SuSE 9.1 vs. Ubuntu "Warty" (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Wed, 13 Oct 2004

SuSE 9.1 vs. Ubuntu "Warty"

I took a break from housepainting yesterday to try out a couple of new linux distros on my spare machine, "imbrium", which is mostly used as a print server since Debian's CUPS can't talk to an Epson Photo 700 any more.

The machine is currently running the venerable Redhat 7.3 -- ancient but very solid. But I wanted a more modern distro, something capable of running graphics apps like GIMP 2 and gLabels 2. I considered Fedora, but FC2 is getting old by now and I would rather wait for FC3.

First I tried SuSE 9.1. It was very impressive. The installer whizzed through without a hitch, giving me lots of warning before doing anything destructive. It auto-configured just about everything: video card, ethernet, sound card, and even the printer. It missed my LCD monitor; X worked fine and it got the resolution right, but when I went in to YaST to enable 3D support (which was off by default) it kept whining about the monitor until I configured it by hand (which was easy). It defaulted networking to DHCP, but made it clear that it had done so, which made it easy to change it to my normal configuration.

SuSE still uses kde by default, which is fine. The default desktop is pretty and functional, and not too slow. I'll be switching to something lighter weight, like icewm or openbox, but SuSE's default looks fine for a first-time user.

I hit a small hitch in specifying a password: it has a limited set of characters it will accept, so several of the passwords I wanted to use were not acceptable. Finally I gave up and used a simple string, figuring I'd change it later, and then it whined about it being all lower case. Why not just accept the full character set, then? (At least full printable ascii.)

Another minor hitch involved the default mirror (LA) being down when it got to the update stage. Another SuSE user told me that mirror is always down. Choosing another mirror solved that problem.

Oh, and the printer? Flawless. The installer auto-detected it and configured it to use gimp-print drivers. (from gimp-print) worked fine in a full "test page with photo", and subsequent prints (via kprinter) from Open Office also worked. Good job, SuSE!

The experience with Ubuntu Warty wasn't quite so positive. The installer is a near-standard Debian installer, with the usual awkward curses UI (I have nothing against curses UIs; it's the debian installer UI specifically which I find hard to use, since it does none of the "move the focus to where you need to be next" that modern UI design calls for, and there's a lot of "Arrow down over empty space that couldn't possibly be selectable" or "Arrow down to somewhere where you can hit tab to change the button so you can hit return". It's reminiscent of DOS text editors from the early eighties. But okay, that's not Ubuntu's fault -- they got that from Debian.

The first step in the install, of course, is partitioning. My disk was already partitioned, so I just needed to select / to be formatted, /boot to be re-used (since it's being shared with the other distros on this machine), and swap. Seemed easy, it accepted my choices, made a reiserfs filesystem on my chosen root partition -- then spit out a parted error screen telling me that due to an inconsistent ext2 filesystem, it was unable to resize the /boot partition.

Attempting to resize an existing partition without confirming it is not cool. Fortunately, parted, for whatever reason, decided it couldn't resize, and after a few confirmation screens I persuaded it to continue with the install without changing /boot.

The rest of the install went smoothly, including software update from the net, and I found myself in a nice looking gnome screen (with, unfortunately the usual proliferation of taskbars gnome uses as a default).

Of course, the first thing I wanted to try was the printer. I poked through various menus (several semi-redundant sets) and eventually found one for printer configuration. Auto-detect didn't detect my printer (apparently it can't detect over the parallel port like SuSE can) so I specified Parallel Port 1 (via an option menu that still has the gtk bug where the top half of the menu is just blank space), selected epson, and looked ... and discovered that they don't have any driver at all for the Photo 700. I tried the Photo 720 driver, which printed a mangled test page, and the generic Epson Photo driver, which printed nothing at all. So I checked Ubuntu's Bugzilla, where I found a bug filed requesting a driver for the Epson C80 (one of the most popular printers in the linux community, as far as I can tell). Looks like Ubuntu just doesn't include any of the gimp-print drivers right now; I signed up for a bugzilla account and added a comment about the Photo 700, and filed one about the partitioning error while I was there, which was quickly duped to a more general bug about parted and ext2 partitions.

I don't mean to sound down on Ubuntu. It's a nice looking distro, it's still in beta and hasn't yet had an official release, and my printer is rather old (though quite well supported by most non-debian distros). I'm looking forward to seeing more. But for the time being, imbrium's going to be a SuSE machine.

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[ 18:15 Oct 13, 2004    More linux | permalink to this entry ]