Sunday, December 10, 2006

Suse 10.2 first impressions

Suse is my distribution of choice. Up until Suse 10.2 I've never had any installation problems. But this time I did. It took me two days to figure out what the problem was that kept me from installing it. That's not to say I spent that entire time trying to install it; it is December, after all, and there's a lot going on this time of year.

System Setup

My primary home system is built around a Chaintech motherboard using the nVidia NForce 2 chipset, an AMD XP 3200+ (Barton core) processor and 1GB of DDR400 memory. The video card is an ATI 9700 Pro. All drives (hard and CD/DVD) use parallel ATA. All components were ordered from New Egg three years ago, with the upgrade to the 3200+ processor a year later. It dual boots between Windows XP and Linux. I didn't overclock anything, preferring rock-solid stability over trying to squeeze out that last percent of raw synthetic performance. It has been a rugged and reliable performer from the first time it was powered on.

Installation

When I attempted to install Open Suse 10.2 over 10.1, my first problem was trying to use a newer internal DVD burner as the installation device. It's a NEC DVD +/-R (ND-2510A) drive. I got it nine months ago in order to burn DVDs. Neither Windows/Nero nor Suse 10/K3B have had any problems using the drive, but trying to use the drive to boot Open Suse 10.2 ended in failure. The failure came while packages were being read off and installed on the system. The installer would randomly stop, saying that such-and-such a package failed an integrity check.

This wasn't the first time I experienced installation failure using that drive. I experienced a similar problem when attempting to install FC6. I stopped the FC6 installation when it failed to find a key package during installation. What makes it really annoying with Open Suse 10.2's failure is that I checked the newly burned DVD with the built-in media check. The media check said it was clean. The eventual solution was to use the older Lite-On drive (LTC-48161H) that was still on my system. Using the Lite-On I was able to install 10.2 without any issues.

I got lucky by having two DVD drives on my machine. After all, most normal users have only one. The only reason I have two is because I was too lazy to remove the original. I suspect the problem is buried within a kernel driver. Both FC6 and OS 10.2 are using kernel 2.6.18. It wouldn't surprise me if bit-rot has taken hold in some obscure corner of some obscure driver, but I'll be damned if I could tell you what it is.

I've got a 160GB drive on which to install Linux. From previous Suse usage the drive is partitioned into a root slice, a home slice, and an opt slice. I format and install onto the root and opt slices, but leave the home slice alone. With so much drive space I installed Gnome and KDE, with Gnome being the primary environment. I also installed gcc, the kernel sources, and various and sundry other development bits.

Running

I booted into the Gnome side. Although I started out using KDE years ago, I've since moved over to Gnome as my preferred desktop. I prefer Gnome's cleaner, uncluttered look. Before I did much of anything I went to Gnome Art and picked up "Clearlooks With A Cherry On Top" for the window border and then to Gnome Look for a set of OSX 3.1 icons. I installed both, tweaked my desktop theme to use them, and was good to go. There's a simple shot below.



The background came from Mandolux.

While I was tweaking around, playing with the window borders colors, I got this little pop-up on the desktop.



I've never gotten Gnome to crash before, and I've never seen a Bug Buddie until now. When Gnome crashed, it took out all the running applications on the desktop, and then left a 'hidden' Nautilus process chewing up 100% of the CPU. Great. I found it via my old buddy top, and killed the sucker. Bug Buddie wrapped up the crash into a message with a trace, and then sent it off to Gnome Bugzilla, where Bug 384263 was created.

Of course I restarted everything, and that's when I noticed that my choice of green may not be a good choice for Gnome. Gnome has adopted a new style for displaying collections of applications. You can see it if you look at the Application Browser and the Control Center. The problem with choosing green (Gilouche for example) is that it's used in surprising ways, such as the text color for labels. I show the Control Center below, the first in green, then in blue.





If you'll notice, the titles for 'Filter', 'Groups', and 'Common Tasks' all but disappear when green is selected. Black would have been fine, but somebody decided colored text was better.

Performance

As I've read elsewhere, the system seems more sluggish with this release than it was under 10.1. And it certainly is with the eye candy (XGL) enabled. I will say that this is the first time that XGL recognized my card and enabled the effects out-of-the-box. I've since turned it off, but I have a strong feeling that if I want it to perform faster then I'll have to install the ATI driver.

Tools

I've noticed that Ruby is now up to version 1.8.5, Python is up to version 2.5, and Java is at version 1.5 update 8 (Java off of Sun's site is at update 10). I was surprised to see gcc at 4.1.2 prerelease. The inclusion of the gcc version is a far cry from other distributions in the past, who lagged even the regular release versions by one, and sometimes two, major releases.

Initial Thoughts

There's more to investigate with Open Suse 10.2. I'm a bit annoyed that a number of fonts I use are missing in action. I'm curious about how this kernel is going to really work out. And I need to install the ATI driver and see if the desktop performance picks up. I've basically turned off XGL because of it. I know that this system is quite capable of good graphics-based performance, because I can see it and use it under Windows XP.

I don't know what to say about the initial problems with installation, of the single odd crash. I've already gotten mail back from the Gnome developers asking if I can add more information to the stack trace. Yeah, right. Like I can easily trigger the fault. I will say this about Bug Buddy and the responses I've gotten so far. It beat the hell out of Windows crash reporting, where it sends out the crash report and then sends me to a web page with very little useful information.

Open Suse 10.2 is a keeper on this system. I have my work notebook, a Gateway running a Core Duo, that has 10.1 installed on it. I'd like to step the notebook up to 10.2 just to see if the latest kernel can finally enable sound with the Intel chip set, but I don't want to risk having any installation problems with the notebook's DVD drive. And I've heavily tweaked and updated key subsystems already that give me a lot of what is installed with 10.2.

I'm going to keep looking at 10.2 on this system, and file more reports as time and circumstance permit.