Updated: December 25, 2020
For many years, SUSE - and openSUSE - has been my daily driver, my favorite Linux distro. It had everything one could expect - speed, stability, professional edge, top-end tooling. And then, one day, it simply stopped being awesome. I've been trying to rekindle that first Tux love ever since. Without luck.
You can read all about my past openSUSE endeavors by reading my last review and working your way into the past, up the hill of enthusiasm and happiness. In fact, my overall Linux desktop experience has been going down for quite some time, and recently, I've decided to do my reviews short and sweet. Well, not having touched openSUSE for quite some time, I wanted to check Leap 15.2 again, to see what gives. Can I haz the old fun back?
I went the official route - 4.3GB DVD-size install ISO, no live session. OK, no problem. At some point, the installer lets you configure your network, including both wired and Wireless. Easier said than done. When I clicked on the Scan networks button, nothing happened. I had to proceed in the offline mode. I selected the Plasma desktop, because it's more fun than Gnome, plus SUSE has always been more KDE. An hour later, the process completed. I had my eight-boot setup, with a very pretty, custom GRUB menu.
But I did skip one piece that deserves extra mention - the partitioning. I used to swear by this installer. It was the safest, most intelligent installer + partitioner ever, and it would always correctly guess the root and home partitions. This, too, is no longer the case.
What Leap 15.2 suggested was the following: delete sda14 and sda15 - the root and /home for Kubuntu and the root for KDE neon, respectively. It did not recommend using or-reusing sda16, which is /home for KDE neon, or any other partition on this host, of which there are plenty. I guess this is to accommodate the BTRFS setup - but then, ever since BTRFS became the thing, the partitioning suggestions are no longer so smart. Besides, BTRFS would really only make sense on fast storage and multi-disk arrays, so this kind of misses the point on all levels. Meh.
I manually configured stuff - with ordinary Ext4 filesystems, added /boot/efi, because openSUSE needs this explicitly defined, and then continued. Yes, success, but me heart hurts.
System installed, the openSUSE Leap 15.2 boot sequence is a bit colorful - and by that I mean, you get the vendor logo splash, followed by the light bulb animation. Very fast - faster boot than pretty much all other distros on this box, but then - from second boot/login onwards, the KDEWallet thing would pop up too early, then vanish, then do that four or five times before the rest of the desktop rendered and I could actually provide the necessary credentials to unlock the Wireless connection. Doesn't sound promising.
OpenSUSE 15.2 comes with Plasma 5.18 (LTS), which is good but not as good as Plasma 5.20. The fonts are way too pale - more on that later. The system is not as fast as it should be, the responsiveness is a bit off. Applications take time opening - none of that instant sprightliness one would associated with the KDE desktops lately.
The System Settings applet is weird - and it uses the old, classic Control Panel layout. You get single-click everywhere, and changing it is not trivial. Hint: it's not under Input Devices, not under Dolphin. It's actually under Workspace. You need to know Plasma to change this. There's also a bin directory inside /home, why, dunno, but it's there. Meh. Touchpad, jittery.
The Show desktop button does not minimize application windows - you can change that easily. Then, if you change your theme to say openSUSEdark, then all the different icons in the system area popup menu become busted, and if you want a light system theme with a dark panel, then your only valid option is Breeze Dark.
Also, the default SUSE icon (the monochrome one) is only built for the default light (Air) theme, so again, if after switching to Breeze, you want a SUSE icon, you need the green one. Also, the spacing of icons in the task manager as well as the system area is too narrow, i.e. the elements are spaced too closely apart.
Package management & updates
This turned out to be a complete disaster. For many reasons. To begin with, I wanted to play media in VLC, which comes provided as a default application in openSUSE. Alas, it could not play a simple video file, one which I've shown you in a dozen reviews in the past:
No video, Codec not supported:
VLC could not decode the format "h264" (H264 - MPEG-4 AVC (part 10))
There's a long and detailed explanation why you don't get these in openSUSE. As an end user, I don't really care, to be honest. I want music and video, not patent explanations. But this meant I had to grab extra software - from a community repository like Packman. This, right there, precludes openSUSE from being usable in (my) production setup, because for serious use, I do not ever allow non-official software sources, because you cannot rely on those being available or current or even useful. A chief reason why I cannot use a nicely configured CentOS 8 as a desktop in my production environment, either.
I started the repo config - YaST > Software Repositories > Add > Community Repositories, and boom, error. For some reason, YaST was unable to grab the online list. And then I realized my Wireless network was no longer working. The old problem with the Realtek card, which severely bugged my G50 laptop around 2015-2017? Seems to be back! The whole it's resolved now (since kernel 4.8), well nope. The problem still persist in openSUSE. I had to disconnect from the network and connect again.
Then, I did see the extra stuff - and the list is much, much shorter than it used to be in the past. I add Packman, accepted the repo signature, and then had to allow vendor changing, in order to be able to get the latest media libraries, like libavcodec and libavformat. Zypper informed me of the change, and then, the update began.
