Thursday, March 20, 2008

Alpha spotting: openSUSE 11 Alpha 3 stirs cautious optimism

The third alpha of openSUSE 11 was announced yesterday, so while I was puttering about the house before bedtime I downloaded the ISO, specifically the KDE live CD. I then burned the ISO and rebooted europa with my newly minted CD. That's when I ran into my first problem.

I don't know when it first cropped up, but the kernel driver for my NEC DVD/CD burner seems to be broken. While I can use it as a normal DVD/CD burner and player after Linux has booted, using it as the boot device results in failure. It refused to boot in either normal or safe mode using the NEC. It's a good thing I have two DVD/CD devices on europa. The second is an older LiteOn DVD/CD device that will only burn CDROMs. So I swapped the openSUSE CD to the second drive and sure enough, it booted without further ado. openSUSE finished at the graphical KDE 4.0.2 desktop. I poked it prodded it for about 10 minutes and didn't discover anything horribly wrong, then shut 'er down and got some sleep.

This morning I decided to give openSUSE something harder to work with: my Gateway M685 notebook with the NVdia GeForce Go 7800 graphics chip. Just about every distribution I've laid hands on in the past 12 months has had issues booting on the M685. The last known good distributions to boot successfully and completely on this machine were openSUSE 10.2 and Ubuntu 7.04. By completely I mean coming up in full graphics desktop with full screen resolution of 1680 x 1050. Just about every distribution since then has either come up in the Black Screen or required that I boot in "safe graphics" mode. Today I'm happy to say that this release of openSUSE successfully and completely booted on the M685.


After going though failure after failure my expectations were pretty low. When it came up successfully I just had to sit back in amazement. This is using the built-in Xorg driver, so I owe somebody in the Xorg group a heart-felt thank you for making this work once again. I just hope it stays fixed.

I don't have a lot of time, so I can only perform the most cursory of tests, but I've already found one problem; any attempts to start Konsole results in a crash. That's no problem as I can just switch to a virtual terminal. And this is, after all, an alpha release.

Another pleasant surprise occurred with Firefox. The Firefox version in Alpha 3 is 2.0.0.12. Firefox 2 is not a bad choice. I was able to write this entry without any issues. I was quite pleased with how the Flash plugin installed without any issues. When I went to the CNN website to view video Firefox popped up a dialog and downloaded and installed Flash without any problems whatsoever. Not even a restart was required. Once installed I was able to view flash video. Even the sound was excellent. The overall experience was equal to Windows, including (unfortunately) the ads. But then that's what Adblock Plus is for.


I'm still not sure about KDE 4. While I have no problem living on the bleeding edge, I tend to like my bleeding edge reasonably useful. KDE 4 is just different enough from KDE 3 that I would tend to install KDE 3 on openSUSE 11. But then again, my impressions are with a rapidly evolving desktop, and KDE 4 is advancing with incredible speed. Who knows how it might behave 30 days, or even a week from now?

I knowingly tempt the Fates by saying this, but based on what little exposure I've had to it so far, I think openSUSE 11 just might be a really good release.