Review: openSUSE Tumbleweed GNOME Snapshot 20170329

For the last 5 years, I have been running Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce as my main OS on my laptop. Its support cycle is only 5 years long, so its end-of-life is fast approaching (within a month). This has spurred me to seriously start looking into replacements/upgrades. In the interest of having an open mind, I don't necessarily want to lock myself into sticking with Linux Mint; while I may still be biased toward the Ubuntu/Linux Mint family, the collection of minor issues in the latest releases of Linux Mint may actually make me more open to other alternatives. However, I'm probably not going to go with some small one-person distribution, especially if the community around that distribution is small and it doesn't have officially-supported packages. My criteria for considering a distribution are that it should have either official support for Skype and Google Talk (both of which I use regularly) or it should have a large enough community to make unofficial support viable (through the implication that the distribution will last a long time); related to the last point, I expect the support cycle to be as long as possible, and in particular, to be more than 3 years. Additionally, while I am not completely opposed to KDE, my most recent interactions (in my most recent distribution reviews) with KDE 5 have left me somewhat less than impressed, so when possible, I will try to stick to MATE/Xfce when possible, thanks to my familiarity and confidence with their tools, ability to recognize peripheral devices, et cetera. Additionally, because I'm seriously trying to test aspects of these distributions for my daily use, I'm going to touch upon a few other things beyond what I might write for a typical distribution review.

With that in mind, my first test subject is openSUSE Tumbleweed GNOME. I've tried openSUSE before, but it has been a while since the last time. Additionally, its support cycle is only 3 years, but it does have a rolling-release version called Tumbleweed, so I figured I might try that. I created a live USB of the 64-bit ISO using the "dd" command, as recommended on the website. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

After getting past the boot menu, I was briefly shown a scrolling wall of text, but this quickly gave way to a proper GUI boot splash. That took a little bit of time to lead to the desktop, and I was concerned that perhaps the OS had frozen. Thankfully, the appearance of the cursor told me otherwise, and this in time gave way to the desktop. The desktop is vanilla GNOME 3/Shell, so I won't dwell upon it.

Mozilla Firefox is the default browser; I was able to use standard keyboard shortcuts in it, but many plugins and codecs were not installed. In particular, Adobe Flash was not included. I had to search online for a way to install it, as there was no obvious pointer within the OS for installing Adobe Flash, so I went for the 1-click package installation. Unfortunately, I had already tried opening PackageKit by that point, and it wasn't closing properly, so I had to issue the terminal command "sudo killall packagekitd" and try again to make it work. Thankfully, Adobe Flash installed and worked without any problems after that.
LibreOffice is included as the default productivity suite. Apart from a few games (which I've found to be a little buggy), the applications included are just the standard GNOME 3 tools and the openSUSE YaST tools.

I was able to use YaST2 to install Mupen64Plus and Redshift. Both of those worked fine. Additionally, I was able to locate Steam in the repositories through YaST2, though I didn't attempt to install it; I only looked for this because I do play some games on Steam on occasion, and some of them are more reliable in Linux than in Microsoft Windows, so I figured it may be worth checking out.
I had to install both Skype and Google Talk through their respective websites. Both installed fine, though I got errors/warnings in the package installation that the sources are not trusted; I found that clicking "Ignore" did the trick, though I can see newbies getting tripped up by this. The new beta version of Skype on Linux worked to a certain extent: I was able to verify that my microphone was recognized, but as none of my contacts were online and as the settings dialog for checking audio and video settings seems to have been removed, there was no way for me to verify that my webcam could be recognized. After installation, Mozilla Firefox did not recognize the Google Talk plugin, so I kept getting prompts to install something that had already been installed. That said, Google does warn that its plugin may not fully work with the latest version of Mozilla Firefox, which happened to me later in the day (on my normal OS), so this may well not be the fault of openSUSE. (UPDATE: After further reading and testing, I've concluded that this is probably more likely due to known compatibility issues between Mozilla Firefox and Google Talk/Hangouts on any OS.)

As I wanted to test things that I would personally use more every day, I tried logging into my research group's computing cluster via the terminal as well as GNOME Files; both worked, though the latter is a little less intuitive in GNOME 3 than in other DEs. Also, I tried connecting my cellphone to my computer; the distribution was able to recognize all of the files on my phone.
Over the course of testing this distribution, its slowness stuck out to me. It wasn't terrible, but everything, from the boot process through starting applications through loading menus seemed to lag a bit. I don't know if this is an issue with GNOME 3 or with openSUSE overall; perhaps using MATE or Xfce would mitigate this issue to a large degree.
I was not able to get a measure of its resource consumption, because after a point, I could no longer load any other applications due to an "input/output error" (though existing applications continued to run fine). Possibly for the same reason, I could not see the screenshots I had taken either (which is why this post has no pictures). I'm not sure if this is a bug with openSUSE overall, with its live ISO, or with my USB stick, but I've never seen this error before, so for now, I'm pinning this on openSUSE; if I find the same error in a future distribution review, I'll correct that statement. (UPDATE: After further inspection, including analyzing the shutdown messages and seeing the absence of the live USB in my BIOS after rebooting, it is clear that my USB stick is having issues. This is probably normal after 8 years of use exclusively for making and booting live USB systems, but that means both that I need to start using a new USB stick, and that the "input/output error" issues are not the fault of openSUSE.)

That's where my time with openSUSE Tumbleweed GNOME ended. My issues with Skype & Google Talk and the other minor issues were not necessarily the fault of openSUSE per se. However, I can't deny that those issues and the slowness (which is more likely attributable to the distribution) happened. Given that, I may need to revisit openSUSE in the near future (possibly with a new USB stick), but for now, I withhold recommendation, and the search continues for the next distribution to put on my laptop.
You can get it here. Note that while I tested the 64-bit system, 32-bit images are also available.


  1. I think you missed the point and objectives of Tumbleweed - it isn't meant for beginners and more for tinkerers and hobbyists i.e. people with average or higher know-how of Linux like yourself for instance; that is why Tumbleweed is a rolling distro with newest/er versions of packages rather than a more fixed/controlled versions of most packages like LTS versions of your favourite Ubuntu/Mint platform. I have to agree that openSUSE Tumbleweed needs to be more polished (I am thiking of a similar edgy distro like Fedora but then again they aren't a rolling distro, although you "could" upgrade the distro using fedup - a bit of a hit and miss there), but that is what openSUSE Leap is doing - a hybrid distro with core stuff from SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE) with community userland apps. Tumbleweed can be rough round the edges - but it is running fine on my low end Acer notebook.

    1. @msian_tux_lover: That's certainly a fair point. However, even if the slowness/sluggishness is a symptom of openSUSE Tumbleweed being rough around the edges, I still can't fully excuse that if other rolling-release distributions don't have the same problem. Thanks for the comment!