Review: Mandriva One 2009

Somewhere in the middle of 2008 my wife’s computer kept making very disturbing noises upon boot up. She had told me she would move to Linux when her current computer broke. So I bought her a new computer and loaded Kubuntu on it because she wanted “the version that looks like Windows”. I new she would want KDE for the desktop and I liked Ubuntu’s user-friendliness from when I installed it on my laptop. I had a feeling Fedora would be a bit much for her. She’s not afraid to learn about her computer, but she doesn’t want it getting in the way when she wants to get work done.

It turned out I had allowed her computer to get too much dust inside. When I dusted it a month or two ago, the evil noise disappeared like an exorcised demon. So she hasn’t had to use her Kubuntu computer at all. I’ve turned it on from time to time to keep it up to date and even to upgrade to Kubuntu 8.04. But I haven’t been impressed with Kubuntu. It’s nothing against the Kubuntu developers. The KDE spin of Ubuntu is more or less solid. But for one reason or another I just didn’t feel as “wowed” as I did with its Gnome-based brethren.  I was very impressed with Mandriva last time I reviewed it.  So, I told myself I would switch her over to Mandriva the next time I got a DVD in LXF.

It’s an interesting time to go to Mandriva.  They have been having financial difficulties again and have sacked Adam Williamson.  He came to help clarify a lot of points on my last Mandriva review.  At least, from what I’ve read on his blog and other places, they didn’t part with bad blood.  Mandriva had to release all of their contractors and that meant he had to go too.  Well, they’ve had financial problems in the past, so perhaps they’ll come out of this ok as well.  At any rate, my wife isn’t likely to be switching over to this computer any time soon so I can always go to another distro if Mandriva goes under.  Well, enough background.  Let me reboot and start up the installation process.

And I was asked the same questions about language and keyboard as it booted up.  As you can see above, the default boot up into the LiveCD (LiveDVD in this case) is similar to Mandriva One 2008 Spring.  It contains some information about the current install as well as information on all of their offerings.  The dialog box left me intrigued about Elisa – their media center.  And here’s what the default desktop looks like:

You’ll notice right away that they’ve really customized KDE 4.  While Fedora and other distros leave KDE 4 with its default (and slightly ugly) taskbar, Mandriva has customized it to be gray like KDE 3.x.  Also, they do not have the controversial new KDE 4 menu, but has replaced it with one more like the classical menu.  (Bonus for my wife!  I don’t think she’d like the new menu)

The only thing I don’t like about it so far is the default desktop background.  I’ve always been more of a fan of Mandriva blue as well as the Mandriva art style.  Well, let’s get to installing this bad boy! I started the install and told it to wipe out sda1 – which had Kubuntu on it.  It tells me that it has decided to remove from installation unused packages.  I was a tad bit confused and I think a novice Linux user might get very worried at this point.

However, after thinking about it and realizing that basically it’s not installing packages I don’t need, I thought it was a pretty slick idea.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t come back to bite me in the butt.  Then installation began.

And it was incredibly quick.  Fastest installation I’ve ever done with a Linux distro.  It took more or less five minutes.  (Ten max!)  Time to reboot.  First bonus points for Mandriva over Kubuntu – the graphical boot shows up.  On Kubuntu it just says “cannot display this video mode”.

As it is first boot, something mysterious is configured – probably the repos?  Then I set up the user and password.  Afterward I was asked to join the Mandriva Community and to take a survey.  I would have uploaded my hardware configuration, but I didn’t join the Mandriva community (I don’t know if the wife wants to do that) so I couldn’t submit the hardware – too bad they didn’t do it the Fedora way – anonymously.

Strangely enough, Elisa doesn’t appear to be installed by default.  Seems a bit odd considering that it was mentioned in the popup.  But, this is also a Linux Format Magazine respin of the install discs, so maybe it’s not on there?  There is a neat popup telling me that updates are ready, but I’m not quick enough with the screenshot to capture it for you.  A little exclamation mark appears on the taskbar.  I click it and it asks me to set up the sources.  Not sure what that was on first boot then.  I choose full update sources and that updates.  Then I’m presented with this.

