Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mandriva 2011 Review

In my recent King of KDistros poll, several readers wanted me to include Mandriva in the comparison, claiming it had become a KDE exclusive distro and that it was doing a great job with its latest release, Mandriva 2011. Having tested Mandriva 2010 not so long ago and feeling disappointed by its apparent lack of progress, I decided to leave Mandriva out of the poll. I felt PCLinuxOS already somewhat represented the heart of Mandriva, but I have to admit I was not aware of the latest changes and progress at Mandriva camp.

Intrigued by those recommendations, I decided to download Mandriva 2011 RC2, the last of the release candidates, which with the exception of a few bug fixes, should not differ much from the latest official release. I must admit Mandriva 2011 pleasantly surprised me, showcasing a lot of refreshing ideas and quite an impressive amount of customization that is not usually found in KDE releases.

INSTALLATION AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Having installed PCLinuxOS recently, I was quite familiar with the Mandriva installation process, which PCLinuxOS uses as well. Unlike more visually appealing ones (Pardus, Chakra), Mandriva installation goes straight to the point and gets the installation done and dealt with simply and quickly. A big plus for many, I am sure, but I think a bit more eye candy would help.

Booting the system begins with a legacy GRUB boot menu, which leads the way to a (not so silent) boot process that incorporates a simple yet interesting splash screen. The real interesting stuff starts with the KDM theme, though.

Although incorporating more similarities to Windows than I would like to admit, the Mandriva 2011 KDM theme looks awesome, with beautiful big user avatars and some cool animations. Simply beautiful, and a much needed fresh take on something that was getting old already at KDE camp. Unfortunately, I am having issues with my Virtualbox setup, so I cannot show screenshots of the KDM theme nor the splash screen that shows up before the desktop loads in KDE implementations. In Mandriva 2011 this cool little animation incorporates the distro's own ROSA icon theme, a neat appetizer before we reach the desktop.

THE DESKTOP


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Once again, I find the similarities with Windows a bit too obvious myself, but it's hard to deny Mandriva 2011 sports a beautiful desktop. At a glance, it is easy to tell that those are some new icons, and some cool icons they are. However, there is more to this desktop than just a few new icons.


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Just clicking on the main menu button brings the awesome ROSA menu, an interesting take on the by now popular dash that both GNOME SHELL and Unity are using. In fact, the functionality is quite similar, with three tabs at the bottom. The first of those tabs, which is the default one, is your typical "Places"/"Recently used" kind of deal. The second one is the usual "Applications", while the last one is meant to show a "timeframe". Apparently a registry of activity through time, I personally have not seen it in action due to the short time my testing required.


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The default wallpaper is nice, but is unfortunately the only one Mandriva provides. All other wallpapers available are default KDE ones. Luckily, customization continues in other areas, including a custom set of controls and window decorations, as well as a custom ROSA Plasma theme. Plasma widgets look great and so does the Logout/Shutdown dialog.


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Mandriva have made a bold move with this release, bringing a much needed fresh take to the KDE desktop. I believe this is a great thing in many respects: On the one hand, Mandriva starts its own path as a KDE exclusive distro and does it with style, making a difference and setting the bar high in terms of quality and Look&Feel. On the other hand, it's good to see KDE out of the same old Oxygen suit, which hopefully will encourage other distros to create their own icon themes, window decorations, KDM themes, etc.

It's important to note, though, that many of the new elements that Mandriva 2011 brings forward, such as the ROSA icon theme, still feel a bit like a work in progress. Not all system and application icons get their ROSA "representative", which sometimes ends up looking rather poor. Similarly, the window decoration could use some polishing, and a more original and unique control theme would also be welcome. I hope this new Mandriva beginning will close those gaps in feature releases, though.

Aside from the new pieces of functionality and eye candy, Mandriva does offer quite a special set of features accessible through its Mandriva Control Center. While this is by no means news, I think it's relevant for those who have never given Mandriva (and derivatives) a chance in the past.


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I will not cover the Control Center in depth here, but I can guarantee all kinds of users will appreciate it. Those coming from a Windows background will feel right at home, while the rest will find a powerful yet intuitive management tool that can do anything but baking a pizza. To give just two examples, as displayed in the screenshots just above and below, it provides a powerful partition manager and a parental control suite.


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Nothing is perfect, though, and I have always thought it was a bit confusing when both the Mandriva and the KDE Control Center were there, specially after using distros which rely in the KDE Control Center to manage everything. It doesn't take long to figure out which does what, but depending on your experience it may feel a bit quirky.

