Troubleshooting a thorny openSUSE problem

Every computer user has an excellent opportunity to become a professional in the field. Computers have so many problems, you can find yourself becoming an expert technician simply by finding solutions to the multitude of issues plaguing you on any given day.

Once you regularly figure out these issues, friends and family start asking you for help. Eventually, with some luck, you solve computer problems day in, day out as a support technician, system administrator, or software developer.

There’s a long story explaining how I got from office receptionist to technical writer, but I’ll spare you that for now. Here at Notes from the Metaverse, I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying to solve the much bigger problem of how to make the internet a safer and more democratic space. Today, I want to share how I solved a much smaller problem: What went wrong with KDE Plasma on my openSUSE Tumbleweed virtual machine. This isn’t exactly a common problem, but it certainly perplexed me for weeks. If it happens to you, I can save you much time and anguish.

Fixing Tumbleweed in a VirtualBox

openSUSE logo
Geeko, the openSUSE chameleon logo

I run openSUSE Tumbleweed in a VirtualBox virtual machine as a testing system. Tumbleweed is a “rolling release” version of openSUSE Linux. The system updates several times a week with the latest software updates that pass smoke tests in the distribution. A smoke test installs the software package; if it doesn’t blow up the system, it’s included.

Users get the advantage of running the newest version of a package with a small sacrifice of some stability. Many people love this tradeoff, in part because they get a brand new system every few days! Putting the rolling release in a virtual machine gives me the added security that if something goes wrong, I can isolate it without risking something else on the physical machine.

At the new year, I thought I’d start fresh with a new base system. I deleted the existing Tumbleweed VM and installed a fresh version from the latest update. Two weeks later, I updated the system and rebooted the VM as requested.

I logged in, but my KDE Plasma desktop environment wouldn’t come up. I got a black screen that never went away. I shut down the VM with a VirtualBox command (File > Close > Issue the Shutdown command).

Hmm, maybe there’s a memory issue somewhere. The reboot completed normally. I tried loading one of the more lightweight desktops, LXQt, and it displayed just fine. I didn’t have time to work on this problem, so I left it to the next session.

Here’s the dumbest troubleshooting idea I had. Good thing I tried it first. Somehow I thought because KDE Plasma and LXQt came from the same code framework (the Qt environment), perhaps uninstalling LXQt would free up whatever was holding Plasma back. That didn’t work. I should not have been surprised.

Fortunately, Tumbleweed offers a multitude of desktop environments, and I could regularly get work done on these other desktops without addressing the underlying issue. Variety is my favorite thing about Linux.

That availability of desktop environments led to my next theory: Is Plasma the only DE having a problem? How did any other problem manifest itself? I logged in with nine different DEs: three Plasma flavors, three GNOME flavors, Openbox, SLE Classic and XFCE.

Whether one loaded Plasma in its default configuration for the windowing system or under the Wayland protocol intended to replace X (plain or “full”), I never got out of the black screen.

Interestingly, GNOME loaded normally in all its forms (plain ordinary GNOME, on Xorg and Classic) and restarted normally too. So it definitely wasn’t a memory issue, as GNOME is the other “heavyweight” in this field. Both lightweight entries (Openbox and XFCE) had no trouble either. The exception was SLE Classic, the default desktop of SUSE Linux Enterprise. Yeah, that’s KDE too.

I also tested the Plasma flavors using different VirtualBox Graphics Controllers, hoping that changing this vBox setting would resolve the issue. Nope.

Progress! Errors to track down!

I continued updating Tumbleweed regularly. I hoped that installing the brand new Plasma 5.21 desktop would solve the problem, but those hopes were dashed.

At the end of February, I noticed a bunch of error messages were appearing in the update log, claiming that many Plasma-related systemd services (plasma-*.service) were “missing from /usr/lib/systemd/system.” Aha! Something I could check on! Plasma broke because these services weren’t loading!

Perhaps those services were missing because that directory had either disappeared or the services were going to some other directory. Off to the File Manager, where nothing seemed out of the ordinary in /usr/lib/systemd/system. A search for plasma-*.service didn’t turn up those files anywhere else.

While I was waiting for that search to complete, I had one more hope of quickly resolving the issue: reverting my system back to a working state. Because openSUSE uses the btrfs filesystem, you can go back in time to where Plasma was working normally. Off I went to YaST > Filesystem Snapshots (aka Snapper). I should have thought of that sooner, because there wasn’t a snapshot available except the initial install. I wasn’t ready to start over just yet.

