I installed the 5-disc distribution on my Dell Inspiron 6000 laptop, which has an Intel Pentium M running at 1.73Ghz, 512MB RAM, an Ati Radeon X300 with 128MB (dedicated) RAM, and a 15.4" widescreen display (1280x800). The default installation required disc 1 through 4; the installation defaults to GNOME. As is common with Linux these days, all my hardware was working correctly from the get-go (save for my bcm43xx wireless device, but that is to be expected).
SLED boots up fairly quickly to a clean GNOME desktop, with appealing colours. The normal GNOME 'Applications/Places/System' menus have been replaced by a single 'Computer' menu; at first, I was afraid I'd hate it because it reminded me too much of the cumbersome XP-style start menu; however, somehow, in an inexplicable way, it makes sense. Everything is where you expect it to be, and the most important items are easily distinguishable from the lesser ones. It provides Beagle integration for both documents as well as applications. Hats off to Novell for this, I hope, freely available GNOME menu applet.
First thing I did, obviously, was to start up Xgl. I anticipated a lot of die-hard console work, endless hours of Google searching, and configuration file after configuration file. However, none of this. The effects as well as Xgl itself can easily be turned on and off via configuration dialog, which also automagically installs and enables Ati/nVIDIA drivers for you. When Xgl is started, it reloads X for you.
The effects do not slow down this machine at all. Where Vista's effects sometimes skip a few frames or slighlty bog down the computer, SLED's effects have none of those problems at all. Some are fairly useless (like a trail of ripples following your mousecursor, or wobbly windows) some are actually extremely useful, such as the shameless Exposť clone. In fact, Xgl's implementation of Exposť is better than Apple's; in Xgl, the windows kind of 'bounce' towards their respective positions in the grid, giving the windows a much more physical feeling than in the MacOS. The rotating cube is nice too, as it gives virtual desktops a 'presence', making the concept easier to understand for 'ordinary' users. Again, hats off to Novell for this technology.
However, Xgl is by far not the most impressive feature of SLED 10. The most impressive feature is its complete lack of, what I call, 'ducktape' feeling. Virtually all distributions I have tried gave me the direct feeling I was using a product stitched together by ducktape; group A did something, group B as well, and group C stitched those two together with ducktape. SLED, however, feels as if the parts are surgically sewn together, after which a plastic surgeon hid the stitches. A huge step forward for desktop Linux.
Some parts do need better stitching though; especially YaST2, written in Qt, stands out like an American in Paris. A not-so-easy solution would be to write gtk+ frontends to YaST2's back-end. Another thing is OpenOffice, which still uses the old GNOME icons instead of the Tango ones.
Of course it is difficult to draw any conclusions after only such a short time of usage, but already I can confidently say that this release candidate outshines Windows Vista's beta; SLED provides fancy effects without slowing the computer down and also gives you advanced search capabilities in a well-integrated fashion. I'd even go as far as to say that even Apple should be worried; SLED has all the bling and integration at the application level that the MacOS offers; however, SLED can be installed on computers most people already have. And that's an advantage.
A huge one, at that.