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A tale of four distributions

With the final release of Fedora 8 last Thursday, I decided to perform a simple experiment with four distributions. I'd boot them on my two Gateway notebooks. I didn't want to try anything fancy or complicated. I just wanted to see if they'd boot up to their default graphical desktop. The four distributions I tried were Fedora 8, Ubuntu 7.10, openSUSE 10.3, and Indiana (Open Solaris) Developer Preview. All of the Linux distributions were final releases.

The following table compares the notebook models I used and their respective graphics subsystems.

Notebook Model
Grahics Subsystem
Purchase Date
Gateway M680AMD/ATI Mobility Radeon X700
June 2005
Gateway M685nVidia GeForce Go 7800June 2006
Note that these notebooks are between 1.5 and 2.5 years old. So these are not bleeding-edge machines, but they're quite capable none-the-less. Both machines currently dual-boot between Windows XP and openSUSE 10.2.

And to cut to the chase the following table shows the results of attempting to boot each live CD.

Fedora 8FailedFailed
Ubuntu 7.10BootedFailed
openSUSE 10.3BootedBooted
As you can see, Fedora 8 failed to boot to a graphic desktop on both notebooks. In stark contrast the only distribution that booted to a graphical desktop on both was openSUSE 10.3. The surprise was Indiana. Not only did Indiana boot on the M680, but it also recognized the wireless graphics chipset on the notebook and enabled the network. In spite of its rough edges, it wasn't bad at all for a developer's release.

The screen capture shown above is Indiana running on the M680. The odd artifact on the left side of the Firefox window occurred when I performed the screen capture. Why boot Indiana? Just to see what it would do. I was pleasantly surprised by its ability to operate on my notebook and a bit shocked that a developer's release performed better than Fedora 8.

Ubuntu running on the M680. I'd done this before with a pre-release so I wasn't surprised.

And openSUSE on the M680 with Compiz running. I enabled Compiz after using Sax2 to enable 24-bit color as well as 3D acceleration.

You'd think, after reading some responses, that Fedora 8 was the second coming in Linux distributions, let alone Fedora releases. But the fact that Fedora 8 failed to boot to a graphical desktop on both of my notebooks underscores Fedora's continuing lack of release quality. openSUSE, the one distribution that everyone likes to beat up on (and call for boycott) boots on everything I have access to. I should note that while openSUSE 10.3 enabled full graphical capabilities on the M680, including full screen resolution of 1680 x 1050, it booted into 1280 x 1024 on the M685 without any hardware acceleration. But at least the desktop on the M685 was both visible and usable.

This year has turned out to be the year of the regressive Linux release, especially with regards to graphic card support. Those regressions are due in part, I believe, to the use of the latest Xorg release. Fedora 8 is based on the latest Xorg bits, while Fedora 7, which successfully boots on both my M860 and M865, does not. If you're interested in Linux for the first time I'd strongly advise you try openSUSE 10.3 first. If you've got an earlier release (such as Ubuntu 7.04 or openSUSE 10.2) installed and running, I'd strongly advise trying out the latest release with the live CD before performing any upgrade. As the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.


  1. I tried OpenSUSE 10.3. While I really wanted to like it, it kept losing my audigy 2 soundblaster card. No other distro has ever had that problem. Also Yast needs some work I think. But other than that its very promising. I'll definitely check it again when the next version roles around. In the meantime, PCLinux OS for me.

  2. Interesting summary Bill - alass I liked 10.0 best of all it worked a treat. since then not so good. However I do not play games on my pc. So I have an old system setup.

    quick notye to Philb: I loved PCLinuxOS 2007 but of all the distro's I have tried it could NOT hold onto my Internet access which saddened me. I dropped it.

  3. Hi,
    My configuration is mostly similar to yours considering the graohics...i have a toshiba m70 satellite pro notebook with ati x700 mobility radeon card.
    But i have tried mostly all ways as mentioned in the opensuse wiki to install the driver to enable the 3d Acceleration support,and couldnt succeed in enabling.
    every time I open the sax2 it says that ur graphics doesnt support 3d acceleration.

    Your screenshots shows that your graphics system is exactly as mine.
    i have included the screens here:

    Can you tell me how you got the 3d acceleration working on your notebook??

    I want to develop something on openGL and untill 3d accleration isnt enabled i wont be able to test any of the graphics application.

    Please help.



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