Distro Review: Mandriva One 2009

It’s been a while since I posted a really meaty distro review and I apologize for that, I won’t bore you with all the reasons and excuses but instead get right back into it. I’ve started distro hopping again on my main machine (Dell M1330 laptop) to keep me on my toes and my first stop on the tour was Mandriva One 2009. I had great things to say about the 2008 release and I was eager to see how the new version would measure up, here’s how I got on:

Vital Stats:
Distro base – Red Hat (Forked many moons ago though it has to be said)
Packaging – .rpm (Managed by URPMI)
Linux Kernel – 2.6.27-desktop586-0.rc8.2mnb
Default Desktop – KDE 4.1 or Gnome 2.24 (in the versions I tried)

Installation:
The first step in the process was obviously to download and burn a copy of the software to install. On the download page you are presented with 3 options: Mandriva One which contains all the software you could need on one LiveCD, Mandriva Free which only contains completely free (as in speech, GPL) software, no proprietary drivers or packages and lastly the Mandriva Powerpack which is a paid for version you can either download or have delivered in a boxed set. Powerpack comes with additional commercial software bundled in, you also get some support and access to services other users don’t, this is on top of all the packages you could ever want on one DVD disc. I decided to go for Mandriva One as I did last year because it suits my particular requirements, I like to support GPL software wherever possible but I also want my freedom hating Nvidia graphics card to work. I’m far too cheap to put my hand in my pocket and order Powerpack, so One it is. I started with the KDE 4.1 version, not usually my favourite environment but I figured I should give it a proper try.

Edit: When I originally wrote this I complained about the lack of promotion for the Gnome version of Mandriva on the download page but it seems the site has been updated since I looked a couple of weeks back. I cut that section out but wanted to set that record straight.

I booted up the LiveCD and was immediately prompted to accept a license agreement up front which seems strange in a Linux distribution but doesn’t particularly bother me as I know it does some others. I was then prompted for my choice of 3D desktop effects, either Metisse or Compiz Fusion. Metisse looks very interesting I must say but I selected Compiz as I normally do. After a quick flash of the Nvidia splash screen the LiveCD booted up and I had full 3D effects even in the live session. This is the same experience as I had with Mandriva 2008 and I think it’s great for new users, there are of course many political issues when dealing with proprietary drivers but I think the Mandriva approach of assuming if I have an Nvidia card in my machine I’d like to use it is a fair one. I did find the LiveCD ran a little slowly on my machine, I’m not sure why and there’s always a lag when running from an optical disc but this was slower than I’ve noticed in other releases. I clicked the install icon on desktop and got down to business anyway. It took just over 10 minutes to reformat the drive and install. As usual I used my existing partitions a 12gb root partition, 4gb swap and around 140gb home partition. I removed all the hidden settings files and folders from my home partition before leaving my previous distro so as not to confuse things but retained all my data and only formatted the / (root) partition.

The install went smoothly and the installer is intuitive enough to use but every time you think you’ve finished another dialog pops up. Once you reboot the machine you get more screens asking you to set up your new user account, answer a survey, register the product, think about buying the paid version and so on. I understand the company needs user feedback and would like you to graduate to a paid version of the product, that’s all perfectly normal but even with the option to skip these pages it feels a bit like badgering to me. It’s like those people who approach you with clip boards asking your opinion on something when you just want to get to the bus stop, we all know somebody has to do it but we don’t want it to us and we avoid them. One innovative feature of the installer I’d really like to highlight though is the option to remove packages that don’t apply to your hardware from the installation profile before you actually install. This saves space and may increase performance. A minor problem I encountered on both the KDE and Gnome install was the machine freezing while trying to reboot and compete the install. I had to manually power off the machine. The installation worked once rebooting from the hard drive and it may be something limited to my hardware but it was a little worrying.

