Mandriva Linux - Wonderful and Maddening

Mandriva Linux - Wonderful and Maddening

Summary: 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.


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 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 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.

jw 1/7/2008

Topic: Linux

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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  • Mandriva Linux - Wonderful and Maddening

    Hi there, and thanks for the positive review! Just a few comments:

    not including Windows in the bootloader list straight away isn't intentional, I think it's a bug that shows up in certain cases (I've seen a couple of other reports). I'll check whether there's a bug filed on it already and if not I'll let our installer guys know about it.

    I've seen the same bug with the "pleeease register" wizard too - it's actually getting that content from one of our web servers, and sometimes it seems to get confused and get the wrong content. Again it's a known bug so it'll be looked at for future releases. It doesn't *always* happen, it seems a bit random.

    On updates: we believe in stable releases, basically. A stable release is stable precisely because, once you've released it, you change it as little as possible: our approach is to only release updates to fix serious bugs or security issues that are reported, and then to use a "minimum patch" policy: if a serious security issue is fixed by a major application upgrade, we don't package the upgrade, we isolate the security fix and backport it to the version of the software we shipped. We feel that this way achieves true stability, in the sense that you can be reasonably confident your system is going to act tomorrow the way it does today, which is very important to some people. It's also crucial to note that Firefox is not just a browser, it's a system component. At least until xulrunner is working right, everything that wants to use Firefox's rendering engine (Gecko) has to be built against Firefox itself. So if we were to update Firefox there would be the potential for trouble not just in Firefox itself, but in a dozen other apps that use its rendering engine.

    So yes, we shipped the latest stable release of Firefox at the time of release and that's what we'll stick to (in our stable repositories), and we think that's the correct decision. Actually, sticking with stable Firefox 2 and KDE 3 got us quite a lot of praise in comparison to distros that shipped Firefox 3 beta and KDE 4, at release time.

    To address the issue of people who want newer versions of applications on stable releases, we have the /backports repository system. You can read about it at , but basically it contains packages for newer versions of popular apps, which you use on the understanding that they break the 'stability' of stable releases and could potentially cause more problems than official updates will. Firefox 3 will be available in the /main/backports repository, for 2008 Spring. Due to a maintainer error, it's currently actually in the /main/testing repository, which you can read about on that page too. If you enable that repository you'll see a 'firefox' package becomes available: this will install alongside the 'mozilla-firefox' package that contains Firefox 2.

    We do have an exception to our security policy especially for Firefox. If Mozilla stop supporting the version of Firefox we're using in a currently-supported Mandriva release, we will upgrade Firefox in that release: we judged this to be overall safer than trying to backport further security fixes ourselves. So if Mozilla stop supporting Firefox 2 during 2008 Spring's support lifetime, we will update it officially to Firefox 3. Otherwise, though, it'll stay with Firefox 2.

    Thanks again for the review, and we're glad that you're enjoying Mandriva overall :). Do let me know if you have any questions or if there's anything we can do for you.

    Adam Williamson
    awilliamson AT mandriva DOT com
  • Mandriva Linux - Wonderful and Maddening

    Hi, Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I find everything you said to be well considered and encouraging. Considering that I have said from the beginning that what I am looking for as I make these tests is something "ordinary users" can just install and use, without having to fuss over it constantly, I certainly can't complain about your choices being made in the interest of stability.

    As for the uncommon bugs that I seem to have stumbled across, that doesn't surprise me, I seem to have a talent for that - or perhaps they just come looking for me! It's nice to hear that you are on top of them, anyway.

    I am sufficiently impressed with Mandriva that I am going to go ahead with it, and try installing it on my main laptop, a Fujitsu Lifebook S6510. I'll write that up in the near future.

    Thanks again for reading and commenting.

    jw 1/7/2008
  • Mandriva Linux - Wonderful and Maddening

    Interesting. I'm currently waiting to purchase one of the new eee's when the 901 is launched and was wondering whether to go Linux or stick with good old XP.
    I've read that the Linux version on the eee is Mandriva which I wasn't really aware of. As a relatively non-techie I was probably going to play safe and go XP.
    On the basis of this, though, I think I'll go with the Linux version and see how it goes - it'll be a learning experience!
    paul mckoen
  • Mandriva Linux - Wonderful and Maddening

    Good for you, I'm really pleased to hear that. I think that you will be pleased with your choice, both for Linux in general over XP and specifically for Mandriva Linux. I'm just about finished installing it on my primary laptop (Fujitsu Lifebook S6510), and it is working just great.

    I would be very interested in hearing how it works out for you.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

    jw 2/7/2008
  • Mandriva Linux - Wonderful and Maddening

    Quick note: actually, the Eee comes with a customized version of Xandros. Many people run Mandriva on the Eee as we took care to ensure that 2008 Spring runs well on it, but it's not the distro that comes on the machine out of the box.

    The Xandros that comes with the box is well built and customized to the machine's capabilities. If you want to use it for a common set of tasks like email, web browsing, IM and media, and don't want to 'tinker' with it too much, you'll likely find the built-in Xandros perfect. If you want to install a lot more apps and mess around with stuff more, you may start to find the default Xandros distro limiting, and want to install something like Mandriva or the Eee-customised versions of Ubuntu and PCLOS that are available. In either case, I think you'd find Linux a better choice than Windows for the machine.