Kasperian Moving Parts

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OpenSUSE 10.3 > Kubuntu Hardy -> Fedora 9 -> Mandriva 2008.1 -> OpenSUSE 11

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Looking for the best distro...

I got bored with my Ubuntu Hardy install last week and decided to have a look at what some of the other guys are up to these days. Mind you, there wasn’t anything horribly wrong with my Ubuntu host. I still ♥ apt; IMHO, there’s still nothing faster (although the new package management in OpenSUSE 11 comes darned close!). But anyway, it was an interesting trek across the newest distros and while I was looking to end up with something other than SUSE (again, nothing wrong with it at all–I just like change), I am totally impressed with OpenSUSE 11 and am going to feel satisfied sticking with it for a decently long while, knowing that I’ve shopped around as it were. And I think that that’s really the main point, now that I think of it. It’s why I got involved with Linux originally: I hated Windows 3.1 and didn’t like the fact that there was no way to shop around and make it better. Oh–one other thing I was looking for in a new host: nightly/weekly KDE trunk (4.2) snapshots–and from what I found, only OpenSUSE offers that. Anyway… some random thoughts about the voyage…

OpenSUSE 10.3… I ran this when I worked at CVS. Awesome, solid, stable. Really, really good. I installed this on my work laptop when I started at VMware and was pretty happy with it. What ended up pushing me off of it and onto Kubuntu Hardy was the fact that debugging with gdb on OpenSUSE 10.3 was really, really painful. Just about everything that I tried to “p” or “pt” on ended up making gdb itself segfault. Frustrating and work-inhibiting. Time to switch.

Kubuntu Hardy… Also very stable and well-done. Apt just plain rules the package management scene, I’m convinced. I believe there are architecture issues or something that make other distros not like it, but it is danged fast. Nothing really to complain about with Kubuntu. It worked, worked well, and I don’t think I really had any problems with it. It was awesome to not have gdb segfault on me too. =:/ I started looking for nightly/weekly KDE 4.2/trunk builds and couldn’t find them. Feeling frustrated and stagnant (through no fault of Kubuntu), I decided to switch distros and see what else is out there. A Fedora 9 DVD came in one of the Linux magazines I bought at B&N lately (plus a friend of mine from work runs F9 on his work laptop), and it has been staring me in the face for a month now. I couldn’t resist any longer. Oh! Also, Ubuntu’s graphical boot stuff, while nice, manages to screw up my video card on my laptop if I stop kdm/xdm/gdm from running (which I need to do frequently lately to try out the nVidia beta drops). It stops the display manager and then goes back to the bootsplash screen and when it returns me to my VT, it’s totally messed up and unusable. Impetus enough.

Fedora 9… Words cannot express…. I’m trying to block out the painful memories…. Okay, it wasn’t completely horrible, but they’ve done so many things with Fedora since I last used it that I feel totally uncomfortable in it. I think wireless networking worked decently well. I set SELinux to disabled and kept getting popups warning me that such and such a thing would have been denied if SELinux wasn’t disabled and how that was bad… Couldn’t figure out how to turn that off. Getting my existing LUKS-encrypted home partition working was a pain. I LOVE the RHGB graphical boot magic. That was honestly (shallow, I know) one of the reasons I was looking forward to Fedora 9. Well lo and behold… when the boot sequence has to stop and prompt me for my LUKS passphrase, it drops completely out of RHGB mode (reasonable enough) but then fails to go back into it. Sexiness– and still no KDE 4.2/trunk nightly/weekly builds. On we go.

UPDATE: I had forgotten the biggest reason I ran away screaming from Fedora 9: they’re using newer Xorg packages than nVidia has drivers for. Aiyeeee!!!!

