openSUSE Leap 15.3 Review


A fresh chameleon hatched a couple of days ago. OpenSUSE’s latest Leap release 15.3 is now available. Let’s see if the youngest Geeko, as their mascot is called, is up to snuff.

openSUSE Leap 15.3 KDE Plasma Desktop

Leap 15.3 is only a minor update over 15.2. The aim of the developers was to get Leap as close as possible to SUSE Enterprise Linux. Not only does it share now the same source code with the latter but also uses the exact same binary packages. For more on that, check out their blog post entry. Most Linux desktop users won’t benefit directly from this move but as a result, Leap should offer a rock solid desktop experience. Support is available for 18 months. Updating to version 15.3 is only recommended from the previous version 15.2.

Installation

I downloaded openSUSE Leap 15.3 from the official site using the torrents option. It is a very large download of 4.7 GB. This is partly explained by the fact that openSUSE lets us choose between three different desktop versions: KDE Plasma, Gnome and XFCE. We could also opt for a minimal generic install or a server install.

I passed the ISO to a USB drive using Etcher and proceeded to install it onto my test Dell E7240 (8 GB Ram, 128 GB SSD, i5-4300, 1366 x 768). The openSUSE installer first prompts us to accept a license agreement and then configure the WiFi before choosing the desktop environment. I went with KDE Plasma, their flagship desktop and the one I used the last time I checked-out Leap 15.2. I took over the suggested partitioning scheme which was rather elaborate. OpenSUSE Leap is quite unique in that it uses the advanced Btrfs file system. We are then asked about the time zone before we can create our user. The installer has the option to import user data from a previous installation – neat! After accepting that my password was too simple, the actual installation process got underway. Unlike most other installers, openSUSE’s YaST2 installer does not display any fancy ad-like slides. Instead, we get to see a detailed installation process showing how many GB of data are still to be written to disk. Well into the installation process, I suddenly received a warning message that the checksum of a specific file did not match up and constituted a big risk for the security and integrity of the system. Since this installation is for review purposes only, I went ahead and accepted the discrepancy but immediately got an error message that package “fwupd” failed to install which may cause issues later – Spoiler: It did! Total installation was quite long at around 11 minutes.

Boot times are also a bit on the longer side at 13 seconds to the log-in screen.

Launching htop after a fresh boot offered the following numbers:

  • 554 MB RAM
  • 67 Tasks
  • 123 Threads

These figures are what we’ve come to expect from KDE Plasma. Very light.

The Desktop

Leap 15.3 still uses the same KDE Plasma 5.18 desktop of its predecessor as well as the same kernel 5.3.18. A bit dusty but mature and stable. If we want a more modern set-up then we would need to go with openSUSE’s rolling Tumbleweed edition.

openSUSE’s Welcome app and excellent KDE manual

The desktop is a very traditional affair with the panel at the bottom. We have the menu on the left and the system tray on the right. The desktop accepts icon placement and we get the home folder and the trash can on the top left corner by default. The global theme is openSUSE which looks very much like the default Breeze theme with grey elements and blue folders as well as a blue accent color. Not much green going on except for the desktop wallpaper. The “Geeko” menu icon is quite pretty though.

OpenSUSE welcomes us with a “Welcome” app. It offers some documentation and links to support and an online software repository. There is a very helpful KDE Plasma manual included.

KDE Plasma’s perfect menu paired with the chameleon icon

KDE Plasma’s menu is easily one of the best around. Items are sorted by favorites or by category. Type to search works like a charm and the menu is invoked using just the “super” key – I wish that were standard across all distros. Alternatively we can launch apps using Krunner by hitting “alt” + “space”. Krunner can do a lot more , of course, like convert units or directly open bookmarks.

The extensive YaST Control Center

Overall the desktop is pretty much a standard KDE Plasma offering. OpenSUSE has another cute mascot up it’s sleeve, though, and that is YaST. This all encompassing installation and configuration tool has been around since 1996 – older than some of you readers out here which is unfortunately not the case for me! Apart from all the usual settings and configuration options, the most interesting is probably the snapshot tool. Since the system uses the modern Btrfs file system, we can easily setup snapshots with YaST. So, if we encounter any issues after let’s say a software update we can simply revert back to a previous snapshot. The beauty of this system is that it only records changes that are made and does not need to make full copies of the system. This makes it very fast and use very little additional space.

YaST Snapshot tool
Usability

Multimedia Playback: All media was reproduced on VLC. While sound played on all formats I tested, video output wasn’t supported on AVI and MP4 files due to missing codecs.

Bluetooth: Worked like a charm. It discovered my JBL speaker and instantly switched the sound output.

Display Options: This was a bit disappointing. I docked the laptop with my Dell docking station with an external monitor attached but nothing happened. The Display Configuration tool did not detect the attached monitor. I would have liked to test fractional scaling on my other laptop with a hi resolution screen. For that I usually just boot into the live environment but it seems this ISO doesn’t offer the option.

At some point Spectacle, the screen shot tool, started to fail. It wouldn’t take screen shots anymore and leave behind jittering artifacts on the screen. That was the only bug I encountered during my test in addition to the previously mentioned installation issue which will manifest itself further below.

Software

As the large ISO lead us to suspect, openSUSE Leap comes with an abundance of software installed out of the box. Below is a highlight of the most prominent apps:

  • Internet: Firefox v.78 ESR, KMail, Konversation (IRC client), TigerVNC (remote desktop viewer)
  • Office: Full LibreOffice suite, Kontakt, KAdressBook, KOrganizer
  • Multimedia: VLC, Gwenview
  • System: Dolphin file manager, YaST, KWalletManager

A lot of “K” going on as usual with KDE desktops. It takes some getting used to if coming from Gnome or other desktop environments.

To install additional software we have a few avenues to our disposal:

  • Discover: KDE Plasma’s software center
  • YaST Software
  • Online software center: https://software.opensuse.org

Discover is KDE Plasma’s standard graphical software center while YaST Software is a package manager similar to the Synaptic Package Manager. Packages from the online software center are downloaded and then installed to the system using YaST. I found many packages on the online store didn’t yet have versions available for the 15.3 release so YaST would deny installation. The YaST Software management tool would usually have a suitable package available so I would use that by default. I used Gnumeric in this test and it installed fine with the package manager.

Left: YaST Software Management – Right: Discover Software Center

Discover was a bit slow as it always needed to “fetch updates” before it would display anything. The fetching wasn’t exactly at Warp speed. I then discovered that it didn’t work at all and that was because of the error during installation. Remember the file “fwupd” that failed to install? Turns out Discover needs it to function. Hopefully this was just an isolated issue with my installation media.

Final Thoughts

As always, the star of the show at openSUSE is the Btrfs file system and YaST with its snapshot support. For people working with SUSE Enterprise Linux, Leap now offers a perfect testing desktop. Normal desktop users might find Leap a bit too dated by now. The poor external monitor support was disappointing. I was quite surprised by the installation issue which is something I very rarely come across. That being said, the system was very snappy and responsive. Unlike my experience with Leap 15.2, processor load while idle stayed very low at around 2%. I shall soon have a look at the rolling Tumbleweed alternative that is probably a better fit for most folk.

If anyone had a similar installation issue or any other interesting feedback to share, please use the comments section below.

Cheers!

Mike

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Mike

Chief geek (editor) and maintainer of distrocrunch.com
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klaus
klaus
5 months ago

Hi Mike,
thanks for sharing your experiences! I had a similiar issue with the installation DVD. And I think that I could locate the problem. The DVD burner must have root privileges because some files in the ISO image are owned by root.
Best regards,
Klaus