OpenSUSE Leap 42.3
SUSE has been a driving force in the Linux community for quite some time. The company's bread and butter distro is SUSE Enterprise Linux (SEL), which is free software, but rather difficult to actually get your hands on. However, SUSE offers openSUSE, two different Linux distros that they use as a testing ground for software they eventually intend to add to SEL. OpenSUSE Tumbleweed is a rolling distro geared towards having the latest software, whereas openSUSE Leap is a regular release, focusing on stability.
SUSE packages start in Tumbleweed. Once they're verified to be non-conflicting and generally stable, they may show up in Leap. After a package has been sitting in Leap for long enough to be verified as stable again, those packages flow down to SEL. This ensures that SEL is as stable as possible, which makes sense for a distro geared towards server and enterprise workloads which often require 100% uptime. These packages are verified by openSUSE users and SUSE employees, as well as openSUSE's automated quality assurance program, openQA (see https://software.opensuse.org/).
OpenSUSE points to several of its bundled tools as selling points. Open Build Service (OBS) is a openSUSE tool for building many different packages for different distros out of the same source code. OpenQA is also bundled with openSUSE. Kiwi is a tool for building full OS images. The most recognizable tool is Yet another Setup Tool, or YaST. YaST functions as a fully-featured installer, settings menu, and configuration manager, and many SUSE users claim it is the biggest advantage to the distro.
Booting the ISO of openSUSE Leap displayed a pleasant green lightbulb splash screen before the openSUSE-themed GRUB screen. At this point, you are given the option to boot from hard disk, install, upgrade, or advanced options. The advanced options include nice troubleshooting tools like a memory test and a boot media verifier. Upon selecting "Installation", a windows-esque popup informs the user that the system is initializing. After that finishes, and a rough terminal gives some status messages, the graphical installer is usable. Surprisingly, openSUSE includes a full EULA, in which they licence the software under the GPL, but also claim that openSUSE should not be used or distributed to create weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear and chemical weapons. After agreeing to the EULA, the installer goes through some system checks and device checks, and then suggests a fairly standard partition scheme. The encrypted LVM setup and separate home partition options are inside the "Edit Proposal Settings" button. The "Create Partition Setup" button allows for a fully custom partition scheme. The next step is to use a map to select a time zone (and presumably a locale). Upon finishing that, the installer prompts the user to select the default UI. By default, KDE Plasma is the selected UI, but the options of GNOME, headless, and a custom UI are also available.
The first problem some may have with openSUSE is it's default software repositories. Using the "Configure Online Repositories" option under the UI selector, the list of available repositories becomes modifiable. By default, many of the repositories contain non-free software. For many, this will not be an issue, but for those who use Linux mainly to escape proprietary software and the restrictions it imposes, it may cause some conflict.
After unselecting anything not clearly marked as open-source only, another EULA appears in the installer about the usage of the software repositories. This appears to be mostly identical to the first EULA. The second to last step to the installer is to configure the user. By default, the user password is also used as the root password, and the user logs in without the password. This seems somewhat contradictory as an OS meant for servers where security should be very important. Unselecting the option for the root user password allows the user to select a different root password, and using a password the installer deems insecure will ask the user if they're confident in it's integrity. Finally, the installer shows a list of all the information it's been given and asks for verification. Assuming everything is correct, the installer continues without any user interaction. The total install size for the configuration was 4.6 GB.
Upon starting the OS, a green openSUSE Leap-themed encrypted LVM unlocker is displayed. After getting through that, a very dark SDDM allows the user to log in. Strangely, IceWM is included in the install, even though Plasma 5 was selected in the original installer. Logging in displays a fairly standard KDE Plasma desktop, with a SUSE green lightbulb wallpaper and a SUSE logo for the menu icon. The menu itself also seems to be tweaked to be less transparent and reminiscent of a Windows XP menu.
The default install comes with the standard suite of Plasma applications, such as KMail, Amarok, Dolphin, and Kate, as well as Firefox and Libreoffice. It also includes a surprisingly large application suite, which makes up the large part of the large 4.6 GB installation. This includes games, a virtual globe, qT development software, Java and IcedTea control applications, and GIMP.
The general experience is snappy and responsive, and while the general theme of the UI by default feels a bit outdated, this can be mostly attributed to KDE.
YaST is the biggest draw to openSUSE, and it makes a lot of sense. YaST is a full-featured configuration and settings tool that genuinely can be used to change more settings than I had even known existed. Everything from tiny bootloader tweaks to user management to server admininstration can be taken care of from this one menu. The tool is intuitive and incredibly detailed. While attempting to apply patches, however, the software updater crashed repeatedly, and there does not appear to be an option to select a different kernel entirely.
Kiwi, Open Build Service, and openQA are basically three parts to a whole custom package development service. As I don't develop packages, I have no use for this, but the tools are very powerful and may be useful for future projects. I had never seen anything like these before, but I have been curious as to solid ways to make custom Linux distros.
OpenSUSE Leap should be a great distribution for developers, sysadmins, and generally anyone who appreciates actual user-friendliness: giving the user as much control over their system as possible. The build tools provide a comprehensive suite for creating and distributing software, and the included application suite provides a usable experience for more standard business use. YaST really does make this distro worth trying. The UI is mediocre, and the default software repositories include more nonfree software than some may like, but overall the OpenSUSE community and team have obviously put a lot of time and effort into this and it shows.