Impressions of OpenSUSE 11.3: Dell Latitude D630

By | 2010/12/07

Last evening I got the urge (read: I was bored) to install openSUSE 11.3 on my Dell Latitude D630. The specs are as follows:

Core 2 Duo 2.40GHz
2G RAM
120G HDD
Intel 3945 Wireless
nVidia Quadro NVS 135M Video

The installation was simple enough, and I didn’t have any initial hardware problems–wired and wireless worked out of the box, as did the display. So far so good. I do credit openSUSE with having a very mature installer, and I was very happy to see that their liveCD image could also be written to a USB drive. The only major distribution yet to provide native USB installation is Ubuntu, which drives me crazy!

While the installation was simple enough, post installation is where I ran into some problems. There are a few issues that really got to me, but one of them I’ll blame on the nVidia proprietary hardware. That stuff just can’t be helped.

Problem #1:

The first major problem I ran into was unlocking the encrypted LVM partitioning that I configured during installation. Creating an encrypted LVM setup was as simple as ticking two boxes during installation, but unlocking it again at boot was difficult due to the fact that I’m a dvorak typist.

Why would my selection of keymap have any effect on drive encryption you might ask? Well, you might notice (any of you that are using encrypted LVM) that the only supported keymap (it even prints this at the prompt) is English. This means I had to go back and figure out how to type my 17 character passphrase in qwerty, which took some doing!

openSUSE, listen up. Every other major distribution I’ve used in the last two years sets and loads the keymap in the initrd to avoid this kind of crap. Get with the times; this is ridiculous.

Problem #2:

My second issue was regarding the nVidia card. Again, I’ll give openSUSE the benefit of the doubt here because it is proprietary and these same issues are likely present in other distributions as well. My video did work out of the box using the “nv” driver. I had to do some Google searching to find out how to install the proprietary nvidia drivers, which worked, but the utility then complained that it could not find and could not use/write/backup my xorg.conf file. That’s because recent versions of X no longer require or use an xorg.conf config file. Did nobody test this? Really? I know it’s proprietary, but nVidia is really common and there are specific instructions toward installing and configuring nVidia on the openSUSE wiki. I just don’t get how nobody ran into this and there is no solution (that I could find). So, while I can’t blame openSUSE for the problems of proprietary drivers and hardware, I do blame them for poor QA.

Conclusion

Based primarily on these issues I think I’ll be trying another distribution by the end of the day. While openSUSE does make a very pretty, integrated desktop, it’s a big PITA to boot my encrypted drive in a keyboard layout that I’m not familiar with. I’m sure this is something that could be easily fixed. Perhaps someone will get around to it someday.

I’m disappointed to say that each year I get the urge to try openSUSE again, hoping it will have improved, and each year I’m let down.

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