Running OpenSUSE Tumbleweed

I’ve switched my desktop from Xubuntu to OpenSUSE Tumbleweed. That’s how I spent a good chunk of yesterday. I won’t bother explaining why; it wouldn’t make much sense to anyone but me. However, keep in mind that I claim such choices are always in pursuit of much bigger things, so the decision itself is of no great significance. Rather, what I’m doing here is trying to help others who may decide to use OpenSUSE for their own reasons.

Tumbleweed is a rolling release — you install it only once. Once installed, it will upgrade bit by bit steadily for as long as SUSE keeps the project running. Thus, the only sensible way to install is using the net installer ISO image. It’s a quick download at around 140MB and it boots nicely in my newish HP Pavilion 590-p0044. The installation isn’t much of a mystery to those who have run through Linux installations before. Find the install media here. You can find a very nice installation walk-through here.

I chose the KDE interface for my desktop. SUSE has always packaged and tweaked this better than most other brands of Linux. But none of them are perfect, and this one has a few gotachs. The most annoying feature is how the appearance settings are so terribly atomized and scattered all over the place. The designers and developers have zero understanding of how the average computer user does things, and they steadfastly refuse to gather such settings into one place. You’ll have to explore for yourself in the settings menu.

The first thing I typically change is the panel. Since I have a wide display, I put the panel on the left edge of the screen. This guarantees that some widgets will never work properly, because they aren’t designed to sit on a sidebar. For example, not a single weather widget displays properly, and there are three or four of them. Meanwhile, the same widgets on the desktop will always be huge. You aren’t allowed to resize them. There is a setting for this hidden in the widgets themselves, but the weather widgets all refuse narrowing, in my experience. I suppose the developers don’t understand the concept of making the images and text scale down. Still, I get more done on KDE than with the other desktops on SUSE.

The real treat with SUSE is YaST, their own configuration tool. The one thing that does not work properly for the average desktop user is the firewall configuration. For example, if you have an internal network that includes Windows machines and other devices that use the SMB protocol, you will never get it to work with the firewall enabled. It’s best to leave it turned off if you have any kind of router or gateway device protecting your internal network. Once you get it out of the way, most of your standard network protocols work automatically. SUSE does a lot of good auto-configuration for stuff like that.

However, some problems are simply built into Linux itself. One of the things things I always do installing Linux is configure the terminal (Konsole in this case) and check for any kind of repeating message that indicates a problem. With sudo dmesg I discovered that this install suffers a flaw that seems pretty common across a lot of machines running Linux. Your logs will fill up with errors involving the PCIe bus, involving “advanced error reporting” and it seems to always say it was handled, but then it keeps repeating this error over and over every few seconds. There’s something in the kernel that has been doing this for a couple of years now in a great many different machines, and it’s never been fixed. The only way to keep from having your storage space burned up quickly is by turning off the error reporting.

On SUSE, the proper way to do this is with YaST. Open it up and go to System > Boot Loader. Open the “Kernel Parameters” tab and find the “Optional Kernel Command Line Parameter” where a long line of stuff is visible in an linear editing window. At the very end of this line, add a space and type in pci=noaer. Click “OK” and reboot; that should take care of it.

The next thing I do is mostly cosmetic. I open the widgets settings on the panel and drag the “Application Menu” to the top of panel, and then remove the “Application Launcher” — they both have the same icon on the panel, but work in totally different ways. I’m old fashioned and I prefer a simple cascading menu, not something that hides everything behind a confusing hierarchy of sliding panels. I haven’t been in kindergarten for some time now.

I always add various packages that I know I’ll use; again, YaST is your friend. However, one of the issues that affects almost everyone is the reluctance of most Linux brands to include copyrighted codecs for playing various media files. Nobody who owns the copyright will cooperate with the the Open Source community on making them available, so developers have to hack up their own versions, but the established Linux companies don’t feel comfortable making them directly available. You have to rely on third party suppliers who specialize in making the packages for your favorite brand of Linux. With SUSE, that’s the Packman repository. Fortunately, it’s already listed in YaST as a community repository. I recommend this tutorial that shows you both the command line way and the visual way with YaST. But I would add that you take a moment to change the “priority” setting for Packman to 90, instead of 99. Also, you may want to add the libdvdcss repository if you expect to watch DVDs on your system.

What you do next is one of the few times when the command line is really about the only way to get what you really want. Open Konsole and type in the following lines:

sudo zypper refresh

Type in your password for sudo.

zypper up --allow-vendor-change

You’ll be asked to confirm your actions to upgrade some 20 or more packages.

zypper install gstreamer-plugins-bad libdvdcss2

That should cover most of what you are likely to need. Your primary media player will be VLC.

One word of warning for anyone who hasn’t tried it before: Be very wary of using Kmail or the PIM that comes bundled with KDE. I love Kmail’s design and how it works, but it does not work with Gmail, Outlook.com or some other big mail services. Don’t even try it, because it will fire up a very annoying service called Akonadi that is very hard to turn off and keep quiet. If you find that Kmail works okay with your email service(s), then great; you’ll love it. Otherwise, don’t touch it. The configuration can be somewhat Byzantine because even it’s guessing will typically be wrong, and the defaults are often mystifying. Choose either Thunderbird or Evolution. The latter is slightly buggy about some email services, but works just fine for most things.

Finally, one more issue — automatic online update. This is not installed by default in Tumbleweed, so unless you prefer to control the whole thing via the command line, you’ll need to search for the package and install it under YaST. The best way to do it is to attempt to configure it in YaST under Software > Online Update, then configure how often you want it to check. Unless there’s a good reason, like your Internet connection being slow or unstable, you should consider setting it to update daily.

Every brand of Linux is buggy in one way or another. I find the issues listed here tolerable for my use. Feel free to ask my any questions about using OpenSUSE or any other Linux distributions; I’ll try to help.

About Ed Hurst

Avid cyclist, Disabled Veteran, Bible History teacher, and wannabe writer; retired.
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