Sunday, December 07, 2008

Notes from the field: Fedora 10 and OpenSUSE 11.1 RC1

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to install Fedora 10 on a Dell Latitude D630 notebook and to tweak the OpenSUSE 11.1 installation on europa.

Fedora 10

Fedora 10 was installed on a spare 120GB hard drive. It was installed over Fedora 9, which I had managed to configure into a reasonable working state and had used for about five months. But it wasn't perfect. While I was able to install the Nvidia driver and enable 3D hardware acceleration, sound and wireless did not work. With Fedora 10 I now have sound, but the wireless still doesn't work.

Even though I installed both Fedora 9 and 10 from DVD, I only installed the Gnome desktop under Fedora 9. With Fedora 10 I installed the Gnome, KDE, and Xfce desktops. After the installation I was only able to select between Gnome and KDE, although I could see the Xfce tools (such as Thunar) on the Gnome menus. Both Gnome and KDE worked fine until I installed the Nvidia drivers for Fedora 10 (kmod-nvidia). After installation the Gnome desktop continued to work normally while the KDE desktop showed a tremendous performance hit. Looking at the system with top I saw that the X server was taking nearly 100% under KDE. Running under Gnome the system behaved normally, and I was able to enable Compiz desktop effects.

I was able to install gcc, ruby, and other development tools without issue. I installed Java 'externally' (see below) as well as NetBeans 6.5 and Eclipse 3.4.1.

Outside of wireless networking, Fedora 10 under the Gnome desktop works quite well so far on the D630.

OpenSUSE 11.1 RC1

I made a promise to myself to let OpenSUSE 11.1 stay on the system long enough to develop a better informed opinion as to its fitness for use. OpenSUSE 11.1 is quite usable, but there are certain features where I feel Mandriva (2008 and 2009) are just better. To me, the best example of this is the Mandriva Linux Control Center. While OpenSUSE's Yast is usable, in my opinion it's just not as polished or as well organized as Mandriva's Linux Control Center. Linux Control Center is just one example of the overall high quaility fit and finish exhibited by Mandriva 2008.

Based on an entry at CyberOrg, I was able to modify a specific entry in xorg.conf and enable 3D acceleration using the Xorg radeon drivers. This means not having to download and install the ATI/AMD fglrx drivers. It does indeed work, especially with my Saphire X1950 Pro. Unfortunately, enabling Compiz (System Setting | Desktop | Desktop Effects | Enable desktop effects) produces a problem with window resizing. While many of the effects work, attempting to resize a window takes a good five seconds for the window to respond to the action of grabbing a window edge and then dragging the edge to a new location. So, for now, Compiz/Desktop Effects is disabled. Everything else related to 3D acceleration seems to be working. Perhaps more later.

On both Fedora and OpenSUSE I downloaded the Flash 10 (10.0.36) tarball and installed it locally. It's real simple and it works just fine. It's a lot simpler than using Flash as supplied by both distribution's 'non-free' repositories.


What follows are my quick notes for installing Java on both Fedora 10 and OpenSUSE 11.1. I know it works on ealier releases, and it also works with Mandriva. I don't use either distributions repositories (or Mandriva's for that matter) because I want the latest releases of Java, NetBeans, and Eclipse without the RPM annoyances of those distributions. I've found it a lot easier to just grab the various installers of the Java packages I use and used those installers to set up my Java development environment. This covers development only; I have an equally simply way for installing for production.
  • On my systems I create a Java area: /home/Java. Using root I give /home/Java the same ownership that my regular home directory has.
  • I download the latest Java 6 tarball, not the Java 6 RPM tarball. I cd into /home/Java and execute 'bash ~/Downloads/jdk-6u11-linux-i586.bin'. This unpacks the binary package and creates a directory, jdk6.1.0_11.
  • I create a more generic Java soft link (ln -s jdk6.1.0_11 jdk6.1.0). This gives me the ability to update Java without causing problems with applications that need Java.
  • I create a JAVA_HOME environment variable in .bashrc pointing to /home/Java/jdk6.1.0. I also add my Java to the front of the path (PATH=$JAVA_HOME/bin:$PATH). Test with either 'which java' (preferred) or else 'java -version'.
  • I then download NetBeans and run the installer. I select the packages I want installed. With a properly defined JAVA_HOME NetBeans will use the jdk6.1.0 soft link as the path to your Java.
  • You can download the latest Eclipse and do the same thing. I've installed both and everyone is happy.
  • Finally, if you want to run Java applets in Firefox (I assume you're running Firefox), cd to ~/.mozilla/plugins, then type 'ln -s /home/Java/jdk1.6.0/jre/plugin/i386/ns7/' in order to enable Java applets in your browser. Make sure you exit Firefox if it was running while you did this, and then restart Firefox.
In a way, this is no different than Windows XP. I create a Java folder under Windows, and then install everything in there. The only difference with Windows is that the Java installer automatically sets up the Firefox/Java plugin.

Final Comments
  • Fedora 10 is better than Fedora 9, at least on the Dell notebook.
  • KDE 4.1 and Nvidia drivers really don't like one another under Fedora 10 on the Dell.
  • OpenSUSE 11.1 is much nicer, especially when compared with OpenSUSE 10.3, but as good as it is I still miss Mandriva 2008 quite a bit (and possibly 2009).
  • The state of Xorg radeon drivers is surprisingly good, and I was able to enable 3D hardware accleration with a one-line change to xorg.conf. Sweet.
  • Unfortunately a key feature, window resizing, is broken when Compiz-based desktop effects are enabled. So for now I have it turned off.


  1. What is "europa"?

    What's a good linux distro for the Dell Latitude D630? I've been looking to test via the live CDs of Mandriva 2009 and OpenSUSE 11.1. Mandriva won't shutdown and the speaker emits loud static at boot up. Haven't tested OpenSUSE yet. Any advise would be appreciated.

  2. Europa is my aging 32-bit only Athlon XP (Barton core) system I built nearly five years ago. The motherboard is a Chaintech Zenith 7NJS, nForce2 based. The motherboard has long since outlasted Chaintech the stand-alone company, which became Walton Chaintech and got out of the motherboard business altogether.

    As far as distros for the the Latitude D630, I've installed Fedora 10 on mine, using a separate hard drive. Everything seems to work except wireless. You might try Ubuntu 8.10 since Canonical has that 'special' relationship with Dell, but I haven't tried it in depth. And I guess I should break down and try openSUSE 11.1 on the D630.

  3. Solved the problem with the speaker noise (Mandriva 2009): Had to turn off analog loopback in the sound mixer (am testing KDE4). How time-consuming and annoying.


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