Friday, February 23, 2007

SLED 10 Gnome miraculously heals itself after another update, and then gets NetBeaned

In early January I reported how an update, applied to my SLED (Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop) 10 system before the Christmas break, led to the failure of the system's graphic (X11) desktop, and the failure of Gnome's window manager. Well, the same thing happened again this week; I got a whole slew of updates, that led to the failure of X. However, when I finally fixed the X breakage, I checked and discovered that the Gnome desktop was miraculously healed. Not only that, but the theme under Compiz had changed color from blue to green.

Complaint #1

SLED runs with an nVidia graphics card (it's an older Boxx hardware system with an Athlon 64 FX-55). I use the nVidia driver bundle for 64-bit Linux. Every time the kernel is updated, I loose that driver and have to reinstall it. This is what I'd like to see from SLED (or any distribution for that matter) in the future:
  • Ideally keep track of third-party kernel drivers and move those over when the kernel is updated. That way when I restart after a kernel upgrade the system will continue to work.
  • If you can't move the driver, of if you do move it and it fails for whatever reason, then have X fall back to a degraded graphics mode. For example, Windows has for years fallen back to 800 x 600 x 16 colors. This ancient VGA mode isn't good enough for full-scale work or games, but it's more than enough to run the tools necessary to fix the problem. And I know that video mode works, because Suse uses it in its graphic software installer.
  • In X's degraded mode, display, in plain English (or whatever local language you've selected) the problem that put you in degraded mode.
  • Finally, fix Sax2. Please. Or replace it with something else that helps really manage the X windowing system under X. If the new Sax (call it Sax3) can't start X, then have it come up in 800 x 600 x 16 mode and then help you quickly fix the problem.
I can almost understand OpenSuse having this type of issue (well, not really). But SLED 10 should be bullet-proof in this area, and it's not. I had to force a re-install of the nVidia graphics modules from the bare console. Not a big deal for me, but it would certainly freak the non-experienced user.

Complaint #2

Zen is still broken. I got the shed-load of updates by checking via Software Update. Sure enough I had a whole raft of critical updates that needed installing, which I did. When is Zen going to be fixed? A partially working (or totally broken?) Zen might be tolerable on the free-as-in-beer community version, but not for a distribution marked as 'Enterprise'.

Back Under Gnome and Compiz

In any event I'm back under Gnome and Compiz. I'd stay under KDE except that I also use NetBeans IDE with Java 6, and sub-pixel aliasing of text on NetBeans works automatically under Gnome but not KDE. Besides, Gnome is tolerable enough and I have access to the KDE applications I like under Gnome.

This time around I decided to download and install NetBeans 6 Milestone 7. I'm curious to try out some of its developing features and to check out the new icons and some of the look-and-feel changes. I've got the Update Center wizard running in the screen shot above.

I much prefer NetBean's update center over Eclipses. It's centralized and easy to follow. What's more, the NetBeans repository maintainers add, from time to time, installation modules that themselves contain links to other repositories. Finding modules is easy and fast. But it does have its problems. My two biggest complaints are the lack of real information about a module in the bottom window of the pane and the fact that every time I select a module and move it across, all the controls resize themselves in weird and funky ways. So yes, there is certainly room for improvement.


I took advantage of the NetBeans Module Projects update to create one of the new projects, just to see what it was like. I've opened up one of three forms in this example project.

And here's the same form in source view. Again, this is all under SLED 10 x86-64 and Gnome.

Closing Thoughts

I know it's really obvious to those deep NetBeans users that NetBeans 6 (and 5.5 for that matter) has crossed the threshold from a supernerd's tool to being a regular old office tool. NetBeans now provides 'Visual Basic' approachability to Java. Everything you need, from creating forms to attaching code to debugging is all there in one package, and it's dead simple to use. Need a simple database? It's got that too. Want to work with Web forms and AJAX? The hooks are in NetBeans and the complete additional package is right there on the web site where you got NetBeans. NetBeans may have its flaws, but being difficult to setup and use is not one of them. Folks no longer have the luxury of time to hunt down and install all the necessary bits required to do non-trivial development in the IDE. The NetBeans management and developers have recognized this and it made IDE life a lot simpler in that regard.

One other thing I've noticed. NetBeans 6's startup is a lot faster than any prior release of NetBeans on every platform I've tried it on. I take small comfort in the fact that Visual Studio 2005 is no faster than NetBeans 5.5 Windows on startup. I don't believe that startup speed should be a primary driver for acceptance (unless it's really bad), but the startup speedup in NetBeans 6 shows attention to details. Thanks.

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