When it comes to the big distros I tend to stick to the ones that are based on Debian. Apt just is simpler and faster to me than rpm. But since I reviewed Fedora 11 (or tried to, in any case), I thought I’d have a go at the other big two RPM distributions: OpenSuse and Mandriva.
OpenSuse I already did, so let’s have a look at Mandriva 2009 Spring (GNOME).
Again, no surprises. The LiveCD feels a bit faster than openSuse, and more importantly, it booted into an acceptable resolution of 1600×1200.
Installation & configuration
Installing Mandriva was easy and fast, with the configuration of root and user accounts done at first boot. Unlike openSuse, the entire system was already in Dutch. Installing software was a bit faster, but RPM-based distributions are still slower than APT-based ones. LXDE was easily installed, and performed fast. I didn’t find my favourite terminal, sakura, but I’ll admit it’s a bit obscure. Nano should come installed by default though.
Codec installation was easy: after I clicked an mp3, Mandriva offered me a the choice of installing the commercial Fluendo codecs, or the free-as-in-beer gstreamer plugins. I picked the latter.
Configuring the nVidia driver was a bit more difficult than it needed to be. Mandriva is capable of autodetecting the nVidia videocard, and asking the user if he wants to use the propertiery driver or not. It just doesn’t do so on my system. I have to start the (excellent) configuration center, choose the X configuration module, change absolutely nothing and click OK, and THEN the system will ask me. I also had to change the twinview settings there before nvidia-settings was able to change the resolution to the desired 1680×1050.
Look and feel
I’ve had problems with Mandriva fonts before, but not this time. Fonts looked very crisp, even without turning on subpixel hinting to the fullest. Concerning the GTK-theme, I’m not a fan of La Ora, Mandriva’s default. It’s acceptable though. On the other hand, the icon theme completely outdated, which seems to be something RPM-distributions have in common. All icons were that green/grey colour of the default GNOME iconset. Considering there are many better looking icon themes out there, not including one seems a bit lazy.
Otherwise I have no complaints. Both GRUB and GDM look very nice and professional, and so does the default wallpaper.
All in all, I consider Mandriva to be the best of the RPM based distributions at the moment. The only difficulty I had was installing the nVidia driver, and even that was easily fixed. It’s faster than openSuse, and it’s configuration center is better layed out than Yast. Fedora looks good, is fast, but suffers from an limited installer, and some weird dependency issues. If you want RPM, go Mandriva.