Let me count the ways

Well, that didn’t last long!

OpenSuse 11.3, I mean. It’s quite possibly the nastiest distro I’ve used in a very, very long time. Let me count the ways!

  • The default ‘start’ menu is horrible. Novell in its wisdom decided that the standard Gnome Apps/Places/System menu is not good enough for their distro and thus replaced it with something that more resembles the giant thing you get in Vista/Windows 7 when you click the ‘Start Orb’. It’s also at the bottom of the screen, not the top. Clearly, a lot of design thought has gone into this change to ‘standard’ Gnome layouts -but I hate it. Happily, by adding a new panel here, adding ‘Main Menu’ items to those panels there, and generally buggering about for long enough, you can get things back to the way Gnome usually is -but it’s effort that shouldn’t be required.
  • Assuming you’ve added back the traditional “Applications/Places/System” Gnome menu, you may think you’re on the home straight. But alas, the menu structure revealed ‘underneath’ those three menu headings is completely non-standard and utterly bizarre. When you install the VLC media player, for example, in every other distro I’ve seen, it gets added as an item under ‘Audio/Video’ or ‘Multimedia’ off the main Applications menu. Not in OpenSuse, however. There, it gets added as an item under another menu, so you end up having to click Applications → Multimedia → Video Player → VLC. Similarly, Handbrake doesn’t appear as its own item, but gets rolled onto a new ‘Media Editing’ submenu. I hate extra mouse clicks for no reason, and that’s two of them too many! I won’t even get into the business of why one menu sports a noun (“Video Player“) and one a present participle (“Video Editing” …why not “video editor”?). The same sort of thing happens under the Games menu: we get “Board Games” and “Card Games”, which is all well and good… but then an item called “Puzzle”. Not even plural puzzles, note. Let alone “Puzzle Games”. Trivia, I suppose, but annoying all the same: a bit of grammatical consistency wouldn’t go amiss.
  • How many different ways are there to skin a cat? OpenSuse lets you install software at the command line with Zypper. Then there’s System → System → Install/Remove Software (and I just love the double-up on ‘System’ in the menu structure at this point!) But there’s also System → System → Yast → Software → Software Management. And, just in case you didn’t think that was enough, there’s Applications → System → Yast → Software → Software Management, too. How many menus called “System” do you need in, er, a system, anyway? (It makes writing directions/guides a pain in the neck, if you really wanted to know). And how many menu items pointing to Yast is overkill? Whatever the answer to that, OpenSuse has too many. One more example, then: to update your system, you could do System → System → Software Update. Or you can do Applications → System → Configuration → Software Update. Exactly the same option in two completely different places! OpenSuse basically renders the System menu completely pointless, in fact.
  • Chromium is broken. I don’t know if this is an OpenSuse thing or a Google thing: I’ve seen reports of it mentioning Ubuntu, for example. But it was all working just fine for me in Fedora. The problem is the Sync tool that allows you to have one set of bookmarks, themes, extensions, preferences and autofill details shared amongst all the desktops on all the PCs you happen to have installed Chrome onto. It’s a great feature -and it’s broken in OpenSuse. The thing authenticates well enough. Then it asks you which bits of data you want to sync. And then it sits there, rotating its hourglass-equivalent thing for ever and ever. It’s bug 51829, if you’re interested.
  • ATI graphics drivers work. Eventually. Sort of. One of my major issues with Fedora is that there are no official ATI graphics drivers available for it, because Fedora uses a very recent xorg version (as I mentioned last time). The good news is that ATI drivers are available for OpenSuse. The bad news is that their installation procedure is Byzantine, prone to failure (resulting in no X session at all, but unceremonious dumping at a command line), and liable to break at the drop of the hat. This morning, for example, I booted a VMware virtual machine that had virtual accelerated graphics and got a warning saying the drivers had crashed and would therefore be disabled for the duration. It was only a virtual machine affected, and it’s probably ATI’s fault, not OpenSuse’s, but it’s the sort of thing that leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. Or, again, take the fact that as I’m writing this post, my cursor has simply disappeared. Only to re-appear at a time and place of its choosing. Graphical weirdness like that I can do without, frankly. When the drivers are installed, however, I will admit: Stellarium displays and functions flawlessly, which is more than can be said of what’s possible on Fedora.
  • It all looks a bit weird. Yup, I agree that one’s a bit vague… but it’s the best I can do! The whole thing looks a bit ‘spidery’ for my tastes: the menu fonts are a bit thin and weedy, for example. In fairness, it could be said that the fonts were ‘precise’ and ‘sharp’… but they just look a bit thin and weedy to me!