Either there aren’t many updates to install or they want to update the update/install program first.  So I do that.  And I was right!  After those updates I now have 353 updates to install.

Oh, now’s a good time to mention that files created while running the liveCD/DVD persist into your installation.  At least most of the screenshots I created prior to installation were in my home directory when I booted back in.  Also, while I’m waiting I think it’s also an interesting time to mention that Mandriva appears to have replaced Google as Firefox’s default search engine in the search bar with Ask.com.  Perhaps they get some dough from ask.com for doing this?  But doesn’t this interfere with Firefox getting compensated from Google for being there?  Well, it’s late for me right now, but when I get back with a refreshed look at Mandriva, I’ll compare this release with my review of 2008 Spring.

Interestingly enough, although I had to put in my username/password to log in after installation, this time I was taken all the way to the desktop.  I’m not sure if there was some kind of timer because I turned on the computer and left the room.  While I was at work today I thought of checking whether the SMP kernel had been installed as this was running on a Dual Core Machine.  A uname -a confirmed that it was.

Once again, Mandriva has a pretty sparse menu.  I think most Linux distros have been moving in this direction for the past year or so in order to keep from confusing the user with a million IM clients, for example.  So best of breed software is included.  As was the case in my last review, this means Firefox, Kopete, Konqueror, The GIMP, Open Office, Amarok, and Totem.  Firefox has moved to version 3.0.4.  OpenOffice.org is at 3.0.0.

The control center is still here, but now under the name configure your computer.  They’ve refeshed the visual look and I think it looks VERY, VERY polished.

I decided to install Elisa which brought in a ton of dependencies.  In the meanwhile, I will test MP3 playback.  One thing I notice is that I can’t figure out how to launch Dolphin.  I mean, I know I can alt-F2 and type Dolphin.  But what would my wife do?  How would she get to her Home folder?  There is absolutely no obvious way I can find on Mandriva One 2009 to navigate the file system graphically.  I cannot find Dolphin in the menus – and perhaps it’s there, but I can’t see it.  There’s no “My Computer” or “My Documents” or “Home”.  I don’t think my wife would like that very much.  It would give her a very bad impression of Linux.  I think this is something Mandriva MUST fix by Mandriva One Spring 2009.

While I’m waiting for the MP3s to copy over from the other hard drive, I test Elisa.  It’s a competitor for Windows Media Center.  Looks nice for an appliance, but I can’t really see anyone launching that if they use a computer the way most normal people do.  It takes up your entire screen and so how can you listen to music and type?

The music is still copying so I test Casino Royale on DVD.  I pop in the DVD.  Nothing happens automatically.  Perhaps this feature is turned off?  Or maybe KDE 4 doesn’t have it?  I try opening it in Dragon Player Video Player.  I know nothing about this program, but it says video player.  I click play disc  when prompted.  It refuses to do anything.  Let me try Totem – listed as Movie Player.  It just gives me errors.  “Cannot read from resource”  If it’s because of CSS, isn’t codeina supposed to kick in?  Isn’t that the point of having Totem?  So I assume the problem is that I don’t have deCSS.  Looks like a job for the Penguin Liberation Front!

The Penguin Liberation Front is to Mandriva what RPM Fusion is to Fedora.  So I install the PLF repo.  All this does is make Totem crash.  Dragon Player Video Player still does not work.  I’ll have to search google to see if there’s another package that needs to be installed for DVD playback.   Back to music.

And Mandriva gets back some of its exclusivity cachet by having Amarok 2.  This isn’t in the latest Ubuntu nor in Fedora.  My brother, a huge Amarok fan, would be so jealous.  It works very well.  Both WMAs and MP3s play.

Flash and youtube worked right out of the box.

I installed vlc and was able to watch the DVD, but I was unable to hear any sound.  Then I realized that I needed to install the a52 codecs.  After that, sound worked just fine in vlc with DVDs.