Oh, but wait! Maybe I can uninstall/reinstall Plasma from YaST! When trying to uninstall the Plasma pattern in YaST, I noticed that it installed many more patterns that I wasn’t expecting to see.

Among them was the MicroOS pattern, another new spin on openSUSE. I tried uninstalling that and whatever other pattern that I didn’t think I wanted. Surely that was the problem, right? After upgrading 5372 packages while removing those patterns, no fixes for displaying Plasma.

Finally, a solution!

This week, I was going to try a complete reinstall again. I downloaded the latest snapshot, blew away the old setup, and created a new system one more time.

Went through the process, took screenshots of every page to include in the Tumbleweed documentation (did I mention that was one reason I keep this VM around? That’s another story.). Tried to save myself some time by importing my user account from the previous installation. Waited for the install to complete.

Same old problem. No error messages about systemd services. No interference from another desktop’s files. Back to the beginning.

Hmm. It’s a longshot, I’m thinking, but could there be a problem with the user account? Back to YaST. Yes, I know I can easily create a user from the command line, but I’m lazy. Off to YaST > User and Group Management. Click Add, add a name, username and password. Click OK. Reboot. Change the desktop environment to Plasma on the Login page and choose the new User. Type the password and click Login.

A minute later, the Plasma desktop loads as it should and always did. Hmm, wonder what was wrong with the old user? Clearly something. I write myself a note for the next login: “Will delete OldUser, possibly after checking for any useful files.”

The next day, I log in as the new user and check the Home directory of the old/bad user — and there’s the answer!

VirtualBox allows you to share directories between the Host OS and the Guest OS. I like to make sure I can access documents from any environment I’m in, so I share the Documents directory from the Windows 10 host to the Home directory of all my VMs.

When the Tumbleweed installer imported the user account from the previous installation, it tried to include all the files in Windows! But something went wrong in the sharing mechanism, and everything just hung. Not sure yet what Plasma did differently from the other desktops, but I’m going to look into that.

So after all this effort, I think I found a bug somewhere. Candidates include:

  • The Tumbleweed installer/user importer
  • Plasma’s file manager in VirtualBox
  • VirtualBox’s Shared Folders mechanism

Will report further if I find out more. But I’m sleeping better now that I’ve solved this nagging problem. Now maybe I can decide once and for all if Tumbleweed is indeed my favorite openSUSE flavor!

End of My Ubuntu Fling

English: Foto of Ubuntu&Kubuntu_CD version 9.10
Ubuntu&Kubuntu_CD version 9.10 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Been off work at my day job this week, in part to catch up on various writing projects (including updating Notes). Things were going pretty well until this morning, when ITWorld sent me their daily newsletter with the subject line “Trouble in Kubuntu-land.” The newsletter linked to this story by Swapnil Bhartiya. The Ubuntu Community Council (UCC) had apparently decided that one of its members, Jonathan Riddell, had said or done something so unspeakable and untoward toward other Council members that he was asked to “step down” as (a?) leader of the Kubuntu Project. There are two weird things about this pronouncement:

  • Riddell’s only “leadership position” within Kubuntu is as a member of Kubuntu Council (KC, the organizational equivalent of the Ubuntu Community Council)
  • The Kubuntu Council (incidentally, elected by the community) was never consulted or notified that its representative was crossing any line in the sand

A fight over transparency

As best as anyone can tell, this fight is rooted in Riddell’s attempt to find out what happens to voluntary contributions made when people download an Ubuntu release from The short answer appears that it mostly goes to support travel by developers to conferences and trade shows. Riddell wonders if Kubuntu and the other official flavors of Ubuntu get any portion of those proceeds.

Tuesday, the Kubuntu Council had a meeting over IRC to discuss the Ubuntu Community Council’s demand. You can find the entire discussion here. Michael Hall from the UCC attended to answer questions about the UCC action. KC members kept asking Hall variations on the same theme: What did Riddell do or say that merited this discipline? Hall’s fairly consistent answer: There are private emails that one or more UCC members received that have not been made public. You should ask them; they must be really bad.

To an observer like me, it looks like Riddell is either innocent of the charges against him, or he’s an exceptionally deft sociopath, who only reserves anti-social behavior for private communication. I haven’t gone through all of the publicly available documentation of the dispute. From what I’ve read, there’s been no trolling, or other unethical, unreasonable behavior on display. I’m open to being corrected. Click the links to find the complete archive of the discussion on the Ubuntu Community Council mailing list, and the (relatively brief) collection of communications between the UCC and KC posted by Scott Kitterman.

