Mandriva 2009

The end of the year traditionally is a very busy time for distribution lovers…although things are a bit quiet at the moment. Ubuntu 8.10, OpenSuse 11 and Fedora 10 are just around the corner, and Debian 5 should have been released already but is delayed. That means the only major release so far has been Mandriva 2009. Let’s see if its place in the spotlight is deserved.

Mandriva, of course, needs little introduction. It’s one of the undisputed Linux greats, although it has slipped a bit in the Distrowatch rankings lately. To be honest, a couple of years ago the Mandriva releases weren’t that good. These days though, the quality seems to be improving again.
There’s a lot to like about Mandriva. It offers (or tries to offer), a complete, good-looking desktop OS for the computer user who can’t be bothered with too much fiddling or fidgeting…in other words, 99% of the people out there. Another plus is Adam Williamson, Mandriva’s Community Manager. This guy is an example of how to communicate to the public and/or the customers. While other Linux prominents are able to start a message board flamewar with a few hasty comments, Adam W always seems to remain calm, informative and helpful. This is a rarity on the internet, so I think it deserves mentioning ;)

Anyway, when 2009 came out a couple of days ago, I quickly decided to try it out. Mandriva’s not the distribution I’d run (as anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I’m an Arch fan, which means I like to do stuff myself) but I’m always curious what distribution I should recommend to others. Mandriva’s come close a couple of times, but there were always some things that irked me a bit. Not much, but enough to prefer Ubuntu. Let’s see if that’s changed.
I grabbed the KDE4 version for two reasons: normally I’m working in a GTK environment, so I wanted a change, and more importantly, I wanted to know what Mandriva did with the new (and still a bit rough round the edges) KDE.

LiveCD

Almost every major Linux distribution is a LiveCD these days, which makes installing it even easier. Usually I don’t bother with it much, but now I decided to have a look around.
Mandriva 2009 certainly looks good. The boot splash and the wallpaper are reminiscent of the 2008 version, but darker, and more abstract. I liked it, but if you don’t, there are a lot of other gorgeous pictures to choose from. I don’t know if they’re stock KDE, or Mandriva additions, but they look good. I did notice that, in contract to Mandriva 2008, the background doesn’t change with the time of day anymore. This probably is because of the change from KDE3, to KDE4 (KDE 4.1.2 to be exact). The style is a new an improved version of Mandriva’s LaOra. I’m not sure yet if I like it better than KDE’s default Oxygen. It’s a bit too blue for my tastes, but otherwise quite pretty without being intrusive. The screensaver also deserves a mention, because the pictures provided are just that beautiful. I could let this system idle just to look at them. Whoever’s in charge of this obviously had taste, because I felt that way too about the screensaver in 2008.

I noticed the LiveCD used the nVidia driver when it started X, which I like. Installing the nVidia driver manually is one of the last annoyances in modern Linux distributions. It did, however, pick the wrong resolution for my widescreen monitor (1600×1200 instead of 1680×1050). It was easily fixed in the Control Center, with the only hiccup being the panel which now occupied only half the screen. Adjusting that wasn’t hard either, and after that things looked much better. I tried both Compiz Fusion and KDE4′s inbuilt desktop effects, and both worked just fine. Personally, I prefer KDE’s own effects…I find them more tasteful and easier to configure, but that’s just me. I did notice some weirdness in the systray icons, an example of which which is actually visible on the screenshot (the black square around the speaker icon). It always disappeared when hovering the mouse pointer over the icons.
Speed didn’t impress me much, but it’s not meant to be a rescue system either. It was fast enough to use normally, without being snappy. I fiddled around some more and didn’t notice any obvious bugs, except when I tried to reboot (without installing). The progress bar just stopped, and I had to do a hard reboot. This happened every time, but otherwise, things worked just fine.

Installation

Installing Linux is easy these days. I’m in a position to compare, because the XP installation of my girlfriend’s Dell laptop was totally borked, and had to be reinstalled. I disliked the idea of yet another XP install so much my brother ended up doing it, with my help. It was hellish, and took two days to finish properly.
By contrast, installing Mandriva 2009 was stupidly easy and took something like ten minutes. I didn’t time it, because I was still writing these very lines. As I said, easy.
Upon first boot there was some configuration left to do (mainly giving a root password and adding a user), and then KDE4 started up again, this time a good deal faster. Though nowhere near the speeds I’m used to on my Arch + Openbox partition, it never felt as if my hardware had troubles with the OS.
I was pleased to see the configuration changes I had made were still apparent, and even the screenshot I had taken was saved in my home directory. The weird backgrounds in the systray were back too, however, and the panel didn’t have the right width again.

