Mandriva 2010.1 "Spring" edition has arrived just in time for the summer months. It's a bit tardy, but worth the wait. Despite the company's well-publicized financial woes, Mandriva has delivered a solid and user-friendly desktop release.
Mandriva is a bit of a standout among Linux distributions. It doesn't quite fit with the community distributions, and it doesn't quite fit with the corporate distros either. Mandriva provides a free distribution on DVD that's all open source software, and a PowerPack edition that contains some proprietary software like support for non-free multimedia codecs. The business model that Mandriva has pursued over the past 10 years hasn't been particularly successful — the company has been through bankruptcy once and has been having financial problems again recently.
But the company does provide a solid and user-friendly Linux distro. To test out Mandriva 2010.1, I grabbed the DVD for x86 and gave it a spin. Mandriva also provides a live CD version, but I wanted to try out GNOME, KDE, and LXDE.
The Mandriva installer is a bit more complex than Ubuntu and Linux Mint, but not terribly so. It will make many more experienced Linux users fairly happy to be able to select a wider set of software, rather than a default install of pre-selected software. I chose to install the KDE, GNOME, and LXDE desktops so I could get a good look at each.
My overall impression of the Mandriva desktop is good. Their implementations of GNOME, KDE, and LXDE are well-polished. They also have a cohesive visual style between desktops, so users who switch from GNOME to LXDE will still know they're using Mandriva. The "Upgrade to Powerpack" icon on the desktop could be done without, but it's easy enough to delete.
You get the usual selection of free and open source applications that you'd expect: OpenOffice.org, AbiWord, Firefox, and so on. The DVD has a fairly impressive collection of software. What makes Mandriva different is its control center and some of the supporting tools. I like the Drakguard application quite a bit, for example. It allows parents to set up controls to restrict Internet access, so they can try to filter out objectionable sites and set times that users can (or can't) access the Internet.
Spring 2010.1 also includes a new application called Ginkgo, which is a navigator for KDE's Nepomuk. This is a really nifty idea, but some simplification is sorely needed. The application is not at all intuitive, though I'm sure it's quite powerful if one takes the time to learn how to use it. It also works best with KDE, of course, so it might be of limited use for those folks who prefer GNOME, LXDE, or another desktop.
I'm very happy with the Mandriva Control Center, overall. Having used openSUSE a great deal for the past two years, I can't help notice that it has some similarities to YaST, which I consider a good thing. It's a comprehensive configuration tool that draws together most of the system configuration tools in one place. This is good for new and experienced users, and something that I think is missing with some other popular distributions. The Package Stats utility is something I haven't seen in other distros. It shows the packages installed on the system, the last date used, and the last file accessed by those packages. This might help users uninstall unused apps that are taking up space.
Generally speaking, Mandriva also feels speedy. Using GNOME and LXDE in a virtual machine, Mandriva seemed just a little more responsive than other distros with a similar memory/CPU configuration.
The distro does have some glitches. For instance, I started receiving a random notice telling me that I needed to add some media. When I clicked on this, it prompted me to enable repositories on CD-ROM. What it appeared to require was that I configure update repositories either via physical media or online. While not a big deal for experienced Linux users, I doubt this would have been terribly clear to a new user.
It has been many years since I spent much time with Mandriva. I did try the last release for a bit when writing up the Linux.com 2010 Distro Scorecard, but haven't used Mandriva as a primary distro in many years. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that I've never used Mandriva as a primary distro. The last time I used the distro consistently, it was called Mandrake.
I still prefer the old name, but I like Mandriva 2010.1 much more than I liked the last Mandrake release I used. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Mandriva 2010.1 to any user looking for a solid, user-friendly Linux desktop. It's not the only distro that I'd recommend, but it'd be one of a handful that I'd be comfortable recommending.