Updated: June 22, 2018
Testing, testing. One, two, fifteen. OpenSUSE is our next volunteer. Over the years, for me, openSUSE has lost much of its glamor and quality. Once upon a time, it was the most "pro" choice for home users, with some serious, intelligent enterprise fiber woven into its brawn. But then, crashes, repository conflicts and difficulty enjoying the stuff that people need, like music, videos and whatnot, made it very hard for me to recommend openSUSE. Once, I did it with passion and dedication. Not anymore.
It's time to try to rekindle some of the old love, and the new version promises a lot. Live media is back in the game, new features abound, and with Plasma being a delightful cookie, we're looking at a gourmet meal. Maybe. So far, there's been little reason to rejoice this spring testing season. Distro after another came, scarred with apathy and bugs. Only Ubuntu 18.04 WITH Unity was okay - and Kubuntu post upgrade. My test box will be a 2009 laptop with Nvidia graphics, currently dual-booting Linux. Let's see what gives.
Why not the newer Lenovo G50 box, you ask? Well, after the NVRAM read-only issue last year, which started for me with the openSUSE test and NOT Ubuntu 17.10 like everyone else months later, I decided I am not taking the chances again. So it will be an older box.
Getting SUSE wasn't easy. On the home page, version 15 is not immediately advertised. You have Tumbleweed and Leap, and it's the under the second label, you'll find what you need. On the day of my testing, all live links returned a 404 error, and I had to do some search acrobatics to find the 900 MB KDE/Plasma ISO. The interesting thing is, it weighs half the typical Ubuntu/Fedora offering.
Etched, boot, no problem. You get a snowy bootloader menu, a nice hi-res Leap logo splash and a flickering light-bulb Plasma login transition animation. The sequence took a long while. The desktop looks okay, but there were some issues right away. The updater complained about unresolved host - it wouldn't even let me connect to the Web first. This worked fine, both in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz ranges (a 2009 machine with two antennas, he he), but you get no notification upon a successful connection. No double prompt bug, and KDEWallet launched and asked all them questions just fine.
You get a classic menu - there are better options - and it doesn't search well. Nothing for screenshot. You need to grab Spectacle by its name, and the program is the most current production version (Plasma 5.12.5), so you don't get the improvements as we've seen in Plasma 5.13 beta review. This also means annoying screenshot shadows, so eventually, I had to grab Gnome screenshot for easier work. The installer icon nested in between Home and Trash, but it would make more sense to have it placed to the right. The icon is also low-res and ugly.
Mini-customization and whatnot:
Huh. So Wireless was ok - but you get no automatic time & date update. When I launched Firefox, it complained about all sorts of certificate errors and whatnot. I had to manually fix this. Really. Then, Samba access was borked, because security nonsense, but with the right Samba shares fix in place, it worked fine. Printing, nyet. You get some bad file descriptor error. The live media definitely feels raw. Lots of stuff missing, and it hasn't been cobbled together with care. QA in Linux is like asking for more legroom on a plane.
Not at all. Hell, you don't even get a media player. After I copied the files over from a network share, I had the confused system tell me it didn't have the right program for the job. I installed Clementine, and then it told me it was missing plugins and such. What. Silly. Even Fedora plays MP3 by default!
This also meant I'd leave the games for after the installation - including smartphone and such, because obviously, the purpose of the live session was to show that you can boot it, but not necessarily enjoy it, do anything meaningful, or check if your system will work well. What's the point then?
Quite bad. I've already talked about this in a dedicated tutorial, and in my openSUSE 42.3 usability guide. Same here. The defaults are bad, but even if you turn subpixel hinting and use lcddefault, you get an error from the system, complaining about licensing and such. Again, this is so user-unfriendly, no matter what the legal framework. However, even with restrictions in place, changing the defaults makes a BIG difference. From watery eyes to passable enjoyment. Not sure why Cyrillic is the default view in the settings, though.
Performance & other things
Well, the Touchpad behaved nicely. Sometimes, an occasional mouse click would misfire, especially under higher system load. Indeed, this is a very interesting point. I let loose the Warcraft II soundtrack on Youtube during the test, and did some small system maintenance in the background - installed Clementine and Gnome screenshot, fixed the fonts, etc. At some point, the system load soared to 6-8, plus disk activity, much more than this box can handle well. The bad thing is, normally, this ancient laptop can handle moderate stress without any issues, and the contemporary crop of distros does that well. In general, Plasma worked fine on this machine, showing its frugal and sprightly nature. Not so with openSUSE 15, I'm afraid. There were noticeable lags and stutters. Weird.