My history with (K)Ubuntu

Forgive this personal aside. Almost from the first day I worked with Linux, and especially since Corel Linux (my first distro) died, I used to say that the folks who could put a decent installer and update system on Debian Linux would win the consumer desktop OS wars once and for all. When Mark Shuttleworth and his band of Ubuntu developers succeeded in doing that, I was excited.

I had long committed myself to openSUSE and the KDE desktop (Ubuntu ran GNOME as its default), so I didn’t immediately jump away from that commitment. I did, however, put an early version of Ubuntu on the first laptop I ever owned. I learned a bit about GNOME that way. For everyday use, I stuck with openSUSE. After awhile, I stopped upgrading Ubuntu and moved away from it entirely.

Jump to 2013, and Shuttleworth announces Canonical’s plan to build software for phones and tablets, followed quickly by the (in)famous Ubuntu Edge Indiegogo crowdfunding effort. The vision sounded terrific to me, and I even pledged the campaign to get one of those beauties that were never to be. Some folks (looking at you, Larry Cafiero) warned me that I might be heartbroken, but I pressed on anyway. I even got a contract to write a book about Ubuntu Touch. That project was put on hold a year or so ago, but you can still see the cover on Goodreads!.

I threw myself into the project with glee and perseverance, getting an Ubuntu account, signing up for the Documentation team, downloading the Software Development Kit. I even started a Notes from the Ubuntuverse blog on my author site. That didn’t last long.

First sign of trouble

Still one of the most popular posts on this blog is my response to Canonical’s reassignment of Jonathan Riddell away from Kubuntu in 2012. It came at a time when pundits were thinking the KDE desktop project was dying, and Riddell’s reassignment (and the presumed end of Kubuntu) was supposed to be a key blow. Another company, Blue Systems, decided to financially sponsor continued Kubuntu development, and Riddell continued to offer his time.

In retrospect, you have to wonder if this business is a second round of punishing Kubuntu and its most public face.

In 2013, Benjamin Kerensa withdrew from Ubuntu development to make his primary contributions to Mozilla. Perhaps it was uniquely appropriate then that the Kubuntu Council approved his membership in their community in the other main order of business Tuesday.

What’s next?
The Kubuntu Council urged the UCC to reconsider its sanctions against Riddell. If Ubuntu (and Self Appointed Benevolent Dictator For Life Mark Shuttleworth) doesn’t back off, there’s a real possibility that Kubuntu may leave the *Buntu plantation for greener pastures (like Debian). I’d support that.

Today, Ubuntu phones are available in Europe and China. If the phone is ever released in North America, I may be asked to restart my book project. Depending on what reality presents at that time, I may agree to do that, but unquestionably with much diminished enthusiasm.

In the meantime, I’m throwing myself wholeheartedly back into participation in the openSUSE community, not just as an observer and user.

Plasma 5 live images for openSUSE and on the default openSUSE desktop |


Luca Beltrame of the openSUSE KDE team describes the current plans for integrating the Plasma 5 desktop into openSUSE. Long story short:

  • You can now download a “live ISO” to burn to DVD for testing on 64-bit systems.
  • At the end of April, Plasma 4 will be replaced by Plasma 5 Desktop and KDE Applications in the rolling Tumbleweed release.
  • Yet another reworking of the KDE software repositories: KDE:Frameworks hosts Plasma 5 and its libraries, KDE:Applications hosts the released programs, KDE:Extra has KDE/Qt ‘community packages’
  • No timetable on when Plasma 5 comes to the stable distribution (Good idea!).

See on Scoop.itopenSUSE Desktop

KDE Gardeners: Community Stepping Up

Since we’ve written several posts recently about open source communities, let’s highlight one more example of community members seeing a problem and trying to solve it.

English: Logo of the KDE Project "KDE, K ...
Logo of the KDE Project “KDE, K Desktop Environment and the KDE Logo are trademarks of KDE e.V” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

KDE is the oldest graphical desktop environment for Linux, and I’ve used it since the day I installed Corel Linux in 2001 (forgive me if I’ve offered those two facts a hundred times before). It’s a big, complicated software collection (with 300+ software repositories), now undergoing its third major overhaul to KDE Frameworks 5 providing the technical underpinnings of the accompanying Plasma 5 Desktop. In all that time, there are going to be bugs that remain unsolved, and applications that grow stale.

Enter the gardeners

Spanish KDE developer Albert Astals Cid came to the annual Akademy conference with an idea: Put together a team to name and find people to fix longstanding bugs and important, but unmaintained projects. What became the KDE Gardening Team.

