Updated: December 16, 2016
I do have to admit I've been waiting for openSUSE to release 42.2. Even though the much anticipated Leap version did not stun me, I still have a secret love for openSUSE, deep deep down, as it was my first proper distro, and it has always shown that level of professionalism you don't get elsewhere. Lately, it's been flaking, but still.
Anyhow, let's try to rekindle the emotion. OpenSUSE 42.2, also named Leap, is here, and currently, it comes as a mighty DVD-size ISO. Live editions ought to follow soon, but for me, it was time to bleed the network bandwidth. Testbed? The notorious if recently somewhat redeemed Lenovo G50 machine.
No foreplay, installation right away
The DVD bundle does not come with a live session, so you can either install right away, or upgrade an existing setup, if it's present. This means no screenshots, but I am sure you can use your imagination, and that my words will be colorful enough to pique your interest. Here are the most important observations from the installation:
The full DVD system comes with far more options than the typical live CD edition, and you have more choice how to setup and configure your system. For instance, the installer lets you setup the Wireless driver options (modprobe tweaks). You also have the option to choose between either Plasma or Gnome desktop, and add extra repos.
That said, the installer was not able to auto-detect Wireless access points, even when I clicked the scan button, and so I left the network unconfigured until after the installation.
The partitioner is as superb as ever. SUSE has the best installer, hands down. Nothing beats its magic, and its smart and safe choices are just uncanny. In my case, and we are talking a very complex GPT setup with 16 partitions, Windows 10 and some 6-7 Linux distros, the installer most correctly identified the resident GeckoLinux setup on sda15 and sda16, and it offered to re-format the root partition with BTRFS, and then reuse the /home partition, which has XFS, without destroying the data. Then, it also correctly identified swap and the EFI partition, and even offered to use Secure Boot. Lovely jubbly.
The user setup is also very elegant - you can import existing users. It gave me the choice of using either the generic linux account or my 'old' roger user from the current setup. It also automatically configures the first new user to be a system admin, i.e. sudo rights.
The keyboard was correctly identified - US English - and not any regional nonsense. Even though I can write and converse in all sorts of languages, I just hate any localization, and that's why I love when keyboards go simple on me.
Speedy, elegant, classy. It has that smell of professional work, and you know this product is a result of many long years of serious enterprise legacy, and there are no games here. The installer will not delight you with any fancy slides, it might look conservative and boring, but it is designed to be bullet-proof, detailed enough for system administrators, and safe enough for newbs. I really am struggling to understand why other distros do not use the YaST framework for their management.
Jump around, jump around
Leap 42.2 comes with a desktop that is very similar to the previous edition. A slick wallpaper, correctly positioned this time. You do have a couple of folders almost overlapping with the widget button in the top right corner, but you can easily get rid of those, if you need to. Then, KWallet is less annoying than ever before, and you are asked to provide the Wireless password only once. Likewise, the system menu can be invoked with the Super key. Some major bug polish there. Plasma, if you're wondering.
Networking - Well ...
This didn't work out quite as well as I expected. The Realtek problems were expected, but then, not being able to recover from them is a new one. Re-inserting the module was not enough. Restarting the Network Manager, DHCP or DNS did not help either. I think this is the first time I actually had to reboot to restore network connectivity after the Realtek driver decided to go kaput.
But then, the Bluetooth thingie also did not work. I thought maybe some packages were missing, but they were all there and accounted for, and yet, I was not able to turn the adapter on. Topping Mount Turde is the fact you cannot Samba using names only IP addresses, and there's no Samba printing. I even installed python-smbc - python3-smbc was already there, but this did not help me achieve the simple, reasonable desire of being able to print to a device connected to a Windows box. Such is life, baby don't hurt me.
Package management & updates
Decent, but you get a smaller collection of community repos this time. However, the whole thing worked fairly well and moderately fast. I was able to add some extras, and also search for new Patterns and install additional desktop environments. More about this later. The search functionality is good, but not perfect.
This was kind of semi-wonky. Yes, I found the MP3 stuff easily, and the Adobe Flash Player is also there. But then openSUSE complained about the missing H.264 codecs, and it was not able to satisfy some of the missing dependencies and codecs. I'm wondering why anyone would release software with such glaring bugs.
In the end, Amarok did play MP3, but neither VLC nor Dragon were able to access media files on Samba shares, and then, we had the issues with the codecs. That just isn't how an openSUSE release should behave. I mean for real (realz).
Well, iPhone worked! Yay! Finally. But then, the Ubuntu Phone did not. For some reason, I was not able to mount it and use it. This used to be the one that did not cause problems, but it seems the tables are turned.
For a massive image, the default collection is relatively tame. It is rich and varied, just not as big as you would expect. You still get a whole load of practical and useful stuff, including Firefox, KMail, Kopete, LibreOffice, GwenView, Amarok, and even wordview for Microsoft Office documents.
