openSUSE Leap 15.4 • Registry

Exam The Reg The FOSS office took the latest update to the openSUSE stable distribution for a spin of the block and came away pleasantly impressed.

As we reported earlier this week, SUSE announced that it was readying version 15 SP4 of its SUSE Linux Enterprise distribution at the company’s annual conference, and a day later openSUSE Leap version 15.4 followed.

The relationship between SUSE and the openSUSE project is comparable to that of Red Hat and Fedora. SUSE, with its line of enterprise Linux tools, is the commercial funder of, among other sponsor.

The picture is complicated by the fact that there are two different openSUSE distributions: Leap and Tumbleweed. Tumbleweed is a streaming distro, similar to Arch Linux; there is no stable version, and new packages emerge from the project Factory every day.

In contrast, Leap is one of the most stable distros available. Major releases appear about every few years, with a new minor or point release every year. Since the last point release, 15.3, the project has synchronized its code base with the enterprise distribution. This allows to emigrate an installation of openSUSE Leap to the SLE paid product and benefit from commercial support.

As such, openSUSE Leap is technically more conservative, in part because it has a common code base with a slow enterprise distribution. So while the latest Ubuntu LTS release has GNOME 42 and kernel 5.15, the latest Leap has GNOME 41 and kernel 5.14. Although SUSE Linux Enterprise is focused on servers, there is a desk edition – but openSUSE Leap has a much wider selection of components.

Unlike the Ubuntu and Fedora live CD model, with different install images for different desktop environments, the openSUSE install image is just an installer.

Two versions are available: a 3.8 GB offline image, which does not require a network connection, and a 173 MB online installer, which fetches source packages from the network. Both boot directly into the installer and there is no option to switch to a graphical desktop.

If you want to try before to buy install, the project also offers live images with KDE, GNOME, and Xfce, but the download page explicitly states: “These should not be used for installing or upgrading. Please use the installation media at the place.”

The installer offers the same choice of three desktop environments as the live images, but that’s not all. You can also install a text-only server or an immutable server image with transactional updates, which is also available separately as Jump Microphone 5.2.

There is also an option for a minimal graphical environment (which includes IceWM) on which you can install one of the widest choice of desktops: GNOME (basic, Wayland or X.11), KDE (basic or full), Xfce, Cinnamon, LXDE, LXQt, Enlightenment, MATE, Deepin or Budgie, as well as Sway tiling Wayland composer. Deepin desktop is a new option for 15.4, and it still has some problems. Enlightenment isn’t the author’s favorite desktop, but it’s still good to see it included in a mainstream distro: 15.4 includes version 0.25.3, and it offers immense customization potential as well as a treat for eyes.

Deepin desktop is new in openSUSE Leap 15.4, but it still has some sticking points

Deepin desktop is new in openSUSE Leap 15.4, but it still has some sticking points

We tried KDE, as well as Deepin and Enlightenment. As Scott Gilbertson said in 2015: “openSUSE’s KDE desktop is one of the niftiest KDE implementations” – and we still agree with that. It uses the main Firefox and LibreOffice, but most of the other components are KDE-specific applications, such as Kmail, Konversation and Akregator.

There are also some tricks in the openSUSE repertoire that few other distributions do by default. The YaST2 system administration tool is a huge boon. It’s a point of pride among the Linux Illuminati to know where to find every obscure config file, what content it should have, and which obscure text editor to use that earns them the most kudos from other geeks.

YaST lets you bypass almost all of that, using a simple menu-driven interface to configure just about every aspect of the system, from installing and updating software, firewall, printers, boot loader, disk partitioning, including RAID and LVM.

In the bad old days, most distros had tools like this, but the handful of other survivors from the early 1990s got rid of it. Credit to SUSE for still maintaining this, and it works in text mode and over SSH. (Unfortunately, the WebYaST the online version is outdated. We’d like to see it get some TLC.)

Second, there’s its support for snapshots. By default, openSUSE formats your hard drive into a single large Btrfs volume and enables the Snapper tool for system snapshots. This is more important if you’re using Tumbleweed with its hectic pace of updates, but even on Leap, if an update is causing problems, the ability to simply reboot into a working snapshot is very useful in a crisis.

There is only one catch in the author’s experience: snapshots can use a lot of disk space. If you are using Btrfs, it Needs a large root partition, much larger than other distributions. Older versions of openSUSE used a /home partition, formatted with XFS, but more. Now by default you get a large volume. It’s both good and bad.

The problem is that the “perpetually unfinished” Btrfs is easily corrupted in case of power failure or disk full. The latter is a particular hazard for two reasons. First, because he can not give a direct answer to how much free space is available, and second, because repairing a corrupt volume is difficult and dangerous.

So having a large partition is a good thing because it won’t fill up so easily. It’s bad because if it does, it will probably get corrupted, and your files will be at risk. I’m a traditionalist: I advocate going the old way and keeping a separate partition for the house. But make the root partition big: as in, give it hundreds of gigabytes, rather than tens.

Alternatively, you can skip Snapper, format your root partition with ext4 and treat it like any other distro.

These days openSUSE comes with Flatpak pre-installed, but the project also has a very useful deposit additional software, which saves the faff Ubuntu PPA and Fedora COPR. There is also the exterior peddler repo with many useful tools such as multimedia codecs.

openSUSE also has the blingtastic Enlightenment desktop, with a wide selection of visual effects

openSUSE also has the blingtastic Enlightenment desktop, with a wide selection of visual effects

You can download openSUSE Leap from the project website. There are versions for x86-64, Arm aarch4, POWER ppc64le, IBM z Series and LinuxOne. There are also minimal ready-to-use VM “JeOS” images for KVM and Xen, Hyper-V, VMware and OpenStack Cloud.

openSUSE Leap strikes a good balance between Fedora’s short lifecycle and the slow Ubuntu LTS releases. Between the Zypper package manager and the YaST front-end, and the additional repositories available online, we rate its software package offerings as significantly better than anything Red Hat or the various Mandriva descendants have to offer.

For servers and their stressed sysadmins, YaST is a fantastic tool, and there’s also deployment using AutoYAST, SaltStack, and the Uyuni management tool. And of course, it is possible to migrate to paid SLES and enterprise support without reinstalling.

Red Hat is more visible: it sponsors many conferences and events, and works hard to foster a large, enthusiastic, and even evangelical community. SUSE isn’t quite as big or as loud, but it’s slightly older – founded in 1992, it’s in its third decade. openSUSE is a more refined and mature distro, and it’s pretty much the best on the RPM side of the Linux world. ®

Boot Note

Disclaimer: the author worked for SUSE until last year, but not on the openSUSE project. It retains no ties or ties to the company. (And a few years before, he also worked for Red Hat.)

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Steven L. Nielsen