May 05, 2004

SuSE Linux Professional 9.1...

Back when SuSE Linux 9.1 was announced as the first Commercially available Linux 2.6 kernel (amongst other goodies), I preordered my upgrade from SuSE directly, and I have been raving about it ever since!

Of course, I seem to be always raving about SuSE. I was first introduced to it by one my friends around 7.0, at which point I was mostly a RedHat-man, and although I liked it a lot, I kept my server on RedHat.

RedHat 9.0 came out, and shortly thereafter, RedHat announced their discontinuation of the RedHat Linux product, and how they replaced it with Fedora Core (which Fedora Core 2 also features the 2.6 kernel). I, of course, immediately upgraded my server to Fedora. Some complained of instability and a variety of other problems with Fedora, but I never had any issues with it.

Shortly thereafter, I upgraded my workstation, and required a Linux installation on it. I was debating between Fedora, Mandrake, SuSE, and others. In the end, I decided to go with SuSE, and I love it.

When faced with the upgrade path from RedHat 8.0, my current employers decided on RedHat Enterprise Linux 3.0 since it was the fastest upgrade solution. Since we have a sovereign application, many of my complaints on it do not really apply, since ideally, our customers will generally just use our application and it shouldn't really matter what software or hardware its running on.

But that point put aside, I still have many issues with it, specifically software availability. There are a lot of key components missing in it in my opinion. I realize RedHat is making a statement by not providing an MP3 player out of the box, but I still find it hard to believe that I had a hard time finding it via Google. Many of these key components are available for download in repositories like DAG's, but still, there are many that I had to compile from scratch, Bluez's PAN and gvim (vim -g says, "E25: GUI cannot be used: Not enabled at compile time"). My other complaint is with their bastardized kernel, which contains portions of 2.6 in 2.4; I realize that Linux thinks this is OK, but I do not. Component-based software is not how the kernel was design, and because of this, separating things out, in addition to the development time, will lead to some incompleteness of design.

With SuSE, it seems my search is made easy. If it is not installed, I launch yast2, search, pick what I want, and click Install. There are very few times I did not find what I was looking for, and in those cases, RPM Find to-a-rescue!

Of course, there are many times that my other complaint comes up: What to pick? For example, a user is presented with at least three Word-file editors: AbiWord, koffice, and OpenOffice, and this is one example; You essentially have to install them all, work with them, and then decide for yourself what you want to do. I do not really mind in general, but sometimes, you do not want to do this research, since you have a file X and you want to use it; You just want to scream at your computer, "Just open it already!" I guess one of the next versions of Linux will support that feature to... ;-)

At any rate, I received an e-mail this morning stating that my SuSE box was shipping and it gave me a tracking number. One important piece of detail missing from this was the carrier. My first pick was UPS for some reason, but the tracking number did not work, so I tried FedEx, and it said that it was "On Vehicle for Delivery." Wow! SuSE really knows how nerds work. Not only do they provide a fantastic product, but they do not taunt you 24-hours in advance telling you what you will have in your hands, but tell you the same day. I guess they know how impatient we are... especially since their web site still says that they are shipping May 8th.

Aside from liking to be an early adopter (without wasting my time recompiling), one of my biggest attractions to SuSE 9.1 is the 2.6 kernel. It is not the only distribution with the 2.6 kernel, but I do not have the time now to really compare distributions. The 2.6 kernel has been raved about in The Linux Journal and on SlashDot too many times, and I am looking forward to seeing this first hand.

SuSE Professional 9.1 comes with 5 CD's, or 2 double-sided DVD's; One DVD appears to be for 64-bit platforms and the other DVD for 32-bit platforms. For some reason, the DVD with 9.0 did not work on this machine; it booted, but then couldn't read the package list. Under 9.1, the system didn't even boot. I quickly gave up and went with the CD option.

I really loved the new graphics in the installation tool. Before, it looked like a Java AWT application, if you will, but now, it looks much more refined. The Cameleon on startup is extremely cool; I can't wait until RedHat gets rid of the text mode during boot already!

The first problem that I encountered with SuSE 9.1's installation is with SATA. If I understand correctly, the 9.0 SATA implementation was essentially a dummy IDE implementation, but under 9.1, its a proper implementation. What this translates to me is that my /etc/fstab file needs to be changed from /dev/hdcx to /dev/sdax (Some machines may have /dev/hdex). Where usually the SuSE installation tool is smart, this is one case where I had to boot back into 9.0 and manually change this. They provided the URL http://portal.suse.com/sdb/en/2004/01/sata.html to help me through this, but I dunno; nowhere does it say there what I just said. Also, I must add that I am happy to have multiple computers, because that is a long URL to write on paper... (Perhaps this is what this SlashDot thread is about?)

Once this was resolved, I restarted the installation CD, and aside from two conflicts with software that I installed myself, everything continued nicely. At the end, though, it had some issues with the GRUB configuration because of the SATA situation. Once I changed everything again, it finally rebooted.

On rebooting, I get a black screen with, graphics file "(null)/boot/message" missing. Arhhgg! So I boot SuSE into Rescue mode to investigate. It turns out that the (null) bit comes from /boot/grub/menu.lst, which for some reason was not updated correctly, but what to put in there? I tried a few things that didn't work, then I googled, and after bit, I noticed that I had to put (hd0,1) there.

On reboot, it then says, /boot/message has wrong format, but when I press any key, it brings me to the boot menu, and when I pressed enter, the screen turned black, and viola! The installation continues...

It seems to complete in the installation time mentioned. One nice thing that I enjoyed with SuSE before was the ability to download updates immediately after installation, however, this failed, but moments afterwards (without rebooting), I was in SuSE 9.1!

For reasons unclear to me, SuSE forced it's default image onto my background, a few of my hotkeys were missing (like ALT-F9 to minimize), screen saver settings were added, and possibly things I have yet to notice. A quick visit into Control Center fixed these for me.

Updating using a different mirror was painless, although it was stuck on the "Writing the system configuration" for a while... Until I rebooted, and got the same problem before with the /boot/messages being corrupted, but I was still able to boot. Following this, I installed the new ATI drivers, which I really dislike the way they manipulate the /etc/X11/XFree86 file.

There are still minor tweaks to happen, but overall, the box seems stable, and I'm happy. With any luck, in the next few weeks I will be moving my Fedora box to SuSE 9.1, and with this experience, I'm hoping it will be smooth. This is a task that I have been procrastinating for quite sometime though. I might wait until after Fedora Core 2 comes out though, so I can give that a whirl first... we'll see.

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