SOFTWARE & APPLICATIONS

Mandriva claims to be a very user friendly distro, perfect for Linux starters. I personally would agree with that claim for the most part, but there are some things that are downright quirky. A good example is how it manages software, which requires the activation of repositories to get started. Now, I am not sure if that is something to do with this being a release candidate version, but if the final release is the same, most users with no Linux background will get lost right there. I believe all essential repositories should be enabled by default, with a dialog offering the optional enabling of auxiliary repositories (i.e., Non-Free).


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Having said so, the Mandriva Software management tool, which is part of its overall Control Center, still works great and is easy to use (it could use an aesthetic revamp, though... The whole Control Center could).


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Mandriva includes an interesting software selection, including Firefox 5, Thunderbird 3.11 (weird, as TB5 is available in the repos), LibreOffice 3.4, Shotwell 1.10 (nice, hopefully more stable than the shaky DigiKam), Kopete, Gwenview, Clementine, SMPlayer and others.


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While I have no major issues with the default software selection, I find it weird that several popular applications (such as Dropbox or Skype) were not available for download, not even with all repos enabled. Coming from a PCLinuxOS experience, I was hoping these neat apps would be available for Mandriva as well.

In terms of media capabilities, Mandriva 2011 is ready to play about anything you throw at it. Clementine deals with music libraries with ease, and SMPlayer managed to play a wide array of video formats (AVI, MP4, MKV, etc.) How about browser plugins, you may ask? Well, Flash is installed and correctly configured, but there was nothing at hand to play quicktime material.


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HARDWARE MANAGEMENT

Once again, using PCLinuxOS led me to wrong assumptions on this one. In my recent experience with it, all the hardware in my HP 2740p was detected and correctly configured out of the box. I somehow assumed a similar result would apply with Mandriva 2011, but it was not the case. The first issue started with the on board Broadcom BCM4312 wireless card, which was detected successfully, but not correctly configured. The default wireless driver included was not able to make it work, so I was forced to look for a solution in forums and the like.


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Luckily, Mandriva provides some great documentation and help through its Wiki, and finding how to set up the B43 driver on Mandriva 2011 was fairly simple once I found where to look. For those interested, here are the steps I had to go through:

1.- From a terminal, run the following command to download the appropiate driver:

wget http://downloads.openwrt.org/sources/broadcom-wl-4.178.10.4.tar.bz2

2.- Extract the contents just downloaded:

tar xf broadcom-wl-4.178.10.4.tar.bz2

3.- As root, run the following command (bear in mind the path depends on where files where extracted on step 2.)

b43-fwcutter -w /lib/firmware/ broadcom-wl-4.178.10.4/linux/wl_apsta.o

4.- Activate it

modprobe b43

Voila!... That did it for me, and I must say that once the driver was configured, I am getting the fastest wireless connection times I have seen (Windows or Linux). Wireless is literally connected BEFORE the desktop shows up.


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As you can see, setting up wireless was not THAT difficult, but that is precisely what bugs me about it. If the system detects my card successfully and is aware of it not working, and if the solution to my problem was clearly identified and documented, why not providing a simpler solution, or at least some meaningful help? Given how advanced and user friendly the approach of Ubuntu/Kubuntu is on this matter, I think Mandriva has a lot of work to do before they can say they are the user friendly distro they claim to be.


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The next problem I found was with the on board webcam, which was again detected, but not configured... Meh, I didn't even bother to search how to set it up. After all, I was just testing, but I was again disappointed to see no simple way to get it installed and correctly configured.

On a different note, not entirely related to hardware management, I wanted to share something strange I found during my testing. After testing for a while I realized how hot my tablet was, and the fact that its fan was constantly working, sometimes at full power. I ran a quick check and found a worrying misuse of resources.


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Unfortunately, such behavior was not a one off, for it is consistently happening every time I boot (even with Nepomuk disabled and no other application running).

FINAL THOUGHTS

Mandriva 2011 is quite an interesting turn in this popular distro recent history. After a few rough years that slowed down development progress, Mandriva seems to be alive and kicking hard again. I like its new ideas, features and unique character, the fact that they decided to commit to a single desktop environment and the potential I see looking forward. However, I think those ideas still need a bit of time to mature and settle down. Similarly, there are some things that need polishing or fixing, but considering I was testing a release candidate version, that's not to be taken too seriously.

In short, I recommend Mandriva 2011 once it goes live to all kinds of users. If you used it in the past and found reasons to move to a different distro, think about giving it another spin. For those who have never used Mandriva, well, this is a great time to start.

33 comments:

  1. Mandriva 2011 will rock, but it will get even finer with the next releases as the problems you talked about (and others) will get ironed out.

