Thoughts on OpenSUSE 11.0

Here are my experiences installing OpenSUSE 11.0 on my desktop PC (I had already successfully installed it on a VM). I opted for a KDE 3 desktop – I don’t like Gnome especially and KDE 4 is not ready for day-to-day use as far as I am concerned.

  • No problems at all with mixed IDE/SATA drives and GRUB 😉
  • Usual problems with NVidia drivers (corrupt screen on first entry to KDE). But this time, I could boot into safe mode, add the NVidia repository, install the drivers and restart. Much easier than previously if still not quite perfect.
  • I did have some problems setting up two screens this time but it is the first time I’ve had my big monitor (24″) at install time – I had to fiddle with the settings in the standard screen settings tool before I could get the NVidia settings tool to correctly recognise the size of the smaller screen.
  • I have a small issue with the NVidia drivers. I think that there is an issue with the latest drivers, I get an annoying screen blank every now and then. It is most noticable with some JavaScript enhanced web sites under FireFox for some odd reason. Under OpenSUSE 10.3, this was crashing KDE (which is why I got round to installing 11!)
    UPDATE 2008-07-17: This may, in the end, have been a hardware issue – I reseated the cables and everything is stable at the moment
  • YAST gets better and better. This is where you really see the benefits of being backed by a professional organisation (Novell).
  • You still can’t set up a network bridge in YAST though 🙁
    However, it is easy if you follow the instructions in my previous blog entry.
  • Everything seems a bit faster though that might be down to a fresh install?
  • One thing that is massively faster is installation and update of packages – Phew! At last, one of the biggest issues with SUSE has finally been cracked. It is now very fast indeed.
  • The extra back/forward buttons on my Logitech mouse work without any additional configuration – nice touch! Though the left/right scroll still doesn’t work 🙁
    UPDATE 2008-07-20: Ah ha! This one is due to an oddity in the key-mappings of the Logitech mouse that I use. Hopefully, I’ll now be able to sort this out when I get a chance
  • There is still a bug in YAST that drops the default router at random. this stops Host Networking from working under VirtualBox

What stops me finally parting company with Windows

Will I ever be free of Microsoft? Well, unlike many people I’m not really evangelistic about this. I’ll use whatever gets the job done properly. My main reason for ditching Microsoft products is due to their overly restrictive and greedy licensing without really giving real innovation in return.

So why can’t I escape? Well one of the main reasons is that I am constantly faced with Microsoft products through my job as an IT consultant. While I am more likely today than ever before to end up with a mixed environment, MS still owns most of the desktop and much of the server market in my customer base.

That aside, it is mainly for personal reasons that I want to be free at home so why do I still need to run MS dependent software? Here is the list of products I still need Windows for:

  • Memory Map
    This is a great map display and navigation tool for which I have the whole of the UK at 1:50,000 scale. In fact there is no good mapping application for Linux as far as I can tell and certainly not one that will display UK Ordnance Survey maps. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any navigation software for Linux either. Hopefully this will change with the advent of more Linux based mobile phones
  • Google Sketchup
    I don’t often get time to do 3D work these days (not like in my bachelor days when I was using a Commodore Amiga for 3D graphics and video!) but when I do, this is likely to be the tool I turn to.
    In fact, I can’t find any easy to use tool that will do architectural 3D under Linux. Lets hope that Google are listening to the call from Linux fans for a proper Linux version like they’ve done with Google Earth

That’s all I can think of for now.

I might of added MS Office to this list as there is certainly nothing to touch this in Linux land. OpenOffice is fine for simple stuff but for those of us who rely on the power of MS Office day-to-day, you quickly find the limitations of OOo. Thankfully, I don’t generally have the need for complex office documents at home so I’ve not listed it here.

Distributions January 2008

I was getting very frustrated with SUSE recently. Mainly because of the slow and flaky package management but also due to my scanning difficulties.

So I decided to do a quick test of a couple more Linux distributions. Here are a few quick notes.

MEPIS 7.0 Release 3

  • There is a password on the Live CD login with no information on what it is (guessed demo)
  • Install to disk has to run as root – it silently logged when run as demo with no indication as to why
  • In the disk partitioner, there were no partition names or labels to give a guide to existing partitions – both SUSE and Mandriva give better information
  • No wizard to help install my Wacom graphics tablet (this works great under SUSE)
  • THERE IS NO SETTINGS WIZARD FOR NVIDIA! Any configuration has to be done by hand on the xorg.conf file – this alone discounts it as a Windows replacement (there wasn’t one for download either that I could find)
  • Installation does not set the time zone correctly according to the chosen location. The keyboard layout is left incorrect as well so that it has to be changed manually – lazy
  • The auto-mounting of existing partitions is DREADFULL. It labels them as hd1, etc. rather than using labels. Worse, you have to automount them from Konqueror as a standard user but then you cannot access them as a standard user, only as root (which wont auto-mount them)

Good points are:

  • It’s Debian based
  • Package management is faster than SUSE (by a loooooong way)
  • Theres a nice NVIDIA driver installation wizard (but how daft that there is then no way of configuring it!)

My conclusion is – give it a miss, stick with SUSE or Ubuntu.

