October 12, 2007

Mandriva 2008.0 rocks

Author: Susan Linton

Mandriva 2008.0, released this week, is the best version of Mandriva since 7.2.

Mandriva Linux 2008.0 comes in three editions. Mandriva One is a free single-CD live version that contains a choice of KDE or GNOME. It allows users to test their hardware and see how it looks before making any permanent changes to their hard drives. It includes an easy graphical installer. You can add software repositories to the software manager and customize it to your liking. This is a good choice for anyone who needs a live CD or those who aren't sure if they'd like to install Mandriva yet.

Mandriva Free is a full-sized traditionally installed system. It's called Free because it contains only free and open source software, and it can be freely downloaded and used at no charge. It includes a mountain of software, and is a wonderful choice for those who wish to use just open source software or have no problem installing codecs, proprietary drivers, and plugins themselves.

Mandriva Power Pack, the version I tested, is a complete system, including proprietary graphic, wireless, and other drivers, multimedia codecs, Flash and other plugins, and some commercial software. This ââ¬39 download is probably the best choice for most users, especially Linux first-timers and those who might need support.

All three versions are gorgeous, with new and hip artwork. All are built using the latest stable software versions, such as kernel 2.6.22, KDE 3.5.7, GNOME 2.20, Xorg 7.2, and GCC 4.2.2.

Installation


Mandriva's graphical installer's appearance has remained largely unchanged (other than new graphics) for as long as I've been using Mandriva, but its underlying code has improved, especially in the area of hardware detection. The installer walks users through the steps needed to install and configure the system. Mandriva has always had the most user-friendly partitioner available. Package selection can be as simple or detailed as you like -- you can just choose your preferred desktop environment and let the installer do the rest, or choose package categories such as Multimedia, Games, or KDE from the Custom install, or even choose individual packages.

The install onto my HP Pavilion dv6105 laptop took about 20 minutes. Afterwards, I could configure such things as hardware, system settings, startup services, and the Internet connection. A popup appeared asking if I'd like to use proprietary graphic drivers, and I affirmed. At the summary screen I saw that my sound, mouse, and graphics were automatically configured. I set my timezone, and attempted to configure my wireless Ethernet connection, unsuccessfully. I was slightly disappointed but not overly concerned, and finished the install. GRUB found most of my other systems, added them to the configuration, and was installed onto the master boot record.

At first boot a lovely silent splash screen took me a matching login screen. At the login screen I first chose Drak3D to enable the Compiz Fusion 3-D desktop, and found it worked in both KDE and GNOME. Both desktops used the multicolored double-helix community theme, as I've come to think of it. The theme was further enhanced by 3-D menu highlights, as well as the matching Ia Ora window decoration and style used throughout, and the menus are easier to navigate because there are more headings (resembling the default KDE menu), making the application placement more logical. All these features give the system a polished and professional appearance.

I was impressed with the installer, boot process, and resulting desktop, but I needed to do a bit more configuration. My wireless connection was my first priority. I tried the graphical network configuration in the Mandriva Control Center (MCC) first. It has a wizard that includes a choice of wireless, with the further option of using Ndiswrapper to use a Windows driver. I imagine it would work for most Ethernet cards, but it failed on mine.

Next, I opened the Konsole terminal emulator and ran through my usual command line routine as well as a few tricks I've picked up after many years of testing new distros, but those failed too. I had almost given up when I examined the loaded modules more closely and noticed PCMCIA drivers in use. Since I didn't need them, I unloaded them and tried reloading Ndiswrapper, and this time it worked. So I put ssb, pcmcia, and pcmcia-core modules into the /etc/modules.d/blacklist-mdv file and rebooted. Since I had previously set up the connection in MCC (though it didn't work at the time), I found myself with a working wireless connection, including Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA).

Software

The list of software Mandriva installs depends on your edition and on your style of install. I had chosen all the categories except server and LBS from the Custom path, which gave me a system with 3.9GB worth of applications, including all the K apps that come with KDE and lots of favorites from GNOME, as well as must-haves such as Firefox 2.0.0.6, GIMP 2.4.0 rc2, and OpenOffice.org 2.2.1.

In addition, I found some other less common applications in the menu. For instance, entries to install Google Earth and Picasa each open a terminal, then download and install the software. Both worked well, as did the resulting apps. The only negative issue is that the installer links aren't removed from the menu after the applications are in place.

Mandriva provides a wide assortment of useful applications in many areas. You can use Ekiga Softphone or Skype 1.4 to talk with friends and family over the Internet, exchange instant message with Pidgin, and download files with FileZilla.