One of the coolest KDE dudes I know (/me waves to Helio) works for Mandriva, so I’ve been meaning to try out the latest Mandriva for a while. I used to use Mandriva on my work laptop when I worked at Rite Aid and was always impressed with it. The package management used to suck a lot, though, which is one of the reasons that I stopped using it. You used to have to go into one application to add packages and another application to remove packages. =:/ I’m happy to say that Mandriva 2008.1 (or maybe an earlier release) fixed the package management stuff and now adding and removing packages happen in the same interface. Yay! =:) Mandriva has always impressed me with its eye candy and extremely solid and well-crafted UI, and Mandriva 2008.1 is no exception to that. Very nice, very pretty, very solid. I’ve hit a couple hiccups with package management, but nothing that a retry (1..n times) didn’t fix. And I like the grouped package management idea, where instead of a single run of 200 package installs, it will group them into logical/related packages and do X at a time… so you have “A of B packages in this group installed; Y of Z total”. And Mandriva is really fast–it always has been. I ended up replacing the OpenSUSE 10.3 install that I had on the kids’ desktop downstairs with Mandriva and we’re all extremely impressed with it. And I really, really, really wanted to keep using it on my work laptop. Until I started trying to get wireless networking to work, and that’s where the wheels fell off. Mandriva uses its own wireless networking configuration and management, instead of using NetworkManager, and when it fails, it fails hard–especially with WPA, it seems. Switching between wireless networks just started to fail miserably and I could not grok what was going wrong enough to fix it. And then I just stopped caring and burned an OpenSUSE 11 DVD… Mandriva: you should really use NetworkManager. It really does Just Work (TM). Oh–and you can install networkmanager in Mandriva, but it doesn’t actually work, from my experience. =:(

And then there was OpenSUSE 11. WOW is a good word for this. They’ve done a really awesome job on the installation process. It has never looked better or been more functional. And there is some serious go-fast juice in the package management now. I don’t know if it’s as fast as Apt yet, but it is so fast that I no longer dread using it in SUSE. And the 1-click install YMP stuff is pure sugary sweetness that is Good For You Too. And wireless networking works perfectly. I’ve not yet seen it fail. And the knetworkmanager changes (Will, I think??) are AWESOME! And the eye candy is delicious. And everything works. And it is really fast. And I like it. Here I’ll surely stay for a good long while, now content that I’ve shopped around and that I’m not just settling for the same thing I used before–that what I’m using really is the best… for me at least.

One last note to squelch any potential “yeah, but you can fix XXX by doing YYYY, you stupid person” comments…. This was a whirlwind tour that happened over the last week or so. I still have to work for a living, so when I switched distros, I did it at night and then actually had to spend the next day working on it for my job. So you could say that this was a trial by fire for these distros and probably more representative of what a new Linux user would deal with and expect than a patient hacker, hell-bent on spending whatever time is necessary to get things working. I’m finding myself sort of between the OS X “I just want it to work and not have to think about it” camp and the hard-core Linux hacker who will stay up all night to figure out why thingey XXX is not working and beat it into submission. I still love the latter, but being that I have to work and be productive on my laptop, I can’t afford too much of it.

Anyway, there’s one brain dump for the week. I have several more I need to do (preview: THE NOKIA N810 JUST PLAIN ROCKS (but DANG we need to get some good PIM apps on there)!!!!!!, and spending all day Saturday to change interior lights SUCKS!, and Opera is still awesome again and getting better!!), but those will have to wait. =:)

Author: Jason 'vanRijn' Kasper

My name is Jason 'vanRijn' Kasper. I am the ring leader of the amazing Kasper family. I am unashamedly a Christian Geek. These are our stories....

31 Comments

  1. Interesting post, I would like to recommend Archlinux though. It’s the best I’ve found, and heres my ‘trail’

    Debian->Gentoo->Kubuntu->Opensuse, and have used either of them for longer than 2 weeks. (year and a half in Gentoo’s case.)

    Anyway, as you will…

  2. Hi ! I’d like to try opensuse 11 too, but currently I have some issues with my thesis for the uni .. Anyway, what I wanted to say is that there are KDE 4 nightly builds for hardy. You can find it at http://amarok.kde.org/wiki/User:Apachelogger/Project_Neon/KDE :)

  3. I second appel. Archlinux is the best KDE experience I’ve had. My trail, though is short: Ubuntu -> Kubuntu -> Archlinux

