A week with openSUSE Tumbleweed

Josh Sherman
7 min read

Since coming back home to Linux, I have been in search of a new distro. No, not a new distro, I want the perfect distro. Or just something better. Better would be just great.

My go-to distro, Ubuntu, for the most part, has been decent to me. Sadly, it’s always been good and not great. Receiving pop ups about how there was a problem with my system wasn’t uncommon. Actually, there were times when it was happening every day and immediately after every reboot.

Problem there is that Ubuntu has always been the distro that’s been super easy to install on any hardware I threw at it. Not once have I had to consider another distro based on Ubuntu’s installability.

And then there’s the matter of Canonical playing copy cat to Apple’s tyrannical behavior. I think it’s great they are pushing the platform forward but to me, there’s no reason to keep introducing more fragmentation to the ecosystem.

Who knows though, they may end up winning the war. Until then, I have been on the hunt for a new distro to call my own.

Enter openSUSE.

I tried to install openSUSE last year on my MacBook Pro. Pretty sure I was working with Leap and I had issues getting it to connect to my wireless network.

In hindsight, it may have been with how I had my home network configured. Regardless the reason, I dumped it and went scurrying back to Ubuntu.

Fast forward 6 months or so, and enough Lunduke marketing influence to wear my down, I’m giving openSUSE another shot.

This go around, I went with openSUSE Tumbleweed. For a while now, I’ve been wanting to be running a rolling release system. Ubuntu’s 6 month cycles are absolutely great but still not enough to be at the forefront of technology.

I’ve ran Arch in the past and barely felt productive with it, but was also always apprehensive about the packages as a whole. Arch is great as a rolling release but seemed plagued with problems when doing upgrades. openSUSE appeared (to me at least) as a more stable offering in comparison.

The installation actually wasn’t too bad. That’s assuming you don’t count the fact that I had done 4 separate installs before I actually nailed it.

Mostly user error with that one, there were some manual steps involved with the MBP to mount the EFI boot partition and to select the correct options to get the EFI boot loader installed correctly.

Not entirely the fault of openSUSE but it’s worth mentioning that I felt that there was a lack of documentation out there for openSUSE. More as a whole than just for MacBook specific installs.

YaST2 did wow me a bit. It didn’t look as polished as the Ubuntu installer, but the capabilities, especially with partitioning and setting up my hard disk were pretty fantastic.

Most distros I’ve played with default to ext3 or ext4 partitions. openSUSE went with XFS for the /home partition and Btrfs for the base install. The latter I had never even heard of, but was wowed when I read about it.

Four installs later, I have a bootable system again.

I went with Gnome as it’s still my main choice for a desktop environment and everything was good to go. openSUSE defaults to KDE and I assume KDE gets a ton more love than Gnome does. I’m not switching to KDE anytime soon though, so I can’t comment on it.

Next steps were to go through my standard steps when setting up a new system. Install software, get my development environment good to go, et cetera.

I was able to get my development environment ready to go (for the most part) without much headache. Where things got interesting was with installing software.

Spotify was the main offender and Spotify doesn’t offer an openSUSE installer. I didn’t realize it going in, but openSUSE uses RPM files so generally speaking, if you see RedHat or Fedora packages, you can just install those.

Spotify was kind of a pain in the ass to get installed but I was able to muddle through it. Since the issue was an openSUSE specific one, there was a bit more documentation out there than some of the other issues I had encountered.

With my development environment good to go and Spotify installed to serve as my soundtrack I was ready to conquer the week. That was, until the end of the day on Monday when I closed my laptop only to find that suspend didn’t work correctly.

This has been an issue I’ve been plagued with over several distros. The MacBook Pro just hates to be put to sleep by Linux. I’ve since figured out the issue (saving that for another post) but was pretty miffed at the time.

Same as with Arch and Ubuntu, I had to shut down my laptop at the end of the day else face my laptop bag whirling like a tornado and clocking in at over 100 degrees. Not openSUSE’s fault, but disheartened that they had the same issue.

For the most part, my week with openSUSE was productive. What was interesting was that around day 4, Stockholm syndrome started to set in.

Not like I was being held captive or anything, but up until that point I was saying things like “well Ubuntu can do this easier” and similar nonsense.

Day 3 was all about acknowledging the stability that openSUSE was able to offer, even with a rolling release. No “there was a problem with your system” messages and outside of having to shutdown every night, things were running smoothly.

Spoke too soon.

OF COURSE I SPOKE TOO SOON! That very afternoon I needed to deploy some code to our staging environment and needed to get Fabric installed.

Now being fairly proficient with zypper, I went ahead and installed it.

Quick side note about zypper. It was pretty great, but one day I mistakenly typed apt-get from muscle memory and zypper took over. I was a bit put off that the openSUSE crew didn’t feel strongly enough about their command-line installer that they had to go and alias out to what the other guys named their installer.

I get the logic behind that decision, but it still seems like a lack of faith in their own adoption IMHO.

So back to installing Fabric, there were errors upon errors. Seems Tumbleweed is a bit more forward thinking than I expecting and they are favoring Python 3 to Python 2.

Took some research but fairly quickly I was able to find the issue, and get things worked out to run the Python 2 version of Fabric.

Since you asked, yes the code made it up to staging just fine :)

The rest of the week went off without much of a hitch. For the most part that is, I did run into a couple of issues with the keyboard.

One issue I ran into was that the key repeat speed was quite sluggish. I have the speed maxed out in the Universal Access menu so not sure what’s up.

Incidentally, I’ve experienced the same issue with Debian Stretch. From what I can tell it’s more to do with the newer versions of Gnome 3 than something to do with the distros themselves.

The other issue was with my external keyboard (one of these). While on the command line, if I hit Insert or Delete or any of the keys on the side (sans the arrow keys) things would freak out. The text would start to change chase and the cursor would jump around. Hard to describe which made it hard to search for.

A few issues aside, I spent a week with openSUSE. It was quite excited to try something new. It took a few days but I went from “this sucks” to “this is definitely a viable choice”.

Sadly, the lack of openSUSE specific packages and the need to hack around with Fedora RPMs makes the distro a bit less than desirable for me.

That said, inspired to play around more with other distros, I’ve since rebuilt my MacBook Pro to allow me to run 3 separate distros of Linux so I can regularly revisit things.

Even with being an openSUSE novice, I was able to have a very productive week with it. If you’ve never used openSUSE or are looking for a new rolling release distribution, I would definitely check it out!

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About Josh

Husband. Father. Pug dad. Musician. Founder of Holiday API, Head of Engineering and Emoji Specialist at Mailshake, and author of the best damn Lorem Ipsum Library for PHP.

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