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Reviewing Ubuntu 15.10, Fedora 23, and openSUSE Leap 42.1...at the same time!

When three major Linux distro releases fall within days of each other, who could resist the temptation to try them all out?

Linux reviews Ubuntu 15.10 Fedora 23 openSUSE 42.1
Credit: Francois Schnell via Creative Commons

Ubuntu 15.10. Fedora 23. openSUSE Leap 42.1.

Major releases of three of the biggest, most prominent, Linux distributions. And they were all released within days of each other (a time now known as the holiday of Distrovus).

So, instead of writing a review of each of these new releases, I am simply writing one article comparing all three of them as desktop workstations (I won't be reviewing them as servers in this article). A battle royale. A no-holds-barred cage match. A Linux Distro Thunderdome. Or a friendly tea amongst three friends. Call it what you will…it means I only need to write one article instead of three. So I like the idea.

Before we start, let's get this right out of the way: I am biased.

I've been an openSUSE user for years and years now. The first distro I used with any regularity was a copy of SUSE that I bought back when you could buy Linux distros in boxes (typically with a small stack of CDs) from electronics stores. I had so much fondness for openSUSE that I eventually went to work for SUSE itself.

In other words: Biased. 

But I also spent a few years as an avid Ubuntu user and an incredibly vocal proponent of Ubuntu – writing articles about the perfection of Ubuntu and preaching the gospel of Ubuntu from podcasts far and wide. I believe the phrase "you couldn't pry the Ubuntu out of my cold, dead hands" was uttered more than once.

As for Fedora – I have a huge amount of respect for the project. It, likewise, was my primary distro for roughly a year or so. Couple that with the fact that I would consider a fair number of those actively involved in the Fedora Project to be friends, and you can see that, while I may be a bit biased, I consider myself less a "SUSE guy" and more a "Linux guy."

Now, with that out of the way…

Let's start with Ubuntu 15.10

Why are we starting with Ubuntu 15.10? Because it is, let's be honest, the least interesting of the bunch. That isn't to say Ubuntu 15.10 is bad, mind you. Far from it. But it is rather… boring. 

I began my testing of Ubuntu 15.10 by upgrading from an existing installation of Ubuntu 15.04 running GNOME (See? I like Ubuntu! I had an installation ready to go!). After the update, the system rebooted and hung at a black screen. A little investigation revealed that might be a common problem if you are using GNOME with gdm on Ubuntu and trying to do an upgrade. 

I decided I wanted the best possible experience with 15.10, so I erased that partition and did a fresh install. This time everything worked absolutely perfectly. No glitches. No (noticeable) bugs. I was up and running in the default desktop (Unity) in mere minutes.

The Unity desktop environment received a small bump to version 7.3.3 – including some minor tweaks and bug fixes. If you liked using Unity in past versions of Ubuntu, you'll be just as happy (if not more so) with the latest version. In my testing it was stable and not terribly slow (though not terribly peppy, either). 

But I'm not a fan of Unity. Not that it's the worst thing ever… I just don't enjoy using it. Luckily, this is Linux. I can grab whatever desktop environment I want from the repositories and enjoy the good life. So I did a quick install of GNOME (3.16), rebooted, and was far more comfortable.

While GNOME didn't run flawlessly on Ubuntu 15.10 (there were two crash reports that occurred after every log in – which, considering my need to install and run three different distros in a short amount of time, I never bothered to investigate to a resolution), but it ran well enough that I was quite pleased.

After kicking the tires for a bit longer, I was satisfied that 15.10 was a quality, stable (mostly) release that any Ubuntu user would be happy to use. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that this is the best release of Ubuntu since before Unity was made the default desktop many years back. But, as a guy who likes a bit more flexibility with my desktop environments, it clearly wasn't for me.

On to Fedora 23! Specifically, Fedora Workstation

("Wait! You're not going to list out the first numbers of every package that got updated in Ubuntu 15.10 and provide an exhaustive analysis of changes to the desktop wallpaper pictures?" Correct. Those things are boring. Catch up.)

