Updated: December 16, 2015
Dig if you will the picture. Of SUSE and I engaged in a kiss. The smell of Plasma covers me. You get the point. But honestly, try to imagine the excitement. A new openSUSE release with the bestest number evar. Kernel 4, Plasma 5, my own unmistakable nostalgia and liking for openSUSE, the very first distro that made it onto my systems back in 2004.
Then, to make it all the more interesting, Kubuntu Werewolf and Netrunner Rolling 2015.11, both with the Plasma desktop, recently scored a magnificent zero points each in their own separate reviews. So, it's a matter of honor. Can SUSE exonerate the Plasma family? Could it be the best distro of this year? Yes, that's how much I'm betting on it.
The new SUSE does not come with a live session. Instead, you must commit to the full DVD size image and install the system. I tried first using a thumb drive, and SUSE did not like this. Long story short, don't. You will fail. Then, I had to go the classic way. Burn the ISO to a disc, and let the external USB-powered DVD tray count the bytes one by one as it ever so slowly loaded the installation.
After that, it was peachy. SUSE has always offered the safest, most intelligent installer around, and this version is no exception. There was some 90GB free disk space left on my multi-boot device, and the installer offered that immediately rather than trying to second guess some of the existing Windows and Linux partitions - beautifully divided into a separate root and home no less. Splendid. Wunderbar. No fuss. 40 minutes later, done!
Anticipation in me grows
Another song reference, and if you get it, you truly belong in the hall of fame of the coolest of nerds. The desktop is pretty and dramatic, even though the background image is not scaled well. The Plasma shell is there to greet you, slick and dandy, except the little gap in between the Wireless and the removable drives icon.
The menu comes with a very modest presentation, but you can change between three alternative styles, including the classic KDE look & feel. Whichever you fancy, and they are available when you right-click on the menu icon.
The particular version also allows you to add shortcuts to the bottom panel, and lo and behold, for the first time ever, the Plasma shell did not crash when placing icons there. So there's progress after all. Someone seems to have fixed that one darn bug.
Package management & updates
I tried updating the system right away. The old and familiar YaST is fast and elegant, the search either through the GUI or the command line works fine, and you also have the community repositories, which add tons of good software.
You don't need the online 1-click installers. Most of the stuff is there, in the repos. I tried a bunch of popular programs, and they were all there. Except Skype, for some reason. But I did not struggle with the rest.
Wireless worked, obviously. However, some other aspects of this most critical of categories were not so stellar. Samba printing isn't there. Grayed out. This defies logic, especially considered we just installed a whooping 4.7 GB worth of data to our system. And then updated it. I mean, seriously?
Samba sharing was also flaky. It did not always work. Seriously? It would seem that Plasma has decided to transform from my favorite desktop into the biggest failure of the year. That's such a big vote of confidence. Eventually, the copy operation worked.
Bluetooth is broken beyond repair. Nothing would make it turn on.
I tried various devices. My Lumia 520 was detected, but I was not able to mount it. I got the same useless vomit as with Ubuntu Phone on Kubuntu and Netrunner, so this is definitely Plasma crap.
With iPhone, it would not show in Dolphin, but it was available as a generic camera device in the Plasma shell. I was able to get the photos imported into GwenView, but not without repeated errors and problems. All in all, the connectivity was so unreliable that I did not successfully complete a single whole import of the photos stored on the iPhone.
Ubuntu Phone was the only device that managed the whole sequence without problems, but this was hardly reassuring. Especially since you can't really have any guarantee things won't explode any minute, given our lovely, inconsistent experience this autumn.
Again, not as good as I hoped. Remember my woes with SUSE in the past? Same nonsense here. You don't get any fancy codecs. You need to install them. Except Amarok did not offer anything. I had to manually search and install the necessary packages.
Then, I hit the codec conflict issues, which I've outlined in my pimping guide. And VLC also struggled playing media until I installed the vlc-codecs package, again as outlined in the article above. Why the vlc-codecs package isn't a dependency of the program beats me. So unprofessional. So clunky.
In the end, VLC played everything, but Amarok wouldn't, no matter what. MP3 was beyond its ability, and I can only marvel at the amount of suck in the source code, which I promptly downloaded from Github.
Flash isn't any better. The package in the repos is broken. So why is it there? And then, this seems to affect almost all and every distro this autumn. What's wrong? How difficult is it to wget a silly little file from the Adobe servers? It worked in the end, and I had the plugin, but then you can also staple your eyelids, if you want. A pointless exercise.
HD playback isn't any better, and Dragon refused to play any file from Samba shares. How am I to enjoy my pr0n then? The Leap of Faith with which I started this review was evaporating faster than morning dew in the desert. Or some such stupid analogy.
Lots of them. But then, a whole DVD, what did you expect? Firefox, KMail, LibreOffice, GIMP, digiKAM, and quite a few more. However, it is a little surprising how little you seem to get given the image size. But there's a lot under the hood that is not immediately apparent to the user. Still, a balanced and useful set.
Most of the stuff behaved well, and the laptop did not complain. Moreover, Touchpad did not annoy me at all, which is good. The applet works. After all the fire and alarm I've suffered above - another song reference - it was a small puddle of cherished hope.
Stability, suspend & resume, resource usage
No beef when it comes to stability. Rock solid. Really. The three years of support and the SLE backbone shows through at least when it comes to the core functionality, which is sadly none of the above. But you get a distro that won't randomly crash on you, even if it's pretty much useless in the application space. Suspend & resume also worked fine in this regard.
Resource usage is pretty high, and the CPU is quite noisy, but the distro is fast, especially when you take into consideration the BTRFS and XFS filesystems for the root and home partitions. Some dandy black magic right there. Still, 1 GB and 5% CPU idle is a lot.
I spent a little time fiddling. Nothing too serious. Changing the wallpaper aspect ratio so the background image would show a normal, round light bulb, some icons, panel size, and such. Then I also tried mixing panel styles, like using the light version with the dark bottom panel. This did not work. And then I lost the original theme, and never quite managed to restore it.
Then, Firefox also did not fully respect the Plasma theme. Ah, well.
On paper, openSUSE Leap 42.1, with SLE stability and three years of support, kernel 4.1 and Plasma 5.4, tons of good software, and community repos sounds like a blazing good deal, a dream come true, the Linux Nirvana. In reality, it is nothing of the sort.
Package management works, but you don't get all the software you need plus conflicts, codecs are broken, network connectivity is half-broken, smartphone support is average, resource utilization is high. The distro works, but it gives you no love. It is far from being the beautiful, exciting, amazing product that I expected, the kind that reigned supreme in the SUSE 10 and 11 days. Ah, how I miss them.
Overall, despite being stable, i.e. non-crashy, openSUSE 42.1 is hardly usable as a day-to-day distro. If you value your software, media and gadgets, then this operating system will frustrate you. Xubuntu Vivid or Mint Rafaela are much better choices. Faster, leaner, just as beautiful, and they actually give you everything you need, without any bugs or problems. This autumn season turns out to be one of the worst I've ever had, and it makes me wanna blowtorch a few keyboards. Almost anything and everything I tested so far sucks to a high or very high degree. Present company included. OpenSUSE 42.1, one small step for SUSE, one giant leap for failure. 4/10.