I haven’t written about it, but lately Arch Linux had become my distro of choice. It took some time to get started, but the simplicity coupled with the very noticeable speed increases all around made me very happy.

But, when I heard last night that openSuSE 10.3 was released I wanted to give it a spin.

It was my first mistake that I started the install close to midnight.

In the past I had used openSuSE exclusively, but then with the 10.1 debacle I started to look elsewhere. 10.2 was a slight improvement, but I still felt that the distro looked blocky, was sluggish, and hated the automatic updating system.

So how does 10.3 fare so far? Well, for starters the install time is still miserable. In fact the entire installer has a really archaic feel to it. At least with version 10.3 my nVidia 6800GS card was recognized off the bat, something that was a problem in earlier versions. I had downloaded the KDE disc to try. I am a converted Gnome user these days (on Arch and CentOS5 at work) but since this was openSuSE, I wanted to go with KDE. I hate it, but more on that later.

During the install I opted to add a few extra packages (mutt, pico, sox, ncftp), but nothing too major outside of the default install options. The install took about 45 minutes in total. This is where my crack about starting the install late comes in to play. With many recent installs of other distros I usually had a base system in about 20 minutes so I was a bit spoiled. 45 minutes is nothing to sneeze at, but I was a bit tired and cranky by the time that I got to the dreaded hardware configuration portion. So overall the install was a bit longer than I would have liked and about on par with previous installs of openSuSE. One nice thing was that it found other linux partitions and did not apparently destroy them (this is a test disk). It also put my two NTFS drives in the fstab, which is a pro or con I guess. After installation I was at the same point as always in terms of the hardware. I was not able to pick anything higher than 1400×1050 for a 16:10 ratio. Oh well, the nVidia drivers should take of that!

Another thing that I was really excited to try was the automatic nVidia driver installation. After first boot I went to the opensuse site for nVidia installation and clicked on the 10.3 ymp file. Installation was a snap, and I killed the X server (CTRL-Alt-backspace) in eager anticipation of my shiny new desktop.

Nothing changed.

After going in to the xorg.conf file as root I realized that while the nVidia drivers were installed, the system was still using the fbdev driver. I just replaced fbdev with nvidia, killed the X server and the nVidia drivers kicked in. A noticeable improvement but the whole desktop still looked really… clunky. With huge icons and that horrific start menu that is a “feature” I really dislike the look of KDE these days. This is highly personal and I can always choose the Gnome desktop, but I wanted to give this a whirl to see how I still felt.

The next thing to try was multimedia support. Amarok would play MP3 but not AAC files out of the box. DVDs would also not work with Kaffeine, but I was pointed to the openSuSE site for xine for help. As I had already bookmarked the community page for restricted formats I downloaded the ymp file for KDE. A one click install listing appeared that was reminiscent of Automatix for Ubuntu. After a small period of time for dwonloadin packages I now had support for DVDs. Nice.

Overall these are just very initial thoughts based on the install and first couple of hours of use. My KDE/look and feel grievances aside openSuSE has seemed to make some strides in terms of usability which may again be a pro or a con. In terms of getting a functional desktop working, it took about 1/5 the time it took me to set up my last run with Windows XP, and that in itself says something.

Thoughts on the one click installers: People may or may not choose to do this method, for while it does make it easier to install codecs/nVidia drivers, these installs by default add in extra repositories and ask you to accept unsigned keys with a default to stay subscribed to the new repos. You have the ability to change this default behavior and may want to, or may just opt for total control over the install of these.