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February 8, 2007

SUSE 10.2

I downloaded the 6 SUSE CDs last week in preparation to upgrade my machine at work. It was running 9.3 and had problems synching with my Treo 650 (like all my SUSE machines), bluetooth wasn't working with my dongle, my fluxbox startup file wasn't working, odd cursors in Firefox and Thunderbird every time I rebooted until I played with gnome-control-center, and a few other minor things I hoped a fresh install of the latest and greatest from SUSE would fix.

I was busy last week and was unable to get around to installing SUSE 10.2 at work. However, a woman I have been tutoring in web development mentioned she's been wanting to try Linux on her Dell machine she just got back from getting repaired with a clean HDD. I suggested a dual-boot with Windows, so we installed Windows first and then tried to install SUSE 10.2. I say tried because we got an error that her machine didn't have enough memory to run YaST. It asked to mount a swap partition, but since this machine only had windows installed, there was no swap partition yet. Her laptop had 256 MB of memory, which is SUSE 10.2's minimum requirement.

Some Googling turned up similar errors for people installing it in a VM. The fixes they used didn't help me. I decided to download DSL, burn it, and use it to resize her NTFS and give her a swap. Unfortunately, I couldn't get two separate machines to boot off of two separate downloads of the newest version of DSL, 3.2.

These shenanigans left the woman with a poor impression of Linux, especially compared to the almost thoughtless process involved in installing XP on the same machine. I told her we'd try it again next time when I brought an older version of DSL with me. The next time I saw her I didn't bring up Linux and neither did she.

I also recently had a conversation with the CEO of the company I work for. He was running Windows ME (he resists change, especially technology) on his desktop at work and has noticed how one-by-one he is losing support for ME from Microsoft, Symantic, ZoneAlarm, and others. I agreed and told him that he would really need to upgrade to something newer to protect his data and our network. We talked about how expensive Vista was and how he'd be in the same dwindling-support situation in a few years with XP. He asked me to tell him again about that "thing" I have on my computer. I told him again about Linux, how it's free, secure, and can be modified so that each new update does not mean he has to re-learn how to use it. I told him I wasn't pushing it on him because I know how much he hates change. He told me he knew he had to change to something so he was willing to give Linux a try.

He's been using the same hardware for about 10 years, so I talked the holder-of-the-purse-strings into letting him get a new computer. They've leery of the "pieced-together" machines I'm famous for because they have no warrantee, so I checked out Dell. I was able to get a respectable 3 GHz Celery, 1 GB of RAM, more storage than he can use, a 17" monitor, DVD-RW, 3-year warrantee (heavy on the fine print), and FreeDOS shipped from Dell for about $700. My plan has been to install SUSE 10.2 on it. I can ssh into it and handle any updates and new software he needs from my desk.

Unfortunately, I've had more than a few headaches with SUSE 10.2 on my own work machine. So many, that I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't just install XP for my boss. Blasphemy from a Linux advocate, I know. The problems I have run into when installing Windows for non-geeks can usually be fixed by the average introverted male teenager. The problems I run into when installing Linux often involve compiling a new kernel module, copying a binary, and some other CLI stuff that seems like wizardry to the bystander.

SO, the problems I've had with SUSE 10.2:

  • I really dislike YaST online update and Software Management. Really subjective, but it seems to have gone from fairly straightforward to a bunch of whizzing progress bars. Progress bars that pop up and shift focus away from what I'm working on.
  • It's been difficult for me to add software repos in YaST, they often hang or fail. I try to mark the CDs not to be refreshed, but YaST asks me to insert them anyway. I haven't tried deleting them as a repo yet.
  • I get an error that says another process is accessing the RPM database when I try to open Software Management, Online Update, rpm -i or right-click on an RPM to install with YaST. It seems this happens only after I successfully install an RPM by right-clicking on it. This error persists until I reboot, sometimes fixed when I kill every process grepped for krpmview and zmd. Possibly related to this reported behavior.
  • If I try to install a local RPM, YaST looks at the repositories to try and find a newer RPM and if one exists, installs that instead. This has been a frustration.
  • Getting Fluxbox to work has been a pain. This is likely a problem with my config or Fluxbox, but it was working fine in 9.3.
  • I can't get Aterm's transparency to work. I'm really stumped here. Again, just dandy in 9.3.
  • rdesktop isn't working. I haven't had time to troubleshoot this yet, but it worked fine in 9.3.
  • I'm having this problem, which is not too unlike the X cursor I was getting in Firefox and Thunderbird.
  • I get an error when I log in to fluxbox about a problem with the geometry and it suggests I try some terminal foolishness to figure out what the problem is. I haven't looked at this problem yet.
The Fluxbox and Aterm issues are probably not SUSE's problem and nothing I would face when installing for a new Linux user, but the YaST stuff is unbearable.

"It's free, stop complaining and go fix the problems." Well, my skills aren't quite there. I'll keep using Linux (and likely SUSE) until hell freezes over, but I may not be able to recommend it to my less-technically-inclined friends.

To be fair, I found a lot to like in SUSE 10.2. The default KDE desktop is really cool (though I only use it until I can get Fluxbox working). Kerry was nice. The search bar in Konq is cool. I haven't tried bluetooth or syncing my treo yet, maybe that will give me something else to rave about.

Anyway, I'm just surly because of the frustrations I've been having. I'm sure things will start to look sunny soon.

Posted 11 years, 4 months ago on February 8, 2007
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