May 8, 2007

Mandriva 2007 Spring packs a punch

Author: Mayank Sharma

Mandriva recently released its first distro of the year, dubbed Mandriva Linux 2007 Spring. Like previous releases, Spring is available in five editions, two of which can be freely downloaded. I installed and worked with the $76 Powerpack edition, which includes support and several gigabytes of packages. Not only does Powerpack score over other multiple CD/DVD free-of-cost distros, it also makes competing non-free distros eat dust.

I installed Spring Powerpack on three machines -- a dual-core box with 2GB RAM, a 1.7GHz Celeron with 384MB RAM, and a 1.4GHz Celeron laptop with 1.25GB RAM. While installing on the dual-core box, Powerpack complained twice that it couldn't load a module for the Marvell PATA disk controller. Despite these "errors," Powerpack installed successfully from the USB DVD drive.

During installation, from the partition screen, I was able to resize an existing ext3 partition on both SATA and IDE drives and install Mandriva on the freed-up space. On the laptop, Mandriva detected and configured the PC Card wireless network adapter. The Linksys wireless adapter on one desktop was detected, and since it doesn't have any Linux drivers, Mandriva pushed it over to Ndiswrapper, which asked for the Windows driver and activated the card.

Mandriva also had no trouble detecting and configuring an ATI Radeon graphics card, as well as a 19-inch wide-screen 1440x900 LCD monitor. All USB pen drives, cameras, mice, keyboards, and cheap PS2-to-USB converters I threw at it also worked.

Lots of options

After the installation process completed, I was ready to sample the software. The Mandriva Powerpack DVD bundles more than 3,000 packages. It's got the latest GNOME 2.18 and KDE 3.5.6 versions. Along with a Mandriva-modified 2.1, Powerpack also has the latest KOffice 1.6.2. Everything runs atop a custom Linux 2.6.17 kernel.

GNOME with Metisse - click to enlarge

In addition to the desktops, Powerpack also has the Beryl and Compiz 3-D extensions, and Metisse. I had no trouble running any of the 3-D extensions on any of my machines. You can also choose a 3-D desktop from the login screen itself.

Mandriva Powerpack includes several virtualization tools -- Virtual Box, VMware Player, Qemu with the KQemu kernel enhancement, and Xen. While they are all available free of cost and can be added in any Linux distribution, having them preinstalled, or installable with a click, is a definite plus.

Also in the category of free-apps-missing-in-other-distros are Google Picasa and Google Earth. Instead of bundling these apps, Powerpack includes simple scripts that download them from Google's Web site and install them. For VoIP, Powerpack bundles Skype and WengoPhone.

To play all sorts of multimedia content, Powerpack includes KMplayer and Xine along with their respective plugin packages, as well as Gstreamer-plugins. I used Amarok to play MP3 files, KMplayer to watch DVDs and VCDs and play AVI and MPEG4 files, and RealPlayer to play .RM and .RAM streams. Firefox is equipped with plugins to play these files from over the Internet. Firefox also has plugins to display Flash and Java files. Also bundled is LMMS, a free sound synthesizer app to help produce and mix music. For video buffs there's Kdenlive, a multitrack nonlinear video editor.

One application that I miss in Powerpack Spring is the Abiword word processor. Also, on my Celeron desktop, I like to run the lightweight Xfce desktop, but instead of Xfce, Powerpack has Fluxbox, which I find too lightweight. Also, unlike previous releases, Powerpack Spring doesn't include Cedega for playing Windows games, and LinDVD, a popular non-free DVD player.

Adding packages that aren't installed by default is easy. In fact, the best thing about Mandriva Powerpack Spring is its custom configuration tools, which help users from installation to managing various aspects of the distribution. For instance, if you decide you want to use the Metisse 3-D desktop and don't have its packages installed, Powerpack will prompt you for the Mandriva DVD, install the packages, configure them, and enable the desktop.

rpmdrake under KDE - click to enlarge

The software management tool, rpmdrake, is one of the best I've seen. It lists installed packages and divides updates into security updates, bugfix updates, and normal updates. In addition to normal information about a package, it also lists the files a particular package will install, as well as its changelog.

Powerpack uses the Ia Ora theme and the spring wallpaper across the GNOME and KDE desktops to maintain consistency. While the panel shifts from the bottom to the top in GNOME, the menu structure more or less remains the same, which helps users navigate irrespective of the desktop.

Powerpack also automounts all partitions on the disk and labels them with their size. When you insert external media, Powerpack pops up several action options based on its content. For example, when you insert a DVD, a popup presents options to browse the contents, play the DVD, or rip it with K3b. If you connect a USB camera, you get the option to view the pics.

In more than a week of testing, no application on any system crashed or become unresponsive. The only area I think that needs some more attention is documentation. Powerpack Spring includes basic KDE help and a Mandriva Startup guide, which covers a lot of ground, from a tour of KDE and working with to accessing remote NFS shares and setting up a firewall. But it's missing information about several Powerpack bundled apps, such as virtualization and Kerry Beagle.


I was pleased with Mandriva Spring's Powerpack edition. Its package selection is exemplary. It includes all the popular 3-D desktops and several virtualization products. It detected all my hardware on the desktops and laptops and worked with all my USB devices. Powerpack's custom configuration and management tools help keep novice user away from the command line. On the whole, Powerpack Spring is a fantastic Linux distribution that just works.


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