I was able to install some extras just fine, but then Steam complained on first run. Afterwards, I did some cleanup, and things were kind of fine. Compared to my previous tests, the 1-click install piece works better than before, but there are still errors and misconfigured repos that will only be cleaned up a few weeks after the distro release. Such a shame.
For those asking, Steam wise, this is the error - it fails on removing an existing Steam directory if it's there - but it's actually created by the software installer itself, so this might just be a pointless little bug:
Setting up Steam content in /home/roger/.local/share/Steam
rm: cannot remove '/home/roger/.steam/steam': Is a directory
The results were nothing stellar. At about 50% screen brightness, the system offered about 2.5 hours of juice. If we take into account the battery has deteriorated about 10% in the last year and a half, and there was about 15% charge already gone, then we're talking another 30 minutes in the best case. Not bad, but you wouldn't write home and brag about it, now would you.
KWin? More like KLose.
The biggest culprit and the greatest detriment to my overall satisfaction was KWin. It simply wasn't willing to cooperate, no matter what. Every few minutes, the desktop would sort of seize, stuff would become unresponsive save for the active window, and then KWin would crash and apologize. I tried changing the compositor options and method, tried even marking OpenGL as unsafe, and still, it kept on crashing. Horrible code.
Normally, I would write about this first, then report on the battery life, but there's logic to my madness. The reason is, the KWin thingie was giving me so much trouble, I had to have it fixed, and I thought, this might affect the performance as well as the resource bleed. Well, yes and no.
The numbers are fine, but the system is slow and sluggish. There's no marked difference in the figures if you have the Compositor on or off, the same applies to stability, but there's some improvement in responsiveness. Still, a long shot from what it should be. Overall, the memory counter ticked at about 550 MB, and the CPU was somewhat noisy, idling at about 2%, but then spiking like mad on pretty much any desktop activity. I blame KWin for all of this, including the performance.
Hardware compatibility, support, suspend & resume
Okay, I guess. No issues with sleep and wake thingie. The Fn buttons worked just fine. The hardware seems to have been utilized correctly, but I'm not sure about the slow performance, and if there's any conflict on the graphics card (Intel) level.
There's a little bit of enterprise in openSUSE after all. Leap 42.2 does borrow some of the goodies from its serious commercial family. Snapper is there, and it seems more mature and usable than when I tested it. You can also perform security hardening from inside the distro, with some good baseline pointers right there.
YaST will also resume interrupted package installations the next time you launch the software, so if you had it stop for some reason in a violent manner, it will pick up the work. Quite a useful thing.
This seems to be a big problem in Plasma. We've seen the issue in Kubuntu 16.10. Tons of themes and icons are just broken, and if you change an icon set, you won't really see the effects until the next login. But even SUSE, despite its highly professional approach, could not mop up the sorry state of decorations.
I did eventually install some fresh new icons, but this means a lot of command line work. Vortex-Maia icons, similar to Numix that we used in CentOS 7, plus symlinking Spectacle to KSnapshot, as the former does not have an official icon in the set. All this is a little awkward and definitely not something for Linux newbies. Silly really. Plasma is the most customizable yet most difficult in this regard. But then, you can't tweak themes like before anymore. Weird.
If you do not want to tweak, you will be faced with some odd choices. Like, why are half the Plasma icons rectangular, and the other half circular? What logic is there? Just not as pro as it can be. The upside is, if you add new icons to the panel, they are added on the left rather than the far right corner. Wow!
In the end, Plasma is not half as cool as it should be. Pretty, but then, meh.
There were other issues and bugs all over the place. OpenSUSE just isn't as smooth and polished as it used to be. Once or twice, Plasma loaded without windows decorations, but then, I suspect this is a KWin failure. Then, I had the USB thumb drive, which I used for installation, auto-detected and added as a repo, so when I unplugged it, Leap complained that it was missing a source.
The printing applet comes with a double root prompt bug. This has been around for at least 9,000 years. The Adobe Flash Player applet crashed and would not launch. At all. Skype is missing from the repos. Firefox is super slow. Copying files over Samba does not preserve their time stamp.
If you install additional desktop environments - and even if you do not actually, in the login screen, you also have options called Gnome Classic and SLES Classic. These will just log you into Plasma. Pointless entries.
OpenSUSE Leap 42.2 is a distro that suffers from a split personality. The installation is all proper enterprise-grade stuff, top-notch and bullet proof. Then you hit the desktop, and the control of the individual components is no longer in the hands of the SUSE team, and there's a drastic drop in quality, consistency, stability. Typical.
Overall, openSUSE behaved okay. But it wasn't really practical. Definitely not amazing in any way. Nothing really fully and completely works. Multimedia support, smartphones, networking, it's all 50% done. KWin issues are a killer. Plasma is buggy, very difficult to customize despite expectations, and the app stack is only average in terms of what it gives to the user. All in all, 4/10. This is no longer SUSE that I used to love. Just another distro that ticks the box come the annual release schedule. Worth testing, but keep your hopes low. There are better options out there.