Despite its delta nature, it was slow - and then, I started getting error after error, for more than a dozen different Qt libraries (not provided by Packman), which I tried to ignore, in order to be able to progress with the update, and then, also errors for packages provided by the community repo, too:
Retrieving: libQt5Core5-5.12.7-lp152.2.3_lp126.96.36.199.x86_64.drpm ............[not
File './x86_64/libQt5Core5-5.12.7-lp152.2.3_lp188.8.131.52.x86_64.drpm' not found on medium 'http://download.opensuse.org/update/leap/15.2/oss/'
File './x86_64/libQt5Test5-5.12.7-lp152.2.3_lp184.108.40.206.x86_64.drpm' not found on medium 'http://download.opensuse.org/update/leap/15.2/oss/'
And the Packman error:
Download (curl) error for 'http://packman.inode.at/suse/openSUSE_Leap_15.2/Essentials/x86_64/
Error code: Curl error 56
Error message: Recv failure: Connection reset by peer
The system cannot be updated. The whole thing is utterly broken. Sad face. And this also means there's really no point of continuing this review. But I decided to do some more work, despite my own better judgment. I decided I had nothing to lose. So I continued with the testing - including updates, to see how far I could get before either failing fully or somehow having an updated system.
I checked whether all the repos were sane, with zypper verify, and there were no errors. Ha.
sudo zypper verify
Retrieving repository 'Main Update Repository' metadata ..........[done]
Building repository 'Main Update Repository' cache ...............[done]
Loading repository data...
Reading installed packages...
Dependencies of all installed packages are satisfied.
Reboot, check again. All of the updates were re-offered, as though nothing had happened on the first go. How wonderful. This time, the updates seemed to work fine, without errors. Blimey. But ... my media playback still didn't work. Because VLC was still using the openSUSE libraries. I tried updating to the new version, and this is the sequence of commands and messages I had to handle:
There is an update candidate for 'libavcodec57' from vendor
'http://packman.links2linux.de', while the current vendor is 'openSUSE'. Use 'zypper install
libavcodec57-3.4.4-pm152.5.5.x86_64' to install this candidate.
There is an update candidate for 'libavformat57' from vendor 'http://packman.links2linux.de', while the current vendor is 'openSUSE'. Use 'zypper install libavformat57-3.4.4-pm152.5.5.x86_64' to install this candidate.
Resolving package dependencies...
I did this, and naturally, as many times before (we're talking 4-5 SUSE releases), I got package conflicts:
Problem: libavfilter6-3.4.4-lp152.3.7.x86_64 requires libavformat57 =
3.4.4-lp152.3.7, but this requirement cannot be provided
Problem: libavcodec57-3.4.4-pm152.5.5.x86_64 requires libavutil55 = 3.4.4-pm152.5.5, but this requirement cannot be provided
Problem: libavfilter6-3.4.4-lp152.3.7.x86_64 requires libavformat57 = 3.4.4-lp152.3.7, but this requirement cannot be provided
Solution 1: install libavfilter6-3.4.4-pm152.5.5.x86_64 (with vendor change)
openSUSE --> http://packman.links2linux.de
Solution 2: do not install libavformat57-3.4.4-pm152.5.5.x86_64
Solution 3: break libavfilter6-3.4.4-lp152.3.7.x86_64 by ignoring some of its dependencies
I okayed all these:
The following 8 packages are going to change vendor:
libavcodec57 openSUSE -> http://packman.links2linux.de
libavfilter6 openSUSE -> http://packman.links2linux.de
libavformat57 openSUSE -> http://packman.links2linux.de
libavresample3 openSUSE -> http://packman.links2linux.de
libavutil55 openSUSE -> http://packman.links2linux.de
libpostproc54 openSUSE -> http://packman.links2linux.de
libswresample2 openSUSE -> http://packman.links2linux.de
libswscale4 openSUSE -> http://packman.links2linux.de
8 packages to upgrade, 4 new, 8 to change vendor.
Overall download size: 706.1 KiB. Already cached: 7.4 MiB. After the operation,
additional 24.5 MiB will be used.
Continue? [y/n/v/...? shows all options] (y):
And now finally, I had media playback ... Not ideal though. When playing MP4 files, every 15 seconds or so, the playback would freeze for about a second, the video would turn all pixely and blurry, and then, the playback would resume normally. Similar to the issue I've seen recently in Fedora 33. But then, not quite.
More about media & Samba sharing
But the story doesn't end there. VLC would not play from Samba shares. Predictable. I had to enter the SMB credentials into VLC and then also tweak the read/buffer size so the files would play without errors. Remember, the year is 2020, and Plasma desktop users still need to do this kind of tricks to just enjoy media files stored on remote shares. And I say this is an ardent fan of the Plasma desktop.
Samba connectivity was fast, with very low latency, you get timestamps on copy - but the overall, total throughput is low, only about 4 MB/s, so you don't get all the improvements and fixes that later versions of Plasma carry.
