An enterprise grade distribution for developers and creators
I installed openSUSE Leap 42.3 on Dell Precision 5720 and Dell XPS 13 (Developer Edition). Everything worked out of the box. Everything. 5720 is a very powerful hardware which is suitable for heavy workloads. What kind of workloads you can run on it is all dependent on availability of those applications on Linux. If the applications that you need are available on openSUSE; you are going to love the combination of openSUSE Leap and 5720 as I do.
Before you look around for what’s new in Leap, you need to understand what Leap is. openSUSE has two distributions – Leap and Tumbleweed. While Tumbleweed is a ‘stable and fully tested’ rolling release distribution that’ also upstream for SUSE Linux Enterprise, Leap is a stable version that’s based on SLES. You can think of Leap as a kind of community edition of SLES.
The reason Leap is not a clone of SLES, unlike CentOS that’s a clone of RHEL, is that the openSUSE community has a lot of say in what they want in Leap; it’s _their_ distribution. So they pick and choose the features that they need for their own needs, which can be different from what SUSE customers need. This also shows that openSUSE is quite independent of SUSE, despite being a fully sponsored project.
However, the bigger dream of the openSUSE community is to have a fine balance between what they inherited from the previous Leap release, what they borrow from SLES and what they take from Tumbleweed.
This release has a very “close alignment with SLE 12 SP3 – we pretty much took everything we possibly could from SP3 this time so the final mix is perfect, 33% of leap is SLE, 33% is from Tumbleweed, 33% is from previous Leap versions,” said Richard Brown, the openSUSE Chairman.
Why does this balance matter? If you have followed openSUSE history, you may recall that in 2016 they created a new version of openSUSE called Leap to move the code base to SLES SP1. It meant that all the packages or features that were developed for openSUSE by its community would be gone. They also announced Tumbleweed, a cutting edge rolling release distribution to introduce new technologies to the openSUSE world.
The openSUSE community didn’t want to throw away all the features that they added to openSUSE in all these years. At the same time they also wanted to be able to incorporate new and well tested features from Tumbleweed. So their solution was simple – maintain a fine balance between the SLES base, the legacy of openSUSE, and keeping up with the continuously moving target called Tumbleweed. With 42.3 they have achieved that rare balance.
Once you have understood what is Leap, we can take a look at what’s new. As I said it’s a stable release that’s based on SLES and you won’t find a lot of ‘new’ features. If you are someone like me who lives at the edge, Tumbleweed is for you. However this release does offer some improved hardware support through new drivers.
One exciting feature for those who still use desktop for entertainment is that you don’t have to go through hoops and loops to get MP3 to work on openSUSE. The mp3 patents expired early this year and the Fraunhofer Institute, the organization that owns “intellectual property rights” on mp3, including patents let those patents die. Which means anyone is free to use mp3 encoding and decoding technologies. As a result openSUSE is offering out of the box support for mp3.
openSUSE uses BTRFS as the default file system, which supports snapshots, so if your system goes South, you can always go back to the previous working stage by picking a snapshot.
This release comes with Snapper 0.5.0 (a tool that’s used to roll back to previous snapshots), which was released in May. Snapper snapshots based on the btrfs filesystem is more mature and is less disk-hungry.
One of the most notable features of Leap 42.3 is a much more mature and stable upgrade mechanism. So if you are running a previous version of Leap, you can easily upgrade to the latest version without featuring any breakdown. I can’t vouch for how foolproof it is as I did a fresh install of Leap to check the installation process. But if you do want to try an upgrade, make sure to have a back-up.
I wish openSUSE had a built in backup mechanism similar to macOS Time Machine where I could take a ‘snapshot’ on an external hard drive and restore with one click. Snapper is closer, but it can be easier. That said openSUSE is not meant to be easier. It’s not targeting average Windows XP users.
Leap is just one of the many tools in the box of openSUSE. openSUSE is evolving from being a distribution to set of tools that allows users to use whatever tools they need to get the job done. If you are building a cluster of computers to run microservices or containers, you have Kubic; if you want to build applications for distributions then you have OBS. If you want to consume automated testing and QA tool then you can use OpenQA. If you want to run Linux utilities on Windows, you can install openSUSE subsystem in Windows 10; and last but not the least if you want a Linux based operating system then you can run Leap or Tumbleweed. You get the picture now. Leap is just another tool, it’s yet another project of the openSUSE community; it’s not THE project.
Now, the bigger question is why should you bother with openSUSE Leap when there are so many Linux based distributions out there. The short answer is use whatever distribution or tools work for you. There is no *best* Linux distribution that everyone should use. Your milage may vary from mine, try different distributions and then use what works for you.
openSUSE is the one that work for me. But, I must also admit that i use all three platforms – Windows 10, macOS and Linux so that I can monitor the progress of each platform.
