openSUSE Leap 42.3openSUSE Leap is a conservative distribution that opts for stable packages over the latest and greatest. The latest release of Leap, version 42.3, ships with version 4.4 of the Linux kernel, but with many features backported from newer releases of the kernel. GNOME 3.20 and KDE Plasma 5.8 are the main desktops offered, but Xfce and LXDE can also be installed from the install media, with other options available post-install or via net-install. Firefox 52 ESR is the default browser in both GNOME and KDE and LibreOffice 5.3 serves as the default office suite.
As someone who appreciates a slower, more cautious update cadence, I was intrigued by openSUSE Leap 42.3's package selection. A slightly older desktop environment paired with an ESR Firefox and a recent release of LibreOffice is something I could find myself using as my main distribution, so I downloaded the 4.6GB ISO to give openSUSE Leap 42.3 a trail run. Below, I take a look at openSUSE's installation process, the KDE Plasma desktop, and more before sharing my final thoughts.
Installing openSUSE Leap 42.3
openSUSE's installation in handled by YaST. The basic experience should be familiar to anyone who has installed a Linux distribution before. While not identical to the installers used by other distributions, YaST handles the same steps and asks the user for the same information. Despite the similarities, there are some interesting differences. The most notable is the default partitioning scheme. By default, openSUSE Leap uses XFS for the home partition and Btrfs for almost everything else (the exceptions are the swap partition and the EFI partition), and openSUSE even pre-configures various directories as Btrfs sub-volumes. By extension, openSUSE is configured to take snapshots of the file system and, should something go wrong, it is possible to rollback the system to a working state. I did not get to test the snapshot feature in depth during the two weeks I spent with openSUSE Leap 42.3, but in my limited experience it works well and could be very, very handy.
Another thing that sets openSUSE Leap 42.3 apart from some other distributions is the fact that the installation media comes with both server and desktop installation options on the same image. Unlike Fedora and Ubuntu, only one download/installation image is needed to install to both server and desktop machines. Having a single flash drive with various installation options is something I find extremely handy. While I like the software selection in Fedora Workstation and Ubuntu's desktop version, the flexibility of openSUSE is a nice change. Being able to install a fully functional KDE or GNOME desktop, or some other custom option, including LXDE and XFCE, without having to download different install media or by installing packages post-install is nice. Yes, I still installed a few packages post-install, but far fewer than what I usually need to do with Fedora or Ubuntu. It should be noted that, much like the Red Hat family of distributions, openSUSE Leap and Tumbleweed (openSUSE's rolling release edition) lack the patent encumbered codecs needed to play some types of media files, so installing them post-install is a requirement if you want to watch and listen to certain types of media.
openSUSE 42.3 -- Selecting packages from the installer (full image size: 98kB, resolution: 1024x768 pixels)
openSUSE's KDE Plasma desktop
Being a GNOME user, I decided to try something different and give openSUSE's KDE Plasma desktop a try. Many of the under-the-hood features and setup tools are the same under all the desktops, so the openSUSE specific stuff is the same no matter what desktop I picked. Still, it was interesting to try out KDE. The Plasma 5.8 desktop is functional and familiar. With a taskbar at the bottom of the screen, the desktop should provide a familiar experience to anyone used to Microsoft Windows. The desktop environment is aesthetically pleasing, the only problem I had with the visuals was openSUSE Leap's default wallpaper. While this is very subjective, I do not like black wallpapers with minimal images. Though, to be fair, the default KDE wallpaper goes too far in the other direction. Personally, I very prefer the default wallpaper from openSUSE Tumbleweed.
openSUSE 42.3 -- The KDE Plasma desktop (full image size: 138kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
The KDE Plasma desktop can be customized extensively using the various options in System Settings, but I did not find much need to do so. The only things I really needed to change were setting up on-line accounts and adding a UTC clock to the clock in the taskbar. The default wallpaper, while not exactly my style, was something I could live with for the time I spent working on this review.
openSUSE 42.3 -- The KDE System Settings panel (full image size: 113kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
The default software selection is what one would expect from any modern distribution. Firefox 52 ESR, LibreOffice 5.3, and the typical KDE applications, like Akregator, Amarok and Dragon Player. KMail and more come pre-installed when selecting the KDE Plasma desktop option from the installer. A few other nice non-KDE applications, like GIMP, come pre-installed as well. More software can be installed graphically using YaST or the zypper package manager on the command line.
YaST and other openSUSE features
What really sets openSUSE apart from other distributions is YaST, openSUSE's vast array of advanced setup tools. Using the YaST Control Panel it is possible, for example, to password protect GRUB with just the click of a checkbox and the Okay button; YaST handles everything automatically. The things YaST can do are available on many other distributions, but YaST simplifies the process considerably.
openSUSE 42.3 -- The YaST control panel (full image size: 152kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
openSUSE Leap 42.3 has a few other thing that are “different” to users coming from other distributions. It is one of the few distributions that I have seen that creates ~/bin and ~/public_html folders by default. Creating those folders, especially ~/bin, is a nice choice, though I am not sure how useful ~/public_html is nowadays. On the command line, command not found errors cause a prompt to appear telling the user to run cnf to find which package contains the missing executable. While this is a small thing, it is probably my favorite difference; I have spent a fair amount of time waiting for automatic command not found lookups to do their thing on various other distributions. Using zypper to install/remove packages took a little while to adjust to, but it works great. Searching for and installing packages was quick and easy. Overall, the openSUSE specific stuff is very nice and the non-openSUSE specific packages are put together into a nice, cohesive whole.
Coming from a Red Hat/Fedora background, the differences took a little while to get used to, but I honestly liked most of them. While I personally will not be switching to openSUSE Leap as my main distribution, I think I will be putting openSUSE Tumbleweed on at least one of my computers to see what interesting developments come from the SUSE family of distributions.
openSUSE Leap 42.3 is a great choice for users looking for a stable distribution with an enterprise level of conservatism when it comes to shipping tested packages instead of the newest versions of everything. Users who do want the newest packages can use openSUSE Tumbleweed instead. Either version of openSUSE, Leap or Tumbleweed, provides a nice experience. If you have hardware that works with Leap's version 4.4-with-backports kernel, it is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a stable system.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a Lenovo Ideapad 100-15IBD laptop with the following specifications: