I spent some time last night getting (or trying to get) the various Linux versions on my main laptop set up for use at my home. I had mixed success, but in the end Mandriva came out clearly on top.
- Wireless network connection. I have an 802.11g WPA/PSK network. I was able to get it working on Ubuntu, but that wasn't quite fair - I had already spent a good bit of time figuring that out before with the test laptop. This goes in the category of "it's not difficult, if you already know how to do it". I couldn't figure it out on openSuSE, but I didn't try all that hard either. I looked around, tried a couple of things, and nothing seemed to be leading me to the right place. It was dead easy on Mandriva, and honestly it looked like what I had imagined it should look like after digging around in Ubuntu long enough to actually figure it out. Nice user interface, obvious places to fill in the blanks with the necessary information, and then it came right up. Very nice.
- Lexmark E240 laser printer. This should be simple; its a plain vanilla PCL/PostScript laser printer. I don't expect these operating systems to know every possible printer by name, but I do expect them to offer me a way to choose a "compatible" or "generic" type of printer. Mandriva was the only one which did that; it recognized that it was some sort of Lexmark printer, suggested an alternative since it didn't know the specific model, and then let me go deeper and choose a particular model which I knew was compatible. In the end it just set it up as a PostScript printer, which is all that was necessary.
- Philips SPC900NC webacm. This one broke my heart, it's my favorite camera, and none of the Linux variants could figure it out. Sigh.
- Camera Flash memory cards. The S6510 has a slot for SD/MMC flash memory cards. I only got a chance to test this with Ubuntu, but I was quite pleased with the results. When I inserted an SD card, it put an "SD Flash" icon on my desktop (reducing the chance that I will forget that the card is in there), mounted it and opened a window on it. That's the kind of thing I like to see happen for inexperienced users.
- Various other USB devices. Canon scanner, Brother P-Touch printer, Logitech cordless track ball, etc. At the least, none of these caused any problems. I haven't put any effort into trying to use them under Linux yet. It was interesting to see that Mandriva warned me that the batteries are low in my trackball - nice touch.
The more I work with Mandriva, the more I like it, especially for the specific purpose I am looking for here. I get asked to help with computers by friends and family quite a lot. I would like to have a version of Linux that I can feel comfortable about installing on some of those systems, and be able to tell the owner that they don't need to worry about what it is running, it will simply work as well as, or even better than, the Windows system they are accustomed to.