Well, since I've gone through both Ubuntu and openSuSE Linux, and my curiosity about Unix systems in general has really started to kick in, I've decided to go through a few more variants to see what they are like, how they load on my laptops, and whether I might prefer one of them over my current favorite (Ubuntu). I might end up regretting this decision, but I assume there will be plenty of adventure and frustration along the way, and perhaps some learning and enlightenment.
The next candidate is Mandriva Linux, currently on what they term their "Spring 2008" distribution. The first thing I noticed was an interesting variation in the installation procedure - Mandriva simply boots the Live CD, and once it is up and running there is an "Install" icon on the desktop to start the hard drive installation procedure. The installation procedure itself was very similar to that for Ubuntu and openSUSE - identify where you are in the world, the language you want to install and the type of keyboard you have, then choose how you want to install on the hard drive, with options to preserve any current partitions and just install in available free space, or use the entire drive, plus an "advanced" option to use a partition manager to set up the drive the way you want it.
One thing about the Mandriva installation procedure really impressed me, though. It is the only one so far which recognized the Ubuntu partition on the drive, and added it to the boot list. Oddly, it did not automatically recognize and add the Windows XP partition, but when I went to "Add", and told it to look for Windows, it then found and added it. Perhaps this is a kind of "Linux Elitism", or is meant to be a thumb in the eye of Microsoft, but I thought it added a few unnecessary steps, and might easily be overlooked by a novice user.
On the negative side, the last part of the installation procedure wants you to register as a member of the "Mandriva Community". The window, buttons, and the text that tries to explain this and lead you through the procedure is a rather bizarre combination of bad English and at least one or two other languages that I didn't even recognize. This doesn't make a good impression, to say the least.
After installation, it booted from the hard drive with the aforementioned boot list (Mandriva/Ubuntu/XP). Very nice. By default, Mandrive installs the KDE desktop. Graphically it is quite nice, but it has what I considered an irritating tendency to ask, over and over again, if it is ok to continue doing whatever it was that I had just asked it to do. Shortly after booting, a notification came up that there were updates available online. Following that, and of course answering the "may I continue" question several times, it downloaded and installed a lot of updates.
I was surprised to find that it still has Firefox 22.214.171.124 installed, not even a beta or RC of Firefox 3, and even when I went into the Software Management utility, it didn't list Firefox 3. The same was true of OpenOffice.org 2.4.0 being installed, rather than 2.4.1. This seems a bit slow on updating to me, compared to Ubuntu (which has Firefox 3.0 and OpenOffice 2.4.1 already), and openSuSE (which at least has Firefox 3 beta 5).
Mandriva seemed to do an excellent job of identifying and loading drivers for the hardware in my Lifebook S2110 (AMD Turion 64) laptop. It got the ATI Radeon 200M video and the Atheros Wireless right (although I haven't had a chance to test the wireless setup yet), it handled the Logitech Alto USB hub with no problem, and it even recognized and configured the Logitech V-20 speakers that are connected to the Alto. Of course it got the Alto cordless keyboard right, and the Logitech VX Nano mouse, also connected to the Alto. In fact, I only saw two odd things with the hardware. First, I can't for the life of me figure out how to disable "tapping" on the built-in Alps Touchpad, and I need to do that because it drives me crazy. Second, it listed the integrated AC'97 modem under "Unknown" devices, but it seems to have loaded a driver for it. I haven't tested it yet to make sure that it is actually working.
Overall, my first impression of Mandriva Linux is very positive. It looks good, installs easily, and seems to work quite well. I will continue testing it, and eventually I will try installing it on my main laptop (Lifebook S6510) to see how it comes up there.