Configuration and usage

I then started to setup the system so it was usable on a daily basis. As I said, one of the things I always have to do is to install the nVidia driver. After first boot, I found the desktop effects working great, so I assumed X was using the nVidia driver. A quick look in xorg.conf confirmed that, but when I had a look in the Configuration Center, it told me that a non-free driver was available, and would I like to use it? Nonplussed, I clicked “Yes”, and sure enough, a lot of packages were downloaded and installed. I then had to log out of KDE and log back in…and then the screen blacked out and threw me back to the login screen. A second attempt was more successful. I’m not sure what happened there, but so far, it hasn’t repeated itself.
Sound worked well, and so did accessing the network. I’ve recently bought a printer, which means I have an extra way of testing hardware support. It’s a small, simple HP, and I’ve been able to make it work in every Linux distribution I’ve installed since. Mandriva baffled me here though, because of the lack of a printer configuration module in the Configuration Center. There was a heading “Configure printing and scanning”, but it only offered a wizard to configure scanners. Then, I remembered that the LiveCD had asked me if I wanted to remove unwanted hardware support, and sure enough, my printer wasn’t switched on at that time. That meant that the package system-printer-config had been removed, and now I had to install it again (Edit: As Adam Williamson has pointed out, I was wrong here. This is actually a bug.).
Now, this is the point where Mandriva always acts flaky to me. Installing software with the command-line tool urpmi always works just fine. Using the GUI installer always results in irritation on my part. Sure enough, I got some errors when updating the software repositories, but I decided to ignore them. Then, I got told that RPMdrake needed to be updated first. I clicked “OK” but nothing seemed to happen. I tried again, and got the same message. Clicking “OK” this time resulted in installing the printer configuration tool with all its dependencies. It was a bit confusing, but at least it got the job done: the printer tool was now present. Clicking it resulted in the installation of another wad of packages, then the printer was found, and the driver installed. In the end, it all worked out fine, but it’s still far from plug and play.

I must add that the Configuration Center itself is a joy to use. The layout is clear and the modules are easy enough for even novice users. In comparison, the Desktop Configuration utility (which is KDE’s own) feels messy and cluttered, but that isn’t Mandriva’s fault.

So far for the hardware, let’s see what Mandriva 2009 offers in terms of software. For chat-addicts, there’s Kopete, which I detest, but Pidgin is available in the repos. There’s Firefox and Konqueror for browsing, but Firefox is the default. In these days, I guess that makes sense. Flash and movie plugins are provided (using Totem for movies) and work well. The only site that gave me trouble was apple.com, where the movie trailers started to play and then halted. Other sites with Quicktime movies played just fine.
To my surprise, Amarok 2 is also included. At this point, it’s still very much in development, and I’d question the wisdom of using this over the older, but more stable 1.4.9. The build here dates October 3rd, which means it pre-dates Beta 2. It didn’t ask me where my collection was stored, and when I entered the right path in the Settings, it refused to scan my music. Then, it crashed on me, and I had to delete the configuration files in order to make it start again. In the end, I got it working, but to me it’s clear that Amarok 2.0 simply isn’t ready yet to be included in a stable release.

Also included is OpenOffice 3.0, which is a good deal faster than the 2.X releases, and The Gimp, but it’s 2.4.7, not the most recent 2.6 release. It’s a pretty small selection, but if you want the whole kitchen sink, there’s always the install DVD, which comes packed with all the software you might need.

Conclusion

Every time I try Mandriva, I come to the same conclusion: “I like it, a lot, but…”. It’s easily installed, it’s pretty, it probably has the best and easiest Configuration Center of any Linux Distribution, and it mostly works out of the box. I ask myself why I don’t recommend Mandriva to others, and I honestly don’t know. The refusal of the LiveCD to boot down could be because of a bad burn, and in any case, it isn’t an issue with the normal installation. The printer issue was my fault too, since I told the installer to remove unnecessary hardware support (simply removing the printer module still seems a bit drastic though). The Apple trailers don’t play, but maybe the website is to blame. Installing software resulted in some errors the first time, but then worked fine afterwards. The systray icons behave a bit wonky, but this is the most minor of points. It’s also possible that none of these things happen in other installations. Your mileage may vary.
On the other hand, I never could install Mandriva without four or five nagging issues. They’re never the same from release to release, but they’re always there. I had hoped that this install would be trouble-free, but that wasn’t the case.

