- Secure, convenient and portable desktop OS
- Includes a good selection of productivity, internet and multimedia software
- Additional software can be downloaded and saved on the USB stick
- 1GB of storage capacity available
- CD-ROM image available for booting from legacy systems
- Booting from the USB stick may not always be possible or convenient
LiveCDs have proved a handy and secure way to try out Linux distributions for some time, but Mandriva has gone one stage further in the convenience stakes by putting its 2007 KDE 32-bit distro on a 2GB USB flash drive. With its efficient hardware detection and 1GB of spare storage capacity, Mandriva Flash may be all that some individuals and mobile professionals need in order to be productive when travelling, doing away with the need to lug a notebook around. However, there are one or two drawbacks that take a little of the shine off this otherwise impressive 79-euro (~£53) product.
Setup and installation
To use Mandriva Flash, you simply insert the 2GB Dane-Elec-designed USB stick in a suitable port and reboot the computer. So long as your system's BIOS supports booting from a USB flash drive, you'll be into the setup screens — where you're asked to enter information such as language, location, keyboard type and time zone, plus administrator and user passwords — in no time at all. Hardware configuration is automatic and worked without a hitch on our HP nx9420 notebook testbed, which had us on the office wireless network and writing this review in OpenOffice.org's Writer within a few minutes of first inserting the USB drive. Nothing is installed on the host computer, and no trace of your activity is left when you log off.
The OS and software that comprise the Mandriva Flash distribution only occupy half of the 2GB drive's capacity, leaving 1GB free for a mixture of user data, official updates added via the MandrivaUpdate tool and additional software installed using the Software Management tool. This flexibility gives Mandriva Flash a distinct advantage over LiveCD implementations, which usually come on read-only CD-ROMs; and, of course, any CD drive in a system booted from Mandriva Flash is available for use rather than hosting the OS and applications.
Despite its advantages, there are a couple of potential drawbacks with Mandriva Flash. First, it may not always be convenient, or even possible, to reboot a system that isn't yours — think of an internet cafe, or a colleague's carefully configured workstation. Second, some older systems' BIOSs do not support booting from a USB stick. If you're not able to update the BIOS, there is a workaround — so long as you come prepared: the USB stick contains a small 3MB bootable CD-ROM image, and if you write this to a CD and carry it with you, the system can be booted from here, whereupon the USB drive takes over.
The Mandriva Flash distribution is built around the 2.6.17 Linux kernel, Glibc 2.4 (C library), X.org 7.1 (X Window system), KDE 3.5.4 (graphical desktop environment), GCC 4.1 (GNU Compiler Collection), OpenOffice.org 2.0.3 (office suite), Mozilla Firefox 220.127.116.11 (web browser), GIMP 2.3.10 (image editing), Amarok 1.4.3 (music player), Adobe Flash Player 7.0.68 and RealPlayer 10.0.805.
The KDE environment comes with its own useful software bundle, which includes Konqueror (web browser), KMail (email), Kontact (PIM/groupware client), Kopete (instant messaging), KWrite (text editor), KPDF (PDF viewer), KOrganizer (calendaring/scheduling), KAlarm (alarm message, command and email scheduling) and KCalc (scientific calculator).
As far as networking is concerned, the Mandriva Linux Control Center lets you configure Ethernet, satellite (DVB), cable modem, DSL, ISDN, Wi-Fi GPRS/EDGE/3G, Bluetooth and analogue modem (POTS) connections. We had no trouble setting up a Wi-Fi link from the Intel 3945ABG module in our test notebook to the office wireless LAN.
Once the initial settings have been entered, Mandriva Flash subsequently boots quickly — almost as fast as a traditional hard disk installation, according to Mandriva. Certainly, we found it responsive to start up and use on our Intel Core 2 Duo T7400-based HP nx9420 notebook with 1GB of RAM. Obviously, you'll get the best performance if you use a fast host PC and plug the Mandriva Flash key into a USB 2.0 port.
Service & support
Mandriva Flash comes with one month of support in the form of a trial Mandriva Club Silver-level account. This gives you access to free downloads, discussion forums, e-learning platforms, manuals and technical documentation, and the Mandriva Club Knowledge Base.
For 79 euros (~£53), Mandriva Flash gives you a well-stocked and flexible Linux distribution in an extremely portable and secure USB flash drive format. If you're confident of finding a host system that you can reboot on your travels, and remember to carry both the USB stick itself and a boot CD for any legacy systems you may encounter, this could be all the computer you need.