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What is openSUSE and who is it for?

If you're looking for a new Linux distribution, you might come across openSUSE. What is this flavor of Linux and is it right for you? Jack Wallen has the answers.
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Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer on

When you go on the hunt for a Linux distribution, you might well be overwhelmed with the choices because there are a lot. And by a lot, I mean hundreds. To make this choice even more confusing, there are:

  • Distributions with different package managers.
  • Distributions with different desktop environments.
  • Distributions with different initialization systems (think systemd and SysVInit).
  • Distributions that are specific to desktop usage. 
  • Distributions that are specific to server usage.
  • Distributions that are specific for development.
  • Distributions that are specific to multi-media creation.
  • Very lightweight distributions.
  • Completely open-source distributions.
  • Rolling release distributions.

You get the idea. 

Also: These two Linux desktops are the simplest picks for new users

But if you ask any given knowledgeable Linux user which distribution you should try, the list tends to focus on a very small selection that includes Ubuntu, Linux Mint, ZorinOS, elementaryOS, and Fedora. That's a great list (one I cannot argue with), but it is a bit limited in options. 

Another distribution you might consider is openSUSE

What is openSUSE?

This distribution was born from the original SUSE Linux and is sponsored by SUSE (the makes of SUSE Enterprise Linux). The relationship between openSUSE and SUSE Enterprise Linux Desktop (SLED) is that SLED is based on openSUSE Tumbleweed and shares a common codebase with openSUSE Leap.

Wait. What?

There are two different versions of openSUSE:

  • Leap is the long-term support version of openSUSE.
  • Tumbleweed is the rolling release version of openSUSE.

The difference is simple. With openSUSE Tumbleweed, there aren't major releases, so you don't have openSUSE Tumbleweed 12, 13, 14, etc. Instead, you just have openSUSE Tumbleweed which receives continuous updates to keep the distribution fresh and upgraded. This means you could install openSUSE Tumbleweed on your desktop and never have to bother installing a new version (as everything will be continually upgraded). On the contrary, openSUSE Leap is a traditional release, where you do have version numbers and older releases are eventually no longer supported. What this equates to (in real terms) is that Tumbleweed enjoys newer software more regularly (because it receives updates as soon as developers make them available).

What makes openSUSE different?

Besides offering a choice between standard and rolling releases, openSUSE does have one thing that makes it stand out above other distributions. Said thing is called YaST (Yet another Setup Tool). YaST is where you do all of your configurations in openSUSE. Unlike other distributions, the YaST tool has both a GUI and a command-line version, so you can use it if you're logged into the desktop or have logged in remotely via SSH.

But what really makes YaST special is the vast amount of things you can configure with the tool. And YaST is totally separate from the standard desktop configuration tool (such as those found in GNOME and KDE). YaST is as complete a configuration application as you'll find on any desktop computer operating system. It's massive, it's all-inclusive, and it's powerful.

YaST (Figure 1) is also one of the reasons why few ever suggest openSUSE as a distribution for new users, as there's so much that can go wrong if someone who doesn't know what their doing opens the tool and starts randomly clicking buttons. 

openSUSE's YaST configuration tool.

YaST allows you to configure nearly every aspect of openSUSE.

Image: Jack Wallen

With YaST, you can do things like:

  • Install add-ons.
  • Manage filesystem snapshots
  • Configure AppArmor
  • Manage the bootloader
  • Configure the time and date
  • Configure your firewall
  • Set/change hostname
  • Install virtual machines
  • Configure your keyboard and language
  • Run a media check
  • Configure your network
  • Manage updates
  • Manage disk partitions
  • Configure and manage printers
  • Set up a Proxy
  • Setup Samba shares
  • Manage overall security
  • Configure and control sound
  • Manage repositories

So, yeah, YaST is powerful. 

Installed applications

The default desktop environment for openSUSE is KDE (Figure 2), which means you'll enjoy the standard KDE lineup of tools (such as KMail, Kontact, and KORganizer).

The KDE desktop with the menu open.

KDE is the official desktop environment for openSUSE.

Image: Jack Wallen

You'll also find apps like LibreOffice, Okular, Firefox, VLC media player, and plenty of other software. If you don't find the software you need, you can always fire up Discover (the KDE app store) and install it from thousands of applications (Figure 3).

KDE Discover open and ready to install applications.

The KDE Discover app makes it easy to install new applications in openSUSE.

Image: Jack Wallen

Who is openSUSE for?

To put it succinctly, I would never recommend openSUSE to users new to Linux. However, if you've been using Linux for some time and are interested in a distribution that gives you more control over those operating systems geared for new or average users, openSUSE might be right up your alley. openSUSE can be used as an everyday desktop environment, but because it offers so much in the way of configuration and management, it's just not one of those distributions that should be considered for those just getting into Linux.

If you do decide you'd like to try openSUSE, I would highly recommend starting with Leap, as it's going to be considerably more stable than the rolling release Tumbleweed. If you're a developer or you want a Linux distribution with the latest, greatest software, then Tumbleweed will suit you well.

I've deployed openSUSE for several use cases and every time I have found it to be exceptionally dependable. So, if you're not afraid of having a lot of power at your fingertips, openSUSE might be a great operating system for you.


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