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SuSE lose the plot

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... or why SuSE8.0 seems to be so crap after 7.3 was so good.

Beth and I are both heavy users of Linux. All our house PCs, including the laptops, run Linux. The only exception is an old NT4 box of mine which runs a couple of Windows apps and drives the scanner (sheer laziness, I really must get it working under Sane) and one of the laptops, which dual boots so that I can download pictures from my Sipix Blink for which there is, as yet, no Linux interface.

Over the years we've worked our way through various distributions, in a rather back to front order, in that we started with the harder ones and have moved on to the easier ones. This happened mainly because, when we started out, there weren't "consumer" distros like Mandrake, SuSE and RedHat about.

So we started off using Slackware, moved on to Debian (which still runs one of our firewall machines) and finally ended up using SuSE. SuSE was a joy to use. The installation tools have got better and better, from the character based yast to the excellent yast2, with it being progressively easier and easier to cope with new graphics and network cards without all the nerdy fun of finding drivers, getting the X config sorted out and so on. With SuSE 7.3 it worked it out for itself, and installed the right things.

SuSE also scored in that the vast majority of apps we wanted to use were in the distribution and already compiled, which saves a lot of time and energy. About the only things I now have to make myself are htmldoc and gphoto2 (SuSE ships with gphoto but not gphoto2).

So where's the gripe then? It's SuSE8.0. This release has been a nightware. The current score is:

  • wouldn't work on my BP6 dual Celeron motherboard unless DMA was disabled. Never did get to the bottom of that one, I've now fallen back to 7.3.
  • Beth had similar problems installing it on her PC.
  • caused all sort of grief to a friend of ours trying to upgrade his dual boot PC from 7.1 to 8.0 which resulted in me spending a lot of time on the phone to him and him eventually falling back to 7.1
  • a clean install on our new file server resulted in a system which would hang completely when we used the network card (an MRi 10/100 card). Switched to another card made it hang less often but it could still be brought down by large transfers. Bizarrely I seem to have fixed this (holds large piece of wood) by installing an old ATA33 hard drive in the machine as well as the ATA100. This despite the old drive (it's only 3.5Gb) not even being mounted.
  • a clean install on my old Toshiba laptop seemed to work, until it tried to use kernel PCMCIA, which hung. There is a fix for this on the SuSE site: switch to external PCMCIA. Which did fix it ... in that it completed the boot. But we were loosing about 45% of packets sent across the network. This was using a 3Com Etherlink III network card. Having spent most of last Sunday replacing various bits of hardware I downgraded to 7.3 and ... surprise ... it now works fine.

We've only succeeded in installing it on two PCs so far (my newish HP laptop and our new firewall box). Even then there have been problems. Silly things like they've changed Xemacs so that the text on buttons in things like the "discard this file" dialogue now use white text rather than black, so if, like me, you set the background colour to white rather than the default grey, you get white text on a white background.

So sadly it seems to us that SuSE have lost the plot with 8.0.

SuSE8.1 is out imminently. Let's hope it's better.

Tags: linux Written 24/09/02

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