Well, I could go on, but I don’t think I need to. It’s not that OpenSuse is a bad distro, you understand. Just that it’s peculiarly different in lots of niggly little ways from ‘standard’ distros -and I can’t see any real justification for the departures decided upon by the developers. Aside from the fiddly, niggly differences, there are quite a lot of just plain badly thought-out things (like the bazillion different ways to launch the same program) that really annoy me. I can tell I’m never really going to feel entirely at home with it, to be frank… so two days after installing it, it has to go.

Which leaves me in a bit of a quandary, I guess. With Fedora I can have sensible, default Gnome with a Stellarium that won’t work at all and a CD ripper that’s fundamentally broken. With Ubuntu, I can have everything apparently working, but in a “kiddies distro” kind of way. Or I can endure the peculiarities of OpenSuse and have an adult system with a broken menu structure, no Chrome synchronisation but a functional CD ripper and Stellarium. As they say, Linux certainly gives you lots of choices!

The Green One

I wrote some time ago now about how it’s impossible to rip CDs properly using the application the Gnome desktop is supplied with by default to perform precisely that task. As a result, I spent a couple of weeks wandering around the byways and alleyways of the KDE desktop -and, generally, I was a little bit impressed and quite a bit put off! Most of the put-off came from the fact that every distro seems to do KDE slightly differently, and I can’t stand having to make choices like that!

However, as I write this, I am still using a trusty, Gnome-based Fedora 13 desktop, albeit one with a few KDE apps strewn about it: I do all my DVD burning using K3B, for example, and not the Gnome default application of Brassero. In the end, Gnome is the environment I like best (not sure that will always be true… there are some pretty dramatic developments in the Gnome desktop in the pipeline), though I am grateful to have the CPU and RAM grunt necessary to run particular KDE apps when occasion arises. I think we call this ‘eclecticism’: pick and mix the best bits from whatever takes your fancy and don’t get hung up being especially ‘purist’ about which desktop you use. So, in the end, it wasn’t necessary to switch distros or desktops to achieve functional CD ripping: stick with what you know and add in functionality as needed. Suits me just fine.

However, I am now officially bored with Fedora. It’s not taken too long to get there: I blogged about switching to Fedora (from Ubuntu) only as far back as July 11th last… so about six weeks, then! As well as the lack of Gnome-based CD ripping, the other thing that’s really annoyed me about Fedora this time round is its inability to run Stellarium properly:

You’ll note from that screen capture that the bottom controls consist of nothing but greyed-out parallelograms. The red triangle in the bushes is supposed to be the letter ‘S’, to indicate we’re looking south. Lord alone knows what the white triangle next to the bright star is supposed to be -a star or constellation label, I think.

That’s how all text appears, anyway.

The net result, as you can see, is that it’s basically unusable and has been this way since day 1 of my Fedora experiment. I believe it has something to do with another “issue” that’s been bugging me with Fedora all that time, too: the lack of proper graphic drivers. The Fedora team like to be ‘cutting edge’ in most things and, when it came to Fedora 13, they decided to use bang up-to-date Xorg libraries. That’s version 1.8 rather than, say, Ubuntu’s version 1.7. The problem is, I have an ATI graphics card, and ATI only compile their drivers for use with version 1.7 Xorg libraries. That’s ATI’s fault, of course, and no reflection on the Fedora folk -but it doesn’t really matter whose fault it is, functionally. Either way, I end up not being able to install ATI drivers and instead have to rely on opensource equivalents (which wobble the windows well enough -but, clearly, bomb out when it comes to rendering the heavens properly in Stellarium!)

