[ Friday, 22 May 2009, tzglobic ]
They say first love never dies, and I guess there is a degree of truth in that. Mandrake the predecessor of Mandriva was my first Linux, and despite the fact that over the years our ways parted, I have a sentiment for this distribution and I come back to it every now and again to check what’s new. This time round I decided to have a look the newest addition to Mandriva family; Madriva One 2009.1 Spring, boldly promising to bring the best of the latest cutting edge technology to your desktop. As promises go this is a big one, and after reading the release note on the Madriva website I wondered if this once probably the most popular distro is ready regain the leader position.
First Impressions and Installation
After popping the live CD into the drive, rebooting my laptop and waiting for a couple of minuets for the system to load I was welcomed to new, shiny KDE 4.2.2 desktop. The default theme is aya with a light blue background and Mandriva logo on it, even though I’m not an aya lover I have to admit, things were looking very good indeed.
Mandriva developers spend a lot of time and pay a lot of attention to visual aspects of the system, and this immediately shows-what you get is well thought out and balanced desktop. Leaving visual aspect aside I went to the central control panel to check the hardware detection; Mandriva lived up to its reputation and all but the webcam was correctly detected. The Ricoh webcams installed in some of HP and Sony laptops including mine are a constant nuisance to Linux users, and none of the distros I’ve tried so far managed to recognised it. I’m not going to pick on Mandriva in that respect. My wireless card was correctly detected and so I proceed with establishing the connection to my home network, a task that took me about 30 second and was painless and straightforward; another point scored for Mandriva here.
As responsiveness of the live CD was becoming an issue and my first impressions were excellent, I decided not to wait any longer and install the system on my hard drive. After clicking the appropriate icon on the desktop, the installation wizard has started offering partitioning options including resizing of the Windows partition if you have one, the option I decided to test. Wizard proceeded to do the necessary work while I was still able to use the Internet to check my email and the latest news on BBC website. The whole instillation process took just under 18 minutes and I have to say I was very impressed by it.
This is a bold claim but to me the newest Mandriva installation wizard is probably the best I’ve ever used. It is simple, intuitive and very fast and I can’t see a single reason why anyone with no previous Linux experience and limited computer skills would run into a problem using it, well done Mandriva team. After rebooting all the settings and changes from live CD session, including my network password were remembered, something that is still lacking in some other live CD distros and adds another points to so far nearly excellent record. Overall in terms of installation and hardware detection Mandriva scores the highest mark with a small minus for the webcam recognition.
Software and Multimedia handling
Mandriva One comes with a decent selection of software; all the usual utilities found in other leading distros are available here as well. For any additional software just fire up rmpdrake, using Install & Remove Software tab in kick off menu and vast Mandriva repositories will provide you with almost any software you might need. Installing and removing software is very straightforward, if you know what you are after, just find and select the require packages, approve the selection and wait for the system to do the rest for you. If you new to Linux and don’t know much about what’s on offer or if you just browsing to see what’s available, tabs grouping available software in thematic categories can come very handy, just click on a chosen category tab and in right-hand pane you’ll see the selection of available packages. Software management tool is very intuitive and works smooth and fast, over the curse of last few weeks of testing and a large number of different packages I installed or removed I didn’t experience a single problem with it, my overall experience was very pleasant, and I have to say this is probably one of the best software management tools I’ve used recently.Whether you’re an advanced user or a just discovering the Linux grounds you should quickly find you’re way round it and just enjoy using it.
When it comes to multimedia Mandriva One does very well, it will play common formats out of the box which is a nice feature , especially for less seasoned users. If you attempt to play a multimedia that require a proprietary codecs not available by default, system will launch codeina web shop offering you an option of purchasing an appropriate solution. Obviously you can opt out and stick to free packages available for the Linux platform which in most common case scenarios will do good enough, if however you are prepared to dig out few pennies it might make sense to upgrade to powerpack edition which will include all the proprietary codecs out of the box along with other commercial software you might find useful (list here) and on-line support should you require it. It this place I’d like to highlight that Mandriva is a powerful system available free of charge and you don’t have to spend a penny to get the full functionality. However unlike some other major distribution Mandriva is a commercial venture and as such will offer you several additional paid for options, like support and commercial software and this is not a bad thing at all, some users might require it. At the end of the day it all comes to personal requirements, for those on a tight budget or those just not willing to dish out money on software most of the functionality offered in Power Pack can be archived with free solution and a little creativity just like in any other major distribution. If on the other hand you are looking for ready made solutions and technical support, Power Pack might be a right option for you. My advice is get the free version first and see if you like it then carefully evaluate your needs before clicking the purchase button, it is simple and best method to avoid latter disappointment. To sum up – Mandriva does an excellent job in terms of software management and multimedia handling, new users will appreciate intuitive interfaces and ease of use, and more advance users will appreciate the wealth of configuration options and fast and solid performance.
The newest Mandriva is no doubt an excellent system, easy to configure and use, appealing visually and offering a very powerful system under the hood. I really like the look and feel of it, but somehow I doubt it will dominate the Linux word or challenge the dominant position of Microsoft Windows. In comparison to Ubuntu the most popular Linux distro at the moment, Mandriva has nothing to be ashamed of, if anything many things are going to be easier for new users and I bet if you take 10 Linux novices and let them play for half an hour with both OS, the majority will point to Mandriva as more friendly. This however doesn’t matter much as if asked I will still recommend Ubuntu to any new user, and there are few reasons for that. The first one is the community, whatever problem you might have with Ubuntu, there are countless forums and websites dedicated to Ubuntu and the chances are you’ll find a solution to your problem sooner rather than latter. In case of Madriva community support in comparison to other major distribution is very poor; the result of ill thought Mandriva approach to community in last few years. Mandriva club available only to paying subscribers proved to be a big failure and recently Mandriva opened it up to everyone, still though it is a bit of a ghost town. If you walk into your local bookshop you’ll find at least few books on Ubuntu, one or two on Red Hat / Fedora and openSuse and absolutely nothing about Mandriva. Searching Amazon for any kind of introduction to the OS returns nothing. Uncertainty about which direction is going to be adapted by the company in the future remains an issue, probably the last thing you want is to get involved into a community project that is going to be fully commercialised sometime along the way or the other way round – to pay for software that will fail to gain a significant market share and disappear into oblivion. Judging from the recent announcements, people in Mandriva headquarters finally realised that without strong and vibrant community achieving success in the Linux word is nearly impossible. I genuinely hope that the recent attempts at rebuilding community spirit will work out as the OS is definitely worth it, but no doubt this will take time and lot of effort. To give justice to the company though they managed to develop one of the best Linux distributions around, it is available for free, and if any of the above doesn’t pose a problem for you, it is a distro worth a try.