October 11, 2007

Upgrading to openSUSE 10.3

Author: Federico Kereki

OpenSUSE 10.3 was released last week, and I quickly downloaded the new version to update my two openSUSE boxes. Here's a chronicle of the updates and some problems that surfaced during the process.

In previous versions, SUSE came on five or six CDs, and downloading so much was a chore. In this release, you can get everything you need by downloading and burning a single CD in either a KDE or GNOME version. (You can also download a 4GB DVD image, which is roughly equivalent to the five earlier CDs.) I visited the openSUSE site, chose my version (32-bit, KDE), and downloaded the ISO image via BitTorrent, using Azureus. I burned the image to disk using K3b, rechecked the checksums, and was ready to install.

The first menu (after a welcome screen in several languages) offers several possibilities, though you will want only Installation. After you press Enter, it loads a kernel and starts its recognition work, displaying a thin white progress line for, on my system, more than seven minutes before the screen with the installation steps appeared.

Here you can select Add Online Repositories Before Installation so that you don't have to specify Include Add-On Products from Separate Media (that is, from the other CDs you didn't download). Of course, with this kind of installation, having network access is a must. After a probe for network cards, you can pick either an Automatic Address Setup by DHCP or Static Address Setup. I first tried the DHCP option, but it wasn't able to connect to www.SUSE.com, so I went back and tried the second option. I had to enter a valid IP address for my home network, along with a netmask, gateway, and DNS address. This time I connected successfully.

(By the way, I'm wondering how I would update my server. I have an ADSL connection, but I didn't see any way to specify a username and password for the connection. Maybe I'll just have to burn a DVD.)

When it manages to connect, the installation utility starts probing for repositories, and you must select which partition to update. Here I was surprised to find openSUSE showed me /dev/sda3, a drive I didn't have! It turns out that openSUSE 10.3 has started using the libata library for ATA, SATA, and IDE drives, and therefore all hd drives got renamed to sd: thus, instead of /dev/hda3, I now had /dev/sda3.

The installation process also checks whether you have a large enough /root partition, and I got a worrisome message about mine being too small -- "only" 60MB, while openSUSE 10.3 expects a minimum of 64MB. I checked my desktop machine and found that 16MB seemed enough, so I ignored this warning and kept on. As it turned out, /boot required only around 15MB.

Finally, you get the chance to pick repositories. Out of the three options, I suggest picking both the non-OSS and the OSS ones; the third one (DEBUG) is for testing and debugging purposes. After you confirm, the utility will start downloading package information -- a not particularly quick process, but at least you get to see rapidly changing messages and progress bars, so you get the idea that something is actually being done.

When all package information has been retrieved, pick what packages to install, which ones to remove, and decide how to fix all compatibility problems you might run into. Personally, I opted for the easy way out here: whenever openSUSE complained about a package, I accepted the option to remove it, but made a note about each of these programs, in order to reinstall them after the update process. I prefer Smart over YAST, so why worry if the latter couldn't solve the supposed incompatibilities?

You can also pick what new packages to install based on "patterns." Each pattern roughly corresponds to a certain functionality or group of programs -- for example, "KDE base system" or "remote desktop." You get only a short description for each group, and you don't get to know what is actuallly going to be installed.

Updating it

If you accept the installation, the process will start in earnest. You will get a screen with three tabs: a slide show, details, and release notes. The first tab shows a lot of slides pertaining to openSUSE, just like a long commercial break. You will get a better idea about the process by changing to the second tab. In my case, I found that about 500 packages were to be downloaded, totaling nearly 5GB -- which made me wonder why I tried to spare connection time, and didn't get the DVD. The whole process was expected to last about four hours (though of course this will depend on the speed of your connection and on how many packages you asked to be installed), but thousands of people hitting the same repositories at the same time can make anything slower.

During this download process, you may see errors. Take note of the package, so you will be able to reinstall it later. In my case, I had several problems (probably having to do with the connection), but the only worrisome one was about not being able to download a GRUB-related package, since that package has to do with the boot process itself. Since I didn't have other options, I let the process continue, but braced myself for a possible non-loading laptop. It turned out I was right....

Booting it

After the download is done, openSUSE will start preparing for a restart, and update your boot configuration files. I had several kernels installed, and the update process didn't like something (maybe it had to do with the /dev/hdx to /dev/sdx changes) so it wouldn't proceed. The update process lets you try to fix things by hand, but I didn't manage that, and finally opted to let it pick a suggested configuration, starting from zero. Luckily, this did work, and I could finally let it reboot -- which of course it didn't!

If you run into something like this, remembering that (1) your data is safe, and (2) trying the installation again may help. I started again, and was glad to find I wouldn't need more hours and hours of updates, because the process reported that it needed less than 100MB. This time there were no update problems. I eventually got to a boot screen, and it rebooted perfectly!

Now the system started doing its first configuration. It downloaded some release notes and several packages or repository information and eventually offered an online update (more wait time). In the end, however, I had a working machine. Well, almost working.

Fixing it

The new 10.3 looks nice and includes plenty of new options and packages, but I have some problems:

  • My hdparm configuration won't work any more because of the libata changes. (Curiously, the hdparm program wasn't removed by the installation.) I'm going to look for a new program to play around with the same parameters as hdparm, because otherwise I'm stuck at the "before optimization" level I used to be in before my work on optimization.
  • The boot process is really slow. I checked the boot messages, and the slowdown seems to do with ATA -- there are dozens of messages beginning with "ata."
  • My network device configuration didn't seem to "stick": every time I booted I had to respecify it. At first I thought this might have something to do with SCPM, but even after disabling that, the problem remained. I think I finally fixed the problem by running the update process a third time; it works now.
  • No sound! Google around, and you will find plenty of people having problems with this. I tried using alsaconf and the sound card started working (so I can listen to music now) but checking the boot messages I find some errors with the AC97 codec, so everything's not quite right yet.
  • Some login "session type" options do not work; for instance, you can choose the KDE/Openbox option, but when I pick it, I get standard KDE.

In conclusion

Though I like openSUSE and have used it for a few years, this was the first time an installation really bothered me and produced errors I couldn't fix right away, even after resorting to help from the Web. I understand all new versions have bugs, but I expected better. I won't stop using openSUSE, but I hope I will be able to fix my remaining problems real soon.


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