Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Settling on OpenSUSE 10.3

That's right, I've finally found the least annoying Linux distribution to run on my Thinkpad R32: OpenSUSE 10.3.

I burned through the following distros on my quest for non-suckage:

Ubuntu 7.10 & 8 Beta
PCLinuxOS 2007
Kubuntu 7.10 & 8 Beta
Fedora 8
Freespire 2.0

...and none of them were stable enough to survive initial updating and configuration. I was most disappointed by Ubuntu and Kubuntu because these are the distributions I really wanted to use. I actually use Ubuntu as a desktop OS on one of my machines, and have been for years, but I only use it for a few tasks. I'm running Ubuntu Server 6.06 LTS on a machine as well and am very happy with it (aside from its adaptec driver support being broken out of the box).

I didn't have much hope for OpenSUSE when I began installing it. I was certainly disappointed by the lack of a LiveCD with an installer. However, the "old school" installation went very smoothly and in no time I had a functional installation that ran well and looked very sharp. OpenSUSE is a very polished distribution by comparison to everything else that I've tried so far, aside perhaps from PCLinuxOS.

I was also a little bit leary of using KDE, because for years I've always been a Gnome "fan." Years ago I tried KDE and it was seriously flakey and irritating beyond belief. Plus, putting a "K" in front of all of your software names is Ketarded. Well, I realize now that Gnome hasn't changed a whole lot over the years, but KDE has really grown during my time away from it. I'm not missing Gnome at all.

OpenSUSE is not without its shortcomings. Firstly, it's an RPM-based distribution and I'm much more comfortable with debian based installs. YaST is a usable packager but is terribly, terribly slow and in typical RPM fashion (in my experience), occasionally doesn't grab necessary dependencies and vomits all over your lap. Secondly, the configuration tools are much better than the mess you get with Ubuntu, but even after a few days working with SUSE I'm still having trouble finding the right icons to click on. Too much ambiguity and poor naming. This is a common theme in all Linux distributions. Thirdly, I had to grab madwifi drivers "manually" and SUSE refuses to shut down when I have my PCMCIA wifi adapter plugged in. And lastly, I'm able to crash the entire system all over the place while trying to get Kerberos and LDAP working in a Windows domain. This isn't completely SUSE's fault, it's a pretty typical Linux kludge of half working services where getting a fully working system is akin to solving a jumping puzzle in Half Life.

(Here's a fun one: if you happened to follow recommended practice and use a .local TLD for your Windows domain, then mDNS freaks out. If you disable mDNS, then LDAP and/or Kerberos freak out. The result is some very interesting crashes, including DBUS, kpowerd, and knetworkmanager. Fug it. To give credit where credit is due, this may actually be Apple's fault. It's their spec. Anyhow, it turns out you don't need to configure Kerberos or LDAP clients if you just use the Windows Domain tool)

The last time I tried to push myself into migrating my desktops completely to Linux, about five or six years ago, I had a very similar experience. Half-baked, poorly glued together software that requires constant babysitting. I am very disappointed with the state of Linux on the desktop today. I know that it can work, especially if you limit yourself to a basic install and don't mess with anything. Otherwise, it's still a mess and its fan base is either poorly informed or in serious denial.

Shortly I'm going to be proposing my latest IT plan at the office, and a portion of the plan is an "Open Source Initiative" in which I'm going to lay out a procedure for migrating our proprietary software to open source alternatives. My primary objective is to limit or eliminate vendor lock in, which is a real sore spot for me. I also hate Microsoft and the BSA. Anyhow, the last step in my plan is going to be moving our desktops from Windows to Linux, and I'm still going ahead with it. However, I'm much less enthusiastic about it now. Despite its many shortcomings, I fail to see how Windows is inferior to any Linux distribution aside from licensing and cost. Thankfully Vista sucks eggs, because that might make the transistion a little easier for my users to swallow.

1 comment:

Melisa Marzett said...

I'm glad that I don't need to configure Kerberos or LDAP clients if I just use the Windows Domain tool! Of course, our www.proof-reading.services can be of any writing or editing assistance!