OpenSUSE on the home Computer

Because of a very irritating (unsolved) problem I had with Ubuntu Lucid on my home computer I decided to try a different distro for a change. I’ve been all over the distro map since I started toying with Linux in 2003 or so. I started out with Red Hat 9, then went to Slackware (10 at the time), Gentoo, Sabayon, then Ubuntu. I also briefly messed with some RHEL clone or other several years back (not CentOS…I don’t remember what it was..star something). Each had its benefits and its drawbacks but I’ve been on Ubuntu for the longest of any of the distros I’ve used, mainly because of how easy it is. Years ago I laughed at Ubuntu because I thought it was “the n00b distro” but I’ve really learned to respect the power of ease-of-use: if I’m not spending 3 hours getting X to work the way I want, I can be spending that time on more important things.

In my journey with Ubuntu and its lovely works-out-of-the-box(usually)-ness I have learned an important lesson, though. That lesson is that when you make something very easy to use you by nature are likely to sacrifice some stability. Usually that’s not a problem but in my case I sort of hit a productivity barrier since large disk reads would pretty much lock my computer up. By that I knew it was time to break out my rusty skills and go to something one degree less easy and one degree more stable.

I spent a few days deciding what that distro would be and I knew I wanted to try something I’d never used before. My first choice was Debian (the mother of Ubuntu) but there was a bug with the latest version (I don’t remember whether it was testing or stable) that kept it from even booting properly on my machine. My thoughts then drifted to Fedora. I’d used Red Hat 9 years ago as I mentioned previously and was eventually frustrated by the fact that Red Hat felt lead to do everything different from the way everyone else in the Linux community did it; these days though there’s so much documentation available online that the differences aren’t so hampering. Besides that, I’ve been getting the feeling that over time the differences have smoothed out a bit.

Powered By openSUSEStill, there was my desire to try something totally new. That nagging urge is what eventually steered me to openSUSE. I knew it would be a good distro to learn since it’s one used a lot in industry; plus since it’s RPM based I knew I shouldn’t have an issue finding pre-built packages for any widely used application. Having made my decision, I downloaded the 11.4 ISO and loaded it up.

The installer was a nice, pretty, graphical one…not quite as simple as the Ubuntu installer but definitely manageable for someone who’d be using Linux for a while. This is one of the things I expected in the trade from easy to stable. The first thing about it that really impressed me was the fact that I didn’t have to reboot after installing. I was able to dive right in and used the installed version…I had never seen that before.

The layout of the desktop (Gnome, btw) took a little adjusting to get it the way I wanted it but that’s normal for me. I really liked the default theme and I’m still using it. It’s got dark grey panels and dark green titlebars but light window backgrounds and mostly light controls. It’s a pretty good mix of light and dark; I don’t like all dark themes. The default background is a rotating set of backgrounds that vary from very light green to darker green, seemingly following the time of day. All this is very refreshing to me after wanting to gouge my eyes out with my titanium spork every time I load a new version of Ubuntu and have to look at the default theme.

The fonts didn’t look very nice at first and a quick web search revealed that this was because openSUSE opted to disable sub-pixel hinting by default to avoid being victim to a M$ patent suit relating to ClearType. Everything is explained in this very nice article describing how to install the version of freetype with sub-pixel hinting enabled.

I also needed an article to learn how to install the proprietary NVidia drivers, and found it pretty easily as well. The nice thing about that article was that it included a special “one-click” install link that took me right to the software installation program and loaded the right package for me; I think I’ve seen “deb://” style links around the net that do that for Debian-based distros but I can’t find any right now.

Software installation is a good bit more complex on openSUSE; several times it would prompt me during updates or new installations asking question I didn’t exactly know how to answer. I can’t think of specific examples right now but it was usually a situation where some potential package conflict could occur and it wanted to know what I wanted to do. Usually there was an option to let it take care of it automatically and I just chose that. I found also that I had to add several repos to openSUSE’s software sources before I could get certain packages, some of them rather common. The biggest and most important of these is the packman repo which contains a lot of community builds for different software packages. Besides that, the videolan repository was also good for nicer versions of ffmpeg, mplayer, etc. Both of these are called community repositories; this is basically openSUSE’s version of a PPA. Since they are officially recognized by openSUSE, adding them is very easy:

  1. Go to Yast → Software → Software Repositories
  2. Click “Add” (near the bottom)
  3. Choose “Community Repositories” and click Next
  4. Now simply select the repos you want to add and click OK
  5. Accept any offers to import GPG/signing keys

I still find myself having to look things up every now and again but familiarity is really starting to set in. I do miss the lightning-fast boot times made possible by ureadahead but besides that I don’t really look back too much. I still use Ubuntu on my work computer since it runs fine on it, so I’m not totally abandoning Ubuntu; I’ve just added another wrench to my toolbelt.

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