  4. Nice overview – and I broadly agree :-) Kubuntu has never really been for me but that is mostly due to their tweaks to KDE that are not to my taste, openSUSE tweaks too of course but they usually make more sense to me. I was scared away around 10.2 by the sucky package management but given the apparent improvements I might have to revisit version 11. Mandriva is ace except for the wireless network management – I had the same issues as you, come on guys just use networkmanager. I’m actually on Fedora 9 now – ok it wasn’t pretty early on when it came out with KDE 4.0.x but post 4.1 it’s actually pretty nice. The selinux stuff can be configured not to annoy you, but it’s not obvious – you can only set the current mode to enforcing or permissive (the latter is the one that gives you popups saying stuff would have been prevented…) but you can set the default mode to disabled which means it is completely switched off at next boot. Not the msot obvious config interface, I agree.

    Packagekit (Fedora) is cool though and it looks like zypp might be coming too as an alternative backend – I’ve seen blog posts about zypp in Fedora – for those who find yum slow.

  5. Oh and for completeness, my trail:

    suse 9 -> suse 10 -> kubuntu -> debian etch -> suse 10.2 -> mandriva -> fedora 8 -> fedora 9

    And now I have a laptop on arch too, which is indeed looking pretty nice.

  6. Aside from the speed, I never really saw the appeal of apt.

    Anyway, here’s my journey:
    Mandrake > SuSE > Mandriva > openSUSE > Kubuntu > Debian > Gentoo > openSUSE > Debian > Mandriva > Gentoo > OpenSUSE.

    I loves me some Gentoo, but I can’t deal with compile times. So I always come back to Novell. Love the Build Service, love Zypper, love how damn near everything Just Works. Only gripe I have is that some lower-level dependency for NetworkManager got borked a couple weeks back and I have to run KNetworkManager as root to use my wireless. Once that gets sorted out, I’ll be back in lust.

    I’ve been meaning to try out Arch (Gentoo without compiling? sign me up!), but I’m going to set up a test machine first.

  7. I’ve switched to openSUSE, too, last week. It’s really a fine KDE4-implementation, thanks to the Faktory-guys. What’s even better then that is that it works much better then Xubuntu (yes, I had xfce as my last installation, sorry) on my laptop. No random screen-backgroundlight-shutoffs anymore and 3 more hours of battery-life (making it 7 hours of actualy working on it – awesome) .

    On my local desktop, I have a Kubuntu – KDE4.1. installation and it doesn’t rock near as much as the openSUSE – KDE4.1.1-Faktory installation on my laptop. There are far less KDE3-apps on openSUSE (and the included alphas/betas work just fine for me), everything is just far better preconfigured and there are just so many more available up-to-date packages available for many apps and gimmicks like all those plasmoids. Did I say KDE4 on openSUSE rocks?

  8. Heh. I think archlinux is the only one I’ve not tried. And just to assert my geekliness, the distro/OS trail I mentioned in my post is only from the last week. =;P I could post my 10+-year trail, but it’d be a book unto itself, would start with Slackware 3.1 (kernel 1.2.13, baybee!!) and include Solaris, FreeBSD (fastest danged OS I’ve ever seen!), Gentoo, and several releases of Debian (which alone speaks to how long I’ve been using Linux =;)).

    Anyway, it was good to hear that you guys have similar experiences with these as me. =:) You always wonder if it’s just you doing stupid stuff when you hit breakages and things like this. =:)

  9. Wish i could figure out archlinux, i read the how-to, beginners docs, etc.. and still cant get anything done.. but now i’m using kubuntu kde 4.1.1 and LOVE IT
    but arch is a great rolling distro , worthy of a try ..
    anyone have any “better” install docs/instructions/how-tos, then that are on their site? maybe i’m just used to having too much done for me.. but i did install gentoo command line ONCE.. got rid of it, hated waiting so long for even small programs to compile.
    so anyone have anything interestingly easy to install arch?

    thanks

    binskipy2u at g mail dot com

  10. Wireless config in mandriva spring 2008+ works well.

    I think that mandriva has the best wireless configuration out there. It is very reliable, connects fast and works with WEP and WPA ( I never really tried with EAP but the configuration supports it). Networkmanager is a crapshoot. I have opensuse 11 and it connected the atheros chipset ( only after I installed madwifi instead of ath5) well but it failed on ipw2200 ( usually the most reliable wifi for linux). After a few updates, the networkmanager connects now.

