Mandriva Free 2007 - the FOSSwire review

Mandriva logo

For the first ever FOSSwire review, I'm going to take a look at the popular Linux distribution Mandriva; more specifically, their latest free-of-charge desktop outing Mandriva Free 2007.

Mandriva, originally called Mandrake, was born from the code of Red Hat 5.1 and its aim was to create a KDE-based Linux distribution (in those days KDE wasn't GPL, and Red Hat didn't want to include it for that reason).

And eight years on, we have Mandriva 2007. It's a distro aimed at newer users of Linux, and in fact there are several versions of the distribution which are boxed commercial products (Discovery, PowerPack and PowerPack Plus). The Free edition that I tested out isn't one of these boxed copies and is the only free-to-download version.

Installation

This edition isn't a Live CD like Ubuntu, so after popping it into the drive and rebooting, you launch straight into the install program where you get to work installing. While it's a shame you can't boot in straight away and test it out, Ubuntu is well ahead of most distributions in this respect, so it doesn't put Mandriva behind the pack, just not in front of it either.

Install language selector

The installer is attractive and echoes the Windows installer layout of having the tasks to perform listed on the left and the working area on the right.

After the obligatory language and licence agreement stages, you head into a rather strange installation screen asking you about security settings. This threw me a bit at first, as I expected something like a security setup to be done on the first boot, after we'd got all the stuff installed. It's not that the explanation of the choices on screen is bad, it just seems a bit out-of-place choosing this setting at that stage.

Install security level

For the review installation, I left the defaults intact and just moved on.

The rest of the install process is pretty standard. For the purposes of the review, I installed Mandriva Free inside a virtual machine, so I didn't really bother with the partitioning settings and just let it have the whole disk. However, partitioning is something that is very important and often quite difficult for new users. Since I didn't take a look at it here, I can't comment on Mandriva's implementation.

Install packages

Interestingly, however, once the install process is up and running and the file copying has started, you see advertisements for a few commercial apps on Mandriva, including LinDVD (from the people who brought you WinDVD), Cedega (a solution for running Windows games on Linux) among others. There's another potential opportunity for confusion here, sadly. While these apps are bundled with and supported by Mandriva on the boxed copies of the distro, they don't appear in the Free edition, and it could be a bit misleading advertising these products during install and not actually bundling them.

Incidentally, Mandriva are one of the few distributions left that offer boxed versions aimed at the home user, and also to bundle proprietary software with their OS. We'll leave the argument about whether proprietary software should be left in for another day, but there's no doubting that seeing some familiar names (such as Skype and RealPlayer) reassures new users until they learn to use the other apps.

Install progress

All in all, though, the installer is a solid and slick piece of software that gets the job done nicely.

First boot

After the install, we're asked to reboot to go into our new OS (as per usual). We go straight into a first boot screen which asks us to fill in a questionnaire and then set up a Mandriva account. It's optional, of course, but it's another unusual move for Mandriva. Having said that, as I mentioned before, they're of a dying breed of distributions that sell boxed copies, so perhaps it's understandable that they want to make Mandriva 'sticky'. It's pretty much a known fact that most Linux users don't have that much distribution loyalty, such that if one distribution fails to meet their needs, they will switch without hesitation, so I guess this is Mandriva's way of trying to make you feel loyal to the distro.

First boot questionnaire

The desktop

As we login for the first time, we're greeted with a blue themed and customised KDE desktop. It's not as unconventional as Ubuntu's gold/brown/whatever colour you want to call it, but it's an attractive default theme.

Desktop

Desktop integration is done well. The custom Firefox theme and using native KDE styles makes Firefox look the part with KDE apps (something which isn't always done very well in KDE distros) and the rest of the applications are very tightly integrated. Unfortuantely, it's only Firefox 1.5, but with a bit of luck Mandriva will update it to 2.0 via the update system very shortly.

Firefox on Mandriva

There's no Xandros-style renaming of applications to make them more newbie-friendly (Konqueror is called File Manager and Amarok is called Music Manager for example) which means the common complaint of the application names not describing themselves well is still a problem in Mandriva. Renaming all the apps à la Xandros would likely infuriate intermediate to advanced Linux users, however.

