Updated: July 14, 2022
With my distro-testing mana running low, I am being quite sparing and careful in choosing which new releases to sample and write about. So far this spring-summer season, I've only really touched Kubuntu and Fedora, and both were sort of average, at the end of the day. Well, it is time for a fresh round of testing, and I've decided to go for openSUSE. Leap 15.4, to be more precise, yes.
OpenSUSE has always held a special spot in my heart, as SUSE 9.2 (or so) was my first distro. And it was a brilliant Linux player until about version 12 or so. Since, things haven't been that brilliant. But ever anew, my hope kind of flares up, and I wonder if openSUSE can recapture the majesty of its golden era, and perhaps take the whole of the stagnating Linux desktop up with it. Begin, we shall.
Installation and all that
I downloaded the full 3.8GB installer and let things run their course. No screenshots for that reason, just yet. The installation went well overall, but there were problems, of course. I had to boot the system twice to get the actual wizard to show up (the first time the system simply went black and ceased functioning). The second time, I was able to click things through.
The Wireless network step failed - the system told me there was an issue with rfkill whatnot. Seems like the radio antenna is blocked or disabled in the installer step. Meh. The partitioning step was also annoying. None of that super-intelligent, safe defaults of yore. Instead, you get BTRFS - I changed this of course, and kept my nice three-boot setup in place.
The ISO image is large as it offers a bunch of stuff, including both KDE and Gnome desktops - I chose the former. Then, a nice little boon - the wizard offered a user account import from the old installation, which would be Fedora 36 in this case. Noice. I didn't do it, but I like the possibility, because I can't think of any other distro that offers this nowadays.
I let the system install, the whole procedure took about 10 minutes. Then, you get a nice and stylish SUSE GRUB, and to be fair, 'tis among the nicest around. SUSE has always had lovely GRUBs, and Leap 15.4 is no exception. Nice colors and big fonts! This is quite important for hi-res, small-size laptop screens.
The desktop launched just fine, and I was able to connect to Wi-Fi without any issues now. The system also prompted me to set up KDEwallet. Finally, I plugged the power cable in, and the whole screen went dark. I've complained about this for a good year plus now, and pretty much every distro on this box has suffered from this problem, and as always, I guess it won't really be fixed, ever, the same way sporadic hardware problems that affected or affect pretty much all of my Linux-powered laptops are never fixed.
Plasma 5.24 is very stylish, no doubt about that. The SUSE themes are nice and friendly, and you have your variety of color mixes, as you see fit. I liked the fact the window borders are accented, so it's not all just plain gray borders where you can't tell apart FG and BG windows.
What's not stylish is the mix of old openSUSE tooling and pure Plasma. So yes, you get YaST, but it somewhat overlaps with the Plasma settings utility, plus the way the latter is presented in Leap 15.4 is a bit extra meh. None of that nice layout like I've shown you many times before, with categories listed in a sidebar and all that. Nope. Here's it's all lumped together like it's 2006. But on the other hand, you have Discover for package management. And yet, you can use YaST to add community repositories. The combo is somewhat confusing.
I was able to configure the HD scaling without issues. X11 is default, and things work just fine. What I didn't like is the scrollbar in the main menu categories (sidebar), and the fact there's no option to resize the menu in a nice way.
Thick scrollbars are awesome, and so much better than any modern, touch-like thin-to-expand lines, but they also don't need to be everywhere, like say the About window, where only about 10-15 px of vertical equity are needed not to show it.
I spent not too much time polishing the system. I changed the mouse behavior to double-click, added my own nice wallpapers, changed the font color to pure black, and that was more or less it. No big fiddling. Not bad.
Package management, software
I was pleasantly surprised with this aspect of the distro's usage. In the past half a dozen releases, package management was a mess. Broken sources, package conflicts, whatnot. Here, nope. Discover sure aids the process, and then, to my surprise, I realized I didn't need any community repos. VLC is part of the default set, and even Steam is in the repos, and it works fine. Furthermore, zypper on the command line is very fast.
The default app selection isn't stellar, but then, most of the ISO goes on tooling and providing several desktop environments. That said, you do get Firefox, LibreOffice, a whole bunch of Plasma tools, and a pretty decent system integration all around.
Like Kubuntu, openSUSE Leap 15.4 ships with the new system monitor, and it ain't the best tool. And this is modern software development all over the place. You get shiny replacements for no good reason, and they offer only 75% functionality of the old tool. I actually changed the CPU graph not be stacked, because it makes no sense, but as you can see, the core list truncation bug is still there, a whole year later!
Memory usage stood at 1.3 GB on idle, and that's high, surprisingly so for Plasma. The CPU ticked at about 2-3%, which is very high. Not the leanest of them all, for sure. Speaking of performance, we might also mention the boot sequence - 13 seconds, which is okay but not great, some distros clock in at half that, and there's Samba too. Steady, fast response and throughout of about 10 MB/s. That is sort of average. The system was really responsive, though.
The numbers aren't too encouraging. With light-to-moderate usage, I only got about 4.5 hours at 50% brightness, which would mean maybe 5.5 hours if being frugal, at a stretch. This is decidedly among the least impressive results I've seen on this box. Not sure why, but then, that's life. After all, it could be the over-jittery kernel eating all those processor cycles.
OpenSUSE Leap 15.4 isn't the best distro around, and surely not the best Gecko I've tried. But it was stable, fast, there were no errors, and it brings significant improvements in pretty much all areas compared to its many predecessors, enough for one to have a sane, solid baseline to work with. For years now, I had to dismiss openSUSE outright, but 15.4 is good enough to consider keeping around.
I like the theming, the improved package management, the overall no-nonsense approach. But there are also a lot of little bugs and errors and hassles that don't belong in a polished, professional product. Still, I am mildly optimistic at this point, and would even suggest you give Leap a spin. Perhaps it will revive some of those forgotten emotions from the good ole days. And we're done here.