7 things you should know about openSUSE Leap

Leap is to SUSE what CentOS is to Red Hat and Ubuntu is to Canonical…

leap flag
A Meyers 91/Flickr

Both Red Hat and Canonical have free enterprise distributions: CentOS and Ubuntu respectively. Until last week, SUSE didn't have any such offering -- at least not officially.

Everything changed with the arrival of Leap.

I was at SUSECon 2015 when SUSE made the announcement, and I talked to over half a dozen SUSE executives and openSUSE developers, including Richard Brown, the chairperson of the openSUSE board. The information I gathered from these interactions gave clear indications that Leap is now a great alternative to Ubuntu, CentOS and Debian for production servers. However, very little is known about Leap.

Following is my interpretation of what Leap is and some points of interest:

Leap gets the DNA of SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE)

OpenSUSE Leap is compiled from the source code of SLE. The first version, 42.1, is based on the first service pack of SLE 12, which will be released soon. How this will work going forward is interesting: SLE is based on openSUSE, making it an upstream for SLE. At the same time, SLE adds packages and modules as needed by its enterprise customers, which Leap will benefit from as these will be shared. Thus, SUSE is an upstream for Leap.

It is my understanding that openSUSE teams will have complete freedom over what they want, but in a majority of cases, they like to have a system as mature and stable as is SLE. So it can be safely assumed that that Leap and SLE will remain very similar.

No more every-9-months releases

openSUSE used to follow a 9 month release cycle, where a new major version was released every nine months. That's ending. Leap will now follow the release cycle of SLE. There will be major releases in sync with SLE releases and service packs. And there will be minor releases that will bring updates from distros such as KDE and Gnome.

So now there is less work for openSUSE users, who used to have to upgrade their system every 9 months. At the same time, since it's following SLE, each version will have a much longer life.

They are also ending the Evergreen openSUSE, as Leap will have a much longer life expectancy. They will, however, continue to support the current Evergreen release, which is 12.1.

It's meant to be mature and stable

Since Leap will be keeping up with SLE, its core focus will be on maturity and stability.

Enterprise customers can't afford unstable, immature and untested packages. Everything has to to rigorously tested to ensure things won't break and cause them losses.

The openSUSE teams have created an excellent testing tool called OpenQA, which is also being used by Fedora, to automate testing. SUSE is also using the tool for SLE, which makes the upcoming SLE 12 SP1 and Leap 42.1 the most stable releases ever. So if you are looking for a rock rock solid distribution to power your infrastructure Leap is it.

Conservative packages

These two attributes – maturity and stability -- come from well tested and fully matured packages, which also means a conservative approach.

Leap will offer only fully tested and stable packages, which means they will not be the latest in all cases. Leap 42.1 comes with Gnome 3.16, for example, and not with the recently released 3.18.

As tempted as you may be, I discourage installing the latest packages through extra repositories. The whole idea of Leap is to keep the system rock solid. Unlike Debian, which is known for being the most stable OS but is way too rigid and the packages there are very old,  with openSUSE, you get the best of both worlds: stable and mature, yet you get up-to-date packages. However, if you are looking for the latest, just baked packages, then you should try Tumbleweed instead of using unstable repos on Leap.

Powering your server

The area where openSUSE is really making the leap is in servers. Until now openSUSE was missing from action on servers. Leap is the CentOS and Debian of SUSE.

The shift of focus toward SLE base, maturity, stability and a conservative approach to software is all geared for servers.

I myself run three servers on Linode and Digital Ocean. Last night, I installed Leap on a local machine and will be migrating my local Ubuntu server to Leap. If I find it works well, I will ask Linode and DO to offer Leap on their servers and move my WordPress sites and ownCloud servers to Leap. I expect that more and more VPS (Virtual Private Server) and public cloud providers like AWS will start offering Leap due to the changed strategy.

The end of LiveCDs

There is no LiveCD for openSUSE Leap 42.1. I checked with Richard Brown and he made clear that there are no plans for an official LiveCD for Leap, “especially not one which includes an installer," he said. "Previous experience with live CD installers taught us it's limited compared to what we can do with YaST on either the full DVD media or our tiny network ISO.”

Brown did mention that they are considering a 'portable Leap USB' that could be used as a 'persistent and portable' operating system. There are some times where Live images are useful, such as in cases of system recovery or giving a demo to potential users without formatting their hard drivers. For those scenarios there are two options: Either use Tumbleweed or SUSE Studio to create a Live image of openSUSE Leap or use KIWI and OBS to build live media.

All major desktop environments are there

There are many distributions, most notably Ubuntu, that can't install different desktop environments simultaneously because package conflicts causes it to break the system. That's not the case with openSUSE, at least as far as I have experienced. You can install multiple DEs side by side from YaST using patterns and switch between them from the login screen. I do it quite a lot to keep my system updated with all other desktop environments.

Closing thoughts

Leap is a game changer. It has the stability of Debian, the server grade dedication of CentOS, and the robustness of Ubuntu – all in one package. It's suitable for a home user who wants a very stable enterprise grade OS for a PC; it's perfect for developers, system admins and enthusiasts. The real target of Leap is in the server space where Web Hosting companies, VPS, and public cloud providers now have an operating system that brings them closer to SUSE Linux Enterprise.

I have been a hardcore Linux user since 2005 and had to use a mix of operating systems to achieve what I needed: Debian for Live servers, CentOS for home server and an Ubuntu-like OS for desktop. But with Leap I can run the same OS in all these scenarios. I must admit that while I have been an openSUSE user on desktop since 2011, this is the first time I am using it on servers. So far I am content. Using one OS on all my systems makes it easier for me to manage and maintain these systems.

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