April 27, 2005

Review: Mandriva Limited Edition 2005

Author: Jem Matzan

Shortly after announcing the merger of Mandrakesoft and Conectiva into Mandriva, the newly combined company released a transitional "limited edition" GNU/Linux distribution to bridge the gap between the two parent distributions. Mandriva Limited Edition 2005 may look a little different, but it's the same great Mandrakelinux desktop distribution that you're used to.

Mandriva has changed more cosmetically in this version than Mandrakelinux has in the past several releases. While the Galaxy theme is still the default, there are new splash screens and graphical changes here and there that make you feel like you're using a different -- or at least newer -- distribution.

Mandriva is, as Mandrake was, a user-friendly desktop distribution that focuses on providing the newest tested software available. Mandriva Linux presents a themed KDE-based desktop with intelligently designed, easy-to-navigate menus. Configuration tools such as HardDrake, DrakConf, and MenuDrake make desktop system administration simple.

The distribution recognizes external hardware and automatically configures it. Flash drives and removable media are automounted and given an icon on the desktop.

Mandriva installs by default hardware-accelerated 3D video drivers for Nvidia, ATI, and Intel-based graphics processors.

Proprietary software is kept to a minimum -- just browser plug-ins and hardware drivers. The entire distribution is not governed by a restrictive proprietary license like most other commercial desktop operating systems. Mandriva is a much more freedom-friendly distribution than many of the alternatives.

Installation and software updates

If you install from the DVD, Mandriva allows you to store all of the software packages on your hard drive. This makes it easier to install new software packages from the distribution -- you won't need your DVD again unless you have to reinstall the operating system. Mandriva also offers a 6-CD edition of Mandriva Limited Edition 2005, as well as a "mini" CD, which downloads the required software packages over a broadband Internet connection.

Mandriva Limited Edition 2005 includes new versions of these major packages:

  • KDE 3.3.2
  • GNOME 2.8.3
  • Linux kernel
  • Firefox 1.0.2
  • The GIMP 2.2
  • OpenOffice.org 1.1.4

In addition, you'll find K3b for CD and DVD writing, Screem and Bluefish for Web development, a recent build of WINE for running some Windows programs, RealPlayer for playing RealMedia files, X-Chat for IRC, GAIM for instant messaging, Grip for ripping CDs, BitTorrent for file downloads, Acrobat Reader for PDFs, Opera 7.54 and Mozilla Firefox 1.02 for the Web, and hundreds of other programs. Included with the Web browsers are plug-ins for Flash, PDF, RealPlayer, and Java.

The window managers included in the optional graphical environments package set are Blackbox, Window Maker, and IceWM.

Installation time was just over one hour with an older 7200RPM IDE hard drive, and about 40 minutes with a new Seagate SATA-V disk. System speed did not significantly impact installation time.


One of the most convenient features of Mandriva Linux is the way it handles commercial DVD movies. Put an encrypted DVD into your DVD-ROM and the Kaffeine video player pops up a window that checks for the required libraries and codecs. If some are not found -- Win32 and libdvdcss are not installed with the distribution because of legal issues in some countries -- you're told where to go to get them. Click the provided links, download the RPMs, install them using Mandriva's software installer, and within five minutes you have DVD and Windows media file playback capabilities. Many distributions try to force you to buy proprietary DVD players or provide disabled versions of video players that can't use the libdvdcss decryption library, making it inconvenient for the user to add this functionality.

The quick launch icons in Mandriva Linux have been changed to reflect a more developer-friendly selection of programs. KDevelop, XEmacs, and the KDE terminal program all have icons in this area, along with the Firefox browser, the Show Desktop button, and the DrakConf system configuration utility.

The DVD and CD writing utility, cdrecord, has been updated to allow writing to dual-layer DVD+R discs.

Click to enlarge

KDE seems a little faster in its rendering of menus and windows, and program execution also feels a little more speedy. Mandriva says this is due to adding the fvisibility GCC flag when compiling the KDE binaries.

The x86_64 and x86 editions both work equally well with no apparent difference in the software that is offered for both. A Mandriva representative says that the only major software application in the 64-bit edition that is still 32-bit is OpenOffice.org, which is not yet 64-bit clean.

Included by default in Mandriva is the ndiswrapper package, which allows Windows wireless networking drivers to work with the Linux kernel, thereby enabling support for otherwise unsupported wireless NICs.

What didn't work

All of the foregoing is good, but not everything in the distribution works perfectly. Automounting of removable media and USB flash drives did not work upon first use. I had to remove and then re-insert the media or drive to get Mandriva Limited Edition 2005 to recognize them.

Mandriva claims support for "multimedia keyboards," but none of the extra functions on my Microsoft Natural Multimedia keyboard were operational, nor did I discover a utility to activate them.

The installer choked on my VIA VT8237 SATA controller, halting the installation routine. The workaround was to use the other onboard controller on my MSI K8T Neo2-FIR motherboard, which was a Promise 20579.


Mandriva Linux Limited Edition 2005 is a superb commercial desktop distribution, and perhaps the finest choice for first-time GNU/Linux users. It has all of the necessary desktop software, plus alternate desktop environments and window managers for those who want to try out other interfaces, and it works reasonably well with modern hardware. I purposefully use "difficult" test systems to try to break operating systems, and in this case the only snag I ran into was the VIA SATA driver. Since most modern motherboards come with two kinds of SATA controllers, and since the VIA chip is not used as often as the Intel or Promise chips, I don't consider this a significant problem.

One thing I always liked about Mandrakelinux was that it didn't hide the terminal or consistently treat users like dummies. That hasn't changed in Mandriva Linux -- it's still an operating system for experts and beginners alike.

As I used the software, I didn't see where the Conectiva connection was -- there didn't seem to be anything new and different about Mandriva that would suggest that it is a conglomeration of two distinct distributions. It appears as though the name change and the altered release schedule were the primary reasons for the Limited Edition release. Just the same, it's an improvement over 10.1 in the age of the software, the expanded hardware compatibility, and the ease of adding DVD decryption support.

Considering what this distro can do, it's a bargain at $65.

Purpose Desktop operating system
Manufacturer Mandriva
Architectures x86, AMD64
License GNU General Public License, although some included software is under proprietary licenses
Market Desktop users, software developers, first-time GNU/Linux users
Price (retail) $65 for the boxed edition, $60 for the download
Previous version Mandrakelinux 10.1
Product Web site Click here


  • Linux
Click Here!