2011-08-30

Review: Mandriva 2011 "Hydrogen"


Before I begin, I'd like to say that the reason why there was no "Featured Comments" post this week was because there were no comments on last week's posts. That's probably because I didn't write a lot last week as I was spending time with friends and family. Anyway, let's get on with the review.

Main Screen
I don't think Mandriva particularly needs an introduction. Suffice it to say that it was among the original premiere easy-to-use Linux distributions, along with MEPIS, even before Ubuntu existed. It came up with the all-in-one Mandrake Control Center (now, of course, the Mandriva Control Center) and made graphical installations easier to do. It has continued with a dedicated following, but in recent months it almost collapsed, even prompting the introduction of Mageia, a fork dedicated to advancing Mandriva while staying true to its core values (more on that shortly). Its financial woes have continued, but while the last few releases made a few changes to the implementation of KDE 4 but overall nothing too drastic, this release aims to bring back some of the old luster by completely rethinking the way KDE 4 is supposed to work. Let's see how true that is in a bit.

I tested Mandriva 2011 "Hydrogen" on a live USB, first made with MultiSystem and then made with UnetBootin. I was surprised that Mandriva booted after having the live USB made with UnetBootin, because for the last few years Mandriva ISO files have failed to work right with UnetBootin. I guess that application has gotten better at properly writing these ISO files to USB sticks. I tested the installation procedure in a VirtualBox VM in a Pinguy OS 11.04 Mini UnetBootin-created live USB host with 1024 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS; I initially tried to do the VM thing within the Mandriva live USB system, but that failed (more on that later), and anyway, using Pinguy OS ensured better consistency.

I don't think I've ever written about testing a system with both MultiSystem and UnetBootin. So why have I done so this time? Well, this was originally supposed to be a comparison test with Mageia 1 included. However, Mageia was not recognized by MultiSystem, and the UnetBootin-created Mageia live USB failed to boot properly. That was odd, considering that there were reports of older alpha and beta releases of Mageia that booted fine when the live USB was created with UnetBootin. I think I'll hold off trying out Mageia until it is supported by MultiSystem, at which point I'll review it separately but through the lens of a comparison test, sort of like how I approached Scientific Linux 6 and CentOS 6. In any case, I'm too impatient to hold off testing Mandriva for the sake of Mageia. Also note that while I made all the following observations about Mandriva in MultiSystem, I was able to replicate all of them in UnetBootin, as I have seen with other distributions as well.
With all this in mind, follow the jump to see what Mandriva 2011 "Hydrogen" is like.

After the boot menu, I was greeted by a fairly fast boot time, and I was able to see a nice spinning wheel on a baby-blue Mandriva-branded background for the boot splash. It all looked OK, which told me that unlike Mandriva 2010.X, Mandriva 2011 recognized my laptop's graphics card and native resolution properly out-of-the-box. After that, I was taken to a series of dialog boxes asking for language, locale, and keyboard settings. That led into a customized KDE splash screen with the same color background as before with 5 icons appearing in succession, followed by the desktop.

It really is true. KDE in Mandriva 2011 "Hydrogen" is unlike anything you have ever seen before. Wow! There's a lot of stuff going on here, so I'll try to get through all the changes, which have all been designed with the help of the Russian ROSA Labs.
There is one panel at the bottom, but it isn't a standard KDE Plasma Panel; it's a RocketBar by ROSA. From left to right, it contains a menu icon, a task switcher that works a lot more like the one in Microsoft Windows 7 than the Smooth Tasks Plasmoid does (and thus seems a lot more professionally-done), "Stacks" showing pop-up preview boxes of the Documents and Downloads folders, and the system tray.
URPMI + Dolphin
The main menu is not a standard Kickoff menu or a KDE 3-style accordion menu. It is the ROSA-designed almost-full-screen SimpleWelcome menu. It is divided into three tabs; the first shows recently used applications and documents. The second shows all applications, divided into categories (though an unusually large number of applications got dumped into the "Tools" category). The third shows TimeFrame, which is the ROSA-designed file searcher which uses Nepomuk to search for and show files solely by creation date; this is the first truly useful use (I know that wording sounds weird, but you know what I mean) of Nepomuk I have seen so far, but because Nepomuk is disabled to make the desktop faster and snappier (which it is), TimeFrame is also disabled by default. All three tabs can be searched via a search box at the top. Some may complain that it seems too inspired by Apple's iOS, but I do like it a lot, and it does work better than the Kickoff menu.
The icon, KWin, and Plasma themes are all designed by ROSA uniquely for Mandriva, though the icon theme seems to be a combination of Elementary and something else, while the KWin theme reminds me a little too much of the Microsoft Windows Vista Basic Aero theme.
The one small problem I had was that I couldn't add a second instance of RocketBar; it looks like there was only meant to be one such instance at a time. Otherwise, the desktop works really, really well, and is truly a feast for the eyes.