Please follow the link below if you’d like to see a full slideshow of the installation process:
INSTALLATION SLIDESHOW

Configuring the system:
I noticed upon booting the new install that the screen resolution was set wrong for my laptops display, even though it was using the proper Nvidia driver. The 13.3 inch screen should run at 1280×800 but it seemed to be running at 1024×768. After selecting 1280×800 from a dialog in the Control Centre and rebooting the X server i had the right resolution but now the main KDE task bar didn’t fit the screen width. This puzzled me a bit but I was able to fix it by right-clicking on the bar and using the settings menu to stretch it out. I should really take a moment to talk about the system administration tool in Mandriva called the Control Centre, for me it represents as full a collection of GUI tools available in any distribution. Much like OpenSUSE everything is collected into one applet not unlike the Windows Control Panel structure which some people love and others hate. I think for a new user though, especially one moving from a Windows background the layout of these tools is really useful and easy to pick up. My display was looking pretty good by now but I found Compiz seemed a little sluggish, switching desktops was jittery and something just wasn’t right. Once again I found the fix in the Control Centre, this time under 3D Desktop Effects configuration section. You will see from the screen shot (figure 1 bellow) that under Compiz Fusion there are 2 radio boxes marked native and XGL. I selected XGL as the compositing engine and suddenly things got a lot quicker. I don’t think my graphics card was being used to it’s full potential and it seems strange after the Nvidia card was set up so easily for me in the install.

(figure 1)

Next up it was time to sort out my wireless internet connection which was so easy I really can’t fault it. I simply clicked the icon in the tray next to the clock, selected my home wireless network SSID from the list and entered the my WPA key. Within a minute I was online and everything worked. I’m a big fan of Network Manager in Gnome but this Mandriva Network Centre compared very favourably. I was able to find and install software very easily via the “Install & Remove Software” tool which appears on the main menu in both Gnome and KDE versions. It works very much like the Ubuntu tool of a similar name. You enter search for your package by name or browse the categories then you just tick a box and add it to your list. When you’re ready you click the “apply” button to download and install. This can be confusing for users coming from the likes of Windows where the “add and remove applications” tool is really only ever used to remove that annoying program you thought was a good idea late one night. I found the collection of software in the Mandriva repositories to be pretty comprehensive and certainly comparable to Ubuntu and it’s ilk.

I installed Gpodder, Deluge, Mediatomb, Bluefish, Pidgin and much more very easily and quickly. All of the apps were also at the latest released version which is very good, you want your repos to be up to date and this seemed right up to the minute. I installed Checkgmail from the RPM package on their website and it worked very well. I also found the multimedia codecs I needed were available, when trying to play a file I was prompted by a tool called Codeina to either buy a commercial codec or download a free community one. This is done through Fluendo who sell legal licenses for many restricted codecs in the US, they do a valuable job but not living in an area affected by this restriction and always naturally drawn to the free option I chose the community option and it worked just fine. At this point you’d think all in the garden was rosy but it wasn’t.

The Sound Of Silence:
Wait, did you hear something? No neither did I and it was at this point that I realised my machine wasn’t producing any sound at all. There wasn’t even a little volume control applet in the system tray which didn’t bode well. It seemed my internal Intel sound card wasn’t being supported by the distro. I can’t believe I didn’t notice the lack of sound until opening a video for the first time but there we go. I did some searching on the Internet and luckily it didn’t take too long to turn up this thread from the Mandriva forum. After reading through I discovered the sound device used in a lot of new Dell laptops like the m1530, m1330 (mine) and others isn’t supported by Mandriva 2009 or at least not by the stock kernel on the disc. It seems this was a minor problem with the release as it had worked in 2008. I found through following the forum thread some other users had fixed their problems by installing a new kernel (kernel-linus-2.6.27-0.rc8.3.1mdv-1-1mdv2009) from here, so I downloaded the packages as suggested and followed suit which was as easy as a double-click of the RPM package files. After rebooting the system I was able to select the new kernel on boot from my GRUB bootloader menu. To my relief this time I did hear sound when logging in all be it with an slightly annoying buzz from the speakers. The last step in the fix was editing my GRUB settings to boot this kernel by default. I did this in a terminal with the following command:

“sudo nano /boot/grub/menu.lst”

I set the default selection parameter at the top of the file to 3 so it would choose the kernel I wanted each time. I found that the buzz was being caused by the mic input on the front of the laptop, muting it in the PulseAudio settings helped but it wasn’t ideal. All in all this fix wasn’t too hard and for a user with a reasonable amount of Linux experience it’s fine but I can’t help thinking this is a quite an oversight. I know many people probably installed Mandriva on their machines with no trouble at all and this may well be limited to the hardware in my machine but I’ve never had this problem with another distribution and it was a bit disappointing. I should point out that I was impressed with the response to this problem and I was also pleased to see Adam Williamson of Mandriva involved in the forum thread. It’s possible this was an upstream problem with kernel development of course but it still seems like a QA oversight which a lot of novice users may struggle with.