I'm going to say this as simply as I can: I experienced not one single issue with Fedora 23. I used it as my primary system for a few days in a row and never, not once, hit any sort of glitch. It was fast and stable and I just don't have anything bad to say about it.

In addition to being a rock-solid release (at least during my few days of usage) it also is rocking GNOME 3.18. Which, if you're keeping track at home, is a newer version than what Ubuntu provides in its repository. Which makes sense. Ubuntu is focused on the Unity environment; Fedora is focused on GNOME. 

The Fedora installer is a little… odd feeling. It doesn't prompt you to add a user account, it simply provides a link to add one if you want to add a user while it is installing. Which is totally fine. I think. Sort of caught me off guard, but I can't think of anything wrong with that approach.

During the installation, Fedora 23 also allows you to add details about your Facebook and Microsoft accounts. Which felt both convenient… and out of place. Fedora is asking me to set up my "Microsoft Account." That feels sort of like if my Android tablet asked me if I wanted to add an Apple account when I first turn it on. It would make me feel weird. On the inside.

Outside of those things – which aren't even really issues, simply items I found to be odd and quirky – Fedora 23 was stellar. This is, without a doubt, my favorite release of Fedora in many years. Possibly my favorite release they've ever done. Fast, stable, and great looking.

Let's talk openSUSE Leap 42.1 for a moment

Talking about this new version of openSUSE, alongside these other two releases, is a bit challenging. Ubuntu 15.10 feels like mostly a bug fix release (which is good, but not exciting to talk about). Fedora 23 is a polished new version but, again, isn't anything dramatically different from what came before. 

Leap 42.1 is, on the other hand, a very different beast. It integrates in code from SUSE Linux Enterprise, changes the life-cycle to be a bit longer (matching the release schedule of the enterprise side of SUSE) and is meant to be stable and conservative with regards to what packages are included. This is new. This warrants an in-depth look. 

But I won't be doing that here – I'm just going to focus on how Leap handles as a desktop workstation compared to the other releases. For something more focused on what's new on Leap 42.1, check out this article over on ITworld

So. How is Leap 42.1? In a word: stable.

The installation was straightforward and free of problems (just as with Ubuntu 15.10 and Fedora 23). The one nicety (which I've grown to expect on openSUSE releases): the ability to choose my desktop environment – KDE and GNOME are available right from the installer.

The major version of GNOME is the same as Ubuntu (3.16). No errors, no issues. The version of KDE that ships with Leap 42.1 is the absolute latest stable version available (KDE Plasma 5.4.2). I experienced no issues with KDE, either – though, to be fair, I spent the majority of my time in GNOME.

The short version: I experienced no problems with the final version of Leap 42.1 whatsoever. Stable as heck.

Comparing All Three

I found both Fedora 23 and Leap 42.1 to be absolutely rock-solid. I don't have anything truly bad to say about either.

The big difference, for most users, is going to be in the release schedule and focus. Both provide excellent GNOME desktops. Both are polished and high-quality releases. With Fedora, you're likely to get newer version number packages slightly faster than with Leap. But, on the flip-side, I would feel more confident putting Leap on a machine that I absolutely need stability and longer term usage out of. 

Will I use either of these as my primary desktop system? Honestly… probably not! (Though, on my server, I will surely run Leap.) Both are amazing releases that I could heartily recommend to many people and companies. But I'm more of a rolling-release kind of guy lately (I use openSUSE Tumbleweed most of the time because of that).

Even Ubuntu 15.10, though there were noteworthy bugs if you stray outside of the narrow confines of Unity, was exceptionally good. I do, admittedly, have a hard time thinking of whom I could recommend Ubuntu to. You really need to be a fan of the Unity environment in order to use Ubuntu over the likes of openSUSE or Fedora at this point.

Which sounds way harsher than it is. There are a lot of happy Unity users out there. And this is, undeniably, the best Unity-powered release of Ubuntu I've tried.

Which leaves me with one thought…

It's a great time to be a Linux user.

Three of the biggest distributions. Each with a unique, worthwhile focus. And each of absolutely fantastic quality. I would eagerly use any of these three systems over the likes of, say, Windows 10. 

The teams behind all three deserve a major high-five.

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