Saturday, April 15, 2006

Installing Suse 10.1 RC-1 on the M685

I managed to pick up the latest release of Suse 10.1 late Thursday via Bit Torrent, and installed it early Saturday morning on the Gateway M685. As always, the first thing that anyone should do after downloading and burning ISOs is to verify the integrity of the CDs created from them. This time I burned two coasters using a bad image for CD 4 (delivered via Bit Torrent). I had to hit the Open Suse website and explicitly download a new image for CD 4. That one burned a proper CD.

The installation over Beta 9 went without any incidents. I did not perform an upgrade. As with Beta 9 the SATA drive was properly recognized. What's more RC-1 defaulted to using the root and /home partitions I'd created under Beta 9 as the installation targets. The only thing I had to do was to select no formating for /home and the use of ext3 instead of Reiser for the root filesystem format.

Installation took about 45 minutes for the entire system. It detected all the hardware, and as before, it allowed me to select the proper screen resolution. After the final startup into the system, the screen Just Worked. I attribute this easy screen setup to having nVidia graphics instead of ATI. Xorg seems to work better with nVidia-based graphics systems out-of-the-box. What follows next are my experiences with various features.
  • Both desktops are very solid and polished. KDE and Gnome were visually cleaned up between Beta 9 and RC-1, especially Gnome. Right now I'm using Gnome as my default desktop.
  • Screen resolution for 2D has always been correct for this distribution on this notebook. For 3D acceleration I downloaded and installed the latest nVidia Linux driver (8756). That was an interesting experience. I had to drop from graphics/X11 mode (init 5) to pure text (init 3), then run the combination script/installation application. Installation, while in text mode, was extremely smooth. I simply started it, selected 'Yes' on a few questions, and it built and installed the driver for this distributions kernel. I then rebooted the notebook and it came back up in 3D acceleration mode. ATI drivers are supplied as RPMs and can be installed under X in a shell. The ATI driver is invoked by logging out and logging back in again. I give a slight nod towards ATI since the driver is supplied as an RPM, but not by much.
  • USB seems to be working and working well, with one notable exception. I have an Olympus Evolt E300 digital camera. When I plugged the camera into the notebook under Gnome, the camera's compact flash was detected and an icon pointing to it appeared on the Gnome desktop. When I opened the new icon, Nautilus was real slow to show the images on the camera as thumbnails. Opening the images under the Gimp was also very slow. Performing these same actions under Windows is a lot faster, especially opening the images with Gimp under Windows. I can only assume there's something going on at the driver level, but I haven't investigated it yet. In the future I'll just stick the compact flash into my USB 2.0 Sandisk reader.
  • The wired network connection works just fine but wireless is still not working. It didn't work with Beta 9 either. Dumping dmesg and grepping for Intel shows that the ipw3945 driver is being loaded, but the wireless capability is still off line.
  • Sound does not work. Like wireless, it didn't work with Beta 9 and it's not working with RC-1.
  • I don't like the default fonts (Mono) on the Gnome desktop. They look crudely drawn, especially capital 'C'. It looks like a capital 'G' with the horizontal bar lopped off. I went into Control Center on the Desktop menu (which, when selected, comes up named 'Desktop Preferences') and selected Bitstream Vera Sans for everything. And while I was in there I selected 'Subpixel smoothing'. My only comment there is that if the installer detects an LCD display (it did) then that should be selected by default.
  • I can't save a default desktop under Gnome. Regardless of how I check the "Save current setup" checkbox when I log out (or shut down) the next time I log in the desktop is clean. KDE still saves the current desktop without asking. This has been a problem since Beta 9.
  • KDE still randomly places the desktop icons on the desktop every time you log in. Most times it won't. But every once in a while I'll log in and see the icons, which I like to keep lined up on the left, suddenly running across the top edge, or even randomly re-organized down the left. This has been a n annoying problem with KDE for as long as I can remember.
  • Nautilus seems to be missing the ability to view folder contents in detailed (list) mode. While having the folder navigation view on the left again is appreciated, I like the detailed view instead of the icon view.
  • Konqueror now comes up without a tree navigator on the left (like Nautilus used to). Fortunately it was easy enough to find and enable the tree view: Window | Show Navigation Panel (or F9). Konqueror has three simple buttons on its toolbar to select between icon, detailed (or tree view), and picture (or image) viewer. For my tastes Konqueror has surpassed Nautilus in capabilities and ease of use.
The final release should be sometime in April. I hope wireless and sound are fixed by then. So far, compared to other distributions, it's a very positive experience. In my opinion the only other competitive solution is Ubuntu, and the reason it's not installed is because it didn't detect the notebook's SATA drive.



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