Mandriva 2008 One KDE

  • I had several crashes with the configuration wizards. Once crashed, they will not run without a reboot but there is no indication as to why
  • There was no automatic access to existing partitions from the Live CD. I had to manually mount them using the partition tool
  • After installing/configuring the NVIDIA drivers and setting up a second monitor. I could not get Mandriva configured so that windows did not maximise to BOTH monitors. None of the other distributions I’ve tried have done this and I couldn’t find any GUI way of stopping X from treating the two monitors as a single large one (at least without turning off TwinView altogether)
  • In the Mandriva configuration wizards, the OK and Cancel buttons have a very nasty habit of swapping places. Normally you would expect the confirm action to be on one side and the cancel on the other – not to swap around randomly
  • You seem to have to manually set up repository sources – not helpful
  • The printer installation wizard does not parse the manufacturer. It told me what my printer was and who it was made by and then didn’t bother to pre-select the Canon drivers in the list
  • I couldn’t find Kate on the application menus only KWrite
  • There is no file manager listed in the menus only on the desktop
  • In the package manager, almost no packages had a description against them, just a title
  • Existing partitions are auto-mounted without their names/labels making it extremely hard to know which is which

Good points are:

  • There is a UPS setup wizard
  • The menu is nice, much better than a standard one

So, again, I really cannot recommend this distribution.

Conclusions

After this exercise, I even booted back to my Windows Vista partition thinking I might give up with Linux altogether!

Thankfully, a few minutes trying to run failing updates and using the relatively slow interface convinced me otherwise and I am back with SUSE 10.3 again. The grass may look green in those other OS’s and distributions, but it isn’t really.

Things to dislike about SUSE 10.3

OK, so we’ve have the good things about openSUSE 10.3, now for the bad.

  • The repository and package installation management in openSUSE 10.3 sucks – bigtime!
    • I’m often getting failures to read the control files from the Internet (though normal browsing works fine),
    • it is slow – really very very very slow,
    • and you do seem to get weird dependency issues more often than other distros,
    • there are too many fairly standard packages missing from the default repositories so you have to configure third party ones (at least this is often easier with the 1-click install facility now available),
    • 1-click install seems to often fail or takes >5 minutes to jump into life,
    • Why do I have to keep importing new repository keys? It makes a mockery of the security because I get blasé about it and always say yes,
    • Why does running a package install totally kill the system performance?
  • I thought that there were a number of important commands missing from the distro but it turned out that the installation didn’t set /sbin in the path so that things like the hdparm command were not found
  • It sets the “name” of my machine to something based on what the DHCP server on my router has given it rather than the name of machine that I set on installation (this shows up in YAST and on the command line). Not really a problem but a niggle
  • libata seems to break some software
    Update 2008-01-29: Hmm, not so sure now that scanning is working though I’ve also taken out my PATA hard drives so who knows? In fact, the release notes show that libata can be disabled at boot-time using the boot option “hwprobe=-modules.pata” if it causes problems
  • In particular, scanning was only working with Kooka (which is very basic). My normal cross-platform scanning software – VueScan – doesn’t work, nor does the propriatory version of iScan (for Epson scanners)
    Update 2008-01-29: Now sorted. It turned out I hadn’t fully configured my Epson scanner in YAST. Though I don’t know whether removing my PATA hard drives may have changed things also. Anyway, both VueScan and iScan now work – hooray!

Well, despite all of these, I’m still finding it the best available right now. Overall I’d have to say that it is a well balanced distro and does most things you want right out of the box. I’ll stick with it for now.

Things to like about openSUSE 10.3

It works well out of the box.

Things it doesn’t do wrong

I didn’t need to get round the GRUB bug since SUSE treats PATA and SATA disks as pseudo SCSI disks and nothing gets confused when rebooting.

It didn’t kill my graphics card with a buggy NV driver.

My Soundblaster Live card works correctly with digital output and everything.

My old, serial connected, Wacom graphics tablet just works.

Once installed, Compiz Fusion just works.

Bluetooth just works.

Things it does well

Start-up and shut-down of the PC is really fast.

There are lots of custom settings scripts built in to YAST2 so no need to hunt round for files to edit by hand.

There is a sensible set of applications in the standard build without overdoing it.

In particular, the scripts for editing the graphics settings of xorg save manually editing the conf file which is always rather fraught (though there is a problem after the NVidia drivers have been installed, I’ll talk about that in another post).

Sensible options are generally chosen during installation. For example, if you change the language option to English (UK) during installation, the locale and keyboard options are automatically chosen as UK.

Distributions December 2007

Linux is a very fast moving landscape so I tend to do a major update of my systems once or twice a year.

Although I moved over to Linux at the start of 2007, I decided to do another move in December as my main installation was getting rather tatty from too much experimenting!

So I went back through the distributions that I had looked at before, namely:

  • Ubuntu (along with the variants Kubuntu and Mint) now at 7.10
  • SUSE now at 10.3
  • PC Linux OS
  • Mepis

I know that everyone has their favourites but these were ones that I’d looked at previously as being well supported, kept up-to-date and working well “out of the box”.
However, having moved on 10 months or so, I was less forgiving of issues this time round. All of the distros had moved on so they all should be better.

I should, at this point, tell you what my hardware is. An ASUS motherboard with NVidia chipset, a mix of PATA and SATA disks, an NVidia 7600GS graphics card and a Soudblaster Live! 1024 sound card. This is relavent because, although these are pretty standard parts, several of them cause issues under Linux.

This time round Ubuntu really let me down. After installation from the CD, GRUB got confused over which drives were which (this is a bug in GRUB when using a mix of PATA and SATA and affects most distros). Also, the NV video driver was installed which has a bug that stops it working with the 7600 series graphics cards. Even when I got all that working, there were still other issues and I gave up at that point.

PC Linux OS had the same GRUB issue and would not even let me into GRUB to manually edit so that got ditched.

I didn’t bother with Mepis this time round.

I did try openSUSE 10.3 though and got a pleasent surprise! It worked! That’s it, nothing more. Everything worked. No mess, no fuss.

So now I’m using SUSE. There are some issues, I’ll tell you about those in another post or two.