Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mandriva 2010 - First impressions PART 1

Hi all,

End of October and beginning of november are always happy days for Linux lovers, as many of the most important distros will release their new versions. Ubuntu unleashed the Karmic Koala a few days ago, while Mandriva released its brand new 2010 version just two days ago. Fedora 12 and OpenSuse11.2 are right around the corner as well, so damn right, pretty exciting times!

I wanted to share my first impressions on Mandriva 2010, I just installed it yesterday.

As usual, I downloaded the Live CD (I like to use Mandriva KDE implementation) from their site and burned the ISO into a CD. Insert the CD and Voila, the installation kicks in. Actually, I should say that Mandriva is slightly different to how Ubuntu Live CD works. Whereas the former forces you to boot into the LiveCD before you can install from a shortcut in the desktop, the latter allows you to jump straight into installation. Initially I thought that Mandriva´s way, while more conservative, was probably better considering how many users are complaining about faulty installations of Karmic. I was thinking it would help to enforce all users to run the live CD and see how compatibility plays with their PCs before they do run the installation.

Oh boy, was I wrong.

When you run any LiveCD, you get the operating system loaded from the CD, changing absolutely nothing on your PC. That is a very nice feature for many reasons, but probably the most important is that you can see how the Kernel in that particular LiveCD likes your machine´s peripherals. For example, if the liveCD does not detect your Wifi card, you will surely have the same problem when you install. At least, that´s what the theory says.

However, I got the opposite. I could see my Wifi card perfectly detected when running the liveCD, only to find the firmware was missing after installation. That was a very low point in my opinion. But anyways, let´s backtrack a bit and go through the installation process.

Like I was saying, after running the liveCD, there is a neat icon on the desktop that will start the installation process. The usual wizzard comes alive and the installation was pretty smooth, with a visual partition editor that made live particularly simple (although I think it can still be improved, I don´t find it intuitive enough for a new user). The installation went fine and the usual final message came up. Remove the CD from its tray and restart the system.

Mandriva has a particular way of doing things, which is a bit of a love/hate thing for me. For example, this particular release had made a lot of noise about the use of Plymouth along with Grub2 for a very visual, smooth transitioning start. My expectations were high, obviously, expecting a very cool looking interface at the start. There´s no denying, the Grub2 menu is more appealing than Ubuntu´s, as it is somewhat visual. However, after you choose to start Mandriva, transitioning is anything but smooth, jumping straight into a plain text screen which shows several components loading. The next screen is a visual one, with a neat animation displaying loading progress. I think it would have made more sense to use this screen all through the startup process, not letting any plain text screens visible. In any case, this visual screen is no breakthrough, nothing about its artwork is particularly groundbreaking. In fact, it felt to me a bit like a step back, as I loved the artwork in 2009 spring, and this one felt like a poor version of that. Even poorer was the KDM screen. I really think it is about time Mandriva updates it, it really looks obsolete and low quality. Everything from the graphics to the fonts looks pretty amateur.

Before I go into the desktop, let´s cover one thing about Mandriva´s installation that I hate myself. Before you even get to the login screen, you are asked to enter Root´s and a master user´s credentials. That much is fine. What I hate is that you are asked to setup your network connections at that stage, which has NEVER worked for me. There is a wizzard which initially looks harmless, and it could be a good idea if the wizzard actually worked as it should. Invariably, all through the last three releases, it always fails to detect any of the available networks automatically, and then you can either enter your network´s information (SSID, Encryption, etc) manually or cancel the process. I personally think this is an epic failure. Any non-advanced user will be puzzled if asked to enter their network parameters manually ("Oh, wait, the guy who set up my router gave me that info... Where did I leave that paper?"). Eventually, even if you know your parameters, as I did, the wizzard couldn´t connect to the network. Why? Because the firmware was missing!...

I will cover the rest of that problem and my impressions on the desktop on part 2 of this review.

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