openSUSE 15.2 LeapopenSUSE is a general purpose, Linux-based operating system which shares code with SUSE Linux Enterprise. The project provides two main branches: Leap, which is a fixed release distribution, and a rolling branch called Tumbleweed. The project recently published version 15.2 of the Leap branch which introduces a number of new features and package updates. Selecting whether to install CPU attack migrations is now an installer option and detecting Windows partitions during the initial setup now works better. The project has also introduced a number of new container management and data analysis tools. The distribution currently provides 18 months of support for each version, with new point releases generally coming out about once per year. Popular desktop environments have been updated with KDE Plasma 5.18, GNOME 3.34, and Xfce 4.14 available.
There are a number of ways to download openSUSE 15.2. The distribution is available as a 4GB install disc for 64-bit (x86_64) computers or as a 138MB net-install disc. There are also live desktop editions for GNOME, KDE Plasma, and a minimal rescue flavour. These live discs can be downloaded for x86_64 and aarch64 computers. There are some secondary ports to other architectures too, available as full install and net-install discs. I decided to download the Plasma live edition to make testing easier and found it was 910MB in size.
The openSUSE website lists hardware requirements for the distribution, which I suspect are actually higher than necessary. Users are told they need to have a dual-core 2GHz CPU, 2GB of RAM, and 40GB of disk space. Though my testing showed that the distribution can get by with fewer resources if need be.
Booting from the live media brings up a menu asking if we would like to start the live desktop environment, perform a media check, or try to boot an existing operating system from the hard drive. Taking the live desktop option loads the KDE Plasma desktop. Icons on the desktop can launch the system installer, start an upgrade process from a previous version of openSUSE, and open the file manager. A panel placed along the bottom of the screen houses the application menu on the left and the system tray on the right.
There was no welcome window, documentation, or other introduction items on the desktop. Everything seemed to be running smoothly and so I soon launched the openSUSE system installer.
openSUSE uses a graphical installer. The installer began by downloading information from some servers and, though it was not explicitly stated, it appears as though this information is likely package repository data. We are then shown the project's license and given the opportunity to change the default language and keyboard layout using drop-down lists.
The following screen asks if we would like to activate on-line repositories, presumably to check for the latest possible versions of packages and optional add-ons. We can then select which repositories we want to use. Most of these are the project's main repositories and updates, but there are also some extra repositories containing source code and debugging information. Our next step is to pick a role for our operating system with options including Desktop (with KDE Plasma), Desktop (with GNOME), a minimal generic desktop, Server, and Transactional Server. The last option is essentially the same as the Server role, but with the root filesystem set to be read-only with atomic package updates.
When it comes to disk partitioning we can take a guided option, which suggests using Btrfs and a swap partition. The manual partitioning option is very flexible, but also unusually complex by Linux standards. There are all sorts of options for network (NFS) and Btrfs volumes, most of which we probably will not need.
The installer then asks us to pick our time zone from a map of the world and create username and password for ourselves. We are then shown a list of settings and changes the installer will make and we can click links next to each configuration option to adjust it. For instance, we can change where the boot loader is installed, tweak security options, and enable/disable CPU attack migrations. Once we confirm all the settings look right the installer copies its files to the hard drive and then exits, returning us to the live desktop.
When I rebooted from the live media, after finishing the installation, there was no prompt to remove the media and so I ended up booting with it still in. This would not seem a problem at first as the media's boot menu offers to launch an operating system from the local hard disk. Sadly, this option did not work for me and trying it caused the system to simply lock up. I had to remove the live media and boot directly from the hard drive to start my new copy of openSUSE.
openSUSE boots to a graphical login screen where we can sign into one of several session options. The available session are: TWM, IceWM, Plasma, Plasma (Wayland), and Plasma (Full Wayland). TWM and IceWM are very minimal window managers, though they work. IceWM in particular strikes a good balance between minimalism and functionality and may be helpful if Plasma stops working. The plain Plasma session (Plasma on X.Org) worked as expected and I encountered no problems with it. The two Plasma on Wayland sessions both worked and I did not notice any differences between the Wayland and Full Wayland options. However, there were two problems with the Wayland sessions which kept me from using them regularly. The first was that the mouse pointer in Wayland did not always seem to appear where it was performing actions. In other words, sometimes clicking on one area of the screen seemed to trigger an event elsewhere. My other issue was that, in VirtualBox, it was not possible to resize the Wayland desktop session and resolution was limited to 800x600 pixels. This was not a problem when running on physical hardware where Wayland used my display's full resolution.
