After a slight delay here is the third instalment of my Linux tour. On Wednesday of this week I wiped openSUSE off my machine and decided to try Mandriva 2008 next. I used to Mandrake a lot a few years back before it became Mandriva and even paid to join their Club but never felt like I got value for my money. 2006 was the last version of this distro I used and I was anxious to see what had changed:
Giving It A Boot:
On first booting the new system I was given all the usual “sign up for our services” and “register this product” prompts which is one thing I’m not so keen on with Mandriva but they have to make a living and I can understand that. Besides, it wasn’t as intrusive as the usual Microsoft hard sell. I managed to avoid signing up for anything and moved on. I was greeted by the standard KDE desktop I would say with a Mandriva wallpaper and 3D effects enabled. I’m not a huge fan of KDE as I’ve mentioned before but it wasn’t a barrier to using the system, Gnome isn’t on the install CD just because of space limitations really. I could have downloaded and installed it but I wanted to keep the experience as authentic as possible.
I had all the KDE programs you would expect at my disposal: Amarok, OpenOffice, Firefox, Kmail etc. So I decided to see how easy it would be to add the additional software I like to use by clicking the “Install & Remove Software” option on the system menu. I found I was prompted to choose between update libraries and “distro sources” and I just clicked update libraries at first. This turned out to be a mistake as I couldn’t seem to find any software when I searched. So I went into the settings and chose “distro sources”, this immediately fixed the problem and I was installing like a mad man in no time. I installed my usual round of required apps, all by just searching for them in the text field and ticking the ones I wanted. It was very similar to using “Add / Remove” in Ubuntu. Next I visited the Skype website and downloaded the RPM package from there, double-clicked it and the package manager fixed all dependency problems, then did it’s thing. There was no hassle and I have to say when you’re having a busy week, no hassle is just what you want 🙂 I decided to try opening some music files in Amarok and it worked fine, no need to install codecs or anything to play my music.
I also opened up some video files which launched the Kaffine video player, not a program I like as much as Totem in Gnome, to it’s credit though the videos just played. They were Xvid encoded too so it obviously had all the required codecs which was great.
I was pretty comfortable on Mandriva I have to say, so much so that I was happy to stay an extra day or two while I was busy doing other stuff. I used Ktorrent to download some of my regular TV shows and also burned off a copy of Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon on the day it came out.
A Few Slight Problems:
I did have a few little problems with Mandriva and in the interests of balance I should give them some coverage. The first problem I had was a crash when I left the machine for a few minutes and the screen saver kicked in. When I returned to the machine there was a picture up from the screen saver but I couldn’t get it to respond with either the mouse or keyboard, it was just frozen. I had to use the power button to force a reboot but I disabled the screen saver and didn’t see the problem again. The other problem I had was writing to my external NTFS hard disk. I expected this to just work as it does in most distributions now that NTFS-3G is out of beta, I had to go into the software manager and install all the NTFS tools I could find to get this working, it was a little involved. I was surprised as everything else had been so easy but I managed to fix it.
As you will probably have detected from the tone of this review, I really liked Mandriva 2008 and it impressed me with the easy install. Things like setting up the 3D desktop and installing drivers were just done, I didn’t even have to think about it and it would be great to see all other distributions do this. There are legal issues with restricted drivers and formats obviously but I think it can be done. Mandrake always had a reputation for being a great beginners distribution and it seems Ubuntu has stolen a little bit of it’s thunder in recent times, based on this experience though I would happily recommend this to any new user. I still love Ubuntu and will continue to use it personally but I would have no problems in handing a CD of Mandriva to a novice and leaving them to it, the install is probably easier than even Ubuntu… but whisper that quietly or the Ubuntu geeks will disown me 😉 I would be really interested to see what the commercial Powerpack version of Mandriva 2008 is like, I suspect even the few problems I encountered might not be an issue with that. I’d heard rumours that this was the best Mandriva release in years and I can confirm it really is great. Credit where it’s due Mandriva have stepped up to the plate here after some difficult years, it’ll be interesting to see if they can win back some of the users who’ve gone over to Ubuntu. Time will tell.
The Journey continues: So I’ve had fun with Mandriva but I must press on with my journey. I’m planning to try PCLinuxOS next which I really know nothing about other than it’s top of the DistroWatch list at the moment, so it should be interesting. Stay tuned…