atheros

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OpenSuse 11.0 was released on June 19, 2008. Shortly thereafter, it was installed and running on my laptop.  OpenSuse has many draws, I’ll try and touch on the reasons why I chose it for my laptop and why it will stay on my laptop for the foreseeable future.

  • It has corporate backing from Novell, a company that seems quite determined to put Linux on the business desktop
  • It is less experimental than Fedora
  • The package management is quite good and faster than any other rpm based distribution
  • I wanted to grok KDE 4

OpenSuse Screenshot

KDE4

My KDE4 experience didn’t last long.  I really want to like KDE, but I’m just not productive in it.  This isn’t really the fault of the desktop environment as much as it is the applications.  In gnome, I am used to having all applications use a virtual file system so that media can be played over remote locations such as ssh shares.  I couldn’t find a way to do this in KDE with the available software.  I ended up installing gnome instead.

Gnome Applications

OpenSuse is unique than most other distributions with its application defaults.  Novell is actively developing gnome desktop applications that are based on mono.  Examples of this are the banshee media player, f-spot photo manager, and tomboy note taking application.  It includes these applications by default.

I believe f-spot to be the best photo manager that Linux currently has.  The features that I enjoy the most are how it arranges by photos in a timeline, the speed in which one can browse though photos, and the ability to tag photos easily.

Banshee has one killer feature, video.  Why this was so important to me at the time was that it provided the ability to download and watch video podcasts.  It’s a solid media player, but it isn’t leaps ahead of other applications in the space.

Beagle is the default desktop search engine.  It works ok.  There is a direct competitor in Tracker.  I don’t see any benefit to Beagle over Tracker.

There is also an alternate launch button.  This is like the start button in window.  I really like having my favorite and last launched applications available and in front of me; however, I don’t like having to click on more applications to open a menu to launch any other application.

Packages

OpenSuse absolutely excels in the package space.  The sites that you want to check out are http://software.opensuse.org/search and http://packages.opensuse-community.org. Most of the application searches will result in the package being found and provided though a convent one-click installation.

This was great for when I needed to install things like NetBeans 6.1.  I just searched and clicked the install button on the web page.

Issues

Ah the fun part.  A wise man once said that Linux doesn’t have a lack of drivers, it has a lack of quality drivers.  Most of the issues that I experienced initially were due to driver issues.

The atheros card in the laptop shows up as follows in lspci
04:00.0 Ethernet controller: Atheros Communications Inc. AR242x 802.11abg Wireless PCI Express Adapter (rev 01)
This particular card didn’t work with the new ath5k driver as I would’ve hoped.  There was a patch at the time, but it was only for the 32bit version of Linux.  Tickets for this can be found here http://madwifi.org/ticket/1679 and here http://madwifi.org/ticket/1192.

The second driver issue has to do with the intel video card.  It was shipped with broken s-video ouput.  Even though it showed up in xrandr, it just didn’t work.  Doing a software search and installing an intel driver found there fixed the issue.

Advanced desktop effects were unusable due to slowness issues I had.  Video playback would slow to a crawl when compiz-fusion was enabled.

Putting the computer to sleep does not work.  I attribute this to acer’s acpi more than anything.  It’s not a big deal for my everyday use, but it’s something that Linux struggles with and continues to do so.

There are a few usability issues.  They are annoying and have been covered in other reviews.

Virtualization

Virtualization is a must have for me and many others.  The easies way to get this done in OpenSuse is to install VirtualBox.  It runs without issues and runs on the currently installed kernel.  I tried the Xen installation and configuration through Yast, but the kernel crashed would not boot to a desktop, so I scrapped it and used VirtualBox instead.  It makes more sense to use it in a laptop scenario as Xen kernels don’t support CPU throttleing.

Configuration

OpenSuse uses YAST or Yet Another Setup Tool.  YAST has more configuration capabilities than any other Linux configuration tool I’ve seen.  Most of them even work!  It isn’t the end all configuration too yet, but it is quite good.

Novell

I am choosing to abstain from the Novell vs the free software community battle.  There are many places where this is documented beyond my knowledge.

Bottom Line

The availability of a wide range of software is really the kicker for me.  It’s great.  The updates are less frequent than other distributions and the functionality that works is quite stable.  Typically, I’ll switch distributions due to a time wasting issue that is distribution specific.  I don’t see that happening with OpenSuse.  When an issue arises, it seems to be hardware and Linux specific rather than distribution specific. It is, in a word, usable.  Download the livecd and give it a try.

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