I mentioned a few posts back that I had a test system stack: four identical older systems that I set up to be able to test Linux. The idea was the I could do back to back comparisons and have a good idea how each Distro of Linux stacked up on the same hardware at the same time. No sequential reloading of Distros on the same computer. Just a quick switch of the console via the KVM to look at the same thing (OpenOffice.org, Gnumeric, Evolution, Firefox, whatever is peaking my interest...) on the same type of computer, but two different Distros.
I took it all apart today. I did not reckon with two problems.
- Heat and noise while they were up (I left it all down when I was not using 'the stack'). The noise came from the fans in the KVM. Note to self: data center grade gear is lousy for office use.
- Even if the hardware looks the same, and specs out the same, when it is old, it does not necessarily act the same. This is probably true even when hardware is new, but as it ages, it becomes more pronounced. In particular, the video cards and how well they worked with the KVM, and the hard drives, and how some systems seemed to be in I/O wait for no apparent reason against /dev/sda.
I had a third reason for doing what I did, which was to learn how our new data center standard KVM switches work from actual setup type experience. I am always looking to stay as current as I can on all sorts of tech, and I had not had a chance to "play" with these yet. that being done, it was time to move on.
I mentioned in that post about the test stack that I was testing OpenSUSE 11 Alpha. It has since GA'ed, so it was time to go back and have a look. Unlike Fedora 9, OpenSUSE 11 had installed fairly easily even in Alpha state. I expected the GA to be smooth, and it was. All you have to do is look at all the trade reviews of OpenSUSE 11, and read all the praise for the changes that it has brought to the OpenSUSE party to get the feeling the R11 is a significant upgrade over what came before it.
A great deal of the excitement surrounds the fact that the software installer and updating process are significantly improved. They are not yet quite Ubuntu / Mint easy, but they are light years better than they were, and are closing in on the leaders of the pack. It is now dead easy to enable alternate repositories, including ones that allow you to install binary only drivers like Nvidia and ATI's. This, as it turned out, would be key for me.
I did not want to install R11 on 'the stack'. I wanted to turn that off and take it out of my office. My IBM T41 was nominated instead. It has always worked well with SUSE in the past, so I assumed it would be easy, and it was. Boot the LiveCD, run the installer, answer a very similar to Ubuntu set of questions, lay out the hard drive manually as always, and then let it spin on down.
Since the T41 had been running Mint 4, the OpenSUSE look and feel was replaced from the get-go with my customized desktop: Space Shuttle landing at night picture, standard Gnome tool bar at the top of the screen. Some things are missing:
- No gkrellm is available from any standard OpenSUSE repository. My favorite system monitor... well, other than Patrol of course. I am sure it is out there someplace, and when I get a spare moment, I'll find it.
- Sensors, avahi, etc all have to be installed since they were not on the LiveCD image, but they are available.
- HDDtemp is not available!
In no time at all the desktop looks more or less the way I like. The tool bars are stocked with goodies. The Wifi card works out of the box and with no muss or fuss (something that Fedora would not have done). Evolution finds the Mint created config files and appears to work well.
Phase 1 complete. No casualties.
Crispy Nvidia 7300
Shortly after I finished up the T41, my Dell 745 desktop, running Mint 4.0, starts acting flaky. It moaned and hummed and whined and wheezed. I opened the case, and watched the fan on the video card stop and start. Speed up, then slow down. Whine then run silently. Uh oh.
A few days later, video stops working on the second monitor. "lspci" says that there is no Nvidia card at all.
I do what any geek faced with such a situation would do. I went to Fry's (I gotta love a store that has parts to build your own Linux computer and also sells Apple stuff). There I picked up an Nvidia 7200CS that had a big heat sink rather than a fan on it.
In the 7200CS went, and no luck. Mint acts like it can not see it. I decided to try OpenSUSE and see what it would do. My thinking was that OpenSUSE, being from Novell and the Open Source members of that project, should have the worlds best implementation of Evolution on it: Novell bought Ximian, creators of Evolution and the Evolution connector. In the past the SUSE version of Evolution had always been at least workable. This would give me a chance to see how well OpenSUSE worked on desktop hardware, with dual heads, with the Nvidia repositories, and with Evolution.
