The second distribution in my weeks tour is openSUSE 10.3 if you missed the first part of this series you might want to quickly glance at it to check my hardware specs and so on before reading on, I won’t be covering old ground again. After the mammoth post yesterday I’m sure you’ll be glad of that 🙂
Things didn’t start well for me and openSUSE I had some trouble getting the installer to work. I got the menu up when booting the CD but after selecting the install option I kept getting a blank screen with a few garbled characters on it, which wasn’t very helpful. I had to set the installer to text-only mode to get anywhere and after that things seems to go ok. I used the lovely 1980’s styled green screen installer and nearly wore my tab key out setting all the options but the installer worked fine and once finished allowed my to boot into the system with working graphics. That was a relief.
I chose Gnome as my desktop environment for the first install and it seemed to work, I was greeted with the standard openSUSE Gnome set up which functioned pretty well. The standard set of applications I expected were all there: Firefox, Evolution, OpenOffice, Gimp, Banshee etc. It seems that Banshee is the default music player in openSUSE and I wasn’t overly thrilled about that but I could live with it. My first task was to install some of the software I like to use on a daily basis, so to do this I loaded up the Yast2 installer from the main menu. I searched for some packages and didn’t really have much luck so I decided to checkout the SUSE Build Service on their website. This was much nicer, you can just search for the name of the package you want and it will give you a choice of pre-built Yast2 packages, it seemed to work well. The only problem was that some of the software I wanted wasn’t on the site. openSUSE uses the standard Red Hat RPM package management system and I’m sure if I’d had more time I could have found some of the packages after trawling the net but it wasn’t ideal.
I had a couple of pretty major problems with openSUSE. It wouldn’t let me use the 3D desktop because apparently my graphics card is not in the Yast2 database and I kept getting errors. I tried to install the binary Nvidia driver by adding the Nvidia repository to Yast2 but I couldn’t get anywhere with that either. I did try for a good few hours but in the end I gave up on 3D graphics and moved on. The other problem I had was installing Skype, they have an openSUSE RPM package on their website which I downloaded but every time I opened it it just disappeared off the screen after a few seconds and nothing happened, no errors it just vaporised. I found some help on this online in a SUSE forum but it still didn’t fix the problem. I decided that openSUSE was probably intended to be used with KDE really and not Gnome so next I went for a KDE install.
This time I decided to try setting the graphics to VESA on the install menu, not really expecting it to work but amazingly it did and I was able to install with the GUI. One thing I will say for this distro is that the installer is very smooth and probably good for new users as long as the GUI works. So I got KDE installed and then tried to install Skype again but hit the same problems. I decided to open the RPM in a terminal and this time it reported an error which you can see below:
At least this gave me something to go on, I searched around in the various installers and the build service for this library but couldn’t find anything. I also still had no 3D effects in KDE, obviously my card is not a standard issue but I’ve never had this problem on any other distro. I installed kcheckgmail and imported some music from my external drive to keep me going in AmaroK, which I have to say is a great player if you’re on KDE but sometimes crashes for me under Gnome.
I also decided to test the video performance with an Xvid file. I was prompted to look for a codec to play the file which took me to the openSUSE website and offered my the choice to buy some codecs from Fluendo or try the community resources. The Fluendo codec pack is $28 and offers a good solution but I’m a cheap bastard and I don’t pay for codecs on any other system so I wasn’t doing them here either, sorry Fluendo.
I chose the community option and thankfully it just gave me a link to a Yast2 installer, within a few minutes I had the codecs I needed and was able to play my video in Kaffine.
I get the impression that SUSE is really aimed at business users, it’s very pretty and offers great features for joining a Windows domain during install which would be great for offices. The installer was very comprehensive and the option to set the correct display resolution for my monitor at install time was nice but the lack of proper 3D support for my card let it down badly. The inability to install Skype would also be a big problem for me on a day-to-day basis, I suspect this could have been fixed with some hacking and I did get some errors at least by using the terminal, however I can’t see novice users being able to fix his and it reminded me a little too much of the bad old days of Linux, wrestling just to get basic things to work is not good. The sort of experience that puts a lot of people off Linux in the long run.
Nice installer with good features
Small disk footprint at only 2.6gb for the full system
NTFS writing just worked
Fully Automatic Printer Setup (again makes me thing of offices)
Codec installation was easy
Nice design, particularly in KDE
Good default set of applications
The build service is a nice idea but needs some more content
Good Office Domain Integration
No 3D support (for me at least)
Installing software with Yast2 was not easy enough for me
Overall my feelings are that OpenSUSE is alright and a more experienced SUSE user would probably have been able to overcome the problems I encountered but I just didn’t have the time to invest in learning it all, I also have to say I don’t see why I should have to really. Call me crazy but I just want things to work. I know I’m an Ubuntu fan and I probably have invested time learning stuff there I admit, it just seemed the simple things were easier in Ubuntu. OpenSUSE is a good distribution and if I were stuck with it then I could make it work but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement. It seemed to work a little better with KDE than Gnome but I’m not a KDE fan and using Konqeror as a file manager is a total pain in the arse, I prefer Nautilus any day. I also prefer Apt-Get to Yast2 it’s not contest. I’ve tried to give openSUSE a fair chance I really have and I know SUSE fans may not like this but for me the bottom line is this:
“Having to use this wouldn’t kill me but I’d rather not if I have a choice”
If you have to take one sound bite from this review that’s the one folks but don’t just take my word for it check out openSUSE and see what you think, it didn’t fit for me but it might for you, who knows?
So I’m off to new pastures in the shape of Mandriva 2008 which is a distro I have used pretty happily in the past, let’s see what happens this time around…