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Friday, December 9th, 2005

Fixing SuSE

When I get a little free time at home to play with my toy (this computer), it’s sometimes very difficult to put off the instant gratification of installing, configuring or tweaking something, especially after I’ve got two freshly installed Linuxes. So when I sat down right now, my conscience told me to start writing up my FC4 / HWP54G installation notes, but instead I booted SuSE and took a look at why I wasn’t able to make the rt2500 driver.

My recollection was that the error message I had seen when I tried to make the driver (“make” is actually a GNU command that builds executables from source files according to specific rules) was that gcc wasn’t installed. I hadn’t customized the SuSE installation packages, but including the compiler package seemed like a pretty elementary thing to do, so I was surprised by that and started wondering what actually had been installed and what hadn’t – especially my kernel sources, which had turned out to be so important when installing the driver for my wireless card in FC4. So I went looking for a tool to tell me what was installed and what wasn’t. I found it in the YaST Control Center under “Software” – a listing of all the packages in the SuSE 10.0 distribution, with check marks against the installed ones. Sure enough, gcc wasn’t installed.

If you’ve never looked at a package listing in a Linux distribution, there are hundreds of files with obscure-looking names and version numbers, so you really have to have a handle on the whole thing, which I don’t yet. But I knew enough to look to also see whether the kernel sources were there and what version I was using, and I got another surprise.

YaST boasted that it would automatically look for and install the right packages for my system, and sure enough, it had detected my hyper-threading CPU and installed the smp kernel. All I really know about the smp version is that it’s for multiple processors, but I only recently found out that hyper-threading means that my single CPU can act like I’ve got two processors. So technically, YaST was correct, and the smp kernel would probably give me better performance. Unfortunately, thanks to my recent troubleshooting efforts, I had discovered that the rt2500 driver was not compatible with the smp kernel. So it never would have worked.

I clicked the box next to the regular kernel version – 2.6.13, I think – and unclicked the box next to the smp version. Man, what a lot of warnings! I was trying to tell YaST to uninstall the kernel that I was actually running, and it took pains to tell me that if I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, SuSE would not start again. I had to install a new kernel version before I rebooted, and I remembered reading a description of compiling a new kernel that was a lot more complex than the “make” and “make install” steps that used for the wireless card driver. I also noticed another unchecked package that promised to be able to create my initrd image, and after my recent fun with making up my own grub.conf files to accommodate two different Linux installs, I knew that at boot time, GRUB has know the partition to boot to, where to find the kernel, and something about an initrd. Of course, I didn’t have Internet up to check that, so in a show of calculated cowardice, I decided to cancel out and go back to Fedora. Hell, just now writing up this post, I found out for the first time that initrd stands for “initial ram disk”. I’m trying real hard here to finish my post and not get stuck reading the entire GRUB manual.

So I’m writing this post instead. Note that I not actually getting to the work of writing out my installation notes. If you were looking over my shoulder, you would also have noticed that I hesitated at the first possibly misspelled word I saw and broke to find and install Spellbound, but that didn’t seem to work, and I am getting so sick and tired of the differences between Firefox and Mozilla that I broke to try and install Mozilla as a replacement for Firefox. That didn’t work right away either, so I’m showing some sort of self discipline by coming back to finish this post. And since I spell checked this post in OpenOffice Writer, I showed even more by not customizing that.

Posted by Greg as OS at 13:44 PST

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