Side by side: openSuSE Leap and Fedora 23

Two major Linux distributions have been released on consecutive days. I have loaded them both on several of my laptops, and here is what I found.

Fedora and openSuSE
Fedora 23 (Gnome) and openSuSE Leap (KDE)

With Fedora 23 and openSuSE Leap having been released on consecutive days, I have been busily installing them on most of my computers. It slowly dawned on me that rather than droning on about each one, also probably on consecutive days, it might be more interesting to examine both new releases in the same post. So here we go!

The first thing to do, of course, is review the release announcements (Fedora and openSuSE), for a general overview of the new release(s). If you want more technical details, check the release notes (Fedora and openSuSE). The ISO Live and/or Installer images can then be obtained from their respective download pages (Fedora and openSuSE).

These are two of the best known Linux distributions, and both are 'leading edge' distributions for well-known commercial Linux products (Fedora for Red Hat and openSuSE for SuSE Linux Enterprise). Unlike the vast majority of Linux distributions today, neither of these are derived from any other distribution, they are independently developed and maintained.

While each has its own preferred desktop (Gnome for Fedora and KDE for openSuSE), both offer alternate images and installations with either of those and pretty much all of the other popular Linux desktops (Xfce, LXDE, Cinnamon, MATE, Enlightenment and more).

Fedora ISO images are available in Workstation, Server and Cloud versions, each with content and format customized for its intended use. I will only be looking at the workstation version here. The Workstation Download page offers Gnome 32-bit and 64-bit Live and Netinstall images, and the Spins page has Live images for KDE, Xfce, LXDE, MATE, Cinnamon and even SoaS (Sugar on a Stick) versions.

openSuSE has only a full-blown DVD installer (4.7GB) and a Network installer at this time, there are currently no Live ISO images (at least I don't see them on their download page).

This has been a topic of some discussion in the past, because installing openSuSE from a Live image did not produce quite the same result as the installer image, and you needed to go into Software Management on the installed system at least once, to let it download and install a bunch of packages which were not included in the Live ISO. That sometimes led to confusion about what was included and what wasn't, or what worked and what didn't. So I don't know right now whether it is planned to have openSuSE Live images or not, and if they do create them, whether it will be possible to install from a Live image.

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The openSuSE download page contains a full-blown DVD (4.7GB) installer image and a minimal (85MB) Network installer image. That's quite a difference -- the DVD image contains everything you need to install almost any variant (various desktops or server), while the Network install image contains an absolute minimum necessary to boot the installer, and then downloads everything it needs to install whatever configuration you choose.

Another difference in this openSuSE release, I only see 64-bit images available. Again, I don't know if they are planning to add 32-bit images in the future.

I have recently posted a screenshot walkthrough of the installation for both of these, so you can refer to those articles if you want to see the details (Fedora and openSuSE). Just to be sure that it is clear, what is important to know from all of this is that to install Fedora, you have to decide what desktop you want (or server/cloud version), and then download the appropriate Live image (about 1.4GB) and install it, while for openSuSE you always download the same image, and you can then choose the desktop (or server) version during installation.

Both of these distributions support MBR (Legacy Boot) and UEFI systems, and on UEFI they both support Secure Boot. I have installed both of them on a variety of systems of both types, and I have not had any installation problems.

I have run into only one operational problem, with Fedora 23 on my Acer Aspire E11, which has a Broadcom Wi-Fi adapter. This is a well known trouble spot, and I mentioned it in my original post about that system, but it had been working with Fedora 22. After installing Fedora 23, and adding the rpmfusion repositories (both free and non-free), it is still not recognized.

The Broadcom Wi-Fi adapter is also not supported in the openSuSE Leap base installation, but after adding the packman repositories, I was able to download and install the driver and it is working just fine.

Once the distributions are installed, you can start to see some of the differences between them. Fedora is more of an aggressively 'leading edge' distribution, so in various places it has newer packages than openSuSE Leap -- for example, Linux kernel 4.2.5 in Fedora and 4.1.12 in openSuSE. This difference will increase as time goes by, because Fedora gets frequent updates so that it stays on (or close to) the leading edge, while openSuSE Leap focuses much more on stability and continuity.

Remember, though, that what I am talking about here is openSuSE Leap, which is their stable distribution. If 'leading-edge' is what you are after, then openSuSE Tumbleweed is what you should be comparing to Fedora. For the comparison I'm on just above, Tumbleweed currently has Linux kernel 4.2.4, so it is essentially the same as Fedora 23.

The difference is also apparent in their desktops, although I suspect that this is a combination of difference in attitude and priority. As I mentioned above, although both distributions offer a variety of desktops, each has its own preferred desktop. With Fedora that is Gnome, and Fedora 23 includes Gnome 3.18 while openSuSE Leap includes Gnome 3.16. I was reading a few different places and saw some comments from the openSuSE developers that they had decided not to go to Gnome 3.18 because it came out too late in their development cycle, and they wanted to stay with what they already knew was the stable 3.16 release.

On the other hand, openSuSE has the latest KDE Plasma 5 desktop, and from what I have seen so far it is working extremely well, while the Fedora KDE spin seems to be struggling with some instability both in the software and in its development ranks (Kevin Kofler recently resigned from the Fedora KDE SIG, and had some harsh comments about how he thought the KDE development was being treated).

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For the rest of the distribution contents, Fedora and openSuSE are not all that different. The details are going to depend on which versions/desktops you are looking at, but in general terms they both include web browsers, mail/contact management, LibreOffice, image/photo management and editing (for hard core users, openSuSE includes GIMP in the base distribution but Fedora does not, but it can be easily installed through the Software Management utility), audio/video/multimedia playing and management, and more. The specific details and differences in these are going to be much more dependent on which version and desktop of either distribution you choose, more than the distribution itself.

I'm certainly not going to surprise anyone by saying that both of these are top-quality distributions, and most users are likely to be happy with either one. I will go out on a limb a bit (get ready for indignant comments) and say that if you are an ordinary/casual user, and you just want to install Linux and then use your computer for everyday tasks, you might be a bit happier with openSuSE Leap.

If you are a more advanced user, or you are interested in learning more in depth about Linux, then you might be a bit happier with Fedora. But that really is a gross simplification of their overall state, and with a small amount of effort either of these could be made just as suitable for any task as the other one.

So pick one, install it, and give it a try! Or do as I have, and install them both in a dual-boot configuration, and compare them for yourself to see which you like the best.

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