Installation, going once
For the first time EVER, I was not pleased with the openSUSE installation! I have always most strongly believed that SUSE offers the safest, most intelligent, most reliable installer out there. Today, I was proven wrong. It started with my clock being wound down to some arbitrary time as soon as I agreed to the keyboard license thingie. Then, the installer complained that the network wasn't configured - even though it was and working just fine, so I had to manually configure my Wireless card again. We saw this in Leap 42.3 a year ago. The bug is STILL there. QA for the win!
Then, the installer surprised me with its default choice. It wasn't dangerous per se - it offered to delete the last available partition, create a new setup to be able to use BTRFS (hence the rub), and then create a tiny home directory after that. In the past, the installer would not insist on BTRFS, or if it did, it would reuse partitions. There's a 200GB /home partition right there, but the system ignored it. Not a dangerous choice, but not a smart one either.
Moreover, there are no labels. I had Antergos and Linux Mint on the box, and I wanted to replace the former, but I didn't know which distro mapped to which partition. I tried mounting on the command line to be told that the partition was busy. What. This has to do with dmsetup bullshit, and I will show you in a separate article how to fix this.
I quit the installer, fixed the device mounting issue, and then re-launched the installer. It did not ask about the network cards this time. The expert partitioner was also a bit cumbersome. No fancy edit options, so you work in a rather non-intuitive way, and you might have to Back or Next a couple of times. Annoying. The installer also needed to download some 1.5 GB worth of Plasma stuff. No worries. Onward.
The installer warns you about Nouveau. Oh, interesting. Not recommended with KDE. Ah. So I will see if we can get Nvidia drivers properly configured. But this is the first time I ever saw any mention of this, worded this way.
The installation started fine, but then, at some point, my mouse pointer went dead. Nothing would respond. Youtube still played, but then, the music playback eventually stopped. The system clock remained stuck, and for almost an hour, it stayed that way, and I let the system be. Perhaps it was working hard, downloading packages and installing them, even though I could not see the action. I was also unable to switch to any of the virtual consoles. A frozen system then. Eventually I hard-cycled the box.
A borked system. No bootloader, of course.
I decided, despite my better judgment, to try again. But this is already a failure of a major magnitude.
Installation, second attempt
I booted again from the live media - and it turns out, all my settings had been preserved. OpenSUSE wrote them to the thumbdrive. Seems like it does keep persistence, which is a convenient thing. Well, installation commence again.
This time, it worked fine. took about 45 minutes all in total. I had the dual-boot configuration in place, and Leap 15 started merrily. The installed desktop did not preserve my Wireless settings. The language was correctly set, worldwide location notwithstanding, so none of that Ubuntu force-locale nonsense. Okay.
All right. So let's commence about making this thing werk.
More on networking
Samba - I had to redo the trick again, but at least the smb.conf file is there. Bluetooth did not work, for the exact same reasons as we've seen in Leap 42.3, as I've outlined in my SUSE usability guide. You need to rfkill unblock the Bluetooth devices. Sad. The issue has been around for a year now. Printers, this was another foobar. The utility started, asked for root password twice, and then complained about forbidden whatever.
Package management & updates
More predictable bugginess. A mess really. In a nutshell, I added several community repos - the list is much shorter than in the past. Adding media codecs resulted in package conflicts, just like last year. I also installed Skype and Chrome, and both installations "failed" because of bad signatures. Just like last year. You can ignore and work around this of course. Discover spends time searching for updates all the time - but occasionally it actually does give you results. It completely failed installing Skype and/or Chrome.
The YaST-powered software manager and zypper did work well and reliably, and I was able to install all sorts of interesting programs - VLC, Steam, GIMP, and some others, plus set up the Nvidia drivers. There were no issues in this regard. If only all the repo-mix issues didn't come up.
The tray applet did not refresh on updates, though. And then, after a series of updates, several applications crashed, one after another, including the system settings and the greeter (so you can't reboot via GUI). I had to reboot from the command line, only to witness a kernel oops on the virtual console, and after reboot, the GRUB menu no longer had Sylvia, only SUSE. Very encouraging and heart-warming. FAIL!
