Mandriva 2010 First impressions

A week ago someone at the KWLUG was talking about Mandriva, and I mentioned that I never warmed up to it.

That conversation left me intrigued so today I decided to give it a try once again.

This will be a play by play impression while I go through the install. Some of my comments may sound picky, but as first impressions count:

I'm all pumped up and ready to be wowed.

On inserting the disk I remembered why I hadn't been able to fully test it: the DVD is not a live version. No live DVD. Why? Do I need to download the CD to see if I like it and if I do then get the DVD?

-1

I decide to go with the DVD. After starting the installation, things went smooth, until partition time. The installer took some time analyzing if it could shrink Windows and offered me to use that space. I guess it is a good assumption that most new users will have Windows already installed and the people that already has Linux, will know how to partition properly.

+1

I selected the advanced method. Selected my root partition and continued installing until I got to a screen that asked me if I had other sources to use. I selected HTTP to see if it would offer me additional packages, but all that happened is that it asked me for an HTTP address. If I am new to Mandriva, how would I know what address to use?

-1

When it came time to select the bootloader, I decided to ignore it as I already have Grub2 under Ubuntu Lucid.

It configured my network and asked me if I wanted to update the packages. Wow, that's nice, Install and update all at once while I have dinner!! I'm liking it.

+1

Things completed and I rebooted in Ubuntu to update grub. Restarted the computer but It wouldn't boot Mandriva. It's complaining about the root=/dev/sda6 kernel parameter.

I went to Ubuntu, created a 40 level grub2 script to manually add Mandriva and things rebooted properly. I don't know if I should blame grub2 or Mandriva for this one so things are still in favour of Mandriva.

Upon download I was welcomed with the final setup, Surprise! Mandriva selected the highest resolution available for my card and monitor, which is 1920x1440. On a 19" monitor the text on the welcome screens were super small and there was no way to change the resolution at that time.

-1

The welcome screen asked me to register to the Mandriva community. All good and nice, except that it asked for an email and a password. No indication that the password should be different than the login password for the computer. A new user would assume that if he/she just provided a password 3 minutes ago while installing. The password requested will be that one.

-1

Finally I got to the login screen and to the desktop. It looks like KDE3... wait a second, Shouldn't this be KDE4.x? Well it is, but kind of retro. No plasma widgets, no searchable menu. Just plain retro KDE3. Aggghh, Will need to take some time to configure it to look as a default KDE4? bummer.

-1

OK, now it's time to finally change the resolution... Where are the system settings? Nowhere. So I clicked some menu entries that looked promising: "Configure your computer"... Nop, Even though it has a hardware section, configuring the display (hardware) is not there. And by the way, the menu entry does not correspond to the title of the window that opens. Finally I found it under "Configure your desktop", which had an icon similar to the "System Settings"... wait a second... It IS the system settings. with keyboard, multimedia, network sharing. all that, Why would they call it something different is a mystery to me.

-3 (Yes, this one was annoying)

Oh, a pop up advising me of a new version. How nice, but, didn't I just updated during installation? whatever.

+1 for advising me of the new version.

I'm on a roll so I say I want to upgrade. It first shows me two options I didn't know what they meant. so I selected the one that said "download all packages", wouldn't it be clear that if you update over the Internet you MUST download the packages? Well... then it said that it had to download 2.3 GB of data! Sounded like a lot to me considering that the full DVD is less than twice that. I decline the upgrade.

-1 for the confusing wording.

I proceeded to try to find the software upgrade for the current version... I'm searching until I find it buried under: "Configure your computer". This is now just funny. You cannot configure your display under the Hardware section of "Configure your computer" which has an icon that looks like a display but somehow they think that installing and updating software is equivalent to configuring my computer by clicking on a "screw driver and a wrench" icon?

-2

Getting over the naming (after all What's on a name but SEMANTICS) I proceeded to update my system. What? only 5 packages ready to update? I thought that my version was so old that there was even a newer full version. Until I remembered that during the installation It asked me if I wanted to update the packages. Great something to smile about.