I feel more strongly about the inclusion of Amarok 2.0 though. In my opinion, it’s simply not stable enough at this time, and should not have been included. It looks about a million times better than the old version, and it will be far superior when it’s ready, but it isn’t yet. If you disagree with that, chances are you’ll find Mandriva perfectly suited to your tastes.

San

Edit: Thanks to the comments to this post, some of my issues have been cleared up. As I have mentioned before, the printer tool issue is a known bug. The errors during installation of the printer tool must have been due to busy/down mirrors. They didn’t show up again. The systray weirdness is probably caused due to the fact that the nvidia driver doesn’t like KDE4…or the other way around.

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73 Responses to Mandriva 2009

  1. Thanks for the well-written post, San.

    On the printer issue, your analysis is a bit wrong – the printer config tool was not removed, it was just never there. It’s a bug: http://wiki.mandriva.com/en/2009.0_Errata#Printer_configuration_tool_not_installed_by_default_in_One_editions

    The older version of AmaroK is available in the repositories and I believe should run fine in KDE 4, though I haven’t checked myself. I personally agree with you that the KDE 4 port was a bit too early to include in 2009, but the KDE team decided to go with it.

    I think your odd issue with the graphical package installer is likely just down to busy mirrors, though it might be something else. Bit hard to tell.

    Configuring the graphics card will always ask if you want to use the proprietary driver; this is so you can switch between the proprietary and free one easily, if you’d like to do that. So that’s normal.

    Thanks again for the review!

  2. Geoff says:

    With regards to Apple quicktime movies I found you need to setup the PLF free and non dree repositories and install the codecs to play quicktime movies from the Apple site.

  3. Geoff says:

    That is free and non free . Typo errors sorry.

  4. Ridgeland says:

    “Another plus is Adam Williamson, Mandriva’s Community Manager.”
    That was one of the first things I learned when I started using Mandriva 2008.1. He deserves more credit than he gets. I was amused he was the first to reply to this blog and as usual with helpful suggestions.

  5. gargoylian says:

    good review – finally a review Not dedicating 50000 words about the wallpapers and colors of a distro….
    great distro [used to have 9.2- been gone on a trip for a while and came back when 2008.1 came out :)].
    good release (thanks btw).
    urpmi is good yet apt is still a better option in my opinion (but maybe im just ranting `bout the lack of a unified package manger for linux overall)
    gnome is boring and it suits me well :) so it was a bit disappointing to find out most of the apps on the repo are kde in mind. overall a cool release after the few hours spent post install tweaking.

  6. G.D.D. says:

    I also expeienced the shutdown problem when trying the LiveCD.

  7. Vince says:

    Glad you got Mandriva 2009 to install on your system. I’ve tried installing Mandriva One 2009 Live CD KDE4 and GNOME both on my system and it hangs on boot up every time. I’ve got a Dell 1501 laptop, AMD Turon 64×2. with 2GB RAM. I have a feeling the boot with the Live CD is hanging because of video problems. I get a blank black screen with a blinking cursor in the upper left hand corner. My system has an ATI Radeon Xpress 1100 IGP video on the motherboard, I believe. So, for now, I’m sticking with Ubuntu which works flawlessly on my system. BTW I’m not a n00bie. 16 years experience as a UNIX admin and have been using various distros of Linux since 1995. Mandrake was a favorite of mine until sometime around the late 1990′s or 2000 when the quality seemed to go down.

    Vince

  8. Cardlem says:

    Defenitely Mandriva 2009.0 was prematurely released. I’m having trouble on a hardware that worked great with 2008.1, but apart from that, just look at the errata. Frankly I don’t understand the rationale behind the release of a distribution with such a huge list of KNOWN bugs. Any marketing or mindshare advantage you may gain by being the first will be lost once bad impression prevails. If you had just waited for a few more weeks you would have a much more solid product. Expecting the user to fix these issues by running the update function of the Mandriva Control Center, which itself is not working as it should, or by trying command line workarounds, is a bad decision, especially if you want to attract newcomers.

    Below is a nagging issue I’m having with Mandriva 2009.0:

    I am a Powerpack subscriber (and have been – as club member – for many years), and have downloaded the 32- and 64-bit versions. One of my desktops has a D-Link wireless PCIe card adapter with an Atheros chipset. This was working fine with the 2008.1 Powerpack, but not with the 2009.0. The router is identified, but no connection is established. However, with the 2009.0 One CD, running live or after installation on the HD, wireless connection works normally. Besides being a serious issube by itself, this also defeats the notion that the One CD can be used to test if a given hardware is compatible with Mandriva.

