Updated: October 6, 2011
Mageia is a relatively new Linux distribution, having seen its first official release only a few months ago. Forked off Mandriva, it is supposed to be a friendly operating system for newbies and power users alike. On paper, the mission statement is as good as any Linux, so the real qualifier is the actual testdrive.
I received half a dozen mails requesting that I take Mageia for a spin. Since I have always been relatively pleased with Mandriva, I thought this would be an interesting challenge, as well as a refreshing departure from the cluttered, mostly Ubuntu-dominated affairs of the Linux world. So let's see what Mageia 1 brings to the desktop land.
Live session - kickstarting a diesel engine in a blizzard
For those of you unaware of the practice of placing a pan of heated oil beneath a diesel engine to get the gelled fuel defrosted, you probably were born into the world of electronics-controlled cars. But never mind that. This convoluted analogy is necessary, because Mageia had troubles getting to run. First, I copied the ISO image to a USB device, but it would not really boot that way. Or rather, it would get stuck halfway through into the KDE desktop. Burning the image to a CD worked much better.
When I say much better, I mean a hundred questions asking you to choose your keyboard, language, timezone, and whatnot, a very Mandriva-like practice. Some distributions, like PCLinuxOS managed to keep the questionnaire down to a minimum, but Mageia throws the full plethora of options at you, which is hardly what you want or expect.
Next, the desktop came up and threw an error right away. This was nothing alarming, although rather misleading, but also quite unnecessary. A bit of a sour taste as an aperitif, it seems.
The desktop itself is reasonable, although not amazing. The choice of colors is a bit problematic; too soft and too vague. As a result, the desktop does not feel sharp enough. It is KDE4 all right, but the rendering of elements is fuzzy.
I had a few more issues with some of the icons in the right corner of the bottom panel. For instance, the batter meter is shown on top of the battery icon, but the numbers and the percentage sign flow outside the border of the vertical meter icon, which creates a bad overall impression. It is obvious the meter should have been horizontal. Then, the wireless icon is also somewhat out of place.
The menu is also rather archaic. While most modern distributions aim for a tabbed menu with inline search and application and logic categories that make the usage easier, more intuitive, but also prettier, Mageia sticks to a very spartan flat menu layout. This is not a bad thing on KDE3.5 or perhaps Gnome or some of the Windows implementations, if we may transgress into the world of alien software, but it looks thin and poor on KDE4 and contrasts with the overall chunky, fleshy KDE4 design.
Unfortunately, no codecs are available out of the box. This means your music and video experience is probably going to be somewhat bland. However, the lack of fun did not end there. When trying to play an MP3 file in Amarok, the program froze and had to be headshot. This is not a nice thing. What more, the error message is absolutely geeky.
You don't get much, the standard repertoire of programs that is virtually identical to most CD-based distributions. Well, I needed a sentence or two to flesh out this paragraph, so there you go. Nothing spectacular or too exciting.
While using the distro, a few more weird messages cropped up. One of these was a warning about no medium found and that I must add some media through Software Media Manager. I honestly pretend I don't know what this is all about, but I guarantee that most people will not be able to handle this elegantly. And why should they?
At this stage, I tried installing the distro. Mageia comes with a fairly Mandriva-like installation wizard, similar to what is also featured in PCLinuxOS. A decent choice two years back, but becoming somewhat outdated nowadays.
Some of the options are not quite easy to follow. For example, the partition Type. That is plain misleading. You might think you're about to change your partition type from primary to logical or some weird stuff like that. What it does is change the filesystem and format the partition. Moreover, the term journalized filesystem, is it correct? Should it not be journaled or journaling? From what I recalled in the man pages, it's the second.
Then, if you decide to change the filesystem (type) on a certain partition, you are warned that all your data will be lost. OK, but wouldn't the same happen if I simply formatted the partition? Confusing.
A nice bit about the wizard is that you're given the choice to remove unused hardware drivers and localization packages, making your installation smaller. Quite useful overall, although if you happen to grab new hardware in the future, you might face problems.
Next, a fairly uneventful installation, and then, the GRUB bootloader setup. The installation slideshow is fairly lovely, with a nice choice of colors and images, somewhat in contrast to the actual product at hand.
At this stage, Mageia refused to add the existing Windows installation into the menu, resulting in a dual-boot system that boots a single operating system only. Not nice. I complained about this in the Trisquel review, but it seems that Mageia takes this to the next level. Or perhaps this is just a small glitch in the overall design. Most likely the second option.
After the installation
OK, we're booting for the first time. Nothing. The system won't boot, or even respond to virtual console changes. Tried again, no luck. Mageia would not successfully boot into the installed desktop. I would assume this is a hardware incompatibility issue, the removal of some of the unused packages that are in fact still required, or something else. Bottom line, I was unable to continue the testing and had to stop here.
My test box was the old and abused T60 laptop, with 2GB RAM and an ATI graphics card. It never had hardware issues with Mandriva or PCLinuxOS or many other distributions, which indicates there might be some deep problem in the Mageia core. A shame really, as I wanted to see what the distro could do when committed to hard disk and running.
Based on the live session testing and the installation, there's a lot to be done still. Mageia needs a lot of bug fixing and polish. There are too many bugs and errors to allow a smooth and seamless desktop experience. The visual aspect also needs improving. My biggest gripes were the slew of errors and warnings that the user just need not see, the archaic layout of the desktop and the selfish installation that simply ignored my Windows.
I ought to give the Mageia team some slack, given the fact this is their first release. So yes, more work is needed, and the distribution will mostly likely improve over time. I hope some of my finding will make into the future editions. For the time being, based on my testing, Mageia is not mature enough for desktop use. Will keep in touch.