Recently in opensuse Category

Perhaps you've seen this error:

Version mismatch with VMCI driver: expecting 11, got 10.

I get this every time I upgrade a kernel, and this is how I fix it.

Moving /tmp to a tmpfs

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There is a move afoot in Linux-land to make /tmp a tmpfs file-system. For those of you who don't know what that is, tmpfs is in essence a ramdisk. OpenSUSE is considering the ramifications of this possible move. There are some good points to this move:

  • A lot of what goes on in /tmp are ephemeral files for any number of system and user processes, and by backing that with RAM instead of disk you make that go faster.
  • Since a lot of what goes on in /tmp are ephemeral files, by backing it with RAM you save writes on that swanky new SSD you have.
  • Since nothing in /tmp should be preserved across reboots, a ramdisk makes sense.

All of the above make a lot of sense for something like a desktop oriented distribution or use-case, much like the one I'm utilizing right this moment.

However, there are a couple of pretty large downsides to such a move:

  • Many programs use /tmp as a staging area for potentially-larger-than-ram files.
  • Some programs don't clean up after themselves, which leaves /tmp growing over time.

Working as I do in the eDiscovery industry where transforming files from one type to another is common event, the libraries we use to do that transformation can and do drop very big files in /tmp while they're working. All it takes is one bozo dropping a 20MB file with .txt at the end (containing a single SMTP email message with MIME'ed attachment) to generate an eight thousand page PDF file. Such a process behaves poorly when told "Out Of Space" for either RAM or '/tmp.

And when such processes crash out for some reason, they can leave behind 8GB files in /tmp.

That would not be happy on a 2GB RAM system with a tmpfs style /tmp.

In our case, we need to continue to keep /tmp on disk. Now we have to start doing this on purpose, not just trusting that it comes that way out of the tin.

Do I think this is a good idea? It has merit on high RAM workstations, but is a very poor choice for RAM constrained environments such as VPSs, and virtual machines.

Are the benefits good enough to merit coming that way out of the box? Perhaps, though I would really rather that the "server" option during installation default to disk-backed /tmp.

Since I had some time this weekend and actually had my work laptop home, I decided to take the plunge and get OpenSUSE 12.1 onto it. I"ve been having some instability issues that trace to the kernel, so getting the newer kernel seemed like a good idea.


The upgrade failed to take for two key reasons:

  1. VMWare Workstation doesn't yet work with the 3.1 kernel.
  2. Gnome 3 and my video card don't get along in a multi-monitor environment.

The first is solvable with a community patch that patches the VMware kernel modules to work with 3.1. The down side is that every time I launch a VM I get the "This is running a newer kernel than is known to work" message, and that gets annoying. Also, rather fragile since I'd have to re-patch every time a kernel update comes down the pipe (not to mention breaking any time VMWare releases a new version).

The second is where I spent most of my trouble-shooting time. I've been hacking on X since the days when you had to hand-roll your own config files, so I do know what I'm looking at in there. What I found:

  • When X was correctly configured to handle multi-monitors the way I want, the Gnome shell won't load.
  • When the Gnome shell was told to work right, GDM won't work.

Given those two, and how badly I need more screen real-estate at work, I'm now putting 11.4 back on the laptop.

Learning UEFI

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This weekend I put together (mostly as it turned out) a new fileserver for home. The box that's currently pulling that duty is 9 years old and still working just fine.

However, 9 years old. I'm happily surprised that 40GB hard-drive is still working. Only 58,661 power-on hours, and all of 3 reallocated sectors. But still, 9 years old. There comes a time when hardware just needs to be retired before it goes bad in spectacular ways.

The system that is replacing this stalwart performer cost under $400 with shipping, which contrasts starkly with the sticker price on the old unit which was around $1400 back in the day. This system is based on the AMD E350 CPU. Underpowered, but this is a file-server and that ancient P4 is still keeping up. I have a Drobo that I'll be moving to this unit, which is where the bulk of the data I want to serve is being kept anyway.

As for the title of the post, this E350 mobo has a UEFI firmware on it. That's when things got complicated.

OpenSUSE and Java

I was just catching up on email when I ran into this interesting tidbit

Up to now, openSUSE users had the choice of using openJDK (GPL with classpath exceptions) or Sun/Oracle's Java. The Sun/Oracle Java was licensed under the "Distributor's License for Java (DLJ)", which allowed Linux distributors to package and redistribute Sun/Oracle Java. Recently, Oracle announced that openJDK 7 is the new official reference implementation for Java SE7. They no longer see the need for the DLJ licensed Java implementation and so have retired that license.

openSUSE chooses to proceed with distributing the GPL licensed official reference implementation, openJDK. We will no longer distribute newer versions or updates of the now proprietary licensed Sun/Oracle JDK. Existing installations of the Sun/Oracle JDK are still licensed under the now retired DLJ.

openSUSE users who wish to continue using the Sun/Oracle JDK (including new versions thereof and updates) should now download directly from For now we keep the current sun-java packages (under the DLJ license) in the Java:sun:Factory project and will not update them anymore.

