I know, I know... I'm late, Mandriva 2010 has been out for a week now, and openSuSE is due out already today. This is a crazy time of year, with all of these releases coming so close together, but I do the best that I can to keep up, even if it is a bit slowly.
I think I'll put the wagon before the horse this time. Mandriva Linux is one of the long-established distributions, and it just keeps getting better. There are plenty of reasons to choose it on its own merits, as it is a good, solid, stable distribution, it has wide support in the Linux community, and they do a good job of keeping up with the latest packages and device drivers. But in addition to all of that, if you have had trouble with the new Ubuntu 9.10 distribution, or you are a bit reluctant about it because of the numerous reports of problems circulating... or even if you are just becoming uneasy about the direction that Canonical is moving, then this could be a very good time to take a look at Mandriva Linux.
I always use the Mandriva One distribution, because I want the added proprietary drivers and packages it includes. If you want to stick with a strictly FOSS distribution, you can choose Mandriva Free. If you want the "Full Monty", with support and printed documentation, go for the Powerpack distribution. There is generally also a "Mandriva-On-A-Stick" USB drive option, but it doesn't seem to be ready for the 2010 distribution quite yet, it should be out soon.
I ran into a bit of a problem with installation on a couple of my notebook/netbook systems. Mandriva seems to still be trying to generate an X.org config file (/etc/X11/xorg.conf) on the fly during installation, and with the newest X server they are somehow getting it wrong on a few systems, and when you boot the LiveCD the console display is black. All I did was press the power button, and let the system shut down normally, then reboot and choose "Safe Mode" or whatever Mandriva calls it, to get a text console. Then delete the file /etc/X11/xorg.conf, and run startx. If you get a normal desktop display, you can continue with the installation; if the console is black again, I don't know what else to suggest, as that has not happened to me.
Installation is fast and easy, with very few questions. Mandriva offers both KDE and Gnome LiveCDs; I usually use their KDE version. The installer window was a bit small for my system, so things were cramped and difficult to read in the disk partitioning step (especially on the netbooks), but it was no problem to either resize or just maximize the window, and then all was well. Device driver support is excellent, there was not a single device on any of my systems which wasn't supported in the LiveCD installation, including the various ATI graphic controllers and Atheros WiFi controllers.
Once the installation has completed and you have rebooted, you might have to deal with the X.org config problem one more time. On one of my laptops the console resolution was incorrect, 1024x768 rather than 1280x800. Again, the solution was to get rid of the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file, and reboot so that the X display server could figure out the "right" thing to do. In fact, I ended up doing this on all of my systems, even the ones on which the console appeared to be correct, because I would prefer to run without the config file if possible. If you want to be on the safe side, you can simply rename the config file to xorg.conf.Mandriva or some such.
Besides that little hiccup (and heaven knows Mandriva is not the only one struggling with X.org configuration right now), everything else in Mandriva 2010 seems to look wonderful and work well. The graphics are once again a lovely improvement... funny thing about that, isn't it? Almost every time a new distribution comes out, there is a lot of ooohhh and aaahhhh about how nice the graphics are, and yet six months later when the next release comes out, they are perceived to be "even better". I'm as guilty as the next person of this, but I guess it is just that a fresh new look is always a welcome change.
Mandriva 2010 includes the usual array of utilities, applications and packages. Firefox 3.5.5, OpenOffice 3.1.1, GIMP for grpahics, Amarok for audio and Dragon Player for video, and of course lots of KDE applications and applets. If a particular package that you want, need or prefer isn't installed, you can generally find it through "Install & Remove Software", as I did for things like Thunderbird.
The other interesting thing about Mandriva 2010 is the alternative desktops that are available - in particular, Xfce and Moblin. Since I was just writing about Moblin (whinging about it, to be honest), I decided to give the Mandriva implementation of it a try, in hopes that it would work better than the "native" Moblin distribution.
Installation was easy, I just selected task-moblin in the Control Center / Install & Remove Software utility. That downloaded and installed something like a hundred packages, which took another 10 minutes or so. Once that was complete, I just logged out, and then on the Login screen I clicked the "pencil and paper" icon, chose Moblin from the drop-down list, and logged in.
I was surprised at the Moblin desktop that came up. Although it says Moblin 2.1, the background and icons were clearly still those from the 2.0 release. Also, there is a gap in the icon bar where the Bluetooth icon appears in the native Moblin 2.1 desktop. I did some poking around, and got more confused rather than less. This really does look like a strange mix of Moblin 2.0 and 2.1, but at least it seems to have most of the Mandriva KDE menus integrated into the applications section - but not all of it. It seemed to function better, or at least more reliably, than the Moblin 2.1 distribution I tried the past couple of days, at least nothing hung or crashed on me as I was testing it. After a good bit of investigation and testing I decided that this might really be a better and more reliable implementation than Moblin's own distribution, so if and when Mandriva finishes updating everything to the Moblin 2.1 standard, it could be a good alternative if this style of "social networking" desktop is what you need.
Then came the unpleasant part. Ok, I'm done looking at Moblin, I'm ready to go back to the normal Mandriva KDE desktop. Just logout and select a KDE session, right? Well, of course, this is Moblin, so there is no "Leave/Logout/Reboot/Shutdown" button. Hmmm. Well, at least I remember that Moblin 2.1 reacts to Ctl-Alt-Del by rebooting, so I can do that. Not. No reaction. Sigh. All right, start a console terminal window, and kill the X server, that will log me out... except I can't find one in the application menus! This is getting irritating.
Ok, so I have to hit the power button, let it shut down and power off, and then start over. That works, except.... GRRRRR! Mandriva has this nasty habit of setting itself for automatic login without me telling it to, so when I rebooted it came right back up into Moblin! Now I'm mad. I could probably do a safe mode boot, or boot one of the other Linux partitions, and fix it from there, but I don't want to do that. There has to be a way to get out of this mess.
After a good bit more digging around, I finally remembered (stumbled across, actually), Applications / System Tools / Configure Your Computer / System / Open a console as administrator. Whew. From there I could kill the X server, which logged me out, and then select the KDE desktop again on login.
I will say this again about Moblin. They might think it is "cool", or "chic", or "new wave" to make a system without a Logout/Shutdown selection, but it is a mistake. You think you are being very "modern", but what you are doing is making things less obvious, and therefore more difficult, for a lot of people. It wouldn't hurt anything, other than perhaps a few over-inflated egos, to add one more bizarre hieroglyphic to the menu bar, and put "Lock Screen / Logout / Suspend / Reboot / Shutdown" on there!!! End of Rant.
To summarize, Mandriva 2010 is, as expected, a worthy successor in their long line of distributions. It installs easily, it supports all of the hardware that I tried it on with ease, and it works well. Their Moblin desktop seems to work better than Moblin's own distribution, but that is rather thin praise. If you have been using Mandriva Linux previously, you are likely to be pleased with this one.