+2

I click update and this message is shown: "Rpmdrake or one of its priority dependencies need to be udpated first. Rpmdrake will then restart". What is that Rpmdrake for and will it affect my computer if it restarts? I guess it's not OK to continue but then nothing gets updated... mmmm. I'll click update again and bite the bullet. Everything seems to install and at the end another message:"You should restart your computer for glibc" Who is that glibc and why should I restart for him? My only option is "OK" does that mean that I have no other options?

I click OK and go for some milk while it reboots... I come back but the computer didn't reboot. It is telling me that it needs to contact the mirror. blah blah. I accept and I see that the Software Packages update restarted but has a huge list of things to upgrade. Didn't I just go through this and it was just a short list? I had even awarded 2 points for upgrading while installing. I click "Update" again and... another question asking me to confirm. Haven't I confirmed several times? How many freaking times do I have to say that I want to update? I'm not laughing any more.

Now waiting. I don't know how long because it never told me the size of each package or the total size of the updates just that there are 663 packages to be updated.

-2 (for the points I awarded above)
-5 (for being so annoying)

While it updates I'll go browse the menu to see what's there. Alt-F1... mm, nothing. I have KDE4 in a different computer, that opens the menu. but not here. Check the menu settings and.. the keyboard shortcut is set to none!

Well, then I'll switch to the KDE4 Kickoff Menu style. Good thing I know how to do it. I unlock the widgets, right click on the menu widget and select to switch only to be shown a red X which when hovered over tells me that it is unable to launch the widget. So, no menu, no way to switch back with the right click. I am forced to add the traditional menu widget and delete the malfunctioning one.

I browse the old (windows 95 style) menu and find that some applications have a name and a description, quite useful. But some others, just the name. What the hell is Codeina? Is it for when I am in pain? because I need it right now!

Sitting here still waiting for it to update. I'm starting to guess that I would've been better off upgrading, I don't know how much it is downloading but it seems like a lot.

Finally after what seems like an eternity it finishes, with "Problems during installation" and a list of packages on Dependency Hell!!!. this is a new installation, I haven't added repositories, people had told me that RPM dependency hell was no more. This was the last drop.

Or so I thought... When I click OK, it offers me more updates which leads to an "orphan" package, whatever that means.

Finally no more updates!!

I don't think that I will keep using Mandriva for long but if I find something worth talking about I will amend this post.

Conclusion:

This is crazy, some parts of Mandriva treat you as if you are a total newbie, asking confirmation after confirmation and some others treat you as if you are a Linux expert and know what libraries are required for what and what are the names of the applications (even though the names are different than what shows in the menus and the window title bars).

Mandriva will tell you that it is a modern distribution while at the same time going out of their way to make it look old and fuggly. They even managed to break KDE4.

Things are hidden and out of place, misnomers all over the place. I've been a distro hooper for a while and this is the first time where I've felt really flabbergasted.

I know that this is the free version. But many volunteers worked on it. So, how could so many little and BIG details made it to this release? Could it be so people go for the paid version and this is just sharing the crumbs with the community?

This is sad. Very sad. I really expected better. Honestly.

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I may be a masochist. I just changed the desktop from "Folder view" to "Desktop" to make it look like KDE4 and now I cannot even add widgets or restore it.

I also noticed that when trying to do an admin activity, sometimes it asks me for my password, sometimes for the root password.

How many other annoyances should I find before I declare this a distribution non-grata?

OK, I deleted the ~/.kde folder and after rebooting I was able to switch to the kickoff menu and I was able to change the desktop to the desktop view instead of folder view.

Maybe I'm just used to be advised I need to reboot when there are changes that require reboot.

I finally found where to change the resolution permanently: "Configure your computer | Hardware | Setup the Graphical server".

But when I try to upgrade or refresh repositories:

Unable to update medium, errors reported:

retrieval of [http://carroll.cac.psu.edu/pub/linux/distributions/mandrivalinux/official/2010.1/i586/media/main/updates/media_info/synthesis.hdlist.cz] failed (md5sum mismatch)
problem reading synthesis file of medium "Main Updates"

This distribution is the wost I've seen in a long time. Honestly.

What version was your DVD? If you got a popup saying that there was a new version, then I think that you may have installed 2010.0 rather than the latest 2010.1 (Spring), otherwise the popup would have only stated that there were updates available (updates since the release).