Some multimedia applications include Mixxx and Linux Multimedia Studio, used to create and edit sound files. You can edit video with Kino and watch DVDs with the commercial LinDVD player. You can view Flash files with Adobe Flash Player and video files with Xine, Totem, or Kaffeine. Amarok, Sound Juicer, and Rhythmbox Music Player soothe the soul and rock the house.

Relax with great games such as Second Life, Planet Penguin Racer, Crack Attack, and Frozen Bubble. Cedega is also included in the Power Pack so you can enjoy some popular Windows games in Mandriva.

Plan your schedule with Planner, spread some sheets with Gnumeric, and manage expenses in GnuCash.

Compiz Fusion has an extensive control panel for setting up the effects, controls, and behaviors. I've only found a couple of other distros that allow me to enjoy these advanced options, but they work well in Mandriva, even with my meager 512MB of shared RAM. I've been using the 3-D software for about week, and I haven't experienced any crashes, black or white windows or cubes, missing title bars, or artifacting. The effects are immediate and deliberate. Mandriva's is one of best implementations of the software I've experienced.

Mandriva also ships with Metisse, another 3-D window manager that allows users to rotate, bend, zoom, flip, warp, topple, and arrange their windows in different configurations. The goal is to help users become more efficient, but to me it seems more like a fun toy.

One of the most annoying new additions is a Firefox extension for BlogRovr, a service that delivers blog posts based on your browsing. Every time I opened Firefox, a tab opened to the BlogRovr homepage, a configuration wizard opened, and a little login window appeared. It didn't take long before I uninstalled it through the software manager.

Tools and utilities

In addition to application software, Mandriva provides a useful collection of management tools. The Mandriva Control Center was one of the first centralized system configuration utility, and has been improved and expanded over the years. I found only a few additions in this release, but I understand some of the underlying subsystems have been improved, such as the hardware detection and database.

One of the new items is a Package Stats tool. It shows the last time a file was accessed, which could come in handy for determining if a corresponding application could be removed or skipped during the next install. On my system, the tool wasn't accurate, as Mandriva mounts the filesystem with noatime by default, which can improve system performance. One might need to remove that mount parameter and use the system for a while before attempting to get an accurate assessment of the files. I'd be a bit cautious when applying the results as well.

New in this release is the Network Center, a streamlined configuration tool for your network and devices. From it you can configure the IP settings, hostname, passwords, connection preferences, and boot instructions. You can also make or monitor a connection from within the Network Center. The "Set up a new interface" tool is still present for those devices that aren't auto-detected.

Also new this release is an "Import Windows documents and settings." This utility does as the name implies and works fairly well. For me it imported some installers and image files from the Windows partition on my hard drive and put them in a Documents folder. It put a Word document in ~/tmp, and the current wallpaper was placed in my home directory. I don't know where it put the bookmarks -- not in the browsers. Also, it didn't import another Word document from the Windows desktop, and it didn't try to import email.

The software manager and online update tools have been improved somewhat in this release. The interfaces seem a little tidier and easier to use. The package layout is cleaner. Adding repositories works better now as well.

Also new in this release is the Mandriva Linux Starter Guide, an impressive help document written primarily for new users. It covers many scenarios, from installing the system to using the command line, and includes helpful images. This is a thoughtful addition to help new users master Mandriva Linux.

Hardware

Hardware support is another area in which Mandriva has always excelled. In many releases it has been the first distro to support the newest hardware on the market.

When you insert removable media in KDE, a dialog box opens so you can decide what to do. In GNOME, a window opens to the directory, or a corresponding application is launched, such as with music CDs.

Advanced powersaving features were already enabled upon first boot as well. The CPU idles at 800MHz and increases upon demand. The LCD screen blanks after 15 minutes of idle time and dims when the power cord is removed. Hibernation options work well. Both suspend to RAM and suspend to disk are smooth and responsive going to sleep and waking up. The only tweaking I did was to the lid closing, which is set to suspend by default. It's wonderful to have all this working out of the box.

Conclusion

Mandriva 2008.0 seems to be a splendid release. Since setup I've not experienced any problems. My system is fast, responsive, and stable. The new artwork is gorgeous, and the fonts look great as well. I was pleased with the hardware support, especially the powersaving features. I can play any multimedia file format I have, and watch Flash videos on the Web.

Mandriva was once known as the best distro for new users, while accommodating those more experienced. In its current incarnation, this is still so. 2008.0 is an exceptionally impressive release.

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