  9. Sergei Steshenko says:

    “Problems with mirrors” is a bad excuse. For years “wget -t0 -c” exixsts; I think “area2c” can also be configured to have infinite number of retries.

  10. Praxis says:

    Adam Williamson is not a single person, “he” is just the moniker Mandriva gives to a whole department of hard-working gnomes locked in a cave somewhere, chained to computer terminals, giving good advice, fixing problems, smoothing ruffled feathers. I refuse to believe a single mortal person could do as much stuff as “he” does. But if I ever do cough up the geld to buy a Power Pack or Mandriva USB stick, this “Adam Williamson” construct will be a large part of the reason why.

    Mandriva is a very nice distro, I’ve been running it since 2006. I just wish upgrades went a little smoother, but that isn’t a problem that is unique to Mandriva. I’ve always managed to get my system working properly, but it has always been a bother. Reviews always tell you how to install an OS, but that really is trivial these days, I wish there were more attention to upgrading working systems, since I do a lot more of the later than the former.

  11. Gigi says:

    I got amarok to scan my collection by simply making a symlink from ~/Music to my actual music folder. Hope that helps!!

    @vince:
    Vince, your issue is documented on the errata.
    http://wiki.mandriva.com/en/2009.0_Errata#One_editions_fail_to_boot_to_a_graphical_desktop_.28xorg.conf_not_created.29

  12. John McCain says:

    Mandriva?
    Is that a Muslim terror organization?

  13. witek says:

    On my Asus A9Rp laptop with Radeon Xpress200M Mandriva ONE KDE4 is not able to boot into LiveCD at all. It just freezes when trying to start X :(

  14. davemc says:

    Adam Williamson:
    “The older version of AmaroK is available in the repositories and I believe should run fine in KDE 4, though I haven’t checked myself. I personally agree with you that the KDE 4 port was a bit too early to include in 2009, but the KDE team decided to go with it.”

    Adam, this is exactly the kind of thing that keeps me far away from Mandriva year after year. It is exactly the thing that prevents Mandriva from overtaking Ubuntu on DW. Its all about sound judgement, or the lack thereof, that average joe users care about. The inclusion of beta1 buggy software in what otherwise is a solid release is like slopping mustard on peperoni pizza! In the end it leaves the user with a sour taste, and they move on to a solid production ready distro like Ubuntu for their daily computing needs.

  15. Vince says:

    Gigi,

    Yes I know my issue is documented in the errata. I found that out later. But the point is the errata has way too many KNOWN bugs listed in it for this disto to have been released as a finished product. The user should not have to jump through hoops to get a distro to install on his system. I’m a vocal Linux advocate and this kind of sloppy work is one of the reasons why Linux is slow to be accepted by the general computing public. DON’T release a distro until it’s fully ready and tested! I don’t care what distro it is. How hard is that? The average Joe just wants to pop the CD or DVD in his system and have it boot up. No problems. I personally don’t like having to debug other’s sloppy work. If it’s a beta fine, but not a final release. No way, no how. Sloppy, rushed distro.

  16. davemc> The older version of Amarok is using KDE3 libs, and so is not well integrated with the KDE4 desktop. So including amarok 1.4 will mean adding kde3 libs, and then there won’t have enough space on the Live CD.

    systray icons issues : theses garbages are due to issues between KDE4 and the Nvidia proprietaries drivers. If you switch to the free driver ( nv ), you will no longer have theses issues ( do remember to disable 3d effects ).

    Gimp 2.6 : GIMP 2.6 is available in the contrib repository.

  17. Steve says:

    I have installed Mandriva 2009.0 over the weekend without much problem. The error with the repo’s was due to mirrors and is fine now, also the PLF mirror was down at the weekend but again that is now working. I had the same issue with my printer but installing the config tool took less than 30 seconds and installation was simple. Finally, I know people are ‘upset’ about amarok 2 but there are other players available and lets be honest here, if they hadn’t included amarok 2 people would have still complained.

  18. celettu says:

    Adam:

    Thanks for replying. I cleared things up concerning the printer issue.
    I do think the other errors were related to busy mirrors…they didn’t pop up again.

    Geoff:

    thanks for the fix. I was pretty sure it could be solved, just didn’t want to spend too much time on it :)

    Sergei:

    I don’t know. Trying to connect to a mirror that’s down indefinitely seems like a bad idea to me.