The Gnome Edition:
After a few days on KDE 4.1 I decided to install the Gnome version of Mandriva 2009.

You get the latest Gnome which is 2.24 and it’s very nicely done I must say, I immediately felt at home with the Gnome desktop, this is probably down to my personal preferences. All of the latest Gnome apps were present, I still had the same problems with screen resolution and the lack of sound but fixing them was a lot easier having done it once before. I installed all the software I easily and had the system working fine in no time. I stayed on the Gnome version for over a week and was very comfortable I must say, I really enjoyed it.

Conclusions:
Ease Of Installation & Use: 4/5
Speed & Stability: 3/5
Community Support & Documentation: 4/5
Features: 3/5
Overall: 3/5

If I’m honest I found Mandriva 2009 a little bit of a let down after raving so much about 2008. There seemed to be a few rough edges in this release, not least my sound problems which I accept are probably limited to my hardware but still don’t create a good impression. Last year I recommended Mandriva and Linux Mint 4 as my personal favourite distros for newcomers to the platform and a lot of the things I liked are still there. Maybe my expectations were too high because I found 2008 to be such a quantum leap over previous versions but 2009 seemed a little less polished to me. It has many good points of course and for a user wanting an easy to learn rpm based distribution I would still say it’s probably my personal favourite over OpenSUSE or Fedora. I find OpenSUSE is really suited to the office environment more than home use and Fedora is often a little too experimental and unstable for me. Make no mistake this is a good distribution and while it may not seem as fashionable these days as it once was, if you want something different from Ubuntu and a new experience then it could be right for you. I also think it’s a really good implementation of KDE 4.1 so KDE fans might want to give it a look just for that. To sum up, it’s a nice distro but this release has some minor problems and I wasn’t as impressed by it as I’d hoped to be. You may find things different so please try it out and leave a comment to let me know what you think.

You can download Mandriva 2009 here

Up Next:
I had planned to try out my first BSD after Mandriva but then of course I’d forgotten about the big Ubuntu release which was imminent. I’m no running Intrepid Ibex and I will write up my thoughts on it soon but I only plan to make it a quick stop as I know Ubuntu so well already, I need fresh blood ah ah ah. If you have a suggestion please feel free to leave it in a comment. See you all soon for the next installment…

Posted in Review
30 comments on “Distro Review: Mandriva One 2009
  1. edythemighty says:

    Good show, man! A bit peeved at that audio thing (hopefully it won’t plague my computers ;0)

  2. Dan says:

    Thanks Edy, like I said I think it’s limited mainly to these Dell notebooks from what I’ve read

  3. Andrew Jefferson Bertrand says:

    this review, actually made me want to try out my first red hat based distro.

  4. Dan says:

    Wow, well that’s good, I love Debian as I openly say but I think it’s good to keep an open mind. Be sure to back up your data and then go for it. You never know you might like it. Let me know how you get on 🙂

  5. Hezy says:

    Thanks for the review. I last tried Mandriva about a year ago, and found it a stable and easy to use distro. It seemed to be a good option for those how like rpm. But I must tell that earlier this year Mandriva lost many of its Israeli users. It started with a bug in OpenOffice 2.4 that made it unusable in Hebrew. The bug was fixed in a few days, and most distros shipped the patch soon after. But the bug lasted in Mandriva far longer than anywhere else. More about it here:
    http://elcuco.blogli.co.il/archives/158

    One may get the impression that the Mandriva teem doesn’t care enough about bugs that are critical for some of the users that are speaking a non-French language.

  6. Andrew says:

    Debian Lenny is coming out soon, should be good… Arch all the way though, any chance of seeing a review this distro hopping season? 😀

  7. Dan says:

    @Hezy That’s a shame, let’s hope they have a better response to bugs like this in future.