    The main reason to switch to opensuse was the avail of KDE4 ( and 4.1 via the factory build service). Packages built this way seem to run slower than officially supported ones.

  11. I have to correct you on KNetworkManager on openSUSE 11.0, it was written by my colleague Helmut Schaa. My contribution was just a lot of snagging and bugfixing a day before the final Release Candidate.

  12. @Will Stephenson: Heh. Well, please slap Helmut on the back for me. Job _really_ well done. =:)

  13. Two ways to debug issues with wireless under Mandriva :

    – service network restart : this will allow to see were things are blocking. Sometimes it’s because of a bad wireless key which will prevent wpa_supplicant from starting. Editing /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf to remove the offending lines will often solve the issue. One done, just restart again the network service.

    – rm -fr /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/wireless.d/ : this will remove all wireless networks config. You can also remove the wireless interface config file ( most of the time /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-wlan0 or /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-eth1 )

    – edit and remove the line concerning the wireless interface in /etc/udev/rules.d/61-net_config.rules, and also the corresponding interface config file in /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts, and reconfigure your wireless card with drakconnect.

    As you can noticed, Mandriva is using the standard network configuration files, and is not maintaining its own configuration namespace whioch may conflict with standard network config files

  14. Wow.. you remind me of ME! I’ve done the openSUSE 10.2, 10.3, Fedora 9, Kubuntu 4.0 remix and currently landed on the Ubuntu spot.

    The only distro I didn’t see in your list is PCLinuxOS. I don’t think it will surpass openSUSE 11, but should be somewhere between Kubuntu and openSUSE.

    Fedora 9, I agree, is like a timewarp back to early 2000s (when Red Hat 9 was king) aesthetically.

  15. Opensuse is the worst distro I have used. Before you say I’m trolling, just open up the package manager and try installing a package. It is an absolute nightmare just to install a single application. By the time it takes Opensuse to open the package manager, add the repository, scan and refresh it, install the application, and refresh again for an average sized package – I can have installed desktop environments in Ubuntu. Not to mention that installing packages often lead to multiple conflicts, forcing me to choose certain package numbers which I (and no one else but the Linux developers themselves) have absolutely no knowledge of. Add onto the fact that installing one package also targets a seemingly unrelated package for installation, and you’ve got a recipe for utter disaster.

    And to think that in 11.0 the package manager was supposed to be improved!

    Nothing compares to the blazing fast speed of Synaptic or its simplicity. Fedora 9’s PackageKit comes pretty close, and I’d highly recommend that too if Ubuntu isn’t your thing. But Opensuse? I’ve tried the distro since 10.2. I won’t be using another until they use another package managment utility altogether, since their drastic improvements in 11.0 weren’t sufficient at ALL.

  16. Booky, it’s unfair to compare synaptic and openSUSE package management when it’s doing more. As you said, openSUSE _refreshes_ the repositories before you do anything. If you choose to disable this (which can be done from the software repositories yast module) like Ubuntu do, then it will be just as fast. It will start up and complete operations in seconds.

    Package management in openSUSE 11.0 is completely unrivalled: zypper and YaST are far, far more featureful than apt and synaptic (see: 1-click-install, remote RPM installation, etc.), and the solver is a lot more intelligent.

  17. Yeah, I totally agree that previously, package management on Suse used to be atrocious–which was why I was so impressed with how fast 11 is. @Booky: was this a clean install you tried this on? I guess everything is relative too… what seems much improved to one may very well seem really slow to another.

  18. > Booky, it’s unfair to compare synaptic and openSUSE package management when it’s doing more.

    Not at all. All it does is refresh the repository list. Just click on the Reload button in Synpatic – regardless of the size of the repositories, it takes 3-4 seconds. And that’s considering two things:

    A) The default list of repositories is greater in Ubuntu than OpenSuse.
    B) I have a lot of additional repositories that make no difference to the refreshing list in Ubuntu; on OpenSuse it most certainly does.

    Not to mention that Ubuntu’s repositories house thousands of packages compared to the much limited selection of packages in OpenSuse default repos. There really is no excuse for OpenSuse in this matter.