Mozilla Firefox 5 is the default browser, but no multimedia codecs are included, which is strange for a 1.6 GB Mandriva ISO file and is really just strange for Mandriva in general. I had to get them from URPMI, the Mandriva Control package installer, but first, I needed to enable repositories, which took a really long time. After that, I was able to install Adobe Flash and other codecs, and I was able to watch YouTube and Hulu fine; at the same time, both my laptop's sound card and its volume keyboard shortcuts were recognized out-of-the-box.

Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice Writer +
SimpleWelcome + Desktop Cube
Other installed applications include LibreOffice, Clementine, K3B, some KDE games, Shotwell, PiTiVi, and others. I'm surprised Shotwell and PiTiVi were included instead of the KDE equivalents digiKam and Kdenlive, but I guess the developers really wanted to go for ease of use at the small expense of KDE integration (though they look identically-themed to the other KDE applications anyway) instead of the other way around, so bravo to them for that decision. Also included are specific tools to configure Lexmark and Epson printers alongside the generic printer configuration tools; I know firsthand that Lexmark printers don't play well with Linux, but I was always under the impression that Epson printers play as well with Linux as do HP printers. Finally, though it is no surprise that Dolphin is the default file manager, it is configured to have a simpler interface, as many extraneous buttons have been hidden and the menubar has been compacted into a button. That last change has become the default in KDE 4.7, but as Mandriva 2011 "Hydrogen" uses KDE 4.6, I guess that setting must have been the doing of ROSA Labs, which shows how much they go above and beyond normal configuration.
At some point around here, as I was playing around with the desktop, Mandriva crashed, necessitating a cold reboot. Uh-oh.
Skype worked by downloading and extracting the dynamic package and running the executable, while the Google Talk voice/video plugin worked by downloading and installing the RPM package as recommended by Mozilla Firefox. Both recognized my webcam and mic perfectly.

Aside from a few isolated instances, Mandriva generally felt quite snappy and fast. It used 400 MB of RAM at idle, which I think is about average for KDE 4.
KWin desktop effects worked well after I enabled them. The only issue I had was that there was no keyboard shortcut to directly change the virtual workspace; I had to zoom out to see the whole desktop cube to change workspaces, which is a little more cumbersome and time-consuming. What I mean is there's no shortcut like CTRL+ALT+LEFT to switch to the workspace immediately to the left. For some reason I also couldn't find any way to set such shortcuts to my liking.

At this point, I moved onto the installation. As this was originally supposed to be a comparison, I had meant to run VirtualBox VMs within each respective live USB system, so even as I wrote Mageia out of this article, I thought that I would still install and run VirtualBox in this Mandriva live USB. Unfortunately, trying to run the VM made the system crash and freeze yet again, necessitating another cold reboot; while I have seen other live USB systems crash when trying to run VirtualBox, this is still not confidence-inspiring.
At this point, I went into a Pinguy OS 11.04 Mini live USB system made with UnetBootin and did the same things with VirtualBox, and it worked! I was able to start the installation from the live system OK. One interesting thing is that the default resolution of the VM was higher than I've ever seen in a VM, which is a very good thing if you ask me.
(Please note that I really meant to include pictures of the installer, but it completely slipped my mind somehow. Sorry! Anyway, you can probably find tons of such pictures on other sites.)
Because Mandriva asks for language, localization, and keyboard layout prior to logging in, the installation skipped those steps and went straight into partitioning. This makes sense because it ensures better live and installed experiences. Based on some other reviews I have read, partitioning continues to be the weak point. It's hampered by garish colors and the fact that users need to look at a legend of partition colors to figure out which partition is which; furthermore, the graphic doesn't show OS labels like some other installer partitioning graphics do. For an installer that was the pioneer of easy partitioning, it's a shame that it seems to have progressed so little in the last few years. One good thing now that apparently wasn't there before is that there is a warning screen telling the user that the disk will be formatted and data will be lost, giving the option of aborting the installation before such changes are made permanent. After that comes the main installation, replete with a nice slideshow showing the great features of Mandriva in simplified blue artwork. The main installation took about 15 minutes, which is slightly worse than average but still not too long. After that came bootloader configuration; the nice thing here is that if GRUB is used (and it almost always is), the installer shows the boot menu before the installation of GRUB. This means that users will be notified beforehand if any preexisting OSs are not recognized, meaning the problem can be fixed before it is even encountered, which is great! This was followed by a prompt to reboot.

