Can Mandriva provide the same "out of the box experience" of Ubuntu? Find out below!
Can Mandriva provide the same "out of the box experience" of Ubuntu? Find out below!

For the brand new user is there really only one choice?

Meet Mandriva 2009 (One), a distro which states a similar level of “out of the box” compatibility as Ubuntu, but does it deliver?

I decided to write this article to cover a topic that has been concerning me for a while.  Whilst Ubuntu is a great distro offering “out of the box” support, there is so much more to Linux and Linux != Ubuntu!  With that in mind Ive picked a distro which Ive dabbled with on occasion in the past, but since Heron 8.04 went on my second rig and Gentoo remains my distro of choice, I’d neglected the distro for a while.  I think (if i’m honest) there are reason for this.

As a Linux user I may have started believing myself “special” in the world of computing, that “special” feeling is increased when one stays away from the more mainstream distro’s and I think somewhere in my mind, I enjoyed telling people that not only had I found a better computing experience away from a “mainstream” Microsoft offering, but I was staying away from “mainstream” Linux distros and thus reinforcing that I’ve some sort of self esteem issue? – Who knows? but thats my psychological examination over.  The point of me bringing that up? Well, in the quest for finding the “ultimate” by repeated “distro hopping” there may well be an answer closer to home.

Mandriva is available in three flavours with nothing confusing about any of them.

Mandriva One -Includes the proprietary GFX drivers, proprietary codecs for playing all your media and Adobe Flash. You have a choice of Gnome or KDE for this LiveCD.

Mandriva Free – The version which contains no proprietary codecs.

Mandriva Powerpack – A commercial release of Mandriva which gives access to CrossOver games and includes everything of the other two.

Mandriva Flash – For installation onto USB stick or similar.

Installation

Booting from a LiveCD (from an LXF DVD released in December) you can immediately check the compatibility of your hardware.  After an about average LiveCD bootup time giving you various keyboard and desktop options, you are presented with the Mandriva desktop (running with KDE 4.2 or Gnome 2.26)  Whats more, even on Live CD my NVIDIA drivers were loaded and Compiz was running with the all too popular “cube” effect and a number of other little aesthetic tweeks such as wobbly windows!  Its worth noting that the ISO available from the website is updated since the DVD that I’m using, however the differences are minor.

For this feature I am running KDE.  My normal preference is Gnome, I tried as much as possible to come out of my “comfort zone” in order to try and get a view of Mandriva from a new user point of view.

The installation process was a simple wizard asking you questions about where you wanted Mandriva installed, but it was put in such a way that will be stress free for the new user.  Some users may find it too simplistic, however I think for a user migrating from Windows, the clear messages and simple layout will be welcome.

After approximately 25 minutes. installation was complete.  I did not know that there would be very little for me to do after re-boot!

Packages

OpenOffice 3.0.1 is the order of the day, which needs no explanation, and all your favorites can be found here such as Gimp, FireFox 3.08 and probably a whole host of packages you will neither have heard of or use (see further on this matter in conclusions)

The Mandriva package manager (Rpmdrake) is so similar to Ubuntu’s package manager, I cannot see any advantages or disadvantages.  Anyone who tries to tell you Windows software installation is easier than Linux, need look no further than the package repro’s of Ubuntu & Mandriva (to name a few) to see the advantages.  No IRC client though? (more about this in conclusions)

Its all ready for you with Mandriva.  Why should Ubuntu be the only distro being seen as a great "out of the box experience"  Mandriva is not alone, we will cover other distro's that are just as easy for the newcommer!
Its all ready for you with Mandriva. Why should Ubuntu be the only distro being seen as a great "out of the box experience" Mandriva is not alone, we will cover other distro's that are just as easy for the newcomer!

Operation –  Mandriva in action.

A liveCD never represents the true experience of an installed OS (neither does running in a VM), so when testing my hardware with it I had no idea of what was in store when the distro was installed.  After a boot-time that was certainly longer than #!CBL, I experienced about the same time as Ubuntu 8.10.  Whilst a long boot time (like I experienced with Windows many years ago) is not acceptable, a blistering fast one is not that much of an advantage to me, since when the computer is booted, it remains on for a considerable time.  Keeping in mind that I was running Mandriva on a system which only has 512mb of RAM applications ran and loaded at a blisteringly fast pace.

The pre-installed Compiz was surprisingly quick and smooth.  The test machine has the following specs: AMD Athlon 64, 512mb RAM, GeForce FX 5200, 80gb HD and since this computer is old (by my standards) the experience was that of a fresh, modern, just purchased machine.  Since this secondary PC is only used for the more mundane tasks, I am now considering promoting its position in the house to maybe a second PC for the kids.  Mandriva is really that good.

Stability wise, I had no issues and have yet to experience any crashing.  This has been par for the course for me with Linux in general,  so maybe I’m simply lucky.

Conclusions

Let me say that only the issues Ive had are common with all distro’s, that is far too many packages included and too much duplication.

I know the reason for this and its an honorable one to ensure that everyone gets something which they are comfortable with.   Mandriva is no different in this respect to any other distro, and the worst offender so far (in my experience) has to be #!CBL.  So after a little deleting of packages I’ve got the distro best suited to me (one of the main pro’s of Linux?)

In the midst of complaints of too many packages included in Mandriva 2009, there was an absence of an IRC client (or have I just not noticed?)  Since it probably would have been Xchat (or similar) and not IRSSI (my client of choice), it matters not, that issue was sorted out literally in seconds.  (Kudos to Crunchbang for including IRSSI)

So it leaves me with a question.  Why is Ubuntu becoming the new users (and established ones) distro of choice?

Please don’t take that as an insult to Canonical or Ubuntu, its not, however what I see with Mandriva is the “new user” requests of Compiz & graphics card drivers along with proprietary codecs, sorted out on install automatically, unlike Ubuntu where a little tweaking is still required.  Theres no selecting options or messing around with config files with Mandriva, its all there ready!  That to me would be a great plus if I was new user (from Windows) who wanted to get into Linux as quickly as possible and have the “fancy” effects I’d seen on Youtube!  For everyone else, taking off the un-needed features is a very simple job.

I currently run Ubuntu (9.04) on another rig which is primarily the family PC for the kids, however I am now seriously considering moving it over to Mandriva.  Package execution just seems so much faster and smoother and the system is (so far) just as stable.  There is so little to do after installation, and I found the only “tweaking” was aesthetical, with a different colour scheme and desktop wallpaper.

So if youre looking to get started in Linux, or are looking for an “out of the box experience” I would at least suggest you compare Mandriva to Ubuntu yourself, I believe its the better distro and I’ll stand by that comment when I next install a Linux distro for someone who wants to migrate from Windows.  I’ve often stated that I am concerned when people mention Ubuntu as if IT IS Linux.  Fact is it is not and the “out of the box friendliness” that we see mentioned in relation to Ubuntu is true of other distro’s out there.

You can get Mandriva from its official website here.

Goblin – bytes4free@googlemail.com