Overall Mandriva One 2009 has a lot of polish.  It is a very good KDE distro and it feels solid compared to Kubuntu.  There are a few niggles that I think need to be corrected.  They need to make it easier to navigate the file system.  They need to bring back some sort of “My Computer” and/or “My Home Folder” back.  Sure, I could set that up with Plasma, but it should be automatic.  They need an easier way to play DVDs and/or Codeina needs to actually work and tell me that I need to install the codecs.  For now Mandriva will stay on my wife’s computer.  I’ll be checking updates from time to time.  If it improves that last little bit – I think it will be her distro when she’s ready for Linux.

15 thoughts on “Review: Mandriva One 2009

  1. As far as I know, Elisa is a competitor for the “Media Center” version of Windows, kind of like MythTV but a different concept and team. You hook it up the the TV and use it like a, well, media center. It’s not meant to be used as an application on the desktop.

    As for the review itself, I thought it was a fairly good run-through of the Mandriva 2009 desktop. I used it at launch, and didn’t like it much (not very stable), but for newer Linux users who want a good KDE distro it would work fairly well.

  2. hi,
    for many of your problems you can see a way to resolve them here:

    http://wiki.mandriva.com/en/2009.0_Errata

    codeina is available only in Totem, for 2009.1 it will be implemented in Dragon player. Dolphin is placed under tools->system tool. you can add it to the desktop switching to kickoff menu (right clic on the menu) and right clic in the program->add to the desktop, but i personally use folder view to browse my hard disk with a link to all the folders i use.

    Bye
    Marcello

  3. “Mandriva replaces ask.com as default search engine…” It is more a case of alphabetical ordering ;-)

    As for playing DVDs you need to setup PLF repositories from urpmi-zarb.org. PLF contains most of the codecs needed for playing multimedia and flash videos.

    A very good review :)

  4. Gigi,

    Basically, when you first download Firefox, it has Google as the default search because they get money from that. So even if Ask.com is on top because of alphabetical reasons, it’s still different from the default.

    As far as PLF, as I said above – I did put that repo in. Maybe I didn’t install the right packages or all of the packages?

  5. Thanks again for another thoughtful review!

    “I’ve always been more of a fan of Mandriva blue as well as the Mandriva art style.”

    Just as a note, the Free theme is much blue-r. You can install any of the three theme sets (Free, One, and Powerpack) from the package management system, then switch out the background and widget theme in the KDE settings.

    “Strangely enough, Elisa doesn’t appear to be installed by default. Seems a bit odd considering that it was mentioned in the popup. But, this is also a Linux Format Magazine respin of the install discs, so maybe it’s not on there?”

    Nope, it’s like that out of the box. The PR folks like Elisa because it’s shiny, so they wrote about it. But it’s not really intended to be in the default install.

    “Also, while I’m waiting I think it’s also an interesting time to mention that Mandriva appears to have replaced Google as Firefox’s default search engine in the search bar with Ask.com. Perhaps they get some dough from ask.com for doing this?”

    Bingo!

    “But doesn’t this interfere with Firefox getting compensated from Google for being there?”

    Shhh – if you don’t tell Google, we won’t…

    “One thing I notice is that I can’t figure out how to launch Dolphin. I mean, I know I can alt-F2 and type Dolphin. But what would my wife do? How would she get to her Home folder? There is absolutely no obvious way I can find on Mandriva One 2009 to navigate the file system graphically. I cannot find Dolphin in the menus – and perhaps it’s there, but I can’t see it. There’s no “My Computer” or “My Documents” or “Home”. I don’t think my wife would like that very much. It would give her a very bad impression of Linux. I think this is something Mandriva MUST fix by Mandriva One Spring 2009.”

    Yes, you’re absolutely right, this is an important point. It’s definitely something that will be fixed for 2009 Spring.