    @Andrew I’m excited about Lenny, I’m a big Debian fan and was even lucky enough to interview the current DPL Steve McIntyre on the Linux Outlaws podcast where I asked him about the Lenny release. It’s episode 57, you can find it at http://www.linuxoutlaws.com sorry for the gratuitous plug 😉 Arch is very interesting and I even got a long way through setting it up on a test machine earlier in the year but the hard drive died and I never got back to it. I will remedy this ASAP. I know a lot of Arch fans

  8. Anonymous says:

    You might want to try out PC-BSD or DesktopBSD. Of course, there’s always FreeBSD. Keep on treading.

  9. Dan says:

    I downloaded a copy of PC-BSD but I’ve also been told by a lot of people DesktopBSD is a good option. I’m interested to look at them 🙂

  10. Anonymous says:

    Good review. I have a IBM T30 notebook and use Madriva Powerpack 2008 and yes I did actually pay for it. This came in handy this year when I by lack of knowlage totally broke my system to the point that it would not boot. Since I am a linux user with no technical knowlage of how and why things work I started to panic. Then I rememberd that as a owner of a comercial pruduct I had access to free support. So I called the county distributer and was offer help on how to fix my problem step by step over the phone. It took only 10 min to bet my system fixed and made me a satisfied customer.
    I live in Poland and don’t know if such servises are avalable in other counties, but the reason I got the Powerpack version of Madriva was for support.
    I hope to read soon a review of PC-BSD and DesktopBSD and how do they stand against Mandriva conserning speed and stability.
    When I’m using a friends computer I use FaunOS (http://www.faunos.com/) installed on a USB flash drive so if you are looking for fresh blood then I think you should try this one out and hope that you do so I can read another great review.

    sorry if my english is crap have’t been using it for many years.

  11. Dan says:

    That’s cool and I was joking really about not wanting to pay for anything, I used to be a member of the Mandriva Club a few years back which was all paid for annually and was essentially similar to buying Powerpack. I was given access to download Powerpack for being a paid member but I gave it up after a year because I didn’t see any value from it personally. I think the support option is great for a lot of new users and I wouldn’t want to discourage people from that out of hand.

    As for the English don’t worry it looks pretty good to me and it’s a lot better than my Polish that’s for sure, I know a couple of words at best but I have some very close Polish friends and would like to learn more. I’ll have a look into FaunOS if I can, thanks for the tip 🙂

  12. Joseph says:

    Is it me? Or in the Control Center menu there is an icon for setting up a scanner, yet no icon for setting up a printer in the header “Printers and Scanners”

    As a new user, this confused the heck outta me so I packed up my things and headed for Ubuntu land.

  13. mandog says:

    Faunos is no more Raymano has unfortunately jumped ship Mandriva 2009 KDE4 is at the moment the best of the bunch, Arch is excellent but is going through a rough patch at the moment but its only a glitch. The next version of Parsix is now taking shape and will continue to be the most stable distro out there.
    Mandog

  14. Anonymous says:

    Joseph: for printer configuration, it’s possible you need to install system-config-printer with the package manager. It appears not to be installed auomatically if you did not configure your printer during the installation

  15. Dan says:

    @joseph – I was just looking into that printer thing for you but it looks as though someone answered already which is great. I have to say it seems odd to me that the Printer config tool isn’t installed if you don’t set up a printer during the distro install. That can’t be right, it must be an oversight I think. Hopefully they’ll fix that. Maybe it’s to do with removing packages that don’t apply to your hardware in the install, if the printer isn’t connected maybe it removes the package

    Thanks to everyone for reading and also commenting so far. I appreciate it 🙂

  16. Nathan says:

    lemme know when you’re ready for the BSD plunge, padawan 🙂

  17. Dan says:

    Hehe thanks Nate I will, hopefully sometime over the weekend, undecided whether to write a full review of Intrepid since everyone and his dog has already done one, might go for something different instead 🙂

  18. vleon says:

    wow dan you have two readers from our god forsaken country (israel, most israelies probaby wouldnt agree tough :P)

    i actually worked in mandriva israel for some time and we spoke about that in the chat.

    anyway i dont want to speak openly, good or bad about it (i told you most in the chat) so i just wont 😛

    awsome review anyway 😉

  19. Dan says:

    Thanks Leon really glad you enjoyed it, I understand you can’t speak publicly about the company having worked there. Most companies do that these days but I’m sure there are many more than 2 Linux fans in Israel 😉

  20. vleon says:

    I can speak whatever i want, just dont want to 😛
    i dont want to say bad things since no one really deserves them (in mandriva israel that is), and dont want to say good things since im not the type of person to gice commercials for proprientry stuff 😛 plus i cant only say good stuff so i would rather shut up ^_^

    Yeah there are linux fans in israel of course, but its quite awsome that you got some reading you blog, since its a small country with high microsoft saviness.

