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.comment: Brain-Munching Insects and SuSE 7.3

Two Headaches

  • October 31, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

I should say at the outset that I am crankier than usual this week. Every three or four years, I have a bout with something called "cluster headaches," a malady straight out of Hitchcock. These headaches work like this: I'm awakened in the middle of the night, same time every night, by a headache that is absolutely excruciating -- the literature warns that sufferers must be separated from firearms, lest they decide to end their headaches themselves. It feels as if particularly voracious insects are gnawing at my skull, behind my right eye, or perhaps a dental drill is doing the work. Both light and sound are intolerable. Then, usually after a couple of hours, the headache goes away and I'm free to go back to bed.

One gets cranky when sleep becomes one's enemy, as it has here in the last week. (I'm off, soon as I'm done with this, to the doctor; it is said that injections of something called Sumitriptan brings relief in 5 to 10 minutes, meaning that when awakened in agony I'll get to give myself a shot. Oh, joy.)

It was within this fatigued milieu that I received a review copy of SuSE 7.3 late last week. I have not had a chance to review it in full yet -- I want to put it through a clean install and an install onto a notebook machine first -- but I have used its "update" function on my production machine. I shall herein detail my experiences. For those of you who do not have time to read on, let me summarize: It damn near destroyed my machine, and I'm by no means certain that it won't complete the job even yet.

There's a good chance that when installed from scratch on a perfectly clear drive, SuSE 7.3 is as wonderful as SuSE's distributions tend to be. As I mentioned, I'll find out and pass the word along. But the "update" install, or at least one of the configurations therein, is not just unacceptable, it's very much to be avoided. Here, it actually corrupted data in my home directory.

Out-of-Box Experience

SuSE Linux Professional 7.3 comprises a folder containing 7 CDs and a DVD, plus four manuals (Configuration, Network, Applications, and Reference Manual as well as a quick-start guide) and boot and kernel modules floppies.

Having installed SuSE both from CD and ftp perhaps a dozen times in earlier versions, I've come to learn that the "update" install is reliable, and that unless one doesn't mind going through and removing all sorts of things that one doesn't want, the choice is to upgrade only the packages currently installed on the system. It's a lot easier to add other things later than it is to pick through the installed package list uninstalling stuff that SuSE thought erroneously that you want.

I looked forward to this upgrade for a few reasons, XFree86-4.1 and the opportunity to drop the Ext3 journaling file system atop my existing partitions among them. Ext3's chief advantage, in my estimation, is that it does not require a reformat of the partition. Using the upgrade path, though, I found no place where Ext3 could be invoked. Indeed, the only place I did find it was in the menu for new installations, at the point where partitions are formatted. I don't think SuSE wants those of us who upgrade to use Ext3.

Even so, things went along pretty well until it got to the point where it proposed to reboot the machine. The screen went blank -- not text-mode console blank, but very dark, as if XFree86 were not quite letting go. I waited 45 minutes for something to happen. Nothing did. I tried a reboot from the keyboard, but the keyboard was apparently blocked. So I had to power down and then back up again, stopping at the BIOS to tell the machine to boot now from the hard drive instead of the CD reader. In due course, I was back in the install routine, and was asked to feed in CDs 2, 3, 4, and 5 in turn. After awhile I was told that the "update" had been successful.

Upon reboot, I saw that Linux-2.4.7 was booting instead of the 2.4.10 that ships with the new SuSE. I fired up Pico, edited /etc/lilo.conf to boot the new kernel (all the while wondering why the "update" routine hadn't) and ran /sbin/lilo, then rebooted again into the new kernel.

At "startx" (I have no truck with graphical logins, thanks), I saw that SuSE's KDE-2.2 had done little violence to my desktop configuration. But anti-aliased typefaces looked just awful -- much worse than they had when I was running 7.2 just a couple of hours before.

When one is happy with one's KDE, as I had been, one keeps a backup of both KDE and Qt, to use in replacing the ones foisted off by a distribution that thinks it know what you want better than you do. (The SuSE KDE is perfect for newbies.) Planning to switch back, I did an orderly shutdown of KDE, expecting a command prompt. My expectations, though, were dashed by that blank graphical screen once again, and the corresponding keyboard block. Time again for the Big Red Button.

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