openSUSE 15.2 -- The KDE System Settings panel (full image size: 141kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
The Plasma desktop, in whichever form I was using it, tended to be quiet. There are few icons on the desktop, not much in the way of notifications, and there is no welcome window. The one exception to this was a warning notification which appeared one of the first times I logged in which indicated the root filesystem was "not responding". Despite this ominous warning, I did not run into any issues when accessing the filesystem.
When I started playing with openSUSE it was in a VirtualBox environment. Both desktop performance and boot times were about average in the virtual environment. At first I had trouble resizing the Plasma desktop, even from within the settings panel, but once I had changed the VirtualBox display driver from its default I could resize the desktop from the System Settings panel. Otherwise the experience in VirtualBox was good.
When I shifted over to trying openSUSE on my laptop, the operating system detected all of my hardware properly. Desktop performance was quite good and the system was always pleasantly responsive.
openSUSE, when running KDE Plasma, did not require many resources. The system consumed a mere 400MB of RAM when signed into the desktop. The system used about 6.2GB of disk space for a fresh install.
The default application menu contains one panel with a series of tabs across the bottom. The tabs switch our view between favourite applications, all application categories, "Computer" (which is mostly folder locations, History (of folders we have opened), and logout options. Personally, this menu layout feels cumbersome to me as it takes more mouse movement and clicks to find what I want. Fortunately, we can quickly switch to alternative menu styles by right-clicking on the application menu's button. Two other menu styles include a classic tree-style menu and a full screen menu with three panels.
Whatever its layout, the application menu contains a lot of useful, open source software. I found the Firefox browser, LibreOffice, the VLC media player, and KDE Connect available. I also got to try out KMail, the Konversation IRC client, the TigerVNC Viewer, Okular document viewer, and Dolphin file manager.
openSUSE 15.2 -- Running Firefox and exploring the KDE documentation (full image size: 146kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
For adjusting the look and behaviour of the desktop we have access to the KDE System Settings panel. When we get lost the KDE Help Centre is installed for us. There are also a few small games and the Kleopatra security key software.
Behind the scenes openSUSE ships with the GNU command line utilities, Java, and systemd provides init functionality. Version 5.3.10 of the Linux kernel keeps things running smoothly in the background.
openSUSE ships with some media codecs, for instance it played my audio files (including MP3s) without any problems. However, I was unable to play video files due to missing codecs. At first I tried to fix this by going into the YaST package manager and choosing the option to add a community repository. Unfortunately only one community repository, for updates, was found. The popular Packman repository with codecs was not listed. My next step was to try openSUSE's famous "one-click" codec install. There is a page in an openSUSE community wiki which offers a button we can click to set up the appropriate repositories and install codecs in 15.2. This had mixed results.
openSUSE 15.2 -- Trying to install media codecs (full image size: 240kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Despite the install method being called "one-click", the process actually involves clicking the download button, selecting to open the package, confirm changes the package will make to the system, confirm we want to continue, enter the root password, choose to trust the repository certificates (twice). It turns out to be a seven-click process. Then the install ran into an endless loop of package conflicts because I also had similar packages with the missing codecs on my system. After trying various solutions through the automated installer I finally gave up. I then manually removed my old copies of the media players, including VLC, and installed fresh copies from the add-on repositories. While these new versions included the necessary codecs, trying to play video files in VLC caused the player to immediately crash. In the end, while playing audio files worked, I never got video files to play properly.
One of the key features which sets openSUSE apart from other distributions is the YaST administration centre. YaST provides a settings panel which gives us easy access to configuration modules that can be used to tweak almost every aspect of the operating system. YaST's many tools handle everything from firewall management, to software updates, to setting up printers, to network file shares, to sudo access. These tools are generally fairly friendly and work well.
I made some observations while exploring YaST. For example, the firewall tool, which appears to be a front-end to FirewallD, works fairly well. It's more streamlined than some other firewall tools I have used lately with FirewallD, but less streamlined than Gufw.
