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!