Updated: November 21, 2014
For me, openSUSE has always been a special distro. THE first distro. I've kept on using loyally it for many years, even as Ubuntu started making huge progress and stealing major portions of the Linux market share. But then, with the release of the 12th edition, something big changed. The magic evaporated.
Since, my heart has not really been captivated by SUSE. Not like it used to be. It works fine, but never perfectly, never up to its full potential. Similarly, the last version, with so much beauty and style, it could have been the lead distro of the year, and yet it failed to do that. So maybe openSUSE 13.2 will spark the green chameleon renaissance. Let's see.
My first snag was not being able to copy the image to a USB thumb drive. Something went wrong with the unpacking of this and that archive, and the external thingie was not bootable. I was forced to use DVD media to get into the live session.
This worked as expected if slowly. The final product is a very clean and polished openSUSE desktop, featuring its kickass theme, this time in light colors, although the ultra suave black theme is also available, and personally, a hundred times better looking. No shortcut text shadows like the light one, better contrast and such. And since I'm always right, you will have to change your taste. Sorry.
More specifically, with some tiny, tiny OCD fixlets:
The system behaved well. I was able to utilize both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wireless networks, plus Samba, and the performance was very good. Speed, low latency, as you'd want it.
More on the beauty front
There's really very little to fault the SUSE team for how they packaged and presented the desktop. My only visual complains are that the Pager should have four virtual desktops rather than two for a more Feng Shui look, and that the two default launchers for Dolphin and Firefox are too small, especially if you add new icons to the panel, in which case you end up with icons of two different sizes. So it's better to replace them with classic shortcuts that scale up more nicely.
Now, if you recall my Ubuntu and Kubuntu reviews, both Unicorns, then you remember the glitch with screenshots, where they did not quite work, or rather, I was unable to capture the desktop activity under certain conditions. In fact, not at all with the Unity desktop, and only with desktop effects enabled inside KDE4. This seems to be a grave issue with the graphics stack, which means new kernel, new X, new drivers, and such.
Apparently, the problem is more widespread than just the Canonical family. The same issue is fully reproducible in openSUSE, too. If you turn off the desktop effects, you will not be able to take new screenshots, if you happen to be running a T61 laptop with stock Intel graphics. This is quite annoying, I must admit.
This is an interesting one. By default, you get no MP3 and Flash, so there's no reason to live. But if you launch Amarok, it will search and successfully install the missing codecs, and you can do the same with Firefox. But Flash is becoming less of an issue, especially when it comes to entertainment, because more and more Youtube content is available sans Flash, which is a great thing. We want Flash to die. And we shall revisit the media front again, after the installation.
OpenSUSE continues its trend of offering by far the safest and most intelligent installer around, with the best suggested partitioning scheme. Always looks for a /home partition, always makes a decent recommendation, and so forth. Once again, the wizard did not disappoint.
However, I did not want to ruin /dev/sda1, so I had to manually alter the setup. This worked okay, except for one moderately critical problem. I chose BTRFS as the default filesystem for my root partition. But you can't just breeze through the options. Normally, because of its extensive snapshotting features, BTRFS creates subvolumes for different partitions and/or filesystems. And because I chose a separate /home partition for my data and such, this created a conflict. However, the exception is raised as a rather cryptic prompt that tells you about shadowed thingie and whatnot, and this can be really confusing to new, unsuspecting users.
In my case, the solution was simple - remove /home from the list of subvolumes, as it has its own EXT4 partition. That's all. But then, many people might give up at this stage, so my recommendation is to make this smart wizard even smarter in trying to resolve this kind of problem on its own, favoring separate home setups.
After this, the installation proceeded without problems, except the system was totally unusable while copying data. After first reboot, I realized I did not have SUSE GRUB2 in place, even though I've configured it in the installation options. Maybe I messed up something. Not a biggie.
I booted into Scientific Linux, which was controlling the machine's setup, and tried to add SUSE, but Scientific was not able to read BTRFS, and thus, it did not add openSUSE 13.2 to its list. Eventually, I booted into a Salamander instance, used its bootloader, and things were fine after this. Kind of awkward, but not something that would affect most people, as few users have ever-changing quad-boot configurations in place. Mostly me and my silly testing games.
