I don’t balk at eating crow. When you don’t take yourself too seriously, you can laugh with those who laugh at you.
No sooner do I announce I’ve decided to go with openSUSE 11.0, as less broken than 11.1, and more easily adjusted to the mass market than CentOS, but I immediately have a rough time with it. I’m trying to analyze the cause of my disillusioning experience, and here’s what I see so far:
Third party multimedia enhancements. I’m sure this is far more involved than my feeble mind can discern, but the experience with CentOS is a whole lot better. We all know the copyright laws of the US make it hard to for legal entities — such as commercial Linux companies — to just make it easy to play anything you like. Yet it doesn’t take long for any interested user of either CentOS or SUSE to find the path to modifiying the default installation. SUSE puts it right on their website, with links to both a commercial offering (Fluendo) and the community freebies, with the advisory you are taking the risks of lawsuit upon yourself. It’s so easy, you just click the button and install.
With CentOS, you can find the instructions on their wiki, and it’s more work. However, it works out far better. That is, it’s far less hassle in the long run, especially on 64-bit. On SUSE, the one-click leaves you with a bunch of unresolvable conflicts. I had to put up with crashing YaST until I ran through an esoteric routine to fix the RPM database. This is apparently quite common, particularly on 64-bit, because the enhancements assume you have to use some 32-bit codecs and so forth, which requires wrappers, and it seems a lot more complicated than necessary. There are some fine 64-bit codecs from the same source, and they seem to cover just about everything I’ve thrown at them. At any rate, on CentOS, the result was better and a lot less work, despite the lack of a one-click solution.
GVFS A recent innovation on the GNOME desktop is the incorporation of the GVFS virtual file system. On the one hand, users can mount and control external file systems for themselves, without fighting permissions designed for protecting a server. A feature of this is, once mounted in the user’s home directory, not even root can access it. The idea, as I understand it, is to prevent a privilege escalation attack (“getting root”) by mounting something dangerous into the file system. The whole thing comes from something in the kernel itself. However, this breaks just about everything else in Linux which refers to permissions. There are a raft of complaints in how the FUSE and GNOME people implemented this, usually accusing the developers of ignoring the needs of everyone else. At a minimum, this represents one more thing for which everyone else has to develop a work-around. The whole point is openSUSE implements this, and CentOS does not. There is a fix for SUSE by creating a file
/etc/profile.local and activating there the environmental variable
This latter point, of course, is part of what shapes my complaint about helter-skelter innovation in Open Source. Not only is there the appearance of very poor coordination across various projects, but truculence about backing off innovations which may not work too well just yet. When I went with my decision to support GNOME, I knew that project was no better than KDE folks about breaking things, particularly user settings, and refusing to discuss fixing previous releases. An older, more stable GNOME is a usable thing, but I don’t consider any desktop environment (DE) “good” just yet. As noted previously, the major point behind choosing GNOME is the adaptive technology. Since I don’t have the resources to focus on mulitple DEs in testing and tracking for the users I seek to cultivate, that pretty much shuts out Xfce, Rox Desktop, and anyone else who can’t incorporate auditory cue hooks in their interface and widgets. KDE 4 is a hopeless mess for the foreseeable future, so we won’t go there. Besides, I’m looking at older spec machines, and 3D rendering just isn’t all that important.
So the search continues. I’m seeking the balance point: Whatever I’m going to install routinely will probably have to be remastered with a different set of defaults, both in packaging and settings. At the same time, I can’t pretend I’m going to solve all the issues by how I install it. Once the system is in the user’s hands, it has to yield reasonably to their efforts to refine settings to suit them. It has to better than Windows, or they’ll never accept it.