    > As you said, openSUSE _refreshes_ the repositories before you do anything.

    Like I said, even if you disable the refreshing of the repositories, I doubt you could shave off any significant time it takes for the whole process of installing the application. OpenSuse’s package manager is just ridiculously slow in each process, not just the initial refreshing.

    > If you choose to disable this (which can be done from the software repositories yast module) like Ubuntu do, then it will be just as fast. It will start up and complete operations in seconds.

    I did, it doesn’t help matters at all. And it doesn’t fix the other myriad of broken things in the package manager or the dependency hell I have to face with every other package I choose to install (here’s another interested experiment, just choosing custom packages in Opensuse 11.0 before installation actually presents you with dependancy conflicts right there, which I have yet to face on any other Linux distro I’ve used).

    > Package management in openSUSE 11.0 is completely unrivalled: zypper and YaST are far, far more featureful than apt and synaptic

    I completely disagree. The main purpose of a package manager, and its utility to the vast majority of users, is installing and removing packages. And it fails miserably at that.

    > (see: 1-click-install,

    The 1-click install is nothing more than marketing hype. It actually takes six clicks for the 1-click-install to work, that includes adding the repository, verifying its key signature and clicking on next several times. This has been admitted by one of the bloggers here. The only package manager that can claim to be one-click is Ubuntu, where you simply tick the packages you want installed, click on install and let the manager do its job fast and efficient.

    > remote RPM installation, etc

    I have no idea what that is, much less any use for it. However, if its responsible for making Zypper so slow, I’m sure the vast majority of OpenSuse users like me would gladly do away with it.

    > the solver is a lot more intelligent.

    I highly doubt it considering I have faced more dependancy hell and package conflicts (multiple times in a single package installation, infact) in Opensuse than any other distro. In my experience, the solver is actually the worst and most frustrating part about using the package manager, since I can wait for the package manager no matter how slow it is, but I have no idea which lib version I should keep or remove in order to just install an application.

    Sorry if this sounds harsh but I really tried liking OpenSuse because on the top it looks very polished, but the package management is utterly broken and almost made me give up on Linux.

  19. Another for Arch Linux. I like the path format being used here. This is my path of distros used longer than 6 months. There are of course the random distros I tried for a week that I won’t include.

    RedHat -> SuSE -> Ubuntu -> Gentoo -> Arch

    By far my two favorite were Gentoo and Arch. I don’t know if my gentoo install was just too old, but updates started breaking almost every time, and I religiously do upgrades so it wasn’t like an update after a year. All that aside, Gentoo is a great distro, with awesome documentation. I learned so much about Linux using Gentoo.

    Arch is much like Gentoo, it’s starts as very barbones system, and you build it the way you want. To me there is a simple elegance in this, but it could bite the novice Linux user who doesn’t quite know what he/she wants/prefers yet.

    The package manager is fast, seems faster than apt to me, but I have never done a benchmark. The packages are simple .tar.gz files that you can easily extract to a directory and poke around. The PKGBUILD/ABS system is fantastic, much like ebuilds for Gentoo, but simpler.

  20. yeah, it’s true, when you’re a suse 10.3 user switching to 11, trying out the new packagement system, you’re like: what the..??!!!!! this is a dream come true, watching your favorite distro finally becoming the best =) ;)

  21. Yast, though, is more than just a package manager. You have one-stop-shopping for all of your administrative “shopping” plus you can access it in the CLI (even over SSH.. great for servers).

    YAST has greatly improved over 10.3 in opening up and is as fast about as Synaptic on Ubuntu (which I am writing this on). Yes, it depends on the repositories you are connecting to but really, OSS, Non-OSS and Packman contain 99.9% of what you need but there are plenty of optional ones depending on your needs.

    My Ubuntu definitely takes more than 3-4 seconds to come up in the first place and THEN I have to manually Reload, Mark to Update , Apply and Confirm.

