Mandriva Linux One 2009 touts itself as “easy to try and easy to keep” and mostly lives up to that promise. Multiple levels of online help, excellent documentation, a familiar desktop environment, and a wide array of supported hardware makes this distribution very approachable for new users. But installation is not as easy as it could be, and the default desktop options make the interface a bit busy.
Once you decide to commit, the installer gets right to the most important (and most difficult) part of the process: deciding where Mandriva will go. The partitioning tool, DrakX, will give you a list of options depending on your hard drive and what, if anything, is already installed. The main options include Use existing partitions, Erase and use the entire disk, and Custom disk partitioning; other options include Use free space, Remove Microsoft Windows, and “Use the free space on a Microsoft Windows partition.”
Depending on the options DrakX gives, some users may only be able to choose between existing partitions and custom partitioning if they want to install Mandriva alongside an existing OS. As this option is not new-user-friendly, those unfamiliar with partitioning—particularly in Linux—may get lost.
Mandriva’s official documentation offers an installation guide, but it isn’t as detailed as we’d expect for a distribution that touts itself as good for the Linux novice. We would have liked to see more guidance within DrakX itself, though, especially in the custom partition area.
The online Mandriva Support area contains a large list of laptops, netbooks, desktops, and servers (along with their hardware configurations) that are compatible with the operating system. This information is provided by both the Mandriva community and the official Quality Assurance lab. The list includes most popular netbooks and notebooks from major computer manufacturers, so it should provide ample information to users looking to solve a hardware problem or determine if Mandriva will work on their system.
We loaded the OS on the Samsung NC10, BenQ Joybook Lite U101, and Acer Aspire One netbooks; the Lenovo ThinkPad X200 and Acer Aspire 9500 laptops; and a Dell desktop, and encountered no major hardware problems. Mandriva detected and utilized the netbooks’ Atheros wireless cards without issue, something other popular distributions had trouble doing by default.
Mandriva suggests installing K Desktop Environment (KDE) as the default desktop, so the interface should be familiar to Windows users; indeed, it reminded us of Vista. Click the Mandriva logo on the lower left side of the taskbar (called a Panel in KDE) to see a list of installed applications and access administration and configuration options, similar to the Start button. You stick program icons to the panel, similar to Windows’ Quick Launch, and access the desktop workspaces. Users can add over a dozen widgets to the main space, including sticky notes, a Twitter updater, and a dictionary. As you move the mouse over each widget, an extra configuration tab appears. On netbooks, where screen real estate is already at a premium, having too many widgets can make the desktop feel crowded.
Though KDE is the default, other desktop environments are available, including the popular Gnome. All of them are highly configurable and, with the right tweaking, can be as busy or as Zen-simple as you choose.
Users can also opt to load one of two 3D window managers: Compiz Fusion or Metisse. Compiz Fusion adds several fun, slick effects, such as Wobbly Windows and Desktop Cube; these effects are great to play with but add little functionality. We did like the ability to roll up windows and maximize by dragging the main bar to the top of the screen. Users can disable or keep effects.
Metisse focuses more on functionality than the eye-candy offered in Compiz Fusion. Users can scale and rotate windows, allowing for creative use of your desktop space. However, the benefits aren’t always clear from the outset. At first we were unable to move windows or add workspaces to the Metisse-enabled desktop simply. If neither 3D window manager is appealing, you can also use the default KDE window manager.
One of our favorite features of Linux desktop environments is the workspace. Workspaces allow users to group together application windows to reduce desktop clutter. For example, you can group the browser and e-mail on one workspace, OpenOffice on the second, a game on the third, or any combination you choose. Panels and desktop icons stay the same on all workspaces; only the open windows change. Moving windows between workspaces is easy (just drag and drop), as is switching between them. Mandriva has four workspaces by default, and users can easily add more.
Mandriva comes with more than 40 preinstalled programs, including the typical spread of applications: Firefox, Evolution (e-mail and calendar), instant messaging, photo viewer, GIMP image editor, music player, multimedia player, CD/DVD burner, OpenOffice, PDF viewer, notes, archive/zip, and remote access.
Additional software, such as a CD ripper, FTP client, finance/money manager, Web page editor, and games, can be added via the Software Manager (found in the main menu). Adding programs in Linux differs from Windows and Mac environments. Software available for the various distributions is stored in online repositories. Some repositories contain packages that multiple distributions can access while others house applications for specific distributions.
Mandriva’s Software Manager divides applications into such categories as Office, Games, and Education, and each category contains dozens of available titles with short descriptions, making it easy to skim through. Users can also search for programs by title or by keyword. We were able to find software we wanted and installed the programs with no problems.
Windows or Mac users looking to switch to Linux will find analogs to most basic programs in the default repositories. For more-advanced programs, users may want to explore other sources, though you’ll still be limited to what’s available for Linux and Mandriva. At first, we couldn’t find an easy way to add more repositories. Once online, we were able to find instructions for finding and adding repositories.
Mandriva users looking for help can turn to four main sources: Knowledge Base, Official Documentation, the wiki on the Mandriva Club support site, and the Expert community support area. The documentation found in the Mandriva Club is comprehensive, with guides for newbies and individual articles for every aspect of installation, basic use, hardware, troubleshooting, and more. Some of the documentation (particularly in the Knowledge Base, where articles are user-written) assumes an intermediate-to-advanced understanding of Linux.
Users can also seek help from an active community of so-called Mandriva Experts. Users can ask questions and get help for free; to get an expedited response within 72 hours, you can pay a fee—30 euros per help incident (about $40). The Expert support site is not the only portal for community help, but it is the official site maintained by the Mandriva company.
Mandriva Linux One 2009 is an attractive Linux distribution for newcomers due to its thorough documentation, easily accessible community help, and fun graphical interface. Most basic or essential programs are installed right out of the box, and adding additional software is fairly straightforward. However, Linux One 2009 is held back by its installation process, which may prove too difficult for Linux novices, and the lack of on-screen help throughout the operating system is frustrating. Windows and Mac users will feel particularly at home in the default desktop, though it can be somewhat busy. Those looking for a user-friendly distribution with a cleaner desktop may prefer Ubuntu or Linux Mint. Still, Mandriva is a good first distribution for users looking to dip a toe into Linux waters.
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