The services manager confused me a little at first because clicking the Start button to launch background services would cause the display to be updated with a message saying the service was running. However, the service would not actually launch until I had later hit the Apply button in the service manager. This makes it look like network services are running before they actually become available.
Perhaps my favourite tool in openSUSE is the filesystem snapshot manager. Whenever we make a change to openSUSE through YaST the system takes a Btrfs snapshot (assuming we used Btrfs as the root filesystem). We can then browse through existing snapshots, see file-by-file differences between snapshots and restore one or more files from past snapshots. This makes it wonderfully easy to revert changes or fix broken package updates.
openSUSE has an update icon which lives in the system tray and we can click on this icon to open an applet that will let us know security updates are available. The only issue with this approach is the icon is buried inside a menu with other notification icons and, even knowing where to look for it, I found it blended in with the other service icons. This means new software fixes can easily be overlooked. The update applet works well though, telling us how many new packages are available to be downloaded and applying updates cleanly.
The default software centre, at least on the KDE edition of openSUSE, is Discover. This application begins with a list of featured or popular desktop software. We can then browse applications and add-ons based on their category. I like how the categories in Discover roughly line up with the software categories in the application menu. Items in Discover are listed with their name, a brief description, and an icon. We can click a button next to an item's entry to install or remove it.
Discover sorts software based on a user-supplied rating, which can seem like a random order. I am happy to report that we can easily change the sort order to list software by its name, size, or release date. Personally, I found looking for items by their name to be the easiest approach.
Discover worked fairly quickly and I did not encounter any problems while using it. My only complaint with Discover was that I had to input my password every time I wanted to install or remove a program. This can get tedious after the ninth or tenth installation.
I feel it worth mentioning YaST has its own package manager which takes a more low-level approach. The YaST package manager offers a lot of options, searches, and filters. It is probably overkill for most users, but for people who need to finely manage or search through low-level packages it offers a lot of flexibility.
Finally, people who prefer working from the command line can make use of Zypper to manage RPM packages and Flatpak to work with portable packages from repositories like Flathub. Zypper is, in my opinion, one of the cleaner, faster RPM front-ends and though I did not use it much, the few times I tried it Zypper worked well.
In my opinion openSUSE is a distribution which does a lot of things right. The project offers a lot of download options, covering a range of CPU architectures and desktop environments without its download options becoming overwhelming. The project's documentation is usually easy to find and read.
The project has an unusual style and its installer, menu layouts, and YaST administration panel are all a little alien when coming from other Linux distributions. This is not to say that openSUSE does things in a way that is better or worse, but it does have a distinct style that can take a little adjustment.
I think the project has a great set of configuration modules and YaST is a gem of a tool. I especially like that it integrates with Btrfs to automatically take snapshots whenever we make a configuration change in case we need to undo an action. This makes openSUSE virtually bullet-proof. In fact, openSUSE appears to be one of the only Linux distributions making use of Btrfs and its powerful features like snapshots and multi-disk volumes.
The distribution has just two drawbacks as far as I can see. Its multimedia support is lacking and the documented ways to fix this, through one-click or third-party repositories did not work. Maybe this will get sorted out later, after 15.2 has been out for a while, but the days immediately after launch, multimedia issues were unresolved and caused all sorts of package conflicts. My other issue was with the sometimes limited or outdated packages in the repositories. openSUSE is missing a number of tools or has out of date versions of some software I use. Maybe this is less of an issue with openSUSE Tumbleweed, but in the Leap branch openSUSE feels like it is slightly behind in available software and/or versions of some tools.
All in all, I like openSUSE. I think the distribution is charmingly different in some ways. It offers a lot of powerful tools. I wouldn't recommend openSUSE to beginners, but Linux users who want a lot of power and point-n-click tools to make system administration easy will find a lot of good features in openSUSE. I especially enjoy the way Btrfs snapshots allow me to experiment without worrying about what I might break.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a de-branded HP laptop with the followingspecifications:
Processor: Intel i3 2.5GHz CPU
Display: Intel integrated video
Storage: Western Digital 700GB hard drive
Memory: 6GB of RAM
Wired network device: Realtek RTL8101E/RTL8102E PCI Express Fast