I suggest to document in the openSUSE wiki how to install the Sun/Oracle JDK version from Oracle under openSUSE.
Which is to say, Oracle is killing the license that allows OpenSUSE to provide Sun/Oracle Java as a part of the repo.

As a user of java apps in the line of my work, this deeply annoys me. What few management java apps work well on Linux (it's always a surprise when something does), seem to work best with Oracle Java not OpenJDK..

It probably won't be just OpenSUSE affected by this.

The Linux boot process, a chart

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The Linux boot process, a branching chart. For the most part, the levels do not depend on column. LILO does not require EFI, nor does GRUB require BIOS. EFI and BIOS support are now included in both bootloaders. Yes, there is some simplification here. EFI is very featured, but hasn't been commonly exercised to its full extent. Eventually EFI could possibly replace GRUB/LILO, but that day hasn't come yet.

Pre-Boot Enviroinment
  • POST
  • Read bootable media
  • Load Master Boot Record
  • Execute MBR
  • POST
  • Read bootable media
  • Load the GPT table
  • Mount the EFI system-partition
  • Load EFI-drivers for the system
  • Execute MBR
Bootstrap Environment
  • Stage 1 loaded into MBR/EFI and gets executed by BIOS/EFI
  • Stage 1.5 loaded by Stage 1, including critical drivers
  • Stage 2, in the boot filesystem, executes
  • Stage 2 loads the kernel
  • Stage 1 loaded into MBR/EFI and gets executed by BIOS/EFI
  • Load first sector of core.img
  • Continues loading core.img
  • Loads GRUB config
  • Loads the kernel
  • Stage1 loaded into MBR (or EFI by ELILO) and executed by BIOS/EFI
  • Stage 1 loads the first cluster of Stage 2, and executes.
  • Loads LILO information.
  • Loads the kernel
Kernel Load
  • The kernel uncompresses into memory
  • If configured, the kernel mounts the Initial Ramdisk, which contains needed modules to load the rest of the OS
  • Mounts the root filesystem, loading any needed modules from initrd
  • Swaps / from initrd to the actual root filesystem
  • Executes the specified init process
UID 1 process
  • Checks /etc/inittab for loading procedures
  • Runs scripts specified by inittab
    • Mounts needed filesystems
    • Loads needed modules
    • Starts needed services based on runlevel
    • Finishes setting up userspace
  • Reads /etc/system.conf
  • Mounts needed filesystems
  • Loads needed modules
  • Starts services as needed
  • Runs startup events listed in /etc/events.d based on runlevel.
  • Loads needed modules
  • Mounts needed filesystems
  • Starts needed services
  • Reads /etc/launchd.conf for config details
  • Reads /etc/launchd.plist for per-driver/service details

I did this because Things have Changed from the last time I really studied this. Back when I started it was BIOS, LILO, and Initd. I never did bother to wrap my head around Grub, mostly because the automatic tools have gotten a lot better so knowing it just to install isn't needed, and I haven't had the right kind of boot problems where I'd learn it through troubleshooting. I've also yet to run into EFI in the wild (I think...). Now that OpenSUSE is actively considering moving over to SystemD and Ubuntu having thrown initd over the side some time ago in favor of Upstart, it's time to revisit.

I'm still fuzzy on SystemD so that's probably wrong.

OpenSUSE and rolling updates

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I somehow missed this when it first came out, but there is a move a-foot to create a rolling-update version of OpenSUSE. The announcement is here:

In the last couple of days the repo has been created and opensuse-factory has been awash in requests to add packages to it.

What IS this thing, anyway?

It's like Factory, but with the stable branches of the packages in use. For instance if OpenSUSE 11.4 releases and a month later Gnome 3.0 drops, 11.4 will still be on whatever version it shipped with but OpenSUSE Tumbelweed (the name of this new rolling-updates version) will get it. The same applies to kernel versions. 11.4 will likely have 2.6.37 in it, but 2.6.38 will drop pretty soon after 11.4 releases.

Is this suitable for production?

Depends on how much testing you want in your packages. The order of tested-stable of SUSE versions from least to most is:

  1. Factory (breaks regularly!)
  2. Factory-Tested
  3. Tumbleweed
  4. OpenSUSE releases
  5. SLES releases (long term support contracts available)
Factory-Tested is also pretty new. It's a version of Factory that passes certain very specific tests, so you're much less likely to brick your system by using it over Factory itself. It will have bugs though, just not as many blockers.

There are some usages where I'd be leery of OpenSUSE releases just from code quality and support considerations, and Tumbleweed would be nearly certain to be rejected. And yet, if your use-case needs cutting edge (not bleeding edge) packages, Tumbleweed is the version for you.

Right now it looks like determining which packages get updated in Tumbleweed will be determined by the project maintainers. For the Gnome example, they have a Devel and Stable branch in their repo and it will be the Stable repo that gets included in Tumbleweed. Find a bug? It'll get reported to the repo-maintainer for that package. It may get fixed quicker there, or not. Tumbleweed users will help the OpenSUSE releases be more stable by providing testing.

