Mandriva 2010 - I mean ... Wow!


Updated: November 27, 2009

Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere is a happy time. Lots of fresh Linux distribution releases coming out, all ready for plucking and testing. Mandriva 2010 is one of those. Debuting two weeks ago, it has drawn many, mainly positive reviews, sparking intrigue and a desire to take it for a spin. The previous version, Mandriva 2009 was a decent distro, with some small issues here and there; overall it behaved nicely and gave the average desktop user a solid, unique package. So the big question for me is, what does Mandriva 2010 bring to the table?

The competition is tough, mind. Featuring the latest and greatest KDE4 bells and whistles,Kubuntu Karmic and openSUSE 11.2 delivered remarkable results, which won't be very easy to up. Never a man to say no to a woman or a Linux distro, I've downloaded Mandriva 2010 and started exploring.

Teaser

Get Mandriva

Finding the right version is a little more challenging than you might expect. There are several versions available. Mandriva Free comes with all-free software and has only the traditional installer, i.e. no live CD; Mandriva One, which comes as a bootable live CD and includes additional, proprietary software; and Mandriva Powerpack, a commercial version.

My choice was Mandriva One, adorned with the KDE desktop.

On the menu ...

We are going to test Mandriva on three laptops and two virtual machines, starting with live CD impressions, Wireless and Bluetooth behavior, continuing via Multimedia support, down to installation, and finally arriving into a fully installed desktop, with Compiz, Samba sharing, printing, applications, and other cool stuff to keep us company.

Have fun, or as they say in French: buon appetite!

Live CD experience

The boot is conventional, followed by a single splash screen. Lovely and stylish.

Booting

In the typical Mandriva tradition, you will have to setup your language and regional settings before reaching the desktop. This makes the boot longer and more complicated compared to most distros.

Language

Keyboard

Mandriva 2010 KDE desktop is very lovely, for many reasons. First, the choice of colors is very smart, in my opinion. A scattering of soft blues, plus a unique Mandriva theme that makes it different than the stock KDE4. You know it's KDE4, but not really, which makes the things all the spicier. We'll talk about this more soon.

Desktop live

Like openSUSE, Mandriva booted into 4:3 aspect ratio, with resolution set to 1440x1050px, which is a very decent selection. You also get a Mandriva Galaxy intro/promo window, which briefly tells you what Mandriva is all about.

Wireless & Bluetooth

Wireless worked fine, except a single hiccup where it failed to connect. Otherwise, things worked fairly smoothly. You can either left-click on the network icon to start the Network Center or right-click and browse for available networks. A small detail that comes to mind, Mandriva uses the classic network icon rather than a generic symbol used in most other distributions, which is a very commendable step toward average users.

Right click

Network center

Then I had my first connection failure, but after that, there were no issues. You also get big, happy popups in the system area informing you of your connection attempts.

Connection failed

Bluetooth was not activated by default, which is something that most KDE4 desktop seem to do. Going through the menus, you'll find the KBluetooth entry. Once fired up, it works well, though.

KBluetooth

Multimedia

Mandriva 2010 One comes with all the codecs you need, so you can start enjoying your media encoded in proprietary formats immediately. No hassle, no codec issues, just plug and play. I loved it.

Windows video, my famous Moron video, played well, but the screenshot utility did not catch the video frame, so you'll have to believe me on this one. Flash was great too. Instead of trying the usual, Crockett's Theme, I opted for another great song, Der Kommissar:

Flash

MP3 playback worked great, too. There was a glitch in running Amarok in live session, though. It would show the splash, but would not switch to the GUI. If you clicked on the splash, it would vanish, but the music would continue playing, only you would not have an interface to control your music. We'll see if this persists in the installed system later.

MP3

Dragon Player, on the other hand, had no such qualms:

MP3

I ever tried playing several files at the same time. Everything was fine, with good sound quality and clarity, with all the sound channels working as expected.

Look & feel, session 1

I loved the theme in Mandriva 2010. The blue was simply great, the fonts were clear and sexy. Here's a couple of examples of what you may expect from Mandriva 2010:

Authorization

Looks

Now, here's an ever better trick that emphasizes the KDE4 sweetness. I've taken screenshots of my live session and saved the images to a folder on a USB drive. Now, what do you think the folder preview icon in the right column displays? Yes, you guessed it right, it displays thumbnails of the very screenshots I took - not a generic image, but one created on the fly from the folder content!