While I run openSUSE on my main system, I also run Ubuntu, Neon, Linux Mint, elementary OS and Arch Linux in virtual machines so I can keep an eye on them.
openSUSE has been my primary driver since Unity happened. There are several reasons why I chose openSUSE after playing with Debian, Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Linux Mint and Arch Linux. The primary one is that I am a Plasma user and openSUSE offers the best Plasma integration and experience out of the box. I have also grown fond of Gnome recently and openSUSE is one of the few distributions that allows me to have multiple desktop environments on the same system without breaking anything.
The second reason is that I love YaST. It’s like a command center for the whole distribution. No matter what part of the system you want to fine tune – whether it’s setting up software repositories, managing networks, changing Firewall settings, tweaking hostname…you name it and it can be done via YaST. You don’t have to resort to command line to get things done. Command line makes sense if you are on a headless system, but GUI lowers the barrier for entry.
openSUSE has some lesser known gems, one being OBS (Open Build Service) that allows developers to package their applications for not only openSUSE but also any other distribution.
Thanks to OBS, a of applications are available to openSUSE users through a very easy to use web interface that can be accessed from ‘software.opensuse.org’. All you need to do is to search for the application that you are looking for, make sure to pick the version of openSUSE you are running on your machine and install that package with one click. No need to hunt down individual PPAs from Google and then manually add them to your system. I wish it was integrated with YaST so that I could search and install OBS packages without having to open a web browser.
Leap: a great example of 3Cs
openSUSE is a desktop agnostic distribution and comes in both KDE and Gnome flavors; the Leap DVD has KDE checked as the as the default distribution. That doesn’t mean other desktop environments are not treated fairly.
This release has actually improved the desktop selection screen in the installer which now offers a more balanced approach. “The installer no longer offers a predefined selection of “secondary” desktops environments, but relies on the existing patterns created and maintained by the enthusiasts of every graphical environment. So the “those who do, decide” principle now also drives the selection of available desktops,” said openSUSE in the release note for 42.3
openSUSE’s work with the KDE community is a great example of 3Cs that I feel are critical for the health of any open source community: – communication, compromises and collaboration.
Lack of communication leads to conflict instead of compromises; people find it easy to spin their own distro instead of trying to find a common ground. It leads to duplication of work, wasted resources and unnecessary competition instead of cooperation.
On the contrary, openSUSE tries to reduce such waste by working closely with communities to find a common ground. I mentioned KDE specifically as I am aware of the work that the openSUSE teams did with KDE. openSUSE Leap is a slow moving ship, whereas KDE is a fast moving target that’s coming out with new releases at a much faster pace, with shorter support for each release.
openSUSE and KDE worked together and announced an LTS version of KDE which will allow openSUSE users to continue to use stable and well tested release of Plasma with Leap. That’s why you still have Plasma 5.8 with this release. Both communities made some compromises, but in the end everyone won – users won by getting consistent KDE experience, the KDE community won as they addressed the needs of openSUSE users, openSUSE won as they were able to deliver the consistent experience to their users. That’s a great example of how open source must work.
Even moon has scars: no one is perfect
As much as I love openSUSE, it does annoy me sometimes. It’s not perfect. I actually never expected a community driven distribution to be perfect. There are a few things that I wish openSUSE could fix.
I can’t get openSUSE to run in a virtual machine on macOS. I am annual subscriber of Parallels Desktop as it offers great integration between host and guest. I spend $80 per year on it, but openSUSE is the only distribution that I can’t run on it. It fails to install Parallels Tools that optimizes display, and allows for sharing storage between two operating systems.
Depending on how you see it, openSUSE disables SSH and locks down ports in Firewall by default (you can actually enable SSH during installation). If you are a new user who didn’t pay attention during installation, you may feel frustrated to find you can’t ssh into your system or you can’t run Plex media server. However, from a security point of view, I do like that openSUSE disables ssh and enables Firewall by default with many ports blocked. It means that advanced users who do need such features can enable them while keeping unsuspecting users secure.
openSUSE has its own flaws, but the good news is that it’s a very mature and professional community. It’s lead by people who are accountable so if you do come across problems, they are dealt with in a professional manner.
Last year I ditched HP printers, after the whole fiasco and bought a Brother printer. openSUSE was the only distribution that failed to detect the printer. I talked to some of the core developers to make them aware of the problem. I did find a workaround on my own and almost forgot about it.
However, 5 months later when the new release of openSUSE was out and I installed it; the printer was detected out of the box. openSUSE had fixed the problem. Yes, they like to work quietly; they don’t make much noise.
The point that I want to make here is that unlike other distributions where you may have to deal with unprofessional developers, openSUSE almost treats you like a customer. I am a noisy and nosy customer and I have been using openSUSE since 2011, that says a lot about the distribution.
It all boils down to the main point: even if I don’t think there is that perfect distribution, Leap is something that you should consider if you are looking for a distribution that’s stable, mature, enterprise grade, and backed by a company and built by a community that’s thoroughly professional.
Now, you may ask where can I get openSUSE Leap 42.3? The answer lies in the link below.