While the new features are nice, it's the improved community development process in openSUSE 11.1 that I think signals the biggest change in SUSE, starting with an upgraded license to open up SUSE to more unfettered redistribution.
I caught up with openSUSE Linux community manager, Joe Brockmeier, who confirmed the importance of the revised license and focus on community development:
This release marks a major milestone for the contributor community. It's the first release to be built in the openSUSE Build Service entirely, and paves the way for much more community collaboration directly in building openSUSE. We've modified the openSUSE license to allow freer redistribution and have removed some non-free components (Agfa fonts, Sun Java, for example) and replaced them with free software components. The non-free software is still available online, but in order to try to make openSUSE the easiest Linux to use and obtain, we've taken steps to simplify redistribution.
Despite the stick that I and others have given Novell for its community-swatting patent partnership with Microsoft, Novell clearly wants to make peace with the Linux community. These moves are big steps in that direction, but Novell has more in store, as Brockmeier told me:
We're looking forward to 11.2 already, and opening up some of our planning processes to the community as well. We're working on opening our feature tracking system and we're already having discussions on the openSUSE-project mailing list about the release schedule and trying to develop a release schedule that works as well as possible for all stakeholders. (This is not easy, given the development cycles of KDE and GNOME -- as they're hitting 3 months after one another, which makes it hard to ship the latest and greatest of both simultaneously.)
Novell has opened up its openSUSE board, but this shift in licensing and platform for openSUSE should expedite Novell's shift away from company development for openSUSE to community development. That's a good shift, and one that may well counterbalance the harm it did with its Microsoft patent agreement.