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  2. Skype ( who now belong to microsoft, shall I remind you ) and Dropbox are maybe not distribuable as they are proprietary. While pclinuxos may not care of such legal issues or respecting laws, licenses or free software spirit, Mandriva do not have the luxury of distributing warez and facing another legal problem ( remember the mandrake trademark issue, and how it almost killed the company ? I am sure that microsoft would love to get more money from their competitor this way ).

    You should also note that Skype is forbidden by french administration for security reasons ( and was blocked in the european administration where I worked some years ago for similar reasons, ), maybe Mandriva do not want to lose paying customers by distributing this ?

    Regarding dropbox, this would simply be a competitor to their own offering called rosa sync :
    http://lists.mandriva.com/cooker/2011-05/msg00484.php

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  3. PCLinuxOS I need my 64 bit version, and I quote:-

    "PCLinuxOS KDE 2011.6 for 32 and 64 bits computers is now available for download. A 64 bit only release will be available in the coming weeks."

    It's been almost 2 months.

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  4. Very good review of what will be Mandriva 2011.

    I also had the problem of driver Broadcom BCM4312 and a bug report is open for that.

    Mandriva 2011 will be officially released on August 29

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  5. Thanks all for your comments!

    About Skype and Dropbox, well, I don't understand how repackaging an application that is already available for Linux FOR FREE can be illegal. If Mandriva was modifying the code or charging for its download, that would be a different thing, but...

    In addition, I hope Mandriva looks beyond the French frontiers when building a distro that is offered Worldwide.

    In any case, all I was saying was that those applications were not available and that I found that weird, which are mere facts that potential users are better off knowing. I don't condone nor condemn anything here.

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  6. Mandrake was a great operating system back in the day. But now Mandriva has had it for a few yrs now and it's still a buggy o/s. Sorry as much as I dislike M$, Skype is needed in my world. I had no problem paying for the Powerpack versions in the past, but it needs to work.. (64bit)

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  7. Please change background! I cannot read the text. Never use white text on black background!!!!

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  8. @Hans Micheelsen: Sorry, not sure I follow... The background is not black and the text is not white... Perhaps an issue with your display/setup?

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  9. might want to try mageia as its is a fork by the mandriva community

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  10. I think problem with the wifi drivers should be fixed in the new builds =) According to the bugzilla, faulty dkms driver was removed.

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  11. No, the background is almost black, and the text is almost white; in fact two levels of gray.

    So, the contrast is even poorer. Very bad for the readibility (specially on a laptop) but lovely to graphic designers. When aesthetics wins to ethics.

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  12. Yeah, two levels of gray, exactly what I was looking for: Something smooth and easy to read, nothing flashy nor exaggerated (Nothing to do with ethics, mind you)...

    That's the way I see it myself, much more comfortable to my eyes than more extreme contrasts, but perhaps I am wrong?

    Everybody find text hard to read here?

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  13. Yes, it is more hard to read for me than a white/black or black/white combination.

    May be for this reason the books are still printed with black ink on white paper, instead of gray ink on gray paper.

    Luckily, most websites are readable with black/white combinations instead of yellow on brown, blue on green an other kinky pairs.

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  14. No problems at all with the readability on my laptop. Also I like the theme that Mandriva uses. Nice review.

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  15. Books are not printed with grey ink on grey paper for obvious reasons: cost! No readability problems here on my cheap Acer Netbook with Ubuntu 11.04 in classic mode. As for the review, I found it very useful, especially since I am considering an alternative to Ubuntu as 11.10 is going to get rid of Gnome 2 completely. Might give it a look and jump back onto the KDE wagon. Hopefully driver issues will be worked out before the final release.

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  16. Thanks all for your comments. Glad to see that most people don't have problems with readability.

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  17. Problems with readability, no way. Everything perfect like always.

    And nice review Chema.

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  18. Great information as always, Chema. No problems with readability here.

    Anonymous, look into one of the various plugins that allow you to tweak your browser settings.

    --

    I look forward to the day when I no longer worry about whether embedded (or other) video content will play or not.

    I've mucked with various codecs and such, but I can't say I understand what I'm doing in that regard. I usually boot into Ubuntu 10.10 when I cannot play a video. Or else, I just live without.

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  19. I hate ROSA as I hate GNOME 3 and Unity. Never can use some stuff like them.

    Interesting review but you should also try Mageia... ;-)

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  20. Thanks for the great review! Enjoyed it, and will try to get Mandriva Flash when 2011 is "optimized" for it, or whatever they do :) Didn't know about ROSA before this review! :D Now I want to test out Mandriva (which I had previously thought was dead... good to know! :D)

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  21. No readability problems here! As always great review - to those of you who can't read because of the black/grey white/grey issue...seriously?? get a life

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  22. I have just installed Mandriva 2011. But it's not Mandriva for me anymore. That so called "Rosa panel" remind me of Ubuntu/Unity to much.
    I want the option to have some icons at the desktop for the applications I use most.
    I am happy that Mageia is out there. For me that's the "real" Mandriva now. And I hope they never introduce a rosa panel, Unity or some similar stuff.