Taming the lizard
It's like Taming the Shrew, except more fun, because men can enjoy the experience, too. Anyhow, the desktop came up with the white theme, so I had to change it again to the dark theme, and start my pimpology.
Zypper worked fast and true. Really quick repos, really quick Wireless, and remember, it's always the same setup, same distance from the routers. Nice. I was able to add new repositories, install updates, grab some extra third-party software using 1-click installers, and such. All of this went quickly and smoothly. Quite impressive, even though YaST could cause the Ubuntu bunch fresh converts and wannabe explorers a bit of trouble at first, due to its somewhat enterprisy feel.
The default collection is okay. Not the most exciting, but perfectly functional. You have a mix of KDE tools and friends, including Firefox, LibreOffice, GwenView, Okular, a handful of digital photo editing programs, Marble, and a few other utilities. Then, I grabbed Skype and Steam using web installers. Neat. And finally, the openSUSE team has made sure to have all the repo contents in place BEFORE releasing the distro, so that you can smoothly find and install everything. In the past, this was a problem, especially with media codecs and graphics drivers. Finally. Good!
I did not have to bother with any manual installations of codecs. The initial system update took care of that. So this is a good thing, and you will have your reasons to live after all.
Here's another interesting finding. OpenSUSE 13.2 did not drink too much digital juice. Memory consumption is lower than most other distros, and the CPU utilization is comparable. BTRFS did not cause any issues like we've seen in the past, and it was a pretty hassle-free experience overall. At roughly 400MB usage, and CPU in the low single digit range, this is a pretty nifty distro. Again, we've been waiting for this kind of results for many years, and they are finally back.
Suspend & resume
No problems. One second to sleep and wake. Really neat.
Worked like a charm. Smoothly and quickly.
Problems, and they're gone
One of the big issues that I faced during the first two hours of testing is that the mouse was kind of sluggish. Not its movements, but its clicks. The system simply refused to respond to mouse clicks, and I had to stab and jab before actions would happen.
Then, while searching for quotation marks artistic content quotation marks of Susanna Hoffs, following my Stacey Q video demo on Youtube, the system stalled. Completely. Even though I restarted X with the magic key stroke combo, the desktop refused to come up, and I had to power off the laptop and start again. After this, the mouse problems were gone, and the desktop sailing was even faster and smoother than before. This might be a one-time issue, but I'm still shaving half a point of the total score!
At first, I suspected this could be BTRFS, but it probably is not, because there's no correlation to the system activity, or any spikes in memory or CPU usage. Must be the same source of evil affecting my screenshots and such. However, there are no friendly logs for me to analyze and fix this.
This is another baddie. No Samba printing. Why?
With the woes behind us, we can focus on the elegance and style. And when it comes to great looks, nothing beats SUSE. Seriously, the theme is absolutely smashing. Throw in some perfectly functional desktop effects, which have been stuttering lately in many a KDE release, and you're in for an expensive looking treat. Top that with good performance, a pleasant desktop experience, very neat and optimized resource usage, and good stability barring that one-time fluke, and you're in for a big, tasty treat. This is what openSUSE should have been like all these years.
Finally. After three and a half years of sucking, openSUSE is a top performance once again. This is an excellent all-around distribution, and it comes with some neat solutions both over and underneath the hood. You can't deny its amazing looks, and with the 13.2 release, performance, functionality and stability are back.
Now, openSUSE 13.2 has its problems. The screenshot thingie, subvolume handling, missing Samba printing option, plus that one inexplicable crash, which is probably the most serious item. And because of it, the final grade shall be lower. But all combined, the woes pale against the quality and general goodness radiating from this edition. Really, if you ignore the initial setup, and the one time freeze, there's very little not to like about openSUSE 13.2. I'm pleased. And feeling somewhat fanboyish. But this is good.
Anyhow, if you're looking for a non-Ubuntu family release that can offer you a great blend and balance between looks, modernity, functionality, stability, and performance, then you have several worthy candidates to consider. CentOS is one of them, and now openSUSE has returned, mighty and strong, and sanity has been restored into the distro world, where for many years, there's been an almost total dominance by Mint and Ubuntu, with everyone else lagging behind. OpenSUSE 13.2 is definitely worth testing and exploring. Final grade, something like 9/10, and this is with a whole 0.5 point taken off. So it's good. Do it.