The Gardeners are different from the project’s quality assurance team, though it chooses a “Bug of the Month” that needs some attention. It’s really kind of a triage or rescue squad for KDE applications. As described in both Cid’s introductory blog post and the Gardening Team’s main page:

The mandate of the team is to:

  1. Find *really* important bugs and ping people to fix them
  2. Find stale reviewboards and ping people to review them
  3. Bugzilla gardening, close old products etc
  4. Find projects that need love and give them some

I love this description from the Gardeners’ page on the KDE Community Wiki of what qualifies as the “Bug of the Month”:

Those bugs often raise endless discussions from frustrated users about how KDE developers do not care. The truth is, most developers are not even aware of them, because the issues do not happen on their system.

The current “Bug of the Month” is a fun one, dating back to 2011, with 65 comments: “When I opened my laptop from sleep, and … logged in and saw my desktop this crash report was there.”

First sign of progress: K3B has a new update

The Gardeners’ first “love project” revived the venerable CD manager, K3b. Version 2.0 was originally released in 2010, and v2.0.2 came out a relatively short time after that. Since then,  developers had worked on v2.1, fixing some bugs plaguing existing users, but never getting released.

After the Gardeners’ applied some love to the project, K3b v2.0.3 came out a few days ago!

Next in line for some love is KRecipes. This recipe manager works pretty well by all reports, but was last released in November 2010. Incidentally for any technical writers reading this: the KRecipes Handbook (user guide) is not yet complete for the KDE 4 version of the software. Should you be inclined to help, see the current text here.

Once this project makes progress, KTorrent is likely the leading candidate for the next Love Project.

Got some free time?

The KDE Gardening Team is now composed of around a half-dozen contributors to the Team mailing list. You can view the archives and subscribe to the list on this page.

I’d like to spotlight other communities’ smart activities here at Notes from the Metaverse in the future. If you’re participating in something cool, or know of a similar project to the KDE Gardeners, let me know, either by email, or commenting on this post.

Another stroll down memory lane: KDE4’s mis-introduction

While writing yesterday’s milestone post, I realized I failed to mention the most popular post (by far) in the history of this blog, also known as the day I was linked to by DistroWatch Weekly.

Past as prologue

English: Logo of the KDE Project "KDE, K ...
Logo of the KDE Project “KDE, K Desktop Environment and the KDE Logo are trademarks of KDE e.V” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Curiously enough, that post topic echoes Tuesday’s post on the openSUSE 13.2 release. You see, openSUSE 11.0 was released in June 2008 to much fanfare, in part because the new version of the KDE desktop was included in the release. KDE 4.0 was  what we now  commonly call a “technical preview,” not really ready for production. Nonetheless, openSUSE allowed users the choice to install the “old” KDE 3.5 desktop, the new KDE 4.0 desktop, or the continuing GNOME 2 desktop. Despite some warnings that KDE 4 was not quite ready for everyday use, some folks installed it anyway. Pandemonium ensued on the support lists.

In this post, “openSUSE 11.0 and KDE 4,” I offered my take on the “crisis.” In brief, people needed to think about their systems before installing major new components. There was blame to be shared, but just because Linux folks were used to working with applications with version numbers of 0.4 didn’t mean that everything would always work perfectly.

KDE 4.3 desktop, showing Dolphin, KMail and a ...
KDE 4.3 desktop, showing Dolphin, KMail and a selection of desktop widgets. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apparently someone at the DistroWatch site (a place to learn about Linux distributions) thought I had something to say, and two days later, hundreds of folks were dropping by. The post sparked some interesting conversation in the comments as well. For a blogger, things rarely could get better.

Eventually, KDE 4 became eminently workable, and pretty darn cool. While some folks never got over the shock of the bad rollout (and still complain about how terrible KDE is now), KDE development continues apace. Sometime in the last few years, the Trinity project launched to recreate  KDE 3.5. I’ve heard they found it difficult to reproduce on modern systems. So it goes.

KDE Plasma 5: Don’t say you weren’t warned

Much has changed in KDE since 2008. With openSUSE 13.2, another new KDE desktop, based on the KDE 5 Framework is included with the distribution. But it’s not one of he options in the install. Many will set it up separately to play with, but much of the code won’t work side-by-side with KDE 4. A lesson learned.

As the month of November continues, I’ll have more to say about all these topics (openSUSE, KDE 4 and KDE 5). I’m still planning to try all the other supported desktops. Maybe I’ll have a new favorite by the end of the month. Stranger things have happened!

Got any memories of the KDE 4 rollout? How about GNOME 3, which didn’t go a lot better for some users? Let me know in the comments!