Cool

Mandriva 2010 uses the classic menu that you're more accustomed to in KDE3.5 or in Windows, giving up the non-linear Kicker-style switchers. Again, for common users, this is a very good thing, since they get what they already know.

Menu

Usability wise, the menu does require some small improvement:

Clicking on the menu entries, both left and right mouse click, opens the application. There is no easy way to add icons to the desktop or the panel, at least not any that I've found during my testing. I might be dumb, but so are most people, in a good sort of a way.

On the other hand, you'll find most-common accessed applications and functions stacked at the top of the menu as you start using the distribution, plus there's the Favorites entry, which contains most of what ordinary people need.

One more item that should help you locate your applications is the self-completing Run Command tool, which will automatically search for relevant items. Plus, it has a few other useful features that you can use.

Search

Control Center

Control Center can be launched from a shortcut icon in the bottom panel, giving you access to all system settings and configurations. This is quite similar to YaST, except that it's ever simpler to use and navigate, with a clean, fresh, open feel.

Control Center

Using Control Center, I tried to install the drivers and test Compiz. I tried this first on T42, because it was important for me to see if it had the same issues like Ubuntu or whether the right drivers were missing from the repos like with openSUSE.

I had to download additional packages, but because my repositories were not yet configured, it did not work. So I had to postpone the Compiz check to after the installation.

3D install

So far, I was really pleased. Mandriva 2010 was not perfect, but it was really, really good. But this was only the beginning of my testing. The true fun was about to come.

Installation

Mandriva installation has always been a little tedious. You have the network configuration in live session, the install, network configuration again after the first boot, user settings, and the registration. All in all, too long.

So far, we've had the initial network setup.

Begin install

The installation is virtually identical to previous versions. However, some things have been simplified, like the partitioning layout.

First of all, DrakX wizard offers to use existing partitions, which is not bad, you just have to be careful not to delete existing data. My T42 machine had a Ubuntu 9.10 installed, so this also gives us an excellent opportunity to see how well Mandriva cooperates with Ubuntu and GRUB 2.

Partitioning

I decided to go with Custom disk partitioning and choose my own layout.

Set partitions

Using DrakX in Mandriva 2010 is somewhat simpler than in previous versions. The elements are arranged more ergonomically and are more intuitive. To use existing partitions, you would merely need to choose the Mount Point.

The Format button remains problematic, like before. If you click it, it will ask to format the selected partition, immediately. It won't wait until after all partition changes are made, so be extremely careful with this one!

Once you're done selecting the partitions, it will ask, again, to format them. Mandriva 2010 offers Ext4 as the default filesystem, pretty much like most modern distros.

Another format

Comparison to Ubuntu and openSUSE

In this regard, openSUSE still has the most powerful yet safest partitioner of all. Ubuntu has the simplest. Mandriva 2010 improves slowly, gradually, but the logic used is one for more advanced users. Recursive choices are dangerous, like the Format option.

But I guess not everything can be perfect.

The next step is to remove unused packages, reducing the installation footprint. A very decent idea, except that it takes a long time and there's no visual indicator how long this is going to take.

Unused

Afterwards, the installation begins, abruptly.

Installing

Once the files are copied, you have the bootloader setup.

Bootloader setup

Mandriva 2010 uses GRUB legacy, like the vast majority of distros out there. Once you click Next, you'll be able to customize the menu.

The GRUB menu customization wizard is a very simple and friendly one, and in our case, an excellent test case for configuring a chainloading exercise for the Ubuntu installation we have! You'll get to know the exact details and reasons for what I'm doing in soon-to-be-published GRUB 2 tutorial, for now, accept my tweaks as a fact and enjoy.

Options

And let's add Ubuntu. It's located on sda6. What more, we need the /boot/grub/core.img kernel image. You'll know exactly why this is in the tutorial.

Add Ubuntu

Our final configuration:

Boot final

This is very neat. This allows you to configure your system fully even before the first boot into the installed Mandriva system. The desktop is now installed. Reboot. P.S. The screenshot below is from a single-boot system, so no Ubuntu entry there.