Working fine. The drivers are there, install, reboot. The fancy animated boot sequence is gone. Simple stuff now, followed by the Nvidia splash screen. All good. This was painless and efficient. Nice.
The live media weighs only 900 MB, but the installer pulled another 1.5 GB and expanded that to 5 GB, so you get a pretty decent collection. Firefox, Kmail, LibreOffice, Dragon, Okular, Marble, all sorts of board games, all sorts of utilities, especially image processing tools, and then some. Colorful, interesting.
This is the one thing that worked almost perfectly. Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, connected and mounted without any issues. Music playback from the phones didn't work, neither Android nor Windows Phone.
I still had to install codecs. I manually grabbed the ugly gstreamer set, and then I was able to play. But then, if you want more plugins and such, as I've outlined in my pimping guide, you'll get package conflicts. Anyway, after I installed the missing bits, both MP3 and HD video played fine - no lag or stutter, smooth playback.
Good. Plasma does not disappoint. This is more in line with what I expected. Moderate and high loads did not bring the machine down, and the actual system load figure rarely climbed above 2-3. I was able to run all sorts of programs in parallel, Steam, Skype, media, browser, and such, and things were quite reasonable. This makes the live experience an odd fluke. Anyway, on idle, the utilization is about 1 GB, which is higher than most Plasma distros on this Nvidia-powered machine. CPU ticked 2-3% most of the time. Very nice. It does spike a lot when you do things, without too much penalty on the overall responsiveness, which is quite commendable for an almost decade-old laptop with a pre-i-processor.
Good overall. Suspend & resume on this laptop does not work, unless I use IDE instead of AHCI. Fn keys and all that, no issues. The one thing that annoys me is that there's no dedicated webcam utility. Kamoso seems to be completely missing. Not sure why.
Not good. The system feels raw, beta, dangerous. I had half a dozen crashes in a span of about two hours, including our old friend Baloo, plus including but not limited to: system settings, greeter, KMail, kernel noise, GRUB going botched, and then some.
This wasn't a straightforward thing. I tried to use the openSUSE theme, but this one creates huge spacing between icons, does not scale the icons up that much for some reason, and you get no active app indicator. So despite the superb aesthetics, I went with Breeze for the workspace and Breeze Dark for the desktop. Mix and mash, some nice wallpapers, and Bob's your uncle. Plasma is very neat.
So yeah, this, le finale:
OpenSUSE being the spiritual child of the enterprise world, it comes with some brilliant things. YaST is really a useful toolbox. For instance, you have the nice and elegant GUI sysconfig editor. You also get Snapper for when using BTRFS. Shame that these pro and not-pro features conflict so badly.
If you pin YaST to the task manager, it will launch in the user mode only, it won't ask for administrative privileges. So you can't technically pin YaST and use it as intended. The ancient battery, despite its age, still retains roughly 90% charge, and offered about 2 hours at 50% brightness. Not bad for such an old machine.
Inconsistency is another thing - I had Wireless deactivated/activated issues, but then they
disappeared. The distro saved my session for a while, then it stopped. Update warning ere network goes
live, that's gone too, and without any updates in between. This sure does not inspire confidence.
OpenSUSE Leap 15 is a troubled distro. It's pretty and it has some brilliant moments, but almost all of the issues and bugs I reported in Leap 42.3 are still here. As if nothing was learned. Or maybe no one cares. In its default guise, the distro simply isn't ready for ordinary use. You need to work hard to get the basic rights: package management, network, media codecs, fonts. Even time & date posed a big issue, and customization was tricky. Top that with crashes, installation woes, GRUB suddenly losing its dual-boot stuff.
The only redeeming factors are good looks, excellent performance (eventually) and smartphone support. But the rest feels beta. Hardly the SUSE that I once knew and loved so much. Back then, I used SUSE 9/10 like a champ, even had a box configured as a router, used a PPTP dialer to get the Web, ran VMware Server Beta on top of it, had Nvidia drivers all dandy. This was in 2005-7, and I was much less skilled than I am now. And yet, I had a rock-solid, pro desktop that never disappointed me. Today, what can I say? I can only hope SUSE gets its game together. There are some really amazing things here, but they are far and few in between. Unfortunately, Leap 15 is a no-go. Something like 1/10. Me very sad.