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  23. to the last anonymous.. just remove rosa panel and add a KDE panel, simply, just two clicks ahead! And you can also have Stack Folders in the KDE panel, a great idea implemented by Mandriva.
    And I don't understand you, I have all my icons that I want in my desktop ¿? For me, Mandriva 2011 just works perfect, and if you don't like the Rosa panel, just remove it, simply!!

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  24. To the last anonymous. Yes, you can remove it, fortunately, but the defaults with ROSA are bad. The very idea of ​​ROSA is bad... Like is GNOME 3 and Unity.

    Oh and about "the "real" Mandriva", DistroWatch in its review of Mandriva 2011 agree too. See the review of the suicidal Mandriva, you are still with it?, at http://distrowatch.com/weekly.php?issue=20110829&mode=68#feature

    Here is just a little quote from it:

    "Conclusions

    I have mixed feelings about Mandriva Linux 2011. On the other hand, long-time Mandriva users are likely to be disappointed with the sudden lack of options previously available to them. (...)

    it's clear that Mandriva 2011 has departed too far from its roots. In fact, Mageia 1, which resisted the temptation to make large scale changes to its first release, is now a more genuine "Mandriva" than Mandriva itself. Those users who enjoyed the older Mandriva Linux releases will undoubtedly feel more at home with Mageia 1 than with the latest Mandriva release.

    Mandriva 2011 feels like a completely new distribution, extravagantly disconnected from its past and with dramatically new values, concepts and orientation. (...) in the process it has probably shunned many of the more technical users."

    Without forget now it is a almost absolute KDE distro and if you are one of "those users wishing to use Mandriva in a different deployment scenario than the default KDE desktop might be discouraged by the amount of post-install customisation work and the unequivocal endorsement of KDE as the only supported desktop." (DistroWatch)

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  25. Great review, very satisfied user of PCLinuxOS!

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  26. I do. No way to run it on 1.8Ghz Athlon Dual Core with 4GB 800Mhz RAM. Very buggy as well.

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  27. Having tried Mandriva years ago (2008) I have to admit I was a little skeptical. I am as I write this in the process of installing a copy on my laptop. For about a year, I have been a fan of Linux Mint but I am going to give it a try for a few weeks...

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  28. I have tried for three days to get mandriva, it looks cool but just cant make it work

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  29. Hey where u from?

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  30. Since my French friend was having trouble with Mandriva being slow, I installed it on my computer. I regret admitting that it is quite slow.

    Now, my computer has a dual-core Intel T2300 with only 1GB R.A.M. Also, maybe my comparison is a bit unfair: My main O.S. on this computer is Gentoo Linux with Openbox. However, I tried to even the odds by logging on four accounts simultaneously in Gentoo: Two with Openbox, one with Gnome, and one with K.D.E. Even so, Mandriva with just one user logged in was much slower.

    Maybe the swappiness in Mandriva was a bit high. Maybe I did a bit too much, expecting for it to run smoothly after I installed updates. Mandriva never insisted on rebooting, as Windows does, not that I expected it to, since it didn't update the kernel. Still, I hope that Mandriva improves. Mandrake was one of the first Linux distributions that I tried, and I wouldn't want for it to cease being developed.

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  31. The ISO image that I downloaded had a valid checksum, but upgrading from Mandriva One 2011 release DVD to whatever came after was filled with trouble for me.

    It wants alot of changes and the dependencies will feed back on eachother. In the end, I had to remove bits and pieces from the install lists and do it in a more manual method. Things got bad enough though that I had issues during boot time of not having some file I was supposed to have. After that, it seems something messed up blocks on the partition while locked up (which the installer itself did a few times because I was also using the browser at the same time).

    My partition is now mush and even reformatting it will not fix it. I am going to try to delete the partition and see if I can make a fresh one there with bad block detection turned on.

    I do not recommend the ISO image for Mandriva One 2011 to anyone. Download it some other way if you can.

    It would have been nice if they would have put out a 2011b DVD ISO image. The first one sucked.

    The features in Mandriva 2011 seem nice. The Desktop actually reminded me of an older KDE that I actually liked more than the one with the Plasma widget covered desktop shoved down my throat. This one is a nice compromise.

    I can't deny that some of my problems may have been with a possible pending drive failure, but I can also say that despite that, there are some obvious problems. I hope everyone else has better luck than I did.

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  32. No joy with new powerpack, will not boot after install after a few times of perfect operation something about root=

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