After rebooting, GRUB looked a lot nicer. After the boot menu came dialog boxes asking for the user's country, the root password, and then the new user name and password. The only issue here was while the user can have an icon, the icon can only be selected by scrolling through a list in a certain order, instead of easily picking from a grid or something like that. After that came the login manager KDM, which is easily the most professional-looking login manager I have seen in any Linux distribution. It's even better than the one in Microsoft Windows, and that's one thing Microsoft gets right, if you ask me. After that came the installed session, which worked identically to the live session, so that's where my time with Mandriva ended.

The issues I had with the RocketBar and VirtualBox crashes probably won't affect most users, but they did annoy me a little. The other random crash I experienced slightly hampered an otherwise amazing experience, but other users' experiences may vary depending on the hardware and whether a live DVD or live USB is used. And while newbies may need a little help with the installer, I can give this 95% of a full recommendation. Mandriva has truly reinvented itself, and the end result is beautiful in almost every way.
You can get it here, though be warned that the servers may be slow due to high demand, as it was just released 2 days ago.

23 comments:

  1. I also tried to create Live USB for Mageia and failed. It was Live CD for me that time.
    400Mb is way too much even for KDE version. My Mageia only takes ~170Mb freshly booted.

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  2. @DarkDuck: 170 MB? That's less than some GNOME 2 distributions! I don't think I've ever seen any KDE 4 distribution use less than 200 MB of RAM, but maybe it's dependent on our computers' hardware. Thanks for the comment!

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  3. chakra is the most "light-weight" of all KDEs i ever tried. that kde ran faster than gnome on my testing machine. i tried some rc. this one, mandriva, is a beached whale on my perfectly decent testing notebook (1.8 ghz, 1gb ram). but the worst was fedora. it was barely responsive when installed. it was so bad that my mind went straight to the 20 minutes in 2007 i ran vista on that old FCS (vista came preinstalled, and so i used it until it got uninstalled).

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  4. @istok: I can agree with you about the light weight of Chakra. Although Mandriva was about as heavy as other KDE distributions, except for a few select instances it always felt snappy and responsive. I can't really say anything about Fedora, though I can say that (1) I've heard it's still better than Kubuntu (or it was until about 6 months ago) and (2) the KDE edition of Kororaa is quite responsive as well, though I don't remember actually measuring RAM and processor usage. Thanks for the comment!

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  5. PV,

    Thanks for the review. I installed Mandriva 2011 and I'm giving it a test drive. I must say that I'm not crazy about the ROSA panel, but it the environment gets more to my liking once that the pager and the effects are enabled.

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  6. How about Ctrl+F1, F2 etc. for switching desktops?

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  7. @Mechatotoro: So I'm guessing you'd rather have a traditional KDE 4 setup. It's good that Mandriva does easily allow that.
    @iki: This is the first time I'm hearing of those shortcuts, but on almost every other KDE 4 distribution I've tried where KWin desktop effects have fully worked, the shortcuts I mentioned have been the defaults. That's why I complained a little, though you are right in that it's not like there are no shortcuts at all.
    Thanks for the comments!

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  8. no video at all on my Toshiba laptop with ATI Radeon graphics card...

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  9. ...as with my Toshiba laptop with ATI 4650HD :(

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  10. No codecs? I've just installed and they were all there, although mp4 files played without sound. Since this is probably aimed at the home user who double boots, I was surprised I couldn't find any tool to mount a non-Mandriva partiton. You can set a shortcut for switching workspaces, but it's buried deep in the configuration options, in the usual KDE way.

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  11. istok said:

    "the worst was fedora. it was barely responsive when installed."

    I had the same result in my test PC too. And Fedora KDE is quite buggy. Mageia KDE is far less buggy than Fedora KDE... and relatively light, yes. And yum is still a gazillion times slower than urpmi (also valid for the GUI tools), despite the fact that they’re both managing RPMs.

    About Mandriva, I hate ROSA as I hate GNOME 3 and Unity. Never I'll use them. They are just crap for me. Yes, in Mandriva you can change this but this means Mandriva defaults are just shitty. As said someone I know:

    "One can hardly find something uglier than Mandriva 2011 and its stupid Rosa Labs stuff. It's like a known label put on on the wrong product."

    I want a distro with sane defaults for mentally sane persons. Thanks. For now, it's Mageia. I use Cauldron. It is much better than Mandriva and while obviously risky, it is surprisingly stable for a cooker/rawhide/unstable distro. If you want a completely stable distro, just use Mageia 1. :-)

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  12. I forgot what was the reason why the author only uses USB drives for its testings.
    Don't you have an extra computer, partition or hard drive?
    Live sesions are far from being the real thing.

    Speaking aboud Mandriva 2011 i can only say it lasted an hour on my partition. Doing "nice" things does not mean they work like they should. Maybe the next version but not this one for me.