  22. Redhat -> Fedora -> Gentoo -> Arch Linux -> Ubuntu
    My story began with Redhat because it was “the linux” back then, then as new possibilities appeared I tried fedora for a couple of months but wanted more flexibility so I jumped into gentoo. After two days of compiling (everything else was rather quick and surprisingly simple with the great handbook) I was willing to keep it as my main system but then came the updates… So I tried arch and that was it, but after two years arch started to fall apart. Every update broke something. That’s when I decided to finally try ubuntu and I must say it’s great. Almost everything works out of the box and building/rebuilding packages is pretty easy. I admit Ubuntu is not perfect but it’s stable and flexible enough. It’s popular so it’s easy to find support and most developers provide packages for it. Even if there’s no “.deb” there’s “checkinstall” which makes building deb’s easy.

  23. I’m actually very impressed by the speed of the openSUSE – packagemanager. Startup is ok to me and the package-installation is actually faster then with apt/synaptic on my ubuntu-installation. Mostly because yast starts installing even before everything ist downloaded – I always asked myself, why synaptic doesn’t do this nice little trick.
    Also, for a fast installation of only a small stack of packages, one can just use zypper on command-line, and get it in no time.

  24. Booky, a huge amount of misconceptions:

    > Like I said, even if you disable the refreshing of the repositories, I doubt you could shave off any significant time it takes for the whole process of installing the application.

    Are you for real? If all repositories are already refreshed, then it takes:

    linux # time zypper in wine
    Reading installed packages…
    ‘wine’ is already installed.
    Nothing to do.

    real 0m1.335s

    So just what are you on about? Is 1.3s really too long for you?

    Needless to say, if you downloaded and installed the package it would actually be significantly faster too because we’re using RPMs with LZMA payload. Read about it here, and see why it’s far superior to the current dpkg and old RPM implementation: http://opensuse.org/LZMA

    > Not to mention that Ubuntu’s repositories house thousands of packages compared to the much limited selection of packages in OpenSuse default repos.

    Once again, you’re unfairly comparing Ubuntu’s structure with openSUSE’s. Everyone knows that openSUSE’s default repositories are slimmer, and that the rest of everything is maintained in Packman and the openSUSE Build Service. Which have far more packages than Ubuntu or Debian.

    We actually also have a reasonable backport service, again unlike Ubuntu which is virtually non-existent and pretty much always forces to have the latest version to get the latest KDE etc. We always have those packages for all the supported versions of SUSE (again, which is supported on average for longer than Ubuntu, though not the LTS versions).

    > I completely disagree. The main purpose of a package manager, and its utility to the vast majority of users, is installing and removing packages. And it fails miserably at that.

    The fact that you’re simply lying about its flaws is a little curious.

    > I have no idea what that is, much less any use for it. However, if its responsible for making Zypper so slow

    Remote RPM installation is being able to install RPMs from a remote location with the package manager; not sure what else it could mean. Like I’ve said, Zypper is emphatically NOT slow. I wish you wouldn’t lie about it. (Unless you think 1.3s is slow?)

    > I highly doubt it considering I have faced more dependancy hell and package conflicts

    Hey, this is coming from APT and DPKG developers. Ubuntu developers considered switching to Smart at one point in the past because APT is such a pain to deal with (particularly the solver). We also have actual test-cases showing that the solver is smarter too (Google it).

    If you actually want to properly talk about any of these issues, feel free to ping me on IRC where it’s a lot easier to do: apokryphos on Freenode. (Or reply here and ping me if you’d want a final response to be here…)

  25. I’m an Archlinux user myself, and I wouldn’t change my main desktop PC for anything else.

    However, I did install OpenSUSE on my laptop, and on my parents’ “backup” computer, and I was very impressed with it. The main issue I had, in fact, was that zypper was a memory hog (this was 10.3). My laptop is a poor little thing with only 128Mb RAM, and it really couldn’t cope with zypper. So the laptop went back to Archlinux, where pacman is speedy and light.

  26. Memory usage issues have been solved in 11.0 completely: http://duncan.mac-vicar.com/blog/archives/309

  27. Yeah, as was mentioned previously, the package management differences between 10.3 and 11.0 are like night and day. =:) Really, really much improved!!

  28. Pingback: Boycott Novell » Do-No-Evil Saturday - Part I: OpenSUSE Calls for Testers and Boarders [sic]

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