openSUSE 12.1 32-bit review - Even worse


Updated: November 30, 2011

A few days ago, I posted my rather negative review of openSUSE 12.1 64-bit, regrettably installed on my high-end desktop. Not only was the experience full of bugs and crashes and inconsistencies, I was unable to use my Nvidia card problem, had an incomplete multimedia experience and could not use the web camera. Hardly a promising start.

Today, I will give openSUSE a second chance and retest on my T60p laptop, a dual-core 32-bit machine with an ATI card that was forged on Mount Doom with hammer and anvil, so olden it is. What more, I will test the much praised BTRFS and the rollback capabilities, allowing you to revert important system files and drivers back to their original state. And there should be a nice, friendly frontend. So let's do that.

Teaser

Testing openSUSE, one more chance

I will not repeat every single thing I did the last time, instead I will focus on the important differences, as well as items that explain some of the problems encountered in the first test. Now, let's see what openSUSE 12.1 can or cannot do.

The menu is all scrambled still

The problem with duplicate entries, Amarok missing from the Multimedia section and other weird inconsistencies remain, so this has nothing to do with my sort-of upgrade from openSUSE 11.4 to 12.1. It seems to be a packaging problem, or who knows what else.

Menu

Desktop effects work

Surprisingly, they worked fairly well, so this is kind of an unexpected bonus. But comparing to Kubuntu 11.04 and the latest Ocelot, Ubuntu still wins in terms of the desktop responsiveness, especially with the effects turned on.

Desktop effects

More desktop effects

Installation with BTRFS, a painful ordeal

This turned out to be a full plate of problems. First, the initial suggested setup was really without a hitch. openSUSE smartly identified the Linux partitions. In fact, it selected the biggest one to be used as /home. This also explains the preselected filesystem formatting option, normally turned off on /home partitions. I have no complaints so far.

Recommended layout

However, I wanted to try BTRFS, so I marked both / and /home this way. The installer threw a warning, informing me that this could be buggy and that I should use a small, separate /boot partition formatted with EXT4 instead. All right, I relented and marked the root partition with EXT4. Then, I proceeded with the installation.

The installer failed, complaining about not being able to format the home partition with BTRFS, something about bad partition type in the superblock. Geeky lingo. No worries. We try again. This time, it complained about root being mounted. Checking, indeed, I found that /dev/sda3 was mounted and in use, with no ability to unmount.

I rebooted the system and tried again, booting directly into the installation. I repeated the steps above, choosing BTRFS as the default option. openSUSE recommended deleting the two Linux partitions and then recreating them with a small difference, the tiny /boot partition. This time, the installation succeeded. Eventually, the system settled into a dual-boot configuration with Windows 8.

Using the system, crash, crash, crash

On first boot, I tried connecting to one of my Wireless networks. As it happens, I accidentally input a wrong passphrase. When I tried editing the network connection, the network manager complained about insufficient privileges and would not let me make the change. And then it crashed. In fact, a lot of thing crashed. I had PolicyKit die first, closely followed by KDE Control Module. KSnapshot crashed later, too.

PolicyKit crash

Control Module crash

It took me almost ten minutes to initiate the connection to that specific router, including no less than fifteen prompts from KDEWallet, another five or six root prompts, two more crashes, seven more insufficient privileges errors, two logins out and into the session, plus turning off/on the network and Wireless and restarting the service. I believe the Space Shuttle has a simpler launch sequence. All because of one small typo.

BTRFS, Snapper, lol

Encouraged by the system rock-solid stability not, I tried the much praised BTRFS. Supposedly, I could now configure snapshots, make my system immune to undesired changes, easily roll back versions, and whatnot.

Disk layout

When installing from CD, you do not get Snapper, so you must install it using YaST. This step went smoothly and without problems. But then, I tried launching Snapper and it simply failed. So much for great technology made easy.

Install snapper

Snapper error

System resources, wow, a physics class

It seems that BTRFS is not designed for low-end machines. The system was not really fast and took time responding. There was a marked difference in the overall feel compared to some other distributions I have recently tested.

Moreover, the system resources pattern observed with openSUSE 12.1 is unlike any other I have seen before, and the only significant difference is the filesystem choice on the local partitions. While I'm used to occasional CPU spikes, I have never observed an almost perfect abs(sin) wave with an average of 40-50% utilization for both cores combined. There's an almost identical network pattern, but it did not stem from anything I have initiated or the package manager updates, so it makes we wonder what was going on in my box. Either way, it was bad, and I don't care why. They pay me to debug this kind of stuff at work, not at home.

System

Conclusion

Errors and problems that plagued the 64-bit edition did not go away. Worse, a new horde came by, introduced by yet more testing and exposing additional, buggy features in the system. For the first time ever, I had the openSUSE installer fail me. BTRFS is not mature for mainstream use. There's too much hype going in, while the end product is unsuitable for the desktop, plus the accompanying management tools do not really work. The user experience was slow. The system load was high. Desktop effects worked, the only thing that really worked, but this is a sad, bitter compensation.

openSUSE 12.1 32-bit failed the second test on the T60p machine, but given the earlier review, this was not that much of a surprise. One bad thing follows another, and with so many errors and bugs, there is no way you can possibly enjoy this latest release without feeling anger or disappointment. It's simply no go. Use the older release as long as you can or consider alternatives. For now, openSUSE has kicked itself back to 1998. Overall grade, something like meager 4/10, end of review.

Cheers.

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