The spit and polish of Mandriva's desktop is there, but somehow I just don't see it quite feeling as unique as Ubuntu's default configuration, for example. The desktop integrates together well, but somehow feels quite generic (especially to me, a long-time KDE user) as just "KDE with a star instead of a K menu".

Mandriva's configuration tools

Mandriva includes the Mandriva Control Centre, a graphical software package to administer the system. It's very well designed; the interface is clear, and I think it eases the task of administering a Linux desktop, especially for the new user.

Mandriva Control Centre

There's also an Expert Mode, which enables a few extra functions. While it's good that this compromises for both not scaring new users and allowing experts to work at their level, it's pretty likely that a Linux expert will be able to do these kind of tasks from the command line anyway.

My only other gripe with the Mandriva Control Centre is that it's far too easy to confuse with the KDE Control Centre (the latter being for changing desktop settings, not whole computer settings). I imagine it would be very easy for the new Windows-convert to be ridiculously confused about which is which, and I think this is something that needs addressing for the next version. Rename the KDE Control Centre to Desktop Settings, and I'm happy.

Mandriva Control Centre against KDE Control Centre

My next rant - the update manager is really poor. It seems cluttered and confusing, and I couldn't get it to work at all, even after registering for a Mandriva Account. I'm sure the boxed copies allow you to get updates loaded quickly, but it wasn't clear whether the free version was eligible for updates and how to get it working. I left Mandriva completely confused - and considering the aim of this distro to be at the new user, I didn't bother trying it from the command line.

I remain very unimpressed with the update system.

Updates

Conclusion

Mandriva isn't a bad operating system. In fact, for the most part, I think it's very usable and easy to get working with. There are a few disappointing elements of the system, particularly in the region of software updates.

The 'commercialised' feel in a Linux distribution isn't something I've been used to for a while. In fact, I haven't really experienced it since I bought my first ever version of Linux, a boxed copy of SUSE 9.0 Personal (before SUSE got bought out by Novell). It's a very different way of doing things. With community-based distributions like Fedora and Ubuntu gaining mind and market share within the Linux niche, it's easy to forget that there are commercially marketed products aimed at the desktop still.

I think it's vitally important for the success of Linux on the desktop for it to have a shelf presence. After all, it's what brought me into the FOSS world and when you're a complete novice, you don't fully 'get' how un-commercialised Linux is for quite a while. It's great that Mandriva's out there doing the shelf duties in computer shops and I think Mandriva Free is a good distribution, but I'm not convinced that it's the best - overall, or for the new user.

Personally, I'd still recommend Ubuntu for anyone trying out Linux for the first time (and I use Fedora on my main desktop, so I'm not blindly shepherding people to my distro of choice). Where Mandriva isn't there - updates, software management and complete friendliness, Ubuntu makes up for it. However, if you want the benefit of some proprietary software pre-installed for you, one of the boxed editions of Mandriva is not a bad choice to make (also consider Linspire).

But if you have a spare couple of hours and a free machine in which to install it, download Mandriva Free 2007 and give it a go. It might not blow you away, but it's a solid operating system product with a lot of potential.

And a quick footnote - Gaël Duval, one of the original Mandriva people, who was fired in March 2006, has started a project called Ulteo. It's currently only in beta, but it's worth watching as it promises to be quite a worthy competitor of Mandriva.

Avatar for peter Peter Upfold - http://peter.upfold.org.uk/

Peter Upfold is a technology enthusiast from the UK. Peter’s interest in Linux stems back to 2003, when curiosity got the better of him and he began using SUSE 9.0. Now he runs Linux Mint 9 on the desktop, runs a CentOS-based web server from home for his personal website and dabbles in all sorts of technology things across the Windows, Mac and open source worlds.

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Discussion: Mandriva Free 2007 - the FOSSwire review

  1. # Posted on 18 November 2006 at 07:43 AM

    [...] Get reading! [...]