I’ve put up with this state of affairs for six weeks because Fedora has otherwise been perfectly good enough. And it’s mid-Winter here, so it’s been bum-numbingly cold to be out at night star-gazing! The need for Stellarium has not, therefore, been particularly great. As we approach September and its equinox, however, we move into Spring -and that’s when the need for Stellarium be properly functional starts to increase.

Long story short, therefore: I’ve decided to give OpenSuse 11.3 a run. I’ll keep you posted on how it turns out. Whilst it’s yet another OS change, I would like to just mention in passing that if I can make it to October, I’ll have been running a purely Linux desktop for a year, with no recourse to a sly Windows re-installation or two in the meantime. True of work and home, too, which is even more surprising (since work is, aside from my PC and the database servers, an entirely Windows-running shop). Anyway: watch this space.


Rachel has been her usual busy self! Her latest joey is this little one:

We’re calling “it” (who knows if it’s male or female at this stage?!) Enkidu, given that we ran out of US presidents and sitcom characters quite a while ago. No doubt Gilgamesh will be along soon enough!

Sound Juicer Not So Juicy

There is a nasty bug in Sound Juicer, the Audio CD ripping application that ships with Fedora 13 (and every other Gnome distribution on the planet, I expect).

First you insert a CD -and if you like listening to classical music, it is quite likely you will see a yellow panel declaring that ‘Could not find Unknown Title by Unknown Artist on MusicBrainz’. Fair enough: I usually end up supplying my own titles, artists and track names anyway, because other people submitting to these CD databases often have a peculiar idea of how to do it properly.

But anyway: you finish ripping that CD; you insert another, and this time you get this:

Since Google is my friend, I’m fairly confident I am a victim of bug 544843, which was described back in April 2010.

I have to admit, of course, that I’ve not paid a cent for Sound Juicer and I’m not on a support contract for it either… but I still can’t help feeling disappointed that an application whose sole purpose in life is to rip an audio CD can’t do it, apparently because of some weird interaction with a music track lookup service (which is very much its secondary role in life).

You’ll note from that bug report that, apart from being able to describe what happens accurately enough, no-one has seen fit to explain what exactly is causing the problem, what the workarounds are and when a fix is to be expected.

So basically, the hot news is: Gnome desktops can’t currently rip CDs with the tool provided for the job.

I don’t really have a practical workaround, other than not using Sound Juicer. Instead, I installed asunder (a simple yum install asunder works for Fedora 13). That seems a bit archaic, but does the job. Actually, it’s not necessary for it even to do its job: if you run it, get it to find the track listing for the same CD that caused the problem for Sound Juicer, then shut it down without having ripped anything, and then launch Sound Juicer again -well, this time Sound Juicer will display the correct number of tracks and let you rip them. It will still moan about not knowing what those tracks are, because MusicBrainz is, apparently, so useless. But at least the ripping functionality will be there… until the next CD.

So the routine becomes: insert CD. Run Asunder. Close Asunder. Run Sound Juicer. Manually edit tracks and artist details. Rip. Repeat as necessary.

Which is, of course, utterly bonkers and the reason why I’m now planning on ditching Fedora. Or, at least, since it’s not particularly Fedora at fault, of course, but Gnome’s, I might just be tempted to plunge headlong into the choppy waters that is KDE -simply because Sound Juicer is Gnome’s default audio ripping application, and so KDE should be free of its curse.

I’ll keep you posted, anyway…

Update 27/1/17: Seven years after I first wrote about this, the bug linked to says “closed won’t fix”… but that’s because it’s a bug raised against Fedora 14 which is now long out of support. As far as I can tell, Soundjuicer itself works fine in Fedora 25, the latest Gnome distro I’ve worked with).