Orphan packages are packages that are no longer included as dependencies by other programs after an update and are no longer needed. This will also get rid of outdated kernels after the kernel is updated.

I would recommend that anyone new to Mandriva start with the live CD (Mandriva One) rather than the DVD (Mandriva Free). Mandriva One includes the closed source video drivers that may be needed with many video cards in order to use the 3D eye candy in KDE, while Mandriva Free does not include them. The Powerpack ($$$) also has the proprietary video drivers. If I was going to install an unfamiliar Linux distro, I would prefer to start with a live CD to make sure that there are no problems with my particular hardware. I have read a lot of complaints over the years by Ubuntu users about things not working right after installation.

Mandriva KDE defaults to folder view because when KDE4 first came out, there was a lot of grumbling from people who didn't like the change from KDE3. Same goes with the choice of menu, I think.

RPMdrake is the graphical front end to urpmi, Mandriva's tool for package installation and dependency handling. RPMdrake is one of Mandriva's "Drak tools", the graphical configuration tools accessible through the "Configure Your Computer" menu item ("drakconf" from the command line). If there is a new version of RPMdrake, urpmi or rpm, these will always get updated before other packages.

The installation correctly detected and configured your video card and you complain about it? I spent years frustrated by Linux installations that defaulted to 640X480. The default installation puts KDE's "Configure Your Desktop" icon on the panel, which gives you access to display configuration.

I dispute your assertion that Mandriva broke KDE4, just because they didn't choose your preferred defaults.

Mandriva asks for your user password for admin activities that are user configurable and the root password for activities that are only configurable by root. Linux has always worked that way.

Gary

OK, I finally found and answer to the "update" problem on this post

First on the console
su
urpmi.removemedia -av
drakrpm-edit-media --expert

- Open File > Add a specific media mirror
- Select "Full set of sources" when/if asked
- Click OK when asked about contacting the Mandriva servers
- Select a mirror from the list of mirrors

I think I realized that Mandriva is not for me.

Reading this other review it seems that it's for people like the reviewer who like a different experience.

Here are some excerpts with my comments:

"Everything is custom right from the Grub boot menu."

yes, in a way that is very difficult to guess where things are. So if you prefer custom to standard it seems you'll like Mandriva

"The desktop itself is designed with a more retro feel, with double-click being standard to open items, a full desktop rather than a folder view widget, and a classic KDE menu rather than the new Kickoff style."

So it's not a bug, it's a feature!! I'm sure this guy drives a PT cruiser (Nothing wrong with that, just an observation)

"a custom Mandriva theme is used throughout the desktop, and manages to prove that you don’t need to stick with KDE’s default theme to have a beautiful desktop,"

So why didn't they do it? why did they manage to make it so ugly. Yes, the background artwork is very nice, but that doesn't qualify as a customization.

I tried to upgrade, I really did but I kept getting errors about the MD5SUM.

The worst part is that when trying to search for answers I realized that there isn't really a large community. It was very difficult to get responses.

I found a lot of people with the same problem and the only response "It is a known bug still unresolved".

It really pains me to criticize a Linux distribution. I understand hardware issues, I understand small bugs, I understand Big bugs when there are clear solutions. I even understand funny names and cryptic messages from distributions aimed at technical people.

I don't understand how Mandriva let the upgrade issue remain until now or how they assign names that don't make sense or show technical messages that mean nothing to a normal user.

That's it for me, If someone has suggestions I may come back to try it at a later time.

I haven't heard about anyone else having an upgrade problem, however I think that you should have downloaded the latest version instead of the previous one. Reviewing an older version instead of the latest is kind of disingenuous, I think. At least try out the latest Mandriva One live CD and see what you think. I can give you one if you don't want to bother downloading it.

I have been running Mandriva Cooker for a long time on my main system and usually do a constant rolling update rather than a fresh install or upgrade from stable version to stable version, so maybe I don't come across some of the installation bugs that you experienced. (Running Cooker is like running Debian unstable).

Regarding the "look" of Mandriva, some of the choices are due to the fact that Mandriva comes in both KDE4 and Gnome versions, and they tried to make both desktops look similar. I compared the latest Mandriva One to Kubuntu 10.04 and I have to admit that Kubuntu looks a bit nicer. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but maybe it is time that Mandriva reconsiders having folder view and the traditional menu as defaults.

