Warts in openSUSE 12.1

[Update: Oct 27th:  It looks as if the problems that I mentioned regarding encryption will all be solved in time for the final release.  That’s great work by the opensuse team.]

I have come across a few problems in 12.1 and I’ll mention the ones that I don’t expect to be solved in time for the final 12.1 release.

Kernel problems

The kernel problem that I have run into, is that the desktop version of the 32 bit kernel won’t load on my laptop.  The default kernel is fine, and the 64 bit desktop kernel is fine.  It is the 32 bit desktop kernel that is giving me problems.  The main consequence, is that if I install as a 32 bit system, then it will only be able to access 4G of memory.  I happen to have 6G installed, so I need the PAE hacks in the desktop kernel to access all of that memory.

I don’t expect this problem to be fixed by release time.  It’s a kernel problem, so would have to be fixed by the kernel developers.  It isn’t actually a big concern for me, as I planned to install a 64 bit system anyway.  The 32 bit install (on a separate partition) was just for testing.

My advice:  If you have a 64 bit capable computer with more than 4G of memory, then plan on installing the 64 bit version of openSUSE 12.1.  And if you choose to install 32 bit in spite of that advice, then be sure to select the default kernel during the software selection part of the install, so that you can fall back to the default kernel if the desktop kernel fails to load.

I’m not sure under what conditions this bug shows up.  The desktop kernel seems fine in a test 32 bit install on my desktop system, but that system only has 2G of memory so I could have managed with the default kernel.

Systemd problems that affect encryption

There are a few things that don’t seem to work properly with systemd.  Most users won’t run into them, but people who use encrypted partitions might have concerns.

Encrypted swap.  As of rc1, an encrypted swap partition is not activated during bootup.  I have to run “swapon -a” as root to activate it,  and I have to do that after every boot.  A fix is known for this, and I hope that the problem will be corrected in time for the final release.

Mounting “/tmp” from swap.  With 11.4, I had a line in “/etc/fstab” to mount “/tmp” as tempfs, meaning that it is mounted from memory or swap.  When I tried that in 12.1 Beta1, the system failed to boot.  This seems to be a known problem with systemd, with no fix yet available.  I had been using this, in conjunction with encrypted swap, so that sensitive data that might be in files in “/tmp” was never written unencrypted to disk.  It looks as if that isn’t going to work out with 12.1.

The workaround is to instead use an encrypted LVM.  I was already considering that for my laptop.  My installed 12.1 rc1 on the laptop uses a large partition configured for LVM, and subdivided into root, swap and “/home”.  That way, everything is encrypted except for the small separate “/boot” partition.

If you have been using encrypted swap and mounting “/tmp” as tempfs, then I suggest some preplanning as to how to proceed with installing 12.1 .  My plans had been to use encrypted swap and encrypted “/home” on my desktop, but it looks as if I will have to revise those plans and go to an encrypted LVM there too.

Network startup

This is mainly a  minor nit that seems to be related to the switch to systemd.  After installing your system, you will probably find that the network does not function until after you reboot.  Or, if you are in the habit of changing hostname to your preferred name, then making that hostname change will probably coax the network into functioning.

If you set your network up for “ifup” configuration, and later switch to using NetworkManager, then it probably won’t work after the switchover, until you reboot.

It looks as if there is something broken about the way that Yast starts the NetworkManager service after changing network configuration.  I’m hoping that this is fixed in time for the final release.  But, if not, it is only a relatively minor annoyance that will probably only affect you once or twice.

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About Neil Rickert

Mathematician and computer scientist who dabbles in cognitive science.

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