because of Novell's apparmour? I haven't tried disabling it yet because it's only a matter of 10s or so on boot and login but it does seem strange when the rest of the distro is so good.
The other thing is the range of software available in the default repositories. It seems quite limited, but then it could just be that they've chosen different packages to what I've seen in other distros. Everything one needs for most tasks is included but there are some obvious gaps such as Istanbul desktop recorder (maybe not so obvious until you come to record a screencast for a review you're writing!).
I do wish they'd used a better default icon set too: I think they're using "Industrial" and it's just ugly in my opinion! Only a minor point.
The final point I'd like to make is about their approach to non-free software. If you're downloading the CD images you have to grab an extra bonus CD to get non-free bits and bobs, which I think is a fair approach and similar to Debian's non-free and contrib repos; when downloading the DVD, however, they're on the ISO and some are even installed by default. During installation if you choose to customize your software selection you see they are clearly labeled proprietary which I suppose is fair, but if you didn't choose to do this? The first clue you have is when you're presented with some license agreements. I guess I just wish they made the point a bit clearer, throughout the distro (with things like out of the box mp3 support).
[Edit: After reading Groklaw, although I am still unsure, I don't want to make the mistake of endorsing a Novell product (or any product related to Novell) because of my ignorance! The review stands, it is a good distro, but in terms of what Novell have agreed with Microsoft including the agreement to include OpenXML support in Novell OpenOffice, I can't recommend it. In fact, I will be changing. I'm not sure what to but I think I'm going to have to think long and hard about it. ]
In conclusion? I'm going to stick with it. It really is impressive with a great set of software installed by default (taking away perhaps a lot of my need for massive repos), nice touches like the new menu and use of Gnome control center etc.
Sorry it's not the most detailed review ever, I'm impatient! If there's anything I've not talked about and maybe you'd like to know about before trying it yourself post a comment and I'll try and answer your question. Or you could just look at the openSUSE website :-p