openSuSE 11.2

I've been trying out the new openSuSE 11.2 release for nearly a week now, loading it on everything I have.

I've been trying out the new openSuSE 11.2 release for nearly a week now, loading it on everything I have. It's been a mixed bag of results, starting out very strong, and ending up with several significant disappointments. Here is a summary of the highs (and lows):

The cosmetics look great. I have to say, over the past couple of releases openSuSE has gone from what seemed like a fairly "stodgy" distribution, both in terms of cosmetics and content, to one which I think is right up with the absolute leaders in both of those.

One of the first things I noticed, on the first system I installed openSuSE on, was that they have fixed the problem with non-U.S. keyboard maps not working. Hooray! That one has been a minor pain in the neck since Milestone 5 or so, and when it was still there in the RC releases, I was afraid it wouldn't get fixed before the final release. Well done!

Installation from the LiveCD was reasonably easy. It seems to me that with previous openSuSE releases, if you installed from the LiveCD on a system which did not have an internet connection (such as a laptop or netbook which depends on WiFi that is not yet configured), it could stumble when trying to configure software update and repository information, and that could be a bit tedious to recover from once you booted the installed system. That is certainly not the case with this release, I installed all of my netbooks without internet connection, then configured the WiFi afterward, and they call came out just fine.

The openSuSE 11.2 release installed flawlessly on my Fujitsu S6510 (laptop), HP dv2-1010ez (subnotebook) and ASUS N10J (netbook). At that point I thought I was pretty much home free, because it had successfully covered a range of systems, CPUs, graphic controllers and network adapters. I was starting to think that, considering the problems with Ubuntu this time around, maybe I would consider openSuSE as my first-choice Linux for everyday use. Then things started to go south...

When I installed 11.2 on my HP 2133 Mini-Note, everything seemed to go pretty much as it had with openSuSE 11.1, which worked ok with a bit of tweaking on the 2133. The console was only 1024x768, rather than 1280x768, and the Broadcom WiFi adapter didn't work. I already knew how to solve both of those problems, from 11.1. So went to the openSuSE Software Build Service, and used 1-click install (really nice!) to download and install the latest SVN build of the openchrome graphic driver. When I rebooted, the console was indeed 1280x768, but several other things were seriously screwed up, most noticeably the sound having gone to some ridiculously high volume that I could not get down again. So I backed that out, and then I noticed that there has been a new release of openchrome, apparently newer than the SVN build i had been using, and it is also in the openSuSE Software Build Service. So I tried that, and got the same results. Sigh. Ok, back those out, stay with the standard driver at the lower resolution for now. Sigh.

Next up, get the WiFi working. This one I knew from 11.1 also, and if anything it is even a little easier. Just run install_bcm43xx_firmware - that's a script that comes on openSuSE which picks up the firmware cuts out the bits you need and puts them in the right place - and then reboot. Nice and easy. Except when I rebooted, openSuSE would freeze as soon as I touched the trackpad. Every time, frozen solid, the only way out was to hold the power switch for 5 seconds. Grrr. I confirmed that it was the WiFi adapter causing the problem by switching it off while openSuSE was booting, and confirming that it then didn't freeze. Once that was clear, I added the b43 driver to /etc/modprobe.d/50-blacklist.conf, and the freezes stopped without me having to remember to switch off the WiFi.

At that point I was left with the 2133 having sub-standard graphics and no WiFi, and I decided that it wasn't worth fighting with any more. I'll leave it loaded, and pick up updates from time to time by plugging in wired ethernet, in hopes that some fixes will come along that take care of one or both of these problems. I'll also keep an eye on the openSuSE Software Build Service for a new build of the openchrome driver specifically for 11.2, in hopes that will fix the graphic problem. I would also like to try the Broadcom "wl" driver package from the Build Service, but I honestly don't know which one to try (default, desktop, kmp or whatever) so that is going to take some time to figure out. I know that I have had much better success with Ubuntu on the 2133 when I use the STA (wl) drivers rather than the b43, so I hope that will be true for openSuSE too.

Having effectively given up on openSuSE on the 2133 for now, I moved on to my trusty old Fujitsu-Siemens Lifebook S2110. It has an AMD Turion 64 CPU and ATI Radeon X200 graphic controller, which used to be a bit touchy but for the past few releases haven't been any great problem. Installation seemed uneventful. But when I tried to boot the installed system, it hung with a black screen. BLEAH! Several tries, always the same result. This is getting tiresome. I booted to safe mode, that worked just fine. I used startx to get the X server going, and that worked fine too. Strange. I fiddled with the rc5.d scripts, to try to isolate where it was hanging, but I started getting strange results, sometimes it seemed like one stage, sometimes another, and sometimes it even seemed to come all the way up without hanging. Very strange. I finally gave up on that in disgust as well. I don't have the time to fight with those kinds of things any more.

So, the bottom line is that on my three newest systems, openSuSE 11.2 installs easily, looks wonderful and works great. I suspect it will behave this way with many or most "newer" systems. But with my two older systems, one VIA CPU/graphic based (2133) and one AMD/ATI CPU/graphic based (S2110), it has all sorts of problems, so serious that even I gave up on it, at least for the time being.

Your mileage may vary. Mine did.

jw 16/11/2009