Hello once again, Linux Academy family! I hope you are all well and have not missed me terribly over the holidays. I am back and in a different role within Linux Academy. I have moved over to our community department, which means I get to spend even more time helping out in Slack, our community boards, and meeting you great folks at conferences.
As a part of this move, I was lucky enough to get a brand new (to me) shiny laptop! I’m not sure about you, but the first thing I do with a new laptop is rekick/reimage the operating system! This is true even when it’s a Linux-based laptop. Maybe I’ve spent a bit too long sitting through security talks, but I just feel a bit more ownership of my device when I have created the environment myself. Now, the laptop in question came with Windows installed, and, as you all know, I am pretty OS agnostic and refuse to take part in the OS flame wars — however, I prefer to run Linux on my laptops.
I must admit that when it comes to rekicking computers, I don’t think I fall into the “new” category. Over the last five years, I have changed Linux distros about every six months — why you may ask? Simply enough because I can. There are so many amazing Linux distributions out there, and as they all share the same kernel, I have yet to have to worry about any compatibility issues. Though before I go on, I will note that the main reason I can rekick/reimage with such frequency is that early on in my career, I was known as “Ell, Breaker of Kernels.” I was the first person in my training class to see the infamous kernel panic screen, and because of that, I was also the first person to have to spend hours trying to bring back my system, so I did not lose all of my work. That event taught me early on to always save my work to the cloud or an external hard drive.
So, I went over to Distro Chooser and answered a few questions, picked a distro I had not used before, and created a bootable USB. The problem was when I tried to get my laptop to boot from the live USB, it wouldn’t. Enter issue number one: UEFI. For those who may not know, UEFI stands for “unified extensible firmware interface” and has replaced the basic BIOS firmware I was familiar with. Due to the new laptop having UEFI, there were some compatibility issues with the distro I had chosen. My options were to configure the laptop for a legacy boot or attempt to find a new distro I could use with UEFI.
I’ll pause here to be a bit honest: I can tell you what the issue was and possible solutions now only because I spent a full workday behind a search engine trying to figure out what was going on. It was not until much later in the day when I was recounting this issue to a few developer friends that I realized I wasted most of my day. They automatically said, “Oh yeah” and started telling me how they had also encountered the issue. So issue number one led to lesson number one: Don’t reinvent the wheel — ask around your tech circle, and see if someone might have seen the issue before.
At the risk of sounding like I’m name dropping, I have a friend who is an evangelist for openSUSE who said I might give their distro a try, and if I encountered any issues, I could reach out to file bug reports and we could work together on setting up my environment. I’m happy to report the install process went smoothly. It was about as plug-and-play as one could get — however, they could not account for all the issues with the human factor.
My first time trying to go through the boot process was pretty much just me glancing at the screen and somewhat registering the information there before clicking “next.” Somewhere around the four-hour mark of the install process, I started to think maybe I was not meant to run Linux anymore. Luckily, good friends will call you out, and it was more likely I missed something when going through the menus. So I killed the install and started over — this time actually reading what was on my screen. Enter issue number two: networking. This great new laptop does not have an ethernet port, so the whole install was trying to happen via the USB 2.0 stick I had been using. This is a USB stick I found at the bottom of my desk drawer, so I can’t even tell you how old it is. Had I read the screens the first time around, I would have seen I had the option to configure my networking ahead of time so that all the needed packages could be pulled down as my system was being configured. Lesson number two then is: Even if you have done this 100 times, you should still read the prompts that are being given to you. Sounds like common sense now, but I can promise you I’m not the only one who has a tendency just to glance and click “next.”
I was, however, up and running now with openSUSE. Their community is very active on Twitter and were quite welcoming when I mentioned that I was going to be trying their distro. Their documentation is also well written and even helped me set up my printer. (I can’t be the only person who struggles with printer setup, can I?) Setting up applications I needed did come with a bit of a learning curve because I had used zypper before. I was surprised, however, at how many vendors had openSUSE-specific install directions that made things a breeze. I had intended to use the OS for a few months and report back to you all with my findings, but [queue ominous music here] enter issue number three. I realized I had not updated my OS after install, which is something I always do to make sure I have the most up-to-date security patches. So, I pulled up the command line, did a
sudo zypper update, and was prompted for a reboot — but when I did:
Ell, Breaker of Kernels, seemed to be up to her old tricks. Now, my system really did not have much on it, so the obvious move was to rekick and try it again — this time reading the install prompts — so I did. However, the
sudo zypper update had the same results.
This is where I should tell you I reached out to openSuse and filed a bug report or asked their community for help. As fate would have it, though, right at this moment of deciding between declaring it a failure or pushing through, a friend sent me a link to the Elementary OS challenge. Never one to pass up the opportunity to learn with a community, I think my adventure with openSUSE will be on hold for a little bit.
To you, Jason Evangelho I say, “Challenge accepted!”
Do you have a story about a distro change that did not go so well? Do you have an idea of what I should do differently when I try openSUSE again? Or are you for the Elementary OS challenge? Let me know in the comments section below.