Saturday, October 06, 2007

Ubuntu 7.10 beta replaces openSUSE 10.3 GM

I finally followed through my on my threat to replace openSUSE with Ubuntu. I've replaced openSUSE 10.3 GM with Ubuntu 7.10 Beta 1. Based on my experiences with both on my machines, I consider Ubuntu 7.10, even though it is still in beta, to be the better of the two distributions.

I tried to do this once before with openSUSE 10.2 and Ubuntu 7.04. In the end I went back to openSUSE 10.2 and stayed there until now. This time the transition is considerably different, and considerably smoother. A lot of the ease of transition can be attributed to both distributions using Gnome 2.20, and to how I went about switching from openSUSE to Ubuntu.

Upgrading openSUSE

The first (un)planned step in migrating from openSUSE to Ubuntu was a planned step to migrate from openSUSE 10.2 to openSUSE 10.3. I had every intention of upgrading when 10.3 came out, and to start that migration I installed openSUSE 10.3 RC1 on europa. I wasn't particularly pleased with how it occurred. There were issues with what appeared to be a corrupt installation DVD/ISO. I managed to get nearly everything fixed and europa was finally up and operational.

As I started to use 10.3 as a development platform I discovered a problem with running Java 6, downloaded from Sun's site, on openSUSE 10.3. I found I could install the 'official' openSUSE version, which was essentially Java 6 Update 1, and have my Java applications and tools run without problems. This, for me, was not acceptable. Especially as the latest versions of Java 6 from Sun run without any problems on Ubuntu 7.10 on rhea.

GM Release

On the day of the GM release I decided to test both methods of upgrading my openSUSE system. I followed the directions on upgrading the RC1 installation to a GM installation, then I downloaded the GM ISO and performed a completely clean install from the ISO onto europa. After all, that's one of europa's tasks.

The upgrade actually performed better than the clean install, and if I'd been satisfied and stopped at that point then openSUSE 10.3 would still be on europa. But the upgrade lost the use of the ATI drivers, and I still had issues running Sun-supplied Java, so I went on ahead and performed the full install. In addition I have two notebooks with openSUSE 10.2 that I wanted to upgrade to 10.3, so there was a reason to test the DVD installation.

I used K3B to burn the DVD on an NEC DVD/RW ND-2510A drive. I've had this drive now for a good year, and I've never had any issues with it. In addition to burning DVDs I've played DVDs and booted many a live DVD/CD from it. It's even been used to install openSUSE 10.2 on this machine. But this time, I had problems.

After burning the DVD (and making sure the checksums matched), I booted into the DVD and had the DVD check its own integrity. Integrity check passed. I then attempted to install from the DVD. I got all the way to the point where the installation software attempted to find the catalogs, and then it started to fail. Repeatedly. Europa is blessed with two DVD drives. The second is an older Lite-On Combo DVD/CD model LTC-48161H. It can only burn CDROMs. On a hunch I pulled the openSUSE DVD out of the NEC and dropped it into the Lite-On. Sure enough openSUSE started to install without errors. I went on ahead and let it finish the installation.

Post-Install Problems

The system booted up and I logged in without incident. The release's free Xorg ATI driver allowed me to set the resolution to 1600 x 1200. I logged in on both the KDE and Gnome desktops, and everything was working fine as was to be expected. Because the install was finally clean, my problems with Open Office to not recur. The only issues were installing native ATI drivers and the failure to run Sun-supplied Java 6 GUI-based applications.

That doesn't mean it was trouble free. The screen refresh was configured so that it was skewed off to the left, and the left side was clipped. I tried to adjust this with Sax2, but Sax2 was unable to adjust it. And this time, rather than download the native drivers, I decided to use the ATI repository to install the ATI binary drivers. The driver version in the repository were 8.37. The drivers I downloaded from ATI and installed for RC1 were 8.40. Regardless, if it was easier to install the ATI drivers via Yast and the repositories rather than by hand, then I was willing to forgo being right at the current release. While the installation seemed to go correctly, and while it was easier to find the ATI driver repository and to use it, the drivers failed to operate once installed. As luck would have it, the ability to run anything under OpenGL went to hell in a handbasket at that point.

Tipping Point

I'm sure the openSUSE fan boy is thinking "suck it up and fix it." In the past I would have, because the perceived rewards far outweighed any problems. But this time it was different. I need native ATI driver support (I always have). I need solid OpenGL support. I need the ability to run Sun's latest Java releases without any special configuration or hacks. I need solid development support as well as a platform for entertainment, and when it comes to a choice between the two, I need the development support first. And I had that (and more) with Ubuntu 7.10.

The decision to replace openSUSE with Ubuntu was easy. I already had it up and running on rhea, and knew from first-hand experience what it was capable of. I inserted the Ubuntu 7.10 beta 1 CDROM, rebooted into it, then installed off the desktop. Once installed everything came up and ran.

Final Comments

In spite of the hype, openSUSE 10.3 comes across to me as sloppy and amateurish in some spots, especially the revised Yast. I have never seen more annoying little pop-ups and dialogs from an application than what you get when you start any part of Yast and it's checking the local catalog. I believe too much emphasis was placed on eye candy and not enough on the foundations. The Java problem, for example, was a regression from earlier in February.

I have tried to keep politics out of my feelings towards openSUSE, but I can't help but feel that Novell's cooperative agreement with Microsoft has had a negative impact on the quality of openSUSE 10.3. Good talent has left Novell because of the agreement, and Microsoft is not a quality shop in my not so humble opinion. I have a strong positive feeling towards openSUSE 10.2, and feel it's the best release (so far) of the 10 series. Release 10.3 just does not compare well to release 10.2.

So the trigger has been pulled, and this time I have absolutely no problems running with Ubuntu on europa. Will I ever go back to Suse? Who knows? Ten years with a distribution (SuSE) is a long time with any distribution, but I won't blindly stick with anything, especially if it's of poor quality and capability. And there are just too many other good choices out there. I've made my choice, switched to what I believe to be a good one, and now it's time to get back to work.


  1. Wellcome to Ubuntu! Once I used SuSE too, but the package management of YAST is sooo frustrating.

    I'm sure you will love this, from a terminal:

    sudo apt-get install PACKETNAME

  2. I used to be a die hard Fedora user, until I wanted to use twin view. I tried OpenSUSE 10.2 and was awestruck with it's ease of use in setting up TwinView/Xinerama from a GUI rather than manually editing xorg.conf. Naturally, I was eagerly anticipating 10.3 mainly due to Compiz-Fusion. Although I like the new 1 click installations with the Yast Meta packages or whatever they're called, I was ultimately disappointed with the awkwardness of trying to get compiz-fusion running. I'm waiting for Ubuntu 7.10 now.


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