    Fabrice:

    Thanks for clearing that up. However, if I use the nv driver I lose essential things like wobbly windows. Unacceptable ;)

    Steve:

    I agree with you…mixing kde3 and kde4 seems like a bad idea to me too. It may be that Amarok 2.0 is the best music manager for KDE4 at the moment…scary thought.

    Everyone else:

    thanks for the comments :)

  19. elbeto says:

    I agree 100 % with your review, I have the same issues and made me drop Mandriva until they get the act together for good.

    In the meanwhile I stick with Linux Mint because everythig works the way is supposed to work, at least in the main edition which is Gnome based.

    Give it a try, you will be suprised. http://www.linuxmint.com

  20. madal says:

    For those KDE4 haters out there (like myself), may I make a suggestion……

    Install 2009 RC2, like I did. It still has the option of installing KDE3.5. I have had no problems with it at all, and am quite fond of it.

    Which leads me to a bit of a rant…….Why the f%#$ did they leave the option for KDE3 in the release candidate, yet remove it for the “gold?” It makes absolutely no sense to me. And I know there are PLENTY of card carrying KDE3 fans out there (like me); had they included the option for KDE3 out of the box, I am sure their mirrors would not be able to keep up with the demand.

    Idiots

  21. John says:

    I installed Mandrive KDE One five days ago. And i didn’t have any error or crashes. Amarok works fine. All KDE4 are working fine. I am very happy with this release.

  22. tsladeche says:

    Wow This is pretty cool. Ubuntu is a pretty good linux as well, I havnt tried Mandrive, I think I will download it tomorrow.

  23. madal> Sure, installing KDE3 is as hard as installing task-kde3 package …

  24. janarch says:

    i also had the same problem on the live cd: the progress bar stops requiring a forced reboot. it may have not been right for primetime.

  25. janarch says:

    i also had the same problem on the live cd when shutting down, the progress bar stops at 10% more to close and just hangs, requiring a forced reboot. happened with different computers i run it on as live cd.

    admin: sorry for earlier post. kindly delete. thanks.

  26. Yeah, on amaroK, I really should make this clearer, but you can still have the old amaroK if you like! Just install kde3-amarok and kde3-amarok-engine-xine . I haven’t tested this myself but I believe it works, I know at least one person who’s using it.

    witek: your issue is probably the same one Gigi linked to just a couple of posts earlier. Look at the workaround there.

    Sergei: we’re guilty of being a bit vague there. The ‘problem’ is usually that the mirror is full. It’s not a good idea to keep retrying indefinitely in that case; the mirror is usually full because too many people are trying to access it, and if urpmi were to settle down into an infinite retry cycle, you’d wind up with a full mirror with a couple of hundred people trying to connect to it every second, which is otherwise known as a ‘DoS attack’ :). So, yes, we can’t do that. We are implementing some improvements in updates, though.

    There was a second problem over the last couple of days which made the /updates repository mostly unusable if you were using the automatic repo configuration system. It was to do with dated hdlist files being updated too often. That should be fixed now, though.

  27. Thanks San for the nice review. As a Mandriva user since 98 I’ve seen and had my ups and downs with this distro. I even tried other distro’s and still do but my core system is still Mandriva (2008.1 at the moment) One one part I must disagree with San cause for me one of the best setup wizards in Mandriva ‘s MCC is printerdrake Yes the exact same place where many people begin to fume, get stuck or give up. The secret here is that on my little home network I’ve got an HP officejet G85 on a HP Jet Direct External Print Server j3263a Setting up a printer is quit simple these days in any OS but to have all functions working over a network without a fuss is something else. Mandriva delivers this right out of the box. The only other OS that was very shortly capable of this was Windows 2000 without any service packs and using the HP Office jet g85 All-in-One Printer series
    software installer. Another unknown secret in Mandriva is the urpmi setup of an extra repository using Easy Urpmi. In the old fashioned way this was done in the console but since MDV 2008.1 its a point and click operation. For the moment I will stay with MDV 2008.1 until KDE 4.1 is more stable or as long as it takes to get most of the KDE 3.5.* applications ported. And to all people that are fed up with whatever OS they’re using I would recommend MDV 2008.1 Powerpack .

    At the moment besides on a Medion laptop,and a DELL Optiplex GX1 I’m trying to install it on a Asus Eee PC 900 for my son

    JWD

  28. man_suram4 says:

    i have problem in using mplayer and the other video players…plse help me…

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