More about updates
The update story does not end there, either! Once the update completed, I had the nicest, most polite message suggesting I reboot. All other distros have a very rudimentary: reboot now thingie, this one actually explains why such an action will be good for you.
Core libraries or services have been updated.
Reboot is required to ensure that your system benefits from these updates.
And then, I gently freaked out ...
When the system cycled, my standard Lenovo boot splash was gone - replaced by an ncurses, all-blue screen that read MOK Management. Something to do with Secure Boot? Maybe. I have it disabled on this test box. And I do recall a firmware update in the list of packages openSUSE listed. Interesting. Well, I decided not to touch anything, let the system continue on its own and see where I ended up. The boot sequence was low-res, but the system started fine. Then, on next reboot, things were back to the usual - no ncurses screen, high-res boot splash.
Now I wonder, will this lead to another weird bricking the likes of which afflicted this box - after an openSUSE test - a while back? Not sure. That's something you and I will need to figure out in a couple of weeks when I next try to boot something from a USB device.
But wait! The update story does not quite end there! No, no.
A couple of days later, I powered on the system, and I saw a fresh message about some updates (roughly five or so). When I clicked the button, I got a bunch of errors. I also realized that YaST would not launch - it would simply close without any errors shown. I had to run zypper from the command line or use the ncurses version of YaST.
The update completed without errors on the command line, I rebooted, and things were back to normal. Now, this is way more tolerance than should ever be awarded a software component. The whole thing is unusable really, if you think about it. So many bugs, errors and conflicts, just to get updates installed. I'm coasting on pure inertia right now. Oh well, moving on to other topics of this review then!
Usage, performance, stability
Okay, but not stellar. Decent performance but less-than-ideal responsiveness. Low resource utilization, which does not align fully with the perceived system speed. No crashes of any kind. A wealth of apps, but then, you have a full DVD of goodies. Even so, you may want to grab some extras.
On idle, memory usage is about 420 MB, and the CPU ticks a very quiet 0-1% - shame this does not directly translate into responsiveness. Perhaps this has something to do with the particular kernel version, and possibly improvements made in more recent ones.
Firefox & Taiwanese bookmarks
One other thing I noticed - half the bookmarks (which you get by default) in the browser are set to zh-TW locale, which makes no sense on an en-US install, now does it? I found quite a few online sources about this phenomenon, dating months and months ago. Very sad. Back in mid-2000s, for me, SUSE was the pillar of quality and fun. This is like watching your favorite pub burning down, if I may borrow this phrase.
Another major issue - font rendering quality. Again, not a new issue, I talked about this years ago. I changed the font color using my Brooze guide, which helped only a little. There was no need to tweak hinting and such, and installing the extra FreeType libraries didn't do anything at this point. The fonts still looked thin and pale, despite everything supposedly being right. Well, supposedly.
Then, I read an updated guide from the person who had provided the patched libraries with LCD Subpixel Rendering, which mentions creating a new system-wide environment variable change. But then, of course, there's half a dozen other tweaks one could implement, and it reminds me how utterly and completely broken the font ecosystem is in Linux, and that very, very, VERY few distros manage to provide nice, crisp fonts by default. A total of two, maybe three on a good day - out of hundreds and hundreds.
FREETYPE_PROPERTIES="truetype:interpreter-version=35 cff:no-stem-darkening=1 autofitter:warping=1"
This needs to go into /etc/environment, while the rest should be fine by default, ergo also why the extra FreeType libraries don't do anything. After restarting your session, the fonts will be clear, crisp, and your eyes won't melt.
Back in the day, I wrote about the wonders of Snapper - a really cool filesystem snapshot tool, which only seems to work with BTRFS. So what happens if you're not using this filesystem? Well, the utility ought to detect then and then give you graceful errors, not refer you to the command line and/or throw weird messages.
This was longer than I anticipated - or warranted. Call it my nostalgic infatuation with openSUSE. It pains me to say, but openSUSE Leap 15.2 isn't any friendlier or smarter than many of its previous versions. In fact, it's pretty nerdy and largely inaccessible to ordinary folks, despite some rather brilliant elements in its design. But you cannot reconcile those with a fundamentally broken package management, missing day-to-day software and fun bits, and tons of visual and ergonomic inconsistencies.
The installer is no longer as safe and intelligent as it used to be. Everything is a bit less. Such a shame. Because YaST is cool, and SUSE utilities are generally top-notch and pro. But then, there's a clash between what should be a desktop for ordinary people and an enterprise sysadmin frontend, in a way. Kind of between what you get with default CentOS and CentOS plus all my gravy and changes. Well, sad but hardly surprising. Maybe one day. That said, much like my Fedora 33 review, I will have a separate post-install tweaks guide, for those who do want to use openSUSE Leap as their desktop machine. Given my experience, I can't recommend it, and it joins a long list of painful memories in my Tux journey.