Gary

I started a thread on the Mandriva Cooker mailing list referencing your review.

Gary

Thank you Gary,

"I dispute your assertion that Mandriva broke KDE4, just because they didn't choose your preferred defaults."

I thought they had broken it because there was no way to switch to the kicker menu and changing to the Desktop view didn't work. I later realized that after upgrading, deleting the .kde folder and restarting the computer fixed it. I had another comment that although the upgrade required a reboot to work well, It never asked me to reboot. Other distributions do.

"Mandriva asks for your user password for admin activities that are user configurable and the root password for activities that are only configurable by root. Linux has always worked that way."

No, as I remember, Fedora consistently asks for root password. Ubuntu consistently asks for the user password.

"you should have downloaded the latest version instead of the previous one. Reviewing an older version instead of the latest is kind of disingenuous."

I used the DVD that came with one recent magazine (April, which I got near May) I would expect other users to be using that one. Besides it is just one version older. It is clear to me that for Mandriva upgrade really means start fresh every time. That hasn't been my experience with either Fedora, Ubuntu or Mint which I've used for extended periods of time through in-place upgrades.

Thanks for opening that other thread. I read it and saw a lively and for the most part, intelligent discussion.

I like the part where they say I come up like an idiot. And the part where they say that I should have read all the manuals "before" even starting.

I was really trying. I was picky in some cases but I am clear which one those are. But with some I am honestly dumbfounded. I still cannot upgrade and I haven't found any helpful post on how to solve it other than "we know it's a bug".

I dispute the concept of "reading all the manuals". Or that "configure the graphical server" is clear, Not even for me at first glance. Specially when there is another option on the KDE system settings where it has a different name.

Thanks for the advise.

Raul - thank you for the review and the comments. It affirms my impression to stay away from Mandriva as being not worth the specialized effort, in the face of other larger, and thus better supported distributions (in the sense of eyeballs), such as K/Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, or even CentOS. [Or Redhat or SuSe.]

I appreciate that you, and that you acknowledge, you are/were walking both sides of a fence - being 'picky' on one side, and focusing on the 'new user experience' on the other. Your notes clearly delineate which side of the fence you're referring to in any given comment. It is easy to follow.

It is preposterous that you should receive the comment to 'read the docs first', given your level of ('Linux') experience. If someone such as yourself cannot just 'get up and happy' in a very short amount of time, there is something wrong with the distribution. Sadly, worse, to receive such a comment indicates that there is something wrong with the community itself. [Yes, such comments from a few end up painting an entire distribution with the same brush. Deal with it, community, and address.] If you cannot get up and happy in a very short amount of time, then the distribution is broken - if only from the sense of premise and attitude from which the distribution is coming from.

Windows users don't read docs to just get up and going and be productive. No OS is an end in itself. If docs have to be read beforehand, due to a poorer user experience vis a vis windows, then the distribution has failed, and is not worth our time. Unfortunately, evidently, Mandriva doesn't get that.

IMO, the biggest problem with Linux adoption is acquiring mass desktop use. From past experience, and evidently from yours, the Mandriva community does not get that, or does not care. In either case, they doom themselves to irrelevance and obscurity. Which may be ok with them, and that's their choice, but it means that for the new or average non-technical computer user, if they want a distribution they can get up and running on their own, one with which they can learn and grow with via a viable online community of sufficient mass, Mandriva should not be used.

This (Raul's) experience merely reinforces that those currently using Mandriva doom themselves to continued aggravation and pain by staying with Mandriva. At some point, if only for sanity's sake, it's time to move on to a more 'mainstream' distribution, rather than continuing to beat a dead horse. If I am inclined to assist someone, I want their platform to be something by which I can easily dig out resolutions from a vibrant online community, in the process of which I can show the helpee how to fish - rather than just catching a fish for them. I can't do that with Mandriva, so I'll just continue to ignore it, and walk away. It's not worth my time in the face of these other, more widely used, communities. I'm even willing to say, in the face of other more widely used distributions, in these generic communities, please take Mandriva questions elsewhere - I find them simply an unwelcome distraction in the face of trying to move forwards.