  21. Gideon says:

    I’m typing this from my Mandriva 2009 KDE desktop. I chose this distro, because currently the wireless network is so easy to set up and the connection is fairly reliable. I prefer the Linux Mint desktop theme though.

  22. Dan says:

    @gideon I’m glad you like Mandriva, if you want a KDE theme that suits your taste more you might find something on the KDE Look website.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I have stuck with Mandriva 2008 Spring since I like to wait until the devs fix any issues in a new version. I’m in no rush to “upgrade.” I will wait until Mandriva 2009 Spring; the early adopters will have found most of the bugs at that point. 🙂

  24. Dan says:

    A lot of people take that approach and I think it’s up to the individual. I’m always impatient for new toys but I can appreciate stability is important too. Sounds like a sensible plan

  25. Anonymous says:

    Good review. My daughter recently got a Wacom Intuos graphics tablet. None of the top 4 Linux distros would work with it so she had to use XP for the tablet and Linux for the web. Later we tried Mandriva 2009 and the tablet worked immediately. Just as immediately XP disappeared from the hard drive. There were no problems at all installing Mandriva except for the printer issue you mentioned.

  26. Dan says:

    That’s great news and a good win for Mandriva if the other most popular distros wouldn’t support that tablet. Well done for persevering with it and not giving up 🙂

  27. Anonymous says:

    Eff Pidgin, use Kopete on KDE.

    Pidgin still does not support video.
    The yahoo IM video works fine with Kopete.

  28. GiS says:

    Cool review. I do have to disagree with you, saying openSUSE is an ‘office enviroment’ distro. It my primary distro. I DO AGREE Fedora is too experimental. openSUSE 11.0 handled my hardware much better than Fedora 10. And YAST is better and better all the time.

    Be sure to check out/review openSUSE 11.1. (ONLY ONE MORE WEEK 🙂

    I will give Mandriva 2009 KDE4 a try though in VirtualBox. Last time I tried it was when it was called Mandrake, and bought in a store, and came with a FLOPPY DISK! Also ran fine on my Tandy 1000 RLX with a 286 and 1MB RAM at the time! (or was it my Packard Hell Pentium 75MHz? – it was a while ago 🙂

  29. Anonymous says:

    Opensuse might as well be experimental as its using the patent encumbered mono, which none of us should be using, assuming open source is important to you ?

    Last time I tried opensuse, which admittedly was a year or so ago, it wasn’t even possible to remove mono without getting warnings of peril and doom that didn’t allow the procedure to complete, so I have it not only forced on me during install, but now its forced on me period. Ubuntu is similar in that you need to use the command line interface to remove ALL parts of mono, whereas the synaptic user interface is default for the intended userbase; great going ubuntu for ostracizing your base and locking them into what you want, so much for open source software ( based on latest blog I found, whereby removing mono was only doable from command line interface ) :
    http://www.theopensourcerer.com/2008/11/16/how-to-remove-mono-from-ubuntu-intrepid-ibex/

    Considering that novel entered into the Microsoft ‘deal’ should be enough to tell any self respecting GNULinux user that any distribution that uses it, does not have linux interest at heart, and thats a major shame.

    Consider educating yourself about its pitfalls and then decide .

    Only Novel’s customers are proteced, to heck with the rest of FOSS , and this makes opensuse and any other distribution that uses said software ok how ?

  30. Dan says:

    Thanks for the comment, not really sure how all this relates to my review of Mandriva 2009 but I suppose I did mention opensuse once or twice in the text. If you want to hear more in depth talk about Mono specifically then check out episode 63 of the Linux Outlaws podcast where we talked about this at length with Dan Washko 😉

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