Late that night, I booted the OpenSUSE 11 LiveCD that I had used on the T41, and it all worked pretty much the same as it had. For fun I tried to use the Open Source Nvidia drivers first but they would not enable the second monitor. The closed source ones worked fine, and enable the "twinhead" setup. I was back in business. Even Compiz worked, and that had never happened on the 745 with the Nvidia 7300 and Mint.
Evolution came up, found everything where Mint 4 had left it, and I was off and running. Well. Not so much
Stable for 24 hours, then a failure. Evolution Connector crashed.
Evo 2.22 in SUSE has a slightly updated look and feel relative to that same app in Mint 5.0. A few more plugins appeared to ship, all though I did not compare them line by line.
My desktop can *not* have an unstable version of Evolution on it. It is my main place to read email, check my calendar, open tasks to myself, update contacts, filter emails from various mailing lists into folder for offline reading, etc.
I installed the debugging symbols for Evolution and Connector, and went into the business of sending crashes into the Gnome project. At first it crashed when I was using it. Then it started to crash even was I was no where near the computer. More and more, faster and faster, closer and closer together.
When I say crash, I mean Connector crashed. Evolution stayed up and running. It was just useless.
I created a clean ~/.evolution file, and slowly brought back over the mail folders from the backup copy now called .evolution.mint. I went through and disabled plugins that were not useful in our MS Exchange based shop, like Hula and Groupwise related things.
Crash. crash. crash.
And now, the secret sauce....
I was trying to decide what to do, and had just about opted to move to Mint 5.0 on the desktop, with a fall back plan to Mint 4, which has been stable. Then, I noticed something odd. A pattern emerged. Every single time Evolution Connector had crashed when I was there to observe it, it had been when the inbox was being filtered: When the rules were running that kept my inbox cleared out. A little status message in the taskbar about filters running was there every time, and always at 0% complete. It looked like a new message was arriving, triggering the rule to run and parse it, but that the rule was immediately freezing and Connector was crashing shortly after that. I have about 20 Rules in the ruleset. I would not think that was a large number, but who knows? My quick looks at the crash dumps before I sent them in to Gnome made me think the crash was happening in the same way every time.
I decided to try something.
- I disabled filters aka 'Rules' in Evo-speak on INBOX for Evolution Connector.
- Created and enabled IMAP account to the same MS Exchange 2003 server Inbox
- Turned on filtering on IMAP. Same exact rule set, same exact Inbox, just running via IMAP rather than Connector.
- I made IMAP my default account. The Connector account was there and active, just not default. This means, among other things that outbound email is being delivered via SMTP rather than through the Connector's WebDAV protocol.
My idea and experiment: use Connector *only* for Calendaring, Tasks, and Contacts (including GAL lookups). Take the stress off the Connector code. If this was a timing related or load related issue.....
It has not failed even once since I did this, which means about 5 working days of uptime. Other than the first 24 hours of stability, I could not get Connector to stay up for more than a few hours at a time. It appears that Evolution Connector and the built in rules facility are not compatible at this time, at least with OpenSUSE 11 and Evolution 2.22.
In retrospect, it probably should have been a clue that the OpenSUSE 11 installation on my T41 laptop never had an Evolution crash. I do not run filters there.
As usual, I have to ask the question, is OpenSUSE 11 a viable desktop for an enterprise. Not for geeks like me but for the average computer user that does not want to know anything about the computer itself: they just want a tool to get a job done.
The desktop itself is easy to use, easy to configure, easy to update, and a strong preview of what is to come in the next release of SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop). It has all sorts of standard Open Support, from Wikis to mailing lists to online doc.
From what I have seen the system is pretty solid except for my corner case of Evolution against MS Exchange 2003 running a fairly large set of filters on my inbox via Connector. I'd have to say I would probably have no problem supporting it, and would prefer all the new shiny goodness of OpenSUSE R11 versus the getting-long-in-the-tooth SLED 10. For the first time ever, I have left OpenSUSE on my primary desktop to be used as my primary OS at the office.
Mint will stay my primary at-home Linux version. Instead of Mint-everywhere, I'll be jumping back and forth. A new experiment has begun.