As for kde 3 vs. 4, I can understand and appreciate both your aggravation, and the perspective Mandriva is coming from, given the comments in this thread. The transition from kde 3 to 4 did not happen as smoothly as anyone in the world would have preferred. Ubuntu certainly demonstrated that (in the sense of in their attempt, they too delivered a poor user experience). However, to your point, current Ubuntu versions demonstrate that that hump has been surpassed, and that kde 4 is ready for mass appeal at initial installation. To your point, evidently, Mandriva hasn't caught up with that, to their own detriment. However, to Mandriva's point, in many ways I prefer kde 3's interface (I revert to classic menus in kde 4), and using it as the default does make sense in many ways. Raul, in your particular case, I think you are a relatively small, and shrinking, subset of users receiving kde 3 at install, and know and want kde 4, then - you will, unavoidably, experience pain. If Mandriva addresses the issue, as seems possible given the comments in this thread, then I think it fair to say that future new users will have a better out of box experience than you have had. If one likes and wants to stay with kde 3, then all is well. If one likes and wants to start with kde 4, then choosing a future Mandriva version may be a rich and full experience too. However - kde 4 is where the world will be, and for a new user, choosing a (future?) distribution version that starts with that in the first place will result in a happier ongoing user experience.

We all want 'Linux' to succeed, and we want it RIGHT NOW!. Enough already, or enough time has passed, already. Success, for me, is 'Linux' taking over the desktop, on a mass basis, exceeding and surpassing Microsoft Windows (all versions). Clearly that is neither where Mandriva is at, nor where it wants to be. It is irritating that the rich set of resources being throwm at 'Linux' across the world cannot get their act together to focus and just accomplish this one goal.

No other goal is relevant. There are too many areas of knowledge to be learned to persist in re-learning how to perform 'regular' tasks in non-standard ways in the face of so many other distributions that pursue this goal. Mandriva is irrelevant. Thank you, Raul, for re-confirming that with the new version. You have certainly saved me a great deal of time. You have demonstrated that I can continue to simply ignore it, and any questions surrounding it. To pursue any such questions is simply a waste of my time, and any knowledge I acquire cannot be well leveraged going forward. There are too many questions to be answered to be continually re-answering the same questions with different answers.

[Door closes, walks away, slowly, and sadly.]

@bswitzer:

Thank you for your comments. I just need to make a few clarifications:

  • I consider Mandriva to be a mainstream distribution. I wouldn't have been as harsh hadn't I considered it that way.
  • My experience in this review was an initial impression. It is clear that there are other people that really like it. I don't find anything wrong with that.
  • The comment to "read the manuals" came from a single person. The rest of the responders made it clear that it wasn't an appropriate comment.
  • The comment that "I came up looking like an idiot" was bona-fide. Not saying that I am an idiot, just that I went over the top in some comments; which is a fair assessment.
  • The version of Mandriva I tried comes with KDE4, just that they make it look like KDE3.
  • I haven't tried the newer version advised by Gary. I'll be on vacations so I may have some time to review it (no promises.)
  • I consider that success for Linux is different for each person. That's why I think all the resources cannot go against just one goal.

- if we use the kwlug discussion list as typical, out of ~120+ members, much less than half a dozen run Mandriva. IMO it cannot be considered a mainstream distribution. I agree it was at one time. No longer, and not for some time.

- I have no time for those that really like it in the face of other distributions used by many more. If one wants to be deliberately obscure, in the face of so much to be learned, when other distributions have a larger base of everything, they are self-inflicting pain. That's their choice, and fine, but it's not my choice, and I have no time for it.

- idiots are people too. All of us are idiots at one time or another, in the face of more knowledgeable users of the time. Granted, most often such comments are made to users making demands and having expectations, of something that is free - typically, such is beaten out of them rather quickly.

- whether the interface is, or looks like, kde 3, the same comments apply.

- although success for Linux may be different for each person, there is a set of universal common goals for Linux in general. Sure, go off and specialize in particular areas once those goals are accomplished, but not before they are realized. Sure, build a better mousetrap, but within the general effort, first.

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