Back in the KDE3.5 days I used to be a SUSE user. I was migrating from Windows, and back then their offering had the highest level of polish and familiar Windows-like approach to the desktop. I also liked the color green (still do). The competition for desktop Linux users was fierce, Ubuntu got their act together (the excellent 10.04) and openSUSE gradually faded into being a niche player that it is today.
Last spring SUSE made some interesting changes to their strategy and confusing announcements. They said that the next openSUSE version, and every release after that, will be based on their commercial SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE) series of products. The new product will be called openSUSE Leap and carries a version number of 42.1. And yesterday they came out with the final release, which I am using to write this post.
The whole concept of Leap looks like an “Ubuntu killer” at first sight. You have enterprise grade stability, an impressive 36 months of support, reasonably fresh desktop components and applications. All available for free, so this has “Ubuntu LTS” written all over it. Personally I have to wonder where does the stability come from, as Leap in fact ships with an updated (vs SLE) Linux 4.1 kernel and especially with the KDE Plasma 5.4.2 desktop. Literally it took me like 3 minutes to get the first KDE crash. I was just starting to poke around the desktop to see whats there and boom!
I am yet to see a stable Plasma 5 release…
Well, Plasma 5 is unstable in every Linux distro out there, so it is not SUSE’s fault. I just find the decision to offer it as the default desktop in great contradiction with the promise of enterprise grade stability.
Overall the Leap has very strong SUSE scent to it. I occasionally feel like I have been thrown back to the year 2009 or so.
- SUSE team can still make green desktops look good. The wallpaper is excellent - not just good looking, but it also has a good idea. The Plasma 5 nicely themed with good attention to detail.
- The fact that the desktop has a very Windows-like feel to it is worth mentioning and most likely that is not by accident. Windows refugees should feel right at home.
- KDE still suffers from very unintuitive application names (Kopete, K3B, KSysGuard…) , but again that is not SUSE specific.
- Installation process is cumbersome compared to Ubuntu’s Ubiquity. Default distribution media is full DVD size .ISO image, that does not boot into a live session. Please fix this, as many want to try before buy!
- On my system the memory footprint after boot was surprisingly low - only about 345 megs. The plasma 5 runs remarkably well even on vintage hardware.
- The administration toolkit YaST looks exactly as I remember it from years ago. I am not a big fan of it, but many say that it is a powerful tool if you like to administrate things via point-and-click rather than going command line.
The timing of Leap is excellent as Ubuntu LTS 14.04 and CentOS 7 are starting to show their age, and the next major releases are still miles away. SUSE strikes with an autumn release and has about five months to impress the Ubuntu fans.
I have mixed feelings about the Leap. I use different distros for different purposes. I always have one stable LTS system which I never tinker with and two laptops with more or less recent stuff, even rolling. Manjaro has been my favorite sandbox for messing around recently and I somewhat hesitate to put this on my stable desktop. The Leap shows some promise but it is yet to prove it’s ground. Possibly the biggest downside is the smaller community in comparison to Ubuntu/Debian and even Arch Linux world. A vibrant community backed with quality documentation is a vital asset if you run into problems.
Hardware used for testing:
- Thinkpad X301
- Intel HD 1440x900 graphics
- Centrino 2 vPro CPU
- 4GB RAM
- 64GB SSD