Hands-On: KaOS Linux and openSUSE Leap 42 on my new notebook

Installing KaOS Linux and openSUSE Leap 42, and looking back at my experience so far with this notebook.

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The Asus X540SA notebook I've been installing Linux distributions on.

Image: Asus

In the previous three posts about this ASUS notebook, I have configured Windows 10 Home, installed openSUSE Tumbleweed, Manjaro and Debian GNU/Linux, and installed Fedora, Linux Mint and Ubuntu.

This time I am going to install the last two Linux distributions I am interested in: KaOS and openSUSE Leap. So far my experience with this inexpensive laptop has been very good. I hope that it continues that way.

KaOS

KaOS Linux is a bit of an unusual distribution compared to the others I am installing, because it is much smaller and less well known. I like it because it is a "pure" KDE distribution, it is always kept up with the latest development in the KDE Plasma desktop, and it includes KDE-specific applications and utilities. That means things like QupZilla instead of Firefox, Calligra Suite instead of LibreOffice, and so on.

The latest ISO installation image is available from the Download page, and is about 1.8GB in size. It can be copied to a USB stick (or DVD), and boots as a Live desktop for installation. KaOS uses the Calamares installer (the same as Manjaro), and installation takes less than 15 minutes. The only quirk about this installation is that KaOS wants the EFI boot partition to be mounted on /boot, not on /boot/efi as most other Linux distributions.

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The Asus X540S running KaOS 2017 (rolling).

Image: J.A. Watson

You might notice in this screen shot that the panel is vertical on the right side of the display, rather than the traditional horizontal at the bottom of the display. This kind of panel layout is something I have tried and used for quite some time on my netbooks. I would suggest, though, that having the panel at the right side can be inconvenient if you frequently have windows which are either full-screen or flush to the right edge of the display, and those windows have scroll bars. It can be irritating when you are trying to grab the scroll bar and the panel keeps jumping out from the edge of the screen.

Especially if you have a flaky/unstable touchpad like this system has.

Having the vertical panel on the left side can make things a lot easier to use.

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Image: J.A. Watson

Just in case someone thought the desktop demons might have decided to give me a break on this laptop (or that newer kernel or GUI software might have more luck with the touchpad in this system)... that is not the case.

As with many of the other distributions I have installed on this laptop, only the Fn-keys for audio up/down/mute work. Also, closing the lid does not put it into Suspend mode, but selecting Suspend from the KDE Power/Session menu does work, and then pressing the power button will Resume successfully.

Pressing the power button while the laptop is running causes a Logout... that seems like an odd choice to me, rather than Suspend or even Shutdown.

openSUSE Leap 42

The last Linux distribution I am interested in installing on this laptop is openSUSE Leap 42. I expected this to be a pretty routine installation, particularly because I have already installed openSUSE Tumbleweed and had no trouble with it.

The installation image can be downloaded from the openSUSE Software web page. Unlike most of the other distributions I have tried, this is an Installer image, not a Live image. It is quite large (about 4.5GB), so you need at least an 8GB USB stick or you can burn it to a blank DVD.

I ran into the same problem with installing Leap that I had previously with Tumbleweed, the touchpad did not work at all. I used a USB mouse for the installation, which worked but it showed the potential problem with the USB ports on this laptop

First, there are only two USB ports (type A), so now I have one with the USB stick and one with the mouse dongle... and they are placed side-by-side with very little clearance. If either the stick or dongle had been any wider at all, it would not have been possible to use both simultaneously.

The same is true of the HDMI and VGA ports, by the way. I actually wanted to try having two external displays connected, but there is simply not enough clearance for that.

Once I booted the installed system the touchpad worked (sort of, but mostly not, as usual), so the functionality was not a problem, but the limited number of ports and proximity could be a continuing issue with this laptop.

I took a slightly different approach to disk management with this installation. First, because I already have openSUSE Tumbleweed installed, and Leap uses the same EFI boot directory name, I had to create a second EFI partition. That's not a big problem, you just make a small FAT32 partition (256MB is enough), and set the Boot and ESP flags on it. The openSUSE installer will choose the original EFI partition by default, but you can easily change that by selecting Do Not Mount for that partition and then setting the new EFI partition to be mounted on /boot/efi.

Second, openSUSE wants to use btrfs for the root filesystem, and then make a separate xfs partition for /home. I generally don't do either of those, but since this is really a test system and I want to try a lot of different things, I let this go ahead - the only change I made was the filesystem sizes, because like most installers openSUSE wants to use all available free space.

The installation process takes quite a while - duh, the installation image is more than 4GB, compared to less than 2GB for the other distributions. It still finishes in less than 30 minutes, though, and then reboots to this desktop.

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The Asus X540S running openSUSE Leap 42.

Image: J.A. Watson

I let it install the default KDE Plasma desktop, but of course I could have chosen Gnome 3, Xfce or others from the same installation media.

I am a bit surprised at the difference in functionality between Leap and Tumbleweed. The Fn-keys, for example, only work for audio up/down/mute on Leap, whereas they all work on Tumbleweed. I suppose this shows the advantage of Tumbleweed having the very latest software installed.

Summary

I have now completed installing and testing all of the Linux distributions that I intend to put on this laptop. They all installed with little or no problem, and they all work very well. There are some minor differences in details, especially in areas specific to laptop support such as the Fn-keys and Suspend/Resume functionality.

The important point, in my opinion, is how much better this laptop runs with any of these Linux distributions installed, as compared to the Windows 10 Home that was pre-installed on it. I tried removing the bloatware, removing or disabling whatever Microsoft extensions I could (such as SkyDrive), and making sure that all available Windows updates were installed. Nothing made it any better to use, Windows was maddeningly slow, and continuously missed mouse taps/clicks and key presses.

While it is still not a "speed demon" when running Linux, and booting takes a rather long time, once it is up and running it is quite pleasant to use.

Oh, and one last thing. The UEFI firmware in this system is without a doubt the easiest I have ever worked with. The only thing I had to do was disable Secure Boot so that I could install distributions which didn't support that. No other fiddling around, no having to go through BIOS setup every time I wanted to change the boot order, no having to set a BIOS password. Very nice.

Read more about Linux by J.A. Watson