Personally, I'll be sticking with the Releases version on my work desktop, since I need to maintain some stability there. I just might go Tumbleweed on my home laptop, though. 

New Laptop

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I've been looking for a new laptop. I finally found one, Dell had a sale on their Studio 15 line. This is a Core i5 laptop with all the niftyness I wanted. I also purchased a new 320GB hard-drive for it. Why? So I could put the Dell supplied one, with its pre-built Win7 install, into a baggie for later use if I so chose, and so I could get openSUSE onto it without mucking about with resizing partitions and all that crapola.

I did what I could to make sure the components were Linux compatible (Intel wireless not Dell, that kind of thing), but some things just don't work out. This is a brand new laptop with a brand new processor/chipset/GPU architecture, so I planned on having at least one thing require several hours of hacking to get working. This is the price you pay for desktop-linux on brand spanking new hardware. I, at least, am willing to pay it.

And pay I am. I installed OpenSUSE pretty simply, or at least it started there. It got to the first reboot and got a black screen of nothingness. Watching post it was pretty clearly a kernel video handling problem. Some quick googling identified the problem:

OpenSUSE 11.2 uses the 2.6.31 kernel. This laptop uses an intel 4500MHD GPU. Support for which was introduced in 2.6.32, and greatly refined in 2.6.33. What's more, it uses Kernel Mode Setting Direct Rendering Management, support for which was introduced in 2.6.32. All this means is that 2.6.31 simply can't support this video GPU at anything like reasonable speeds.

OpenSUSE 11.3 (currently in a very buggy Milestone 3 release, soon to be M4) has a 2.6.33 series kernel. But I don't want to be buggy. So...

Time to compile a kernel!

Because I've done it before (a LOT), kernel compiles do not scare me. They take time, and generally require multiple runs to get right, so you just have to plan for time to get it right. So I booted to the OpenSUSE 11.2 Rescue System, followed these instructions, and got into my (still half installed) file-system. I plugged it into wired ethernet because that's hella easier to set up from command-line, and used yast to grab the kernel-dev environment. Then downloaded 2.6.33 from I had to grab the /proc/config.gz from a working x86_64 system, so I pulled the one from my 11.2 install here at work, threw it into the kernel-source directory, ran 'make oldconfig', answered a bajillion questions, and tada. make bzImage; make modules; make modules_install ; make install ; mkinitrd -k vmlinuz-2.6.33 -i initrd-2.6.33, and a bit of Yast GRUB work to make certain Grub was set up right, and reboot.

Most of the way there. I had to add this line to /etc/modprobe.d/99-local:

options i915 modeset=1

Which got me enough graphics to finish the openSUSE install, and get me to a desktop. I don't yet know how stable it is, haven't had time to battletest it. I probably need updated software for full stability. I did get it up long enough this morning to find out that the wireless driver needs attention; dmesg suggested it had trouble loading firmware. So that's tonight's task.

Update: Getting the wireless to work involved downloading firmware for the 6000 from here, dropping the files into /lib/firmware, and rebooting. Dead easy. Now, Suspend doesn't work for some reason. That might be intractable, though.

OpenSUSE Survey

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It's time for another openSUSE survey! If you're an openSUSE user (or even a user of SLES/SLED) it's a good idea to take this thing. They set development priorities based on these surveys, so if you have an area that needs buffing up this is the place to tell them. Or if you want to tell them 'works great!' this is where you do it too.

Desktop virtualization

Virtualizing the desktop is something of a rage lately. Last year when we were still wondering how the Stimulus Fairy would bless us, we worked up a few proposals to do just that. Specifically, what would it take to convert all of our labs to a VM-based environment?

The executive summary of our findings: It costs about the same amount of money as the normal regular PC and imaging cycle, but saves some labor compared to the existing environment.

Verdict: No cost savings, so not worth it. Labor savings not sufficient to commit.

Every dollar we saved in hardware in the labs was spent in the VM environment. Replacing $900 PCs with $400 thin clients (not their real prices) looks cheap, but when you're spending $500/seat on ESX licensing/Storage/Servers, it isn't actually cheaper. The price realities may have changed from 12 months ago, but the simple fact remains that the stimulus fairy bequeathed her bounty upon the salary budget to prevent layoffs rather than spending on swank new IT infrastructure.

The labor savings came in the form of a unified hardware environment minimizing the number of 'images' needing to be worked up. This minimized the amount of time spent changing all the images in order to install a new version of SPSS for instance. Or, in our case, integrating the needed changes to cut over from Novell printing to Microsoft printing.

This is fairly standard for us. WWU finds it far easier to commit people resources to a project than financial ones. I've joked in the past that $5 in salary is equivalent to $1 cash outlay when doing cost comparisons. Our time management practices generally don't allow hour by hour level accounting for changed business practices.

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