Linux, Still not there yet

Mon, May 28, 2007 4-minute read

I’ve finally made the choice between OpenSuSE or Vista as my preferred OS for the next few years, and the decision went to Vista, and to my surprise it only took a couple of hours to decide.

For the tests I installed both OpenSuSE 10.2 and Vista on my desktop to see how things went and within a couple of hours OpenSuSE had already lost the fight on an age old problem for Linux…. Hardware Drivers. Last time I reviewed my OS of choice it was between XP and SuSE about three years ago, and the problem then was lack of availability for drivers, this time that isn’t the problem, it’s how hard it was to actually use the drivers.

To many this sounds like a strange problem, drivers should be something you install and forget, but alas this isn’t the case. I have an Nvidia 8800 GTS, now this is the latest generation of graphics card, so I expected there to be no drivers for Linux (as was the case during my last tests for latest generation hardware of the time), but no, Nvidia support it, OpenSuSE has Nvidia drivers included, the world looked good, until I started trying to use them.

The version of Nvidia drivers OpenSuSE installed were too old to support any of the Nvidia 8 series graphics cards, so I went to Nvidias site to download the latest drivers (not a problem, I had to do this with the Vista install as well), the installation process was not as simple as it could be as it involved hunting for the correct information in a document on the Nvidias' site, having to know the architecture of my machine (something an average user probably wouldn’t have a clue about), and then finding a specific set of command line switches I needed to install the driver, so although it was not easy it was still possible.

Then came the next hurdle, setting up dual monitors. I have a 1650x1080 monitor and a 1280x1024 monitor which allow me to test things in widescreen and traditional aspect ratios (16:10 and 4:3), after trying OpenSuSE’s graphics configuration program and having no luck setting this up I eventually tracked down an article on the web about Nvidias utility which does the same thing, so, again, although it is possible, the amount of work involved was probably beyond the average users ability.

The final nail in the coffin came when I ran the OpenSuSE update tool. I always do this after configuring the system because it alerts me as to how well upgrades are handled, and, well, OpenSuSE really let itself down. After allowing a kernel security update the system reverted back to the original graphics drivers because the Nvidia installer can only create drivers for a specific version of the kernel. Yup, that’s right, any time you go through a kernel upgrade you have to completely re-install the graphics driver, and that is why I’m now using Vista.

Hopefully in few years time things will have moved on again and the need to re-install drivers for each kernel update, when that happens then it might be time to re-visit the OS date, but until then, I’m afraid OpenSuSE isn’t viable for me to recommend to average users.

Update :  Many commenters have said “try another distribution”, but that does not reflect what an average user would do. OpenSuSE was chosen because it was the most recent Linux distribution available from Amazon at the time of the test. Average users will not spend days (or even hours) tracking down different distros, learning how to download and burn ISOs, and go through a list of candidates, one after another, to try and get one that works for them. They will go to a shop, ask for Linux, buy whatever they’re given, and that will be their view of Linux. It’s what they do when they want to buy “Windows” or “MacOS”, and so it is the same when they buy “Linux”.