[ Wednesday, 14 November 2007, paulina ]
Each new release of Mandriva is called by its developers “the best of all editions”. We had the same situation with Mandriva Linux 2008. But is this really true? Hardly so.
Author: Paulina Budzoń
Mandriva is well known for its simplicity, ease of use, responsiveness and stability. The 2008 edition was adverized as having all those features and more. A little delay with the release was explained by the need to “polish” the system and correct the bugs that appeared in the last moment. So consequently we all waited for the real revolutionary system, which would show what Linux really can do. And what did we get?
Let me start from the beginning, namely the system installation. Here Mandriva can be proud of itself. After running the installer we are welcomed by a new wallpaper — a blue background with two DNA-like strings. The idea is to stress connections with the community. One should admit that this looks more professional than the one from Spring edition.
As usual the installer is very simple and fast. In the 2008 edition we have fewer installation steps and the known bugs are fixed. For example the list of chosen packages is saved, so we can get back and customize it any time. In previous versions we had to select the packages all over again in such a situation. During the installation process (i.e. while copying the files) there are no commercials. There are 6 pictures displayed instead, and all of them contain useful information about the operating system. One of them states that Mandriva Linux is “Windows Friendly” and presents a new tool developed to migrate from Windows. One may easily spot a different way of adding users to the system. Now, during the standard installation process we have to give a root password and create only one user account. More user accounts can be added during the installation’s summary.
And what about the first run? New kernel (126.96.36.199), new KDE (3.5.7 and 4.0 unstable), new GNOME (2.20), XFCE, CompizFusion and new versions of most of the packages. So far, we can expect all the best. New kernel works very well, so does KDE 4.0, and we can see positive changes in GNOME. But all those changes are not due to Mandriva.
How does it look when we look closer at changes in the system itself?
Among the main features Mandriva describes is better hardware support. As for my hardware, I never had any problems with it. Recently I’ve bought a new HP CD writer. Spring had no problems with it. Unfortunately, after installing the 2008 edition the system liked my old CD writer better than the new HP one (and managed to detect the new one only from time to time). What’s more, when I’ve unplugged the old CD writer the system refused to boot… So the 2008 edition supports my hardware worse than 2007.1 Spring did. The one positive change here is that the new system has drivers especially for my printer’s model. In the Spring edition I had to use the general ones. Honestly speaking the only change is that now when I turn off the printer, the system works properly — before it liked to crash in such case. But I do not turn it off often anyway, so this is not a real difference for me…
Visible changes have been made in the Control Centre. Categories are regrouped and the options order is changed. A tool named
transfugdrake for migrating documents and settings from Microsoft Windows to Mandriva Linux has been introduced. As for my personal feelings, I think that at first glance MCC looks much better. But as we take a closer look it appears that the only real change is that most of the network options are now grouped in the “Network Centre”. It is nice-looking but nothing more. Not a single option was added to really improve the system, like for example the possibility of defining the Samba work-group, which still needs to be done by editing the smb.conf file.
Changes in Mandriva Control Centre
As for Samba itself, it simply does not work properly. My home LAN is rather typical. In the Spring edition configuring Samba was quite simple (installation of samba-server and changing the work-group name did the trick). In 2008′s case it is not so simple. Samba does not work properly — computers can be viewed but you can localize them only by IP addresses. It does not encourage migration from Windows, really…
We don’t have a lot of changes in KDE (3.5.7 was present in the Spring edition, too), but now you can test the 4.0 version. In the 2008 edition a few graphical environments were added (including XFCE). As for CompizFusion (fancy 3D effects), it works well, but there are functions which cause some troubles. I must admit at this point that developers did a really good job, because the water effect works without problems now (in the Spring edition it resulted in monitor blinking).
KDE with a new wallpaper and Compiz Fusion
But all this is not as convincing for me. I use neither KDE nor Compiz. My favoured duo is GNOME with Metisse, so I’ll describe my impression about it.
GNOME 2.20 is really more polished than the previous version present in 2007.1. The first problem, however, appeared when I started up Metisse. All fonts went to “extremely small” mode. Modifying configuration in GConf and KControl did not help. Only some of them became bigger — the rest were still tiny. It is not the resolution or a monitor problem, since after turning off Metisse all goes back to normal. There were no such problems in the Spring edition.
Another change is a new menu layout. It is hard to say if it is the result of intentional work or just an accident. Roughly speaking a menu looks like it suffered a serious attack from a hurricane. We all liked the old menu categories. Here (except for the main ones like “Network”, “Office” and “Graphics”) there’s no logic at all. Some alternate positions are available from the main categories and other positions are put in a sub-menu named “More”. Searching for web browser took me about 5 minutes. The standard layout was preserved only in the “Games” section. Huh, at least our access to fun is not disturbed!
I noticed the next change after a week of using the 2008 edition. When I wanted to watch a movie, Kaffeine had some problems with xine engine and could not play it. Mplayer could not open the subtitles and Kmplayer just… blinked instead of playing the movie. The only player that could play the movie properly with subtitles was Totem, but it has serious problems with full-screen mode. It probably has something to do with Metisse. I finally watched the movie after a half an hour fight with all those multimedia apps. It is a rather dissapointing problem for a system that should open all well known file formats and is supposed ti be newbie-friendly.
Poor Bluetooth support in Linux is a well known problem (especially remembering the issues with Kbluetooth in Mandriva 2007). Theoretically, this problem is gone in the 2008 version, but I shall stress the word “theoretically”. 2008 could not connect with my phone at all! Is it the case that fixing one bug gives birth to another one?
After all this, is Mandriva Linux 2008 “the best of all editions”? In my opinion, it is not, of course. I don’t know what the developers did in this spare week, but I don’t even like to think about the system they had before. I must also admit that all those problems do not change my attitude towards Mandriva. I won’t quit using this distribution for sure. I still use the 2008 edition and the only thing I can do are regular visits to Bugzilla, where I report all my problems. If those problems are solved, Mandriva 2008 will be a really cool system. And then I could perhaps call it “the best one”, but only then.
This text is based on the article published in Dragonia Magazine, a Polish online magazine about Free and Open-Source Software. You can download the latest Dragonia issue (first one in English from our mirror). The article has been slightly modified compared with the original version by the PolishLinux team.
Translated by p_lupkowski, Proof-read by Jake Conley