  2. andrew (guest)

    # Posted on 18 November 2006 at 11:17 AM

    Mandriva does make an installable live cd. It is Mandriva One edition. It comes in several varieties including separate edtions for Gnome, KDE as well as free software and non-free drivers editions.

    see link here: http://www.mandriva.com/en/community/mandrivaone



  3. Richard (guest)

    # Posted on 18 November 2006 at 02:20 PM

    Thx for the review, i tried this 2007 version twice in a VM, and also could not figure out updates. Getting message that there is not an repository available for this distro.

    very good review



  4. nikolaus (guest)

    # Posted on 18 November 2006 at 03:22 PM

    mandriva does indeed have a livecd with installer and has one since their mandriva 2006 version. it's called "mandriva one". just go to the mandriva downloads page and select "mandriva one". this will take you to a mirror list. select a mirror close to you. within the mirror, you can choose from several iso's - gnome or kde, free(foss) or non-free(includes proprietary drivers).

    as far as confusing the two control panels, i think it's a somewhat valid point. it would be nice to see the two merged into one control center, where there are two tabs - one for personal settings and one which requires the root password for systemwide settings. that said, i think the fact that the mandriva control center requires the root password and the kde control center doesn't implies to the new user that kcontrol is for personal settings and mcc is for admin.

    lastly, mandriva has put up pages on their website telling users to disable the updates daemon. this was for a paid service that (usually corporate) users would use to provide automatic update checking. instead, users can install the smart package manage and kdesmarttray package. smart is a lot like synaptic and kdesmarttray provides a system tray icon which checks daily for new updates and alerts the user when new updates are available for download. smart unfortunately has mandriva's testing repositories enabled by default, so it's crucial to immediately disable those and activate the stable official repositories.

    ubuntu is indeed a good alternative for new users, as are pclinuxos and opensuse - all of which i have used and continue to test out as new releases come about.



  5. DoK (guest)

    # Posted on 18 November 2006 at 03:49 PM

    "While it’s a shame you can’t boot in straight away and test it out, Ubuntu is well ahead of most distributions in this respect" Hey.. It was your choice. Mandriva has an instalable Live-CD version called ONE.



  6. Peter (guest)

    # Posted on 19 November 2006 at 03:22 AM

    Thanks to everyone who pointed out about <a href="http://www.mandriva.com/community/mandrivaone" rel="nofollow">Mandriva One</a> - I knew a Mandriva Live CD existed, but I didn't realise it had an installer as well.



  7. sweet (guest)

    # Posted on 22 November 2006 at 07:49 PM

    "I didn’t really bother with the partitioning settings and just let it have the whole disk. However, partitioning is something that is very important and often quite difficult for new users."

    I've been using linux for last seven years and in my opinion mandriva offers the best GUI based partitioning tool in the linux industry and it's installation wizard is far more comprehensive than most other distros in the market. For new users the mandriva partitioning tool would easily guide through to set up an installable partition for the system, while the most other big distros could easily confuse if the user doesn't have good knowledge about making linux partition. therefore for new users this is a very good distro to try out.



  8. Martin (guest)

    # Posted on 03 December 2006 at 11:30 PM

    Opps.

    Just spent 30 minutes installing this which was fine, and a nice upgrade from mandrake or mandrivia 2006. 1 year on, and now I can not install any package again. The mandrivia control center and / or media manager can not remember where my repositry is for my rpms. I know linux was not ment to be easy but something as simple as installing a program should not be so hard !!!



  9. Krishghosh (guest)

    # Posted on 01 April 2007 at 09:59 PM

    Hi folks, I happen to see this thread slighly late in the day. Its a good review Peter. I have been using Ubuntu 6.06 for last 6 months. Its an excellent distro, although for a new user it too could be challenging to get into some basic operations. In case of Mandriva 2007, I found most of the installation and settings can be done without any issue at all and even the proxy server configurations were easily understood and I could get on to the net immediately. I think its a good distro to try for someone new and then shift to a Ubuntu. Recently, I was looking at Knoppix 5.1 - simply brilliant.

    Thanks

    Krish



  10. # Posted on 25 February 2009 at 11:43 PM

    [...] http://fosswire.com/2006/11/18/mandriva-free-2007-review/ [...]



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