Boot screen

After the system comes up, you'll have some more work to do. The first is setup the network configuration. I've taken a few photos of the actual configuration on T42, so you can see what things are like with Wireless networks. Works fine and dandy and saves you the hassle of additional configurations inside your freshly installed system.

Configuring 1

Configuring 2

Configuring 3

After you have successfully configured your network, repository data will be downloaded. Compared to Mandriva 2009, this was much faster and there were no errors. Still, it takes quite a bit to boot into the desktop, perpetuating the 'too long' label.

Might also be frustrating, because you can't really do anything, except stare at a boring screen downloading packages.

Done

Downloading

It's not over yet. Next, you have to configure users and fight your way through a five-step survey & welcome menu. Really exhausting.

User

Survey

And you finally get into the installed desktop:

Installed desktop

OK, let's sum it up so far. We've had a spectacular live session, beautiful, streamlined, elegant, no KDE4 errors so far! Everything worked as expected. Minor issues with Amarok and a few ergonomics problems.

Then, we had the installation, which is, still, too convoluted. Essentially, you have three steps until you have Mandriva installed. The initial boot setup, the installation, the second boot setup. Too much. Removing unused packages and syncing repos takes too long and could infuriate the less patient.

If there's one aspect of Mandriva setup that requires improvement, it's definitely the install procedure. To be fair, it's better than the predecessor. On the good side, data saved in the live session was imported and saved.

Now, let's enjoy our newly installed machine. I did use the word Wow in my title, so there must be something to offset the installation fatigue.

Best desktop of 2009

The year is 2009, Mandriva is 2010 and the machine has been installed. Time to see what it can deliver. Remember the Compiz thingie? Let's begin with it.

Compiz Fusion

This time, no problem getting the required packages.

Installing 3D

Choose desktop manager

And we're on!

Compiz 1

Compiz 2

Expo

Now, Compiz itself is no big deal, we've seen it many times around. But ...

The fact that the right drivers for my five-year-old T42 were available out of the box whereas Ubuntu has abandoned them some time ago and openSUSE does not have them yet in the repos is a great thing. But wait ...

Compiz on Mandriva also runs much FASTER than what you would have expected. It really flies! Even with a decent bunch of programs open, as shown in the Expo screenshot above, Mandriva was a sprightly as a hind.

I will show you soon how you can get Compiz running on my antiquated T42 with Ubuntu using a few hacks. We'll have a dedicated article about that. Something I've done and you'll have to take my word for it. Best of all, this lets me compare the two systems and see the difference. And compared to Ubuntu Karmic, Mandriva 2010 brings new life to old graphic cards.

Mandriva 2010 offers a phenomenal visual performance on very old hardware. This is simply fabulous.

Now, speaking of performance ...

Performance

Mandriva 2010 is really, really fast and light. It's running KDE4, but you don't feel it. It's that good. I do not know what the developers did, but they must have done something. In my Kubuntu review, I reported sluggishness in the system response with numerous programs running on T42. openSUSE 11.2 was much faster and lighter - and Mandriva 2010 is faster and lighter still.

It's difficult to put numbers to my feeling, but it is definitely noticeable. I would hazard 20-30% performance improvement in openSUSE over Kubuntu and that much more in Mandriva over openSUSE. Simply stunning. I could not believe it, but there it was.

Boot times

On T42, boot times are slightly slower, 67 seconds versus 62, measured using Bootchart. This means that most mainstream distros are already optimized as much as reasonably possible and that nothing can make old, slow machines boot dramatically faster, just a few seconds here and there. For the typical kernel with the typical memory footprint, the results are pretty much the same.

Laptop modes (suspend & hibernate)

Worked fine on all machines, no issues here at all.

Multimedia revisited

Remember the Amarok issue in live session? No more.

Amarok installed

Look & feel, session 2

Let's talk some more about Mandriva 2010 aesthetics. There's no doubt the desktop has been designed with lots of love and forethought. The choices are smart and extremely elegant.

With just a few quick mouse clicks, you can have stunning wallpapers.

New desktop

I would not be changing the theme, because it's beautiful.

On top of that, you get big, clear messages about important things happening around your desktop, including network connection prompts and the upgrade bug (see below).

