Last month I made a decision. I decided to jump back into Linux. At home I had been running XP for a couple of years and I had more recently installed the beta for Windows 7. While I found Windows 7 to definitely be a step up from Vista, and enjoyed the operating system I felt that I needed to return to the open source world.
My last journey into Linux was about 3 years ago when I ran it at home for a solid year or so. The Linux world moves a lot faster than it use to so i figured now was a good time to jump back into its waters. I began by installing OpenSUSE. The reason being is that it was sponsored by Novell and I really want to focus on Mono and have full compatibility with the Mono stack. Since Mono is also sponsored by Novell, I figured it would be my best bet. While I was in fact able to have the latest version of Mono (even used a nightly build), configuring other parts of my system were more complicated than they needed to be. Specifically I’m talking about wireless networking.
In my house, all the computers connect wirelessly. The router/AP is in the center of the house (in the entertainment center) and gives decent signal to the rest of the house. I hadn’t always been connected wireless, this is a recent development that came about due to the birth of my son. Having wireless connectivity is now essential to my set up. OpenSUSE required that I compile and load the wireless drivers manually. While this is fine, and it is a process I’m comfortable with, I knew there had to be a better way.
Enter Ubuntu. The last time I ran Linux, I had ran Ubuntu. While I can’t remember the exact version, I’m pretty sure it was at the most 7.04. Back then, wireless connectivity wasn’t perfect either (better than most other distros though). But having read that the latest Ubuntu (9.04, Jaunty Jackalope) was getting rave reviews, I decided to burn off a live CD to see what happens. Behold, the second it booted into the live CD environment, and I saw the list of wireless networks, I knew this was how it should be. Bye, bye OpenSUSE.
The lesson learned here is that Ubuntu, which has set out to be the distro for everyone, really does seem to be the distro that “just works” on most computers and most hardware. I did not have to manually compile wireless drivers and load them into the kernel, the network device just worked from the get go. Sure, I’m going to lose out on using the absolute latest Mono (unless I want to compile my own, which I could do), but my system works without having to jump through hoops. To me that’s a big step in getting people to like Linux. You can’t expect people to have to compile custom drivers in order to get something like wireless networking operating. There is something to be said for having a Linux operating system that “just works” from the point of installation on.
Now, to be fair, the rest of my OpenSUSE experience was good. The wireless configuration just really annoyed me. I also found that the user community for OpenSUSE was lacking compared to Ubuntu’s. Not sure why that is, but it was my observation. My wireless issues might be resolved in 11.2 version of OpenSUSE, currently in beta, and if that’s the case, I might switch back. It seems to be easier to manage alternate repositories in OpenSUSE than it is in Ubuntu, making it easier to install newer versions of software.
While having the latest and greatest version of some software is not always important, when it comes to development libraries it can be the difference between a lot of code and a lot less code. For now, the version of Mono in Ubuntu is usable so I can live with it.