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  13. @Anonymous 1, 2: I know too from experience with my old computer that support for ATI graphics cards in Linux continues to be a sore spot. You may have luck in the Mandriva forums or wiki in terms of sorting that out.
    @Anonymous 3: I have read reviews of other distributions that enable codecs in the installed session but not in the live session, but as far as I know, that set of distributions did not include Mandriva; in any case, Mandriva 2010.X had codecs working fine out-of-the-box. Also, I was able to mount other drives fine without resorting to any CLI hocus-pocus; it's surprising that you are having such an issue. Finally, in other KDE distributions, it has been relatively easy to set the keyboard shortcuts in the KDE System Settings program within the "Desktop Effects" category, but that doesn't work for some reason in Mandriva.
    @Blue Knight: One person's trash is another person's treasure. For me, I honestly couldn't tell whether the ROSA Panel or the Plasma panel was being used by default (partly because that cool 3D dock-like theme shown in screenshots wasn't being used in my live session), because to me they were otherwise functionally equivalent. In any case, though, it's good that you've found success with Mageia.
    @MacLone: No, I don't have a spare computer in college to test this. I don't have a spare hard drive either. And I don't want to create another partition on my hard drive for installing other distributions because I had a really bad experience with installing Fedora 11 "Leonidas" that resulted not only in a botched installation but also in my existing Linux Mint 7 "Gloria" partition being wiped out as well. Since that point, I've sworn to keep my hard drive as it is partition-wise and only install new distributions on it if I intend to fully replace Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora", which has not happened yet but which will have to happen at some point. Finally, I'd appreciate it if you could detail what went wrong for you regarding Mandriva.
    Thanks for the comments!

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  14. I have just installed Mandriva 2011. Can you not get the icons to the desktop as in the old Mandriva? I want the programs I use most at the desktop.
    I dont like the so called "Rosa panel" It's remind me of Ubuntu/Unity.
    I guess I will use Mageia or Pardus in the future.And I hope they never will start with Rosa panel, Unity or some similar stuff..

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  15. @Anonymous: I'm pretty sure if you enable the "Folder View" Plasma desktop setting (instead of "Desktop View"), you can get desktop icons, because while the ROSA applets are new, they are still just other Plasmoids. You can always replace the ROSA Panel with the standard Plasma panel if you prefer that. And if nothing else, I can vouch for Pardus, and while I can't say anything about Mageia, other people seem to be finding it a worthy fork of Mandriva. Thanks for the comment!

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  16. I did test Mandriva before last version and also test open suse, kbunto, fedora and I think that the less buggy Chakra with best support and light freedom distro and very stable.

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  17. @Anonymous: So does that mean you've stuck with Chakra at least for now? Thanks for the comment!

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  18. Jeez, all this annoying for ROSA stuff? It's just 3 plasmoids: remove them and put the usual plasma stuff, and you get the same ol' KDE4! Sorry that the distro wasn't targeting people who actually knew what KDE4 looked like before they met the ROSA desktop.

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  19. @PV:
    Do you want to see screenshots of my system? I am happy to do this! ;-)

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  20. Happy to see your review featured at Distrowatch now. Hope my review will be there too... but that's just a hope. Welcome to read anyway!

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  21. @jjbuff: The strange part is that as with GNOME 2.X, it's very easy to change a customized KDE 4.X system to be more like the default settings. But then, the default settings are integral to a distribution's character, and why should anyone go through the trouble of installing Mandriva and changing everything to be more vanilla when they could just install Mageia?
    @DarkDuck: I did see your review, and it was quite informative. I do hope your review makes it to DistroWatch's review feed!
    Thanks for the comments!

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  22. i am quite disappointed with this Mageia vs Mandriva commentary, i have in the past number of years seen the mandriva team and community do some great work and a recent example being 2010.2 a fantastic and stable distro, i in the above comments not seen one comment stating that 2010.2 has extended support and if users are not happy with Mandriva 2011 how about returning back to 2010.2 and letting Mandriva community know this, i respect the Mageia fork however just remember where it came from and that it would not have existent if it were not for Mandriva, Mandriva is obviously in financial difficulty and i can not understand why attacking rather than working as a Linux community is being done a total shame and prob the reason why Linux as a Desktop will never go anymore than a hobby , to many distro's out there and not enough unity

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  23. @Paul, Cork: The point about distribution wars has been debated to no end, but in any case, I feel like you are somewhat adding to the flames by suggesting that Mageia isn't giving more credit to Mandriva than it already is. LibreOffice was created because the fate of OpenOffice.org was uncertain, and LibreOffice is now far superior to OpenOffice.org. I'm not saying that Mageia is necessarily better than Mandriva because I haven't yet tried Mageia, but does Mageia need to bow to Mandriva at every turn other than to say that it was originally born from Mandriva? Where should that end? Should Mandriva bow to Red Hat? Should openSUSE bow to Slackware? I'd suggest you think about those points too. Anyway, thanks for the comment!

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