Messages

You can turn Compositing on, even without Compiz and you get full transparency for your windows when changing focus. You also get soft shadows for your open windows, adding to the rich atmosphere. Clear, crisp fonts, sharper resolution, clean and airy feel, just great.

Compositing

Shadows

Applications

Mandriva 2010 comes with a decent, yet pretty standard set. You get Firefox, Kopete, OpenOffice, GwenView, GIMP, Ekiga, and many others popular programs, more of which are waiting for you when you power the Package Manager.

Control Center & Package Management

We've already mentioned the Control Center, but we should once more, especially in regard to the package management. The Control Center lets you configure your update routine quickly and easily. Likewise, you can install new programs using a simple Add/Remove interface.

The package manager is rather decent. It's slower than Synaptic, but faster than YaST. What more, it's gained speed since the last release.

Updates

Add remove

Perks

Mandriva 2010 spoils you with little perks, like the data backup. The moment I plugged in an external USB device, Mandriva recommended I setup a backup schedule for my system, which is really nice.

Backup

You also get decent parental controls out of the box. I'm not sure if this is for controlling children or controlling parents, but it works. Seriously, this is a very nice option.

Parental

You can also import Windows fonts and Windows documents and settings. Again, a very noble thought, aimed at new Windows converts, who might want to have their old data available easily and painlessly.

System

Import

Other things

Samba sharing worked fine, so did printing to a Lexmark printer installed as HP connected to a Windows via wireless. I did not test proxy, sorry.

Problems

There were some, after all.

Upgrade bug

One of these is a weird bug that recommends you upgrade to version 2009. I did not proceed and try to see what happens, but c'mon. QA, anyone?

Upgrade bug

Spelling errors

Some of the menus and options had conflicting messages, with seemingly innocent but wrong words inserted. One of these is the 'cant use' phrase used in Bootchart description field. Not only should it read can't, it should actually read can, because otherwise, the description has no meaning.

Spelling

Likewise, if your system needs a reboot due to an important update, like glibc, you may get a somewhat strangely worded restart message:

Restart message

More ergonomics issues

Mandriva 2010 does have a few odd, unique usability quirks that are not easy to solve. One of these is finding how to change the desktop wallpaper. For example, the Desktop Settings menu does not have such an entry.

Wallpaper

Would you expect to find this function under Folder View Settings? I would not.

Desktop settings

KDE crashes

There was only one, but still, like every single KDE4 desktop ever so far, it has not failed to deliver at least one application crash. I promise I will buy the KDE4 developers beer if they manage to pump out a crashless edition one day.

For Mandriva, the culprit was KWrite:

Kwrite crash

Conclusion

First, a question: Why did I choose the word Wow in the title? Mandriva 2010 has its problems and it's not a perfect distro. So why does it deserve a Wow?

Many reasons, in fact. First, it's really beautiful, the best of the pack so far. Second, the performance and behavior on old machines is phenomenal. It's easy bragging what your quad-core 8GB-RAM sparkling new i7core can do, which is why I refrained from mentioned anything on the newer T61 and RD510. Everything works well on the new machines. As the popular saying goes, even sheep can skid on a wet slope. Or even a monkey can be really fast in a Ferrari.

Mandriva 2010 makes the difference where it matters. On dusty, super-abused hardware. This is the real test and it passes it with flying colors, streamers, crackers, and whatnot. The KDE4 integration on Mandriva is a league of its own. Stunning, really.

Then, you get a friendly desktop, a decent selection of programs and no big showstoppers. Why should I not be pleased?

On the down side, like every distro, Mandriva needs polishing. The installation procedure is typical French cuisine, a neverending party with seventeen courses. Ergonomics needs work, as some of the functions are not that intuitive. Better spelling and QA is also required. But you can see improvements. Old problems are being sorted out. That's a good thing.

Other than that, they are no major minuses and Mandriva 2010 is a lovely fun pack, which offers the average desktop user a powerful solution. A combination of good looks, exciting visual tricks, a balanced collection of programs, and a powerful centralized management all make Mandriva 2010 one of the smarter choices this year.

It does not have the openSUSE corporate-leaning class or the Ubuntu userbase, but for the desktop user like you and me, it's everything you could ask for. I'm genuinely pleased and surprised. Mandriva 2010 is a keeper.

Cheers.

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