In 2008 I tried a well known distro called Mandriva, even back then the bar was set pretty high for what you could expect out of the box from Linux. Suffice to say it failed me, from regular yet apparently random freezes to a bug in its update manager pestering me to “upgrade” to a previous version, I suffered with it for a few days before replacing with Ubuntu 8.04 and swore that I would never again look at Mandriva.
Years passed and I stayed with my comfortable Gnome environment, I tried KDE numerous times and couldn’t warm to it, so it seemed fitting that with a new distro on the block and KDE considerably more mature than when I last gave it try, that I dive into both, giving them the OpenBytes treatment.
Mageia is a fork of Mandriva Linux formed in September 2010 by former employees and contributors to the popular French Linux distribution. Unlike Mandriva, which is a commercial entity, the Mageia project is a community project and a non-profit organisation whose goal is to develop a free Linux-based operating system.
So here is Mageia, the fork of the Mandriva product, three years on the scars are still visable but I’m ready to put aside those dark days and delve into a distro that is not only “new to the market” but also offering me a DE (KDE) which I have to date never really felt at home with.
I had an “interim” distro on my main rig (Mint 11), so after one last Dent declaring my departure, I burned and booted the 64bit DVD iso for the first time. As modern distro’s go the installation process was very simple. This is probably to be expected in today’s Linux, but even so, it offered a punchy installation process which took around 15 minutes to complete. One thing that did disturb me was the absence of a live boot, which often allays any reservations I have of “throwing my eggs in one basket”.
Everything was detected successful by Mageia and as is par for the course with Linux these days, on first boot my machine was functional and ready to go.
It would be a time-consuming exercise to list all the packages included in a vanilla install of Mageia and since users will “dilute to taste”, there are a few items of note. The first would be the sheer number of apps presented to the user upon first boot. The default browser (as you would expect) was Firefox 4.01, which whilst arguably the most popular browser for Linux users, its not mine. That would be going if indeed I was to spend any time with Mageia. LibreOffice 3.3.2 is included as default and certainly an office suite most people cannot do without. I was pleased (though not surprised) to see K3b present as a default package and even with Gnome, ranks as my favourite disk burning package.
I was disappointed that Thunderbird was not present as default (although obtainable through the repo’s) as I would defend the position vigorously that it’s the best all-in-one mail suite out there.
So where to start? Lets start with KDE and some points which have no relevance to Mageia at all. Ive decided that KDE is definitely not for me. I said many years ago that whilst it was very difficult to put into writing what I didn’t like, I said it felt, cheap, plastic and uncontrollable. The plethora of GUI’s and utils to customize your system (in comparison to say Gnome) is akin to travelling from the UK to America via Saturn. KDE still for me, goes around the houses to perform the simplest of tasks and I have neither the time nor inclination to flick around in menu’s and sub menu’s to do something I could accomplish in Gnome within about 2 clicks.
KDE also has this silly tradition of sticking a K infront of its native apps, which whilst I’m sure is very “cool” and obvious to seasoned KDE users, to me who has spent his years with Gnome, it makes menus look like I’ve accidentally selected the wrong language setting at install time – its all rather confusing, with a game of “what on earth does that application do?” – Having now been reminded of a KDE desktop, I certainly won’t consider exposing a new Linux user to the complexities of the “K” naming system and Ive yet to see a KDE desktop where the taskbar doesn’t look crowded and cramped.
So lets now look at Mageia, on first impressions it was quite impressive, everything appeared to be working fine and within a few seconds I was proudly sending my first dent to say I had returned with my new distro.
It didn’t take long though for cracks to show and probably the first major one was when I innocently plugged in a USB stick with some bookmarks/newsfeeds that I’d exported out of their respective clients prior to installing Mageia. As soon as the USB stick was inserted the screen when black (albeit with a few graphical artifacts) and the system completely hung, forcing me (for the first time in many years) to perform a hard reset. Yes, I can report this bug, yes I’m sure it will be fixed, but with no error message or indeed any clue as to what had just happened, I had no time to perform surgery on the distro. It should be noted that I have not researched this bug and have no idea if it is widespread or merely unique to me.
As would be expected, the Mageia repo’s are tiny, software that I would have liked to have seen was not present (Mupen,E-UAE) and for example, the emulators section (GUI apps) were little more than Dosbox, Wine and Zsnes. I know you can add your own, I know Mageia is new, but the level of expectation in today’s distro is far higher than in the past. If Mageia is to be offered to existing Linux users, I’d ask what is it offering that they don’t already have, if its being offered to new users I would ask what is there here that would make their transition from a Windows lifestyle as painless as possible? In both cases with Mageia in its current state I’d say very little.
Whilst installing packages of my choice from the repo’s, I noticed a rather annoying “feature”. Despite specifically selecting an application of my choice from the rather limited repo, I was prompted to put in the Mageia DVD. I believe this is due to the package already being including on the disk and the package manager is being “helpful”, but this feature was rather annoying since like most people, upon install, the DVD is thrown into some dark corner of the room. I am sure this feature can be disabled easily, but at this point it became clear Mageia would not be staying on my rig, so I went along with its demands for the sake of time.
On the plus side CPU usage was surprisingly low. I’ve taken the opportunity over the past few weeks to keep an eye on quite a few distro’s demands on the processor. I’d say that at present Mageia is the best performer, as when I was going about my daily net activities none of the cores went above 10% and if they did it was for a very short period of time. Memory wise Mageia held at around the 1gig mark and I was impressed at the low demands a modern distro was putting on my resources.
There has been much work put into Mageia but in today’s computing world your product has to be far more than merely functional With so many other distro’s competing for your attention, I think Mageia is not yet ready to become a player at the top of the league for Linux distro’s with the RC seeming more like a beta. My requirements of an OS are not satisfied with Mageia and should I remain with this distro, I would not be as productive. That is not acceptable and so for me its goodbye, with an appreciation that KDE is not for me either. I will certainly be looking at the Gnome flavour of Mageia on a secondary rig and I would expect a more favourable opinion since I do love Gnome.
On a positive note, I have already spoken to some members of the Mageia team. They are certainly open to all comments and very keen to continually improve Mageia, for many people I expect the improvements will be exciting to watch as they are part of the Mageia user base and it is nice to see a distro in its infancy, with the last one I covered at this stage being Peppermint. I wish the Mageia team all the best for the future.
You can visit the homepage of Mageia here: http://www.mageia.org/en/
If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.