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...Hello openSUSE

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As I outlined in my last blog entry, there was a definite sense of urgency in migrating from Freespire 1.0 to something else. The distribution I settled on was openSUSE Linux 10.1--mostly in part from the fact that it was newly released this week, but also because I hadn't dabbled in SUSE products for a while and I wanted to see what was what.

Thus, my Tuesday night was spent migrating to openSUSE Linux 10.1. This was the "Remastered" edition, which the openSUSE team released in response to several bug fixes, not the least of which was a reportedly very buggy Software Update tool. I can't compare this version to the "Original" 10.1, but I have the sense that the outcome of this re-mix is a lot better than, say, the debacle of "New Coke" back in the 1980s.

The entire process took me about 4 hours, most of it tied up in disk checks and the actual package installation process. I don't think it would have gone much faster, especially since I really stuck with the default package choices, except for the additions of all the games and a few tools I prefer to use for editorial reasons. The default package selections seemed rather lean, to be honest with you. The organization of the packages in the selection screens was kind of odd, too. It took me a little more time than I would have liked to find emacs. Thunderbird users, beware: this package isn't installed by default, either, though Firefox is. I guess this was a subtle hint to use Novell's Evolution.

Curiously, I noted that Apache 2 would have been installed by default. I don't need it, but I could not help but wonder how safe that would be to let potential novice users have a working Web server running--possibly without their knowledge.

For the most part, the installation routine went as well as I could expect. The partitioning options were pretty clear, and I was even able to mount my /home partition as /home--something Freespire would not let me do until after the installation was completed. The default filesystem used for reformatting partitions is still Reiser, but I choose to go with ext3; not directly because of the ongoing murder investigation of Hans Reiser, but because I know Novell is planning on dumping ReiserFS for ext3 in subsequent releases.

Vital stats for anyone who cares: this distribution runs the kernel, OpenOffice.org 2.0.2, and Firefox I choose to go with KDE, so the version I got was KDE [updated].

Once the package installation process started rolling, I was kind of pleased to see the status bar that gave me a graphical idea of how much longer I had to go for each CD. That was a small touch, but I liked it. What I didn't like was the omission of the notice to remove installation media from the CD drive before the initial system boot after CD 1's packages were installed. I am enough of a veteran that I knew the disc had to come out, but again, novices might get caught in a loop back to the initial CD's boot screen if they aren't warned.

Another quirk I saw after the first reboot was done and CDs 2-5 were humming merrily along: the font quality, which was so good on CD 1, went way down once my system "took over" the installation process. I understand this is because CD 1 is also a "Live" CD, but why could the LiveCD installation figure out the right anti-alias settings, and yet the system installation now know them? I was hoping the font quality would improve after I finished the installation, but I was left disappointed until I manually set KDE's anti-alias settings.

After the packages are installed, the system then checks the network to see how to get out to the Internet. It worked flawlessly, but it took a little bit, and with no status markers, I was briefly wondering if something hadn't stalled. Right after that, the system asks to check for updates, and after it did so, I was left with a large color-coded list of items that were either updated or needed updating. I couldn't tell was the color-coding meant, and only a few items were actually checked, out of a lengthy list. I went ahead and clicked Update, and just the few checked items were updated--or so I thought. More on that in a bit.

The graphics process went off without a hitch, and I definitely appreciated the monitor test screens. I especially liked the ability to be able to add my networked printer right there in the installation; I don't think I have ever had the ability to do this so early.

Once all was said and done, I was happily running openSUSE on my machine. I was surprised to see that those packages I thought were updated earlier during installation were apparently not, since the Software Update tool popped up and urged me to get them up to speed.

It was about this time that I noticed that Thunderbird was nowhere to be found, nor was Gnumeric, my preferred spreadsheet app. Well, now was the time to check out the Install Software app I'd seen in the System/Configuration menu. I have two huge beefs with this utility. First, it only lets you find, select, and install one application at a time. Secondly, and more importantly, openSUSE appears to organizes packages into "Catalogs," which are either online or roughly correspond to the installation media discs. But here's the thing: I searched for "gnumeric," found the app on the installation media--but was not told which of the five discs to use. The disc label was cut off on the screen, leaving me pretty much stymied. This is not a problem with the packages that are online: you just click on them and down they come.

After this, I discovered that a better tool was to use the Software Management module in the YaST2 Control Center. Everything was clear, and packages were installed without a hitch. Of all of the little glitches I found, this one bothers me the most, since anyone who thinks the "Install Software" application is going to work for them is going to be very unpleasantly surprised.

Here I am, though, with a system that's finally all nicely configured. I have to say--installation bumps aside--I am pleased with how things are going so far. The KDE interface is humming along and the speed of my apps seems slightly faster. Best of all, my filesystem hierarchy makes sense (no more of that "My Computer" "My Music" nomenclature that Freespire had). openSUSE is very stable and responsive, and I think I have made the right choice, for now.

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