The Corpus Callosum

OpenSUSE 10.3 Experience

This is not a traditional review, in that I am not going to
discuss the
distro in any systematic or comprehensive fashion.  There
already are several reviews out there in the href="http://distrowatch.com/table.php?distribution=suse">usual
places.  Rather, I am going to outline my
experiences with installing and using href="http://www.opensuse.org/">OpenSUSE 10.3,
with an emphasis on my particular hardware.  

My machine originally was purpose-built to be an office machine, with
an emphasis on being quiet foremost, and inexpensive, secondarily; now
it is a hobby device.  It has an Athlon XP 2100+, modestly
overclocked (from 1733) to 2005 MHz; an AOpen nForce2 mobo, 1GB DDR
RAM, and an NVIDIA FX 5500 graphics card.  It has two
monitors, two HD, and two optical drives.  Networking is
through the onboard nForce2 chipset and a Linksys PCI card with a
Broadcom BCM4306 802.11b/g Wireless LAN Controller.  Sound is
provided by the nForce2 chipset.  Others OS’s installed are
Windows XP and Sabayon.


Notice that the rig is not particularly powerful.  

The first thing I did, was to use the installation disk to upgrade a
pre-existing Suse 10.1 installation.  This worked, but was not
a good idea.  The old installation had been marred by
installation of many nonstandard packages from a variety of different
repositories, plus it had some applications that had been compiled from
source, or installed from non-Suse RPMs.  

Naturally, I ran into all kinds of dependency problems.  It
probably took a half hour or so to resolve them all.  The
installation routine did its best to figure out what I wanted, based
upon what had been installed previously.  Some of the choices
were odd.  For example, it decided I wanted the Bulgarian and
Czech thesauruses.  (I did once meet someone who speaks Czech,
but I really had no use for either thesaurus.  In fact, I
hardly even even use an English thesaurus.)  This is not a big
deal, but if you are one of those people who likes a really lean
installation, it is not a good sign.  

I could not get Compiz to work in KDE.  I am sure it was
because of the detritus from the old, messy installation, with several
odd configuration files scattered all over the place from various
archaeological versions of Beryl and Compiz.  Also, it did not
detect or configure the second monitor automatically.  Hard to
complain about that, since others distros are no better, at least in my
experience.  That is the one thing that Windows does better.

Next I decided to try a clean installation.  I reformatted the
root partition, leaving the /home partition unchanged.  This
allowed me to install into a clean partition.  In order to get
the second monitor working, I installed the NVIDIA driver after
downloading it from the manufacturer’s site, and ran sax2.  I
then used the YAST control panel to set up a dual head configuration.
 Then I enabled compositing manually, editing xorg.conf as
follows: added two lines to the Device section:

Option       
“RenderAccel”
“True”        
Option       
“AddARGBGLXVisuals” “True”


Added one line to the ServerLayout section:

Option      
“aiglx”  “true”


Added one line to Extensions:

Option    
“Composite” “Enable”


This works fine.  Note that NVIDIA users probably should
follow this example (this enables aiglx instead of xgl).
 (Following those steps will get you a few compositing
effects, but not the whole Monty.)  Then
add the
X11 repository using the new YAST community repository control panel.
 Then download the latest Compiz and Emerald packages.
 I was glad to see that my old href="http://scienceblogs.com/corpuscallosum/files/JCY-emerald-1-7-07.emerald">customized
Emerald theme worked
perfectly.  OpenSUSE’s page detailing the setup of NVIDIA
drivers and Compiz is here.
 I did it the old-fashioned way because I already knew how to
do it.  They outline an easier way, but I don’t think their
method would work (without modification) if you have two monitors.

Note that some of the performance features of the card are not enabled
by default.  To do that, you need to do two things:

First, edit the file /etc/modprobe.conf. At the end of the
section concerning the nvidia driver place the following line to enable
FastWrites, SBA and AGP 8x support:

options nvidia
NVreg_EnableAGPSBA=1 NVreg_EnableAGPFW=1 NVreg_ReqAGPRate=8


THEN
 
Edit xorg.conf…In Section “Device” add

Option “NvAGP”
“3″


I also set up nvclock (which is not in the default installation) to
overclock the graphics card by about 10%.  That is strictly
optional.  I think it boasts performance perceptibly, but did
not run any benchmarks.  It could just be a placebo effect for
all I know.

One problem that some people having with Linux is that it can be hard
to get the wireless Internet card to work.  The Broadcom chips
work fine with OpenSUSE 10.3, but oddly, the tray icon shows it as
being disconnected, even when you have a perfectly good connection.
 I wasted a bit of time because of this, thinking it was not
working when it actually was fine.  

I should say that the package management system has been refined
nicely.  This was a pleasure to see, after having struggled
with the system in Suse 10.1, and eventually giving up and using the
Smart package manager instead of the default one.  

The system boots pretty quickly, but was a bit sluggish with the
default kernel.  Note that the default kernel is set for
“generic architecture” and includes SMP support.  Most of the
packages seem to be compiled for 586 processors.  It would
take a lot of time to recompile all the packages, and probably would
not be worth the time.  But recompiling the kernel to be
PC-compatible (instead of generic), getting rid of SMP support, setting
the timer frequency to 1KHz, and optimizing for Athlon K7, does seem to
make the thing acceptably peppy.  

The last thing I did, was to create a new user, and set the home
directory for the new user to the old home directory on the other
partition.  This new user works well, and has all my old files
etc.  This is not guaranteed to work for everyone.
 Note that YAST  has a partition tool that makes it
easy to see what partitions are available, and to set then to mount
automatically with whatever access privileges you desire.
 (The parition tool is not just for partitioning.) 
This includes seamless mounting and read/write access to Windows
partitions.  USB flash memory is mounted automatically,
and  newly-inserted optical disks cause a pop-up window to
offer you options for what you want to do.  

All in all it works as well as the (Gentoo-based) Sabayon installation.
 It is not as fast but it is easier to install, configure, and
maintain.  I’m not sure that OpenSUSE is the best distro for
an absolute beginner (try PCLinuxOS or Ubuntu).  It is,
however, easy enough for someone
with a rudimentary knowledge of computers.  Novell is not
really going after the absolute beginner with their product.
 Instead, they are going after a corporate market with Novell
SUSE Linux Enterprise, making OpenSUSE available to get a legion of
opensource developers to contribute for free to the development of
their corporate product.
 My impression is that OpenSUSE is well-suited
for the early to intermediate hobbyist.  

I suspect the
performance would be quite good even on older machines, so long as you
can live without a 3D desktop and two monitors.  If you want
3D graphics and have a machine that is six years old, you will have to
fiddle with the kernel and some configuration files to get good
performance.  Users with an off-the-shelf, reasonably modern,
machine would not have to go through all the technical stuff mentioned
above.

If anyone who cares reads this, has an intermediate level of expertise,
and is trying to get a similar machine
working optimally, the following files may be helpful: href="http://scienceblogs.com/corpuscallosum/files/lsmod.txt">lsmod.txt,
lspci.txt,
xorg.conf.
 Note that some of the modules listed in lsmod are not
necessary.  Eventually I will get around to removing them.

Done.  Any questions?