The current stable release of openSUSE is 13.2, which was released on 4 November 2014. The next release is scheduled to be available on 4 November 2015, exactly one year later. The new release will not be called 13.3, or 14.x, but rather 42.1 and has been appropriately codenamed 'Leap'.
The reason for the name/number change, and the extra attention that this release is getting, is that they are making a philosophical change in their development and release strategy. The reasons for this change, and the results of it, are discussed on the openSuSE Leap Wiki page.
A lot of the discussion has been focused on openSuSE getting merged into SuSE Linux Enterprise (SLE), but I think it is important to note that this is more of a two-way street than that. In fact, as is explained in the wiki, what happened which enabled this merge was that the SLE sources and maintenance updates have been released to the openSuSE Build Service.
I have been using openSuSE for quite some time, and I always install it as the default boot target on my laptops. I have also tried SLED (SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop) a few times over the years, and my impression has always been that it was significantly behind openSuSE in both kernel version and packages. So when I heard about this merge, I was concerned that it might result in openSuSE falling behind - especially when I read that they were talking about using Linux kernel 3.12 (the current SLE version) in the initial release. Ugh. Fortunately, they came to their senses and decided to use the 4.1 LTS kernel.
I didn't pay much attention to the first milestone release, but when the second milestone came out last week, I decided to give it a try. Nothing too radical, mind you, I don't want to risk any of the systems that I use frequently, so I decided to load it on my Acer Aspire One 725 and a much older Samsung N150 Plus. Both of those were already running openSuSE 13.2, so it shouldn't be a big change, and there hopefully wouldn't be any major compatibility problems. In addition, the AO725 is a UEFI firmware system and the N150+ is an MBR system, so I get to see how Leap works for both environments.
The milestone release is available from the openSuSE downloads, by selecting the 'developer version' at the top of the page. It is currently only available as the full DVD installer image, which weighs in at about 3.7GB, or the network installer, which is less than 100MB, but requires a functioning (and hopefully fairly fast) internet connection during installation so that it can download only the necessary packages.
I chose the DVD image - and the first important thing to keep in mind is that this is an installer, not a live image. It boots directly to the installation process, and it is not possible to use this as a stan-alone testbed to see if/how it works on your hardware. The good news is, as you might imagine from the large image size, that pretty much everything is included in this one image, so you can choose between KDE/Gnome/Xfce and LXDE desktops, rather than having four different Live images for these different desktops. Likewise, all of the packages for the base installation are included in the DVD image, so you don't have to go back and pick up any additional software after installing, which is the case when you install from a Live image.
I installed on the Aspire One 725 first. This system is about 2.5 years old, and is not very powerful by today's standards. Hardware specs are included in my original post about it from March 2013. I coped the DVD image to a 4GB USB stick, and that booted with no problem. The installation was uneventful, but it took a good while - copying nearly 5GB from the USB stick to the hard drive is a lengthy process. The UEFI firmware was no problem, 'grub-efi' was installed and configured, including Secure Boot support.
As this is a pre-release version, I'm not going into a lot of detail about what packages are included, because that is likely to change by the time the final release comes along at the beginning of November. I will simply say here that performance is good even on what is now a low-end system, and all the hardware (including the Broadcom 4313 wi-fi adapter) was recognized and configured.
For the second installation I chose an even older, weaker system - my trusty old Samsung N150 Plus. I bought this netbook and wrote my first post about it just over five years ago. It is an Intel Atom 450 CPU and has only 1GB of memory. Because of this limited power and memory, and because I was curious about other versions, I decided to install the Xfce desktop on this one.
Installation was once again no problem, but it took the best part of an hour. However, when I booted the installed system and tried to connect to my home wi-fi network, I got an unpleasant surprise - the wi-fi adapter was not available because of "missing firmware".
Ah yes, I remember this one now -- it is another pain-in-the-rear Broadcom wi-fi adapter. The way to get around it is to plug in the Asus USB wi-fi adapter that I keep on hand for such cases, and use that to download the necessary non-free firmware. Except, when I plugged that in the wireless activity LED on the adapter never came on. Uh-oh. I checked the network manager status, and it once again said "missing firmware", this time for the USB adapter. Grrrr. That means I have to go up to my desk and use a wired network connection to get the firmware I need. (It's amazing how lazy I am getting... )
But then I remembered that I have one more USB wi-fi adapter, which I use in myberryPi systems. I grabbed that, plugged it in, and a few seconds later the network manager informed me that "wireless networks are available". Hooray!
I was then able to connect to my home network, and download the necessary b43 firmware. That got the wi-fi adapter working, so I was then able to remove the two USB adapters, and continue with configuring/testing the installation. I didn't find anything else wrong, and the performance was pretty much what I expected.
So, what does all of this mean, and what did I get out of it?
Well, the biggest thing is probably just knowing that the upcoming 'merged' SLE/openSuSE Leap 42.1 release is going to be a reasonable successor to the current openSuSE 13.2 release. It is not, as I had feared, going to be a significant step back. We'll just have to wait and see how things continue from there, but if it goes the way they have described in the openSuSE wiki and discussion groups, it should be just fine.
On the other hand, for systems where I want the latest kernel and software packages, I will certainly continue to use openSuSE tumbleweed, which is a rolling release distribution. I have already been using it on several systems for some time now, and I have been very pleased. Since I frequently buy new notebooks/netbooks which have various kinds of new/different hardware, I often need the latest kernel and drivers to support them.
Finally, if you really feel like being on the absolute leading edge of development, you could run the openSuSE factory distribution. Be advised that there is not a huge difference in availability of the latest software between factory and Tumbleweed, because they are periodically tested and synced. It would take someone considerably braver and more determined than me to run factory...
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