Updated: August 22, 2015
Many a month ago, when I purchased my new test system, a Lenovo G50 laptop, I promised I would start installing and running all sorts of distros, to check how well they cope with the new hardware, the challenges of UEFI, Secure Boot, and GPT, and other lovely details.
So far, we've mostly had brand new distros, with an odd exception here and there. Now, we will test yet another distro from the past, openSUSE 13.2 Harlequin, which we have already seen in action last November. Let's see what it does here.
Initially, openSUSE refused to boot from a USB stick, but it had no qualms with a plain ole DVD. The G50 laptop does not have its own disc tray, so I had to use an external device, but again, there were no issues.
OpenSUSE booted fine, despite the UEFI setup. Then, in the live session, all of the hardware was working fine. I did not check smartphone compatibility, I have to admit, and this is something that we may leave for another occasion. Other than that, the rest was peachy, suspend & resume, Fn keys, all good. Well, printing to Samba does not work.
The installation was also majestic. As always, openSUSE features the smartest installer in the world. Rather than offering a weird repartitioning setup, it detected some free space at the end of the disk, and recommended creating two new partitions, root with BTRFS and home with XFS, which is most likely going to be the new standard in the future. Then, it also suggested mounting /dev/sda2 as /boot/EFI. Plain adorable. No fuss. Safe.
I decided to change this to a simpler setup. I replaced one of the existing partitions with the new system, and used EXT4. After that, openSUSE gave me a very nice installation summary, which also mentioned Secure Boot enablement. Lovely jubbly.
If you edit the settings, you have a very extensive boot menu wizard, and you can tweak all the little options to your liking. No other distributions gives you this level of granularity. Plus, it's all sane and smart.
The installation was very quick, just seven minutes, beating the entire Ubuntu-based family by a long stretch. And as expected, there were no issues with the seven-system boot configuration. SUSE was now in charge, and all the other distros, as well as the two Windows installations, number 8.1 and 10, respectively, worked without any problems.
The one thing you SHOULD always do first after installing SUSE is running a full system update. This will also provision you with Java, Flash, media codecs, and other useful stuff, and you will avoid some of the hassle of doing it manually. Now, because I wanted to see what gives when you don't do that, I tried enriching my system using other means.
Finding media codecs was tricky. Amarok did prompt, but it could not install anything, even after I've added some dozen community repositories, including OSS, Non-OSS, Packman, and others. Manually, I was able to find the gstreamer packages on the command line. This is somewhat like my pimping article, right.
The next challenge was Flash. The zypper output is confusing. If you try to install using the application name, you will fail, of course. Furthermore, the built-in packages do not really work, and I wasn't able to use any Flash-enabled site in Firefox.
sudo zypper install FlashPlayer
Loading repository data...
Reading installed packages...
'FlashPlayer' not found in package names. Trying capabilities.
No provider of 'FlashPlayer' found.
Resolving package dependencies...
Nothing to do.
I had to remove the built in flash-player and the associated kde4 packages, and then manually install the Flash Player rpm, which I have downloaded from the official Adobe site. But this is not a good thing, because you won't be getting any updates, plus it conflicts with several recommended packages.
After that, I also tried to set up Skype, Steam, Chromium, and several other programs using the famous 1-click installs. While there's a whole list of third-party repos offering the software, some did not quite work, and I had to use several sources before nailing it. This also creates a small security risk for the non-savvy.
In the end, I did have all the extras installed, but it was not a trivial, seamless effort, and for most people, the journey would be arduous if not impossible. Yes, you can get all you need relatively easily, if you are familiar with the command line, know all the tricks, all the package names, and you are not easily dissuaded or alarmed by random error messages. Then again, openSUSE has been out for a LONG time now, why not fix all this nonsense, and offer a simple one-liner script that solves all these in one smooth go?
Lo and behold, the same bug affecting Ubuntu Trusty and its derivatives is also present here. I had to create the modprobe file with the right options for my Realtek card, and then reboot. Since, the issue has not resurfaced.
There is no touchpad utility, and I thought I would be facing the problem like with Linux Mint 17.1 KDE. However, this is not the case. You just need to install a single utility, which will also pull some 140MB worth of Plasma 5 dependencies, but you will have one excellent touchpad tool to control and configure tapping and scrolling and all those other things that prevent you from typing freely.
sudo zypper install kcm-touchpad5
OpenSUSE is not too ravenous. It's not a memory guzzler, but it does like to chomp CPU cycles, and as a result, it's not the most responsive of distros out there. It works just fine, but many others are slimmer, more slick, and just faster. CPU utilization was about 3% all the time, and memory hovered around 550 MB. Not bad, but it can definitely be better.
I love to tinker, and one of the best examples to do that is openSUSE. The KDE framework comes with everything you need built-in, decorations, wallpapers, icons, themes, desktop effect, all the rest. So I put my imagination to the task. It was fine, except at one point, some of the icons glued to the bottom panel refused to move beyond an almost arbitrary vertical mark. I had to reset the kwinrc configuration file to be able to do it. In the end, there was a very pretty, very stylish system, loaded with tons of goodies, staring back at me in full HD glory.
OpenSUSE 13.2 Harlequin delivers a two-face performance. When it comes to hardware, it is truly top-notch, with an extremely fast and elegant installation, splendid support for UEFI in a complex, multi-boot setup, and good detection of all the different components on a fairly new device. You can't print to Samba, and the Realtek Wireless card suffers from the same woes as it does in Ubuntu, but other than that, it's spotless. The system was also stable, without any crashes, and it would sleep and wake instantly.
On the other hand, software management is clunky. You have to sacrifice quite a bit of patience, time, knowledge, bandwidth and luck to get everything you need. There are just too many steps, too many traps, too many ways to obtain the software, and you are tempted to wander about the Web, searching for third-party content. That's not how Linux should behave. Worse still, there were errors with packages, plugins, codecs, conflicts with dependencies, and still other issues that would deter veterans, lets alone noobs. Worst yet, all this happens as a regression, following happy times back in November. Moreover, it's been so long since the distro was released, there should be none of these issues.
When it comes to Lenovo G50, openSUSE 13.2 passes the test with flying colors. It's just as good as the competition if not better, and you get all and everything you need on the hardware side. But the ecosystem is wonky, and it needs shaping up. So this time around, the grade is going to be much lower. About 6.5/10. SUSE, please, you're better than that.