    “I test Elisa. It’s a competitor for Windows Media Center. Looks nice for an appliance, but I can’t really see anyone launching that if they use a computer the way most normal people do. It takes up your entire screen and so how can you listen to music and type?”

    It’s really more of a competitor to that thingy Apple has. I forget what it’s called. Front Row? That, or it can be used as a media center, like Freevo or MythTV. It’s not meant as a regular desktop media player like amaroK or something.

    Just a note – Elisa release a new version, like, every frikkin’ week, and it gets updated in /contrib/backports . I’d advise always using the latest one from /contrib/backports rather than the old one in /contrib/release . The new versions generally fix more stuff than they break.

    “They need an easier way to play DVDs and/or Codeina needs to actually work and tell me that I need to install the codecs.”

    There’s two issues. We use Codeina for codec discovery stuff. Codeina only works with Gstreamer-based players, and Gstreamer-based players are basically crap at playing DVDs. Xine-based apps and VLC are the best bet for playing DVDs, but there’s no usable codec auto-discovery system for those. So there’s not really a viable way to do it.

    Second issue, Dragonplayer doesn’t have any Codeina support at all. So we can’t do any codec discovery for it. There is, to our knowledge, no Codeina-compatible, KDE 4-native video player yet available, so we’re a bit stuck on that front.

    Hopefully for 2009 Spring, Gstreamer will be better at DVDs (they are working on this), and there’ll be a Codeina-compatible KDE 4 player we can use.

    Thanks again for the review!

  6. Adam,

    Glad to see you’re still around and loving the big M. I’m very glad to hear that the Dolphin situation is going to be resolved. That’s really the biggest problem I had. The codec issue can more or less be solved with PLF and, of course, I could always buy LinDVD if I wanted a professional solution.

    Facorate Fabrice,

    Thanks for the additional info!

  7. I hated Amarok 2 because random play does not work. 2009 ran very slowly for me. I did read that others had this issue, but I downgraded back to 2008.1

    I’m gonna wait a while to see if things get better.

    I don’t “play” with linux, I use it as my production platform so I can’t be dicking around with goofy issues.

  8. Hi,
    I have tried Mandriva 2008 and didn’t like it for many of the same reasons stated in your article.
    I don’t want to start a “My distro is better than your distro war” but I would suggest trying PCLinuxOS. It’s based on Mandriva but is modified heavily. They will be releasing a test release (TR6) next weekend with the 2009 final coming soon, of course the 2007 is still available but it’s “getting long in the tooth” I think that it’s a good distro for people coming from a Windows background. Just my 2 cents.

  9. Good review, thanks.

    Sadly, it’s looking more and more like KDE4 is not playing ball with Broadcom B43 wifi. I’ve spent the past two days with Mandriva and am about to give it up as a lost cause. After going through official docs, wiki, forums and a few blogs, it seems there are a number of people out there who can’t get this working and who know a lot more than I about Linux.

    As I’m not a fan of the hand holding of Gnome, I’m running out of options. Looks like it’s back to Windows XP. At least I know it works! You have no idea how much I hate to admit that.

    Linux really doesn’t help itself when it comes to trying to convert Windows users. My laptop wifi works in Windows with a 10 second driver install. Yet, as an experienced Linux user, II have wasted 2 very frustrating days with Mandriva and still can’t get the wifi to start. This is the third KDE4 distro which refuses to work. KDE3 is fiddly, but works. The trouble is, it’s going to disappear at some point and I’ll be stuck with Redmond again.

    1. Your inability to use your wifi card should not be dependent upon whether you are using Gnome or KDE. The Kernel manages device drivers. If your wifi card works with Mandriva Gnome edition and not KDE edition, I’d file a bug with Mandriva because that just doesn’t make much sense.

  10. I read the review and unfortunately it seems the same Mandriva problem again: not tested enough before being shipped. Too many small glitches that wreck the user experience.

    I bought THREE Mandriva’s before. And all of them were unusable. Too sad. I want them to succeed. But I am not going to get burned again. Linux Mint for me.

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