How openSUSE Tumbleweed makes a great case for rolling release Linux distributions

openSUSE offers two different takes on its Linux distribution: Tumbleweed (a rolling release) and Leap (a standard release). Tumbleweed has done a great job of converting me to the idea of rolling releases.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
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It's been a while since I've given openSUSE a test drive. Honestly…it's been too long. I've always respected what the developers of openSUSE do and have long thought the distribution served a very specific type of user. Who is that user? For the longest time. I was convinced that openSUSE was best suited for users with considerable experience on the open-source operating system. 

You see, openSUSE (at least Leap) is based on SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE). You can read more about the distro in my What is openSUSE and who is it for? Suffice it to say, openSUSE  -- regardless of which version you use -- is geared toward power users. Does that mean those without Linux experience should shy away from this operating system? The answer is a bit complicated. 

Also: Rust in Linux: Where we are and where we're going next

It depends.

If you want to start using Linux and not bother learning the nuts and bolts of Linux, openSUSE isn't for you. For that, you'd want a distribution like Ubuntu, Linux Mint, or Elementary OS. However, if your goal is learning how to get the most out of Linux, then openSUSE is a great route to take.

Let me explain: This distribution includes a very powerful tool called YaST, which is like System Settings on steroids. Where System Settings allows you to configure the standard operating system options (appearance, users, printers, etc.), YaST (which stands for Yet another Setup Tool) takes it a few steps forward and allows you to configure software sources, boot loader, partitions, services, hostnames, proxies, Windows domain membership, AppArmor virtualization, file system snapshots, and more. 

The YaST GUI tool.

YaST offers quite a lot of low-level configuration options.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

YaST could either be a pro or a con, depending on how you look at it. But I would offer this: You don't have to use YaST. It's there, always there, waiting for you to open it and explore everything it has. Or, you could leave it closed, never viewing that particular Pandora's box, and stick with System Settings.

But think about it this way: OpenSUSE is not defined by YaST. Yes, it is a very powerful tool that can help take the OS to another level, but it's not something you must use. And if you take YaST out of the picture, openSUSE becomes similar to most other Linux distributions. It's all GUI, reliable, and includes everything you need to get started.

Also: OpenSUSE seeks a Leap replacement, but will distro community rise to the challenge?

And because Tumbleweed is a rolling release distribution, you can be certain that it's always up-to-date. 

I installed the latest version of openSUSE Tumbleweed and found it to be equal parts "all too familiar" and polished to meet more modern sensibilities. You see, the openSUSE I just installed looks very much like the openSUSE that I've used in days past. With the KDE Plasma desktop, the developers didn't opt to go with an ultra-modern take, with transparencies and special effects to make you go "Wow!" It's a version of KDE Plasma without all the usual bells and whistles that accompany modern desktops. 

The default openSUSE Tumbleweed desktop.

The openSUSE Tumbleweed desktop should be instantly familiar to anyone who's ever used the Windows operating system.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

But it works…and works very well. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's every bit as reliable as any operating system on the market.

Included applications 

You're probably curious as to what applications are included with openSUSE Tumbleweed. Given this is a rolling release, I won't bother with version numbers (as those could change any minute), but the OS ships with apps like:

  • LibreOffice
  • Firefox
  • KMail
  • KOrganizer (personal organizer)
  • Sieve Editor (for creating email filter scripts)
  • TigerVNC (remote desktop viewer)
  • Kate (advanced text editor)
  • Okular (document viewer)
  • VLC media player
  • Emoji selector
  • KCalc (scientific calculator)
  • KNotes (pop-up notes tool)
The default KDE Plasma menu on openSUSE Tumbleweed.

The KDE Plasma desktop menu is very easy to navigate.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

There are plenty of other applications but the above shortlist gives you an idea of what you're in for. And if you don't find what you need, there's always KDE Discover for installing even more software. OpenSUSE Tumbleweed also includes the Flatpak universal package manager, so you can install plenty of other tools (such as Spotify and Slack). Even better news is that Flatpak support is built into KDE Discover, so you won't have to bother with the command line to install applications.

My advice

First off, openSUSE Tumbleweed is an outstanding operating system. It's powerful, reliable, and immediately familiar (thanks to a traditional desktop layout). If you're curious whether this distribution is right for you, answer this question: Do you want to do and learn more than would be possible with a user-friendly operating system? If so, openSUSE is a great place to start. If you don't think you're ready to start diving a bit deeper into the waters of Linux, start with a distribution like Ubuntu and then, eventually, graduate to openSUSE Tumbleweed.

Also: Ubuntu Desktop 23.10 arrives: A glimpse into Ubuntu Linux's future

Even better, because openSUSE Tumbleweed is a rolling release distribution, you won't have to worry about re-installing the OS when a new version is released. That, combined with openSUSE's stability, helps this Linux distribution make a great case for rolling releases.

Either way you go, openSUSE is an outstanding operating system that will not let you down.

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