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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mandriva 2010 Spring (Gnome Desktop version)

Machine Specification:
Processor - 2.4GHz pentium 4 Celeron
Memory - 512MB Ram
Graphics Card - NVidia GEForce 8400 GS
Screen - 1440 x 900 Flat Panel LCD. Hewlwtt Packard W1907S


Mandriva is a solid Linux Distribution (distro) which I have been using since it's installation borked my Linux Mint partition. The graphical install was  simple but the installer did not recognise my Mint partition and add it to the Boot Menu. I decided to persevere with Mandriva and I have enjoyed the experience but I will say bye bye soon. I wanted to try it because I heard great things about it

I was unimpressed with this distro because my experience with Debian based distros is that they always recognise other Linux partitions and add them to the new boot menu. I had created dual boot and triple booting systems before but this time I was stumped and felt like an idiot. Because I was short on experience and was a newbie I wrote this report for newbies and for smart arses. We are not all whizz kidz!

Playing around with the Grub bootloader is not my idea of fun and needless to say many others will not be impressed with having to do so. If you have Windows and want a dual booting machine that lets you choose Windows or Mandriva at start up then this is easy achieve with Mandriva It's common and expected that a Linux Distro will install happily beside Windows but it is odd that Mandriva screws up when attempting to install it beside another flavour of Linux. It's a confidence wrecker
This was the first time I had seriously used a Linux distro that uses RPM instead of Synaptic as the software package manager but this was not a real problem because like Mint there is a Software Manager in Mandriva that hides all the gory details about packages and libraries from the user. The Software Manager takes care of all the extra libraries you need for running any applications you install

My personal data was backed up onto a pen drive (as always) so I all I had to do was pull it back into Mandriva (Mandy) and then access it. I could always re-install Mint later even though it would mean having to reinstall all my favourite software apps but in Linux installing software is childs play so this is not a huge issue as long as you have a good internet connection

There were a few hiccups along the way and unlike Linux Mint, Mandy needs a bit of persuading before she plays ball. Luckily I managed to get the system to behave just like my old Mint install without really having to open a terminal which will be great news to anyone who feels spooked at the very idea of using the command line but these tweaks would make many a Linux newbie give up and look elsewhere fast and I would not blame them if they did

After some tweaking and installation of my usual tools and applications via the Software Manager I am pretty pleased with Mandy and I am sure she will serve me faithfully. As always the first thing you notice with any new distro is the look and Mandriva does a very nice job with the default theme which is a fresh and polished looking blue. The fonts are nice and the desktop response is snappy. A plus for me was that the Gnome version of Mandriva worked with all the fancy Compiz Fusion effects and the 3D desktop cube. The Gnome version also has better documentation and help files installed than the KDE version

I also installed tried the KDE Desktop version but quickly ruled it out because it acted the monkey and would freeze completely when tweaking the theme settings. The beauty of Linux is that as long as you have all your data on a stick you can skip any distro that is not behaving and quickly find one that does

Mandriva Issues

Monitor size not properly detected and had to be manually set.
Could play videos in Totem Movie Player but no sound.
Menus were confusing and contained duplicate entries.
No Terminal Access available via the File Manager.
No way to open Nautilus as root user.
Annoying debug message appears on start up.
Num lock key always activated on start up.
Does not power off !.

Monitor Resolution

To configure the monitor you open your control centre: System > Control Centre. Under "Hardware" select "Monitors" and set the correct resolution for your screen. Under "Hardware" I selected "NVIDIA Display Settings" > "X Server Display Configuration" and entered my screen settings. That fixed it

Codec Issues

Mandriva does not come with the media codecs you need for playback of dvds, flash, mpeg, mp3 files so you need a media player that will take care of all this and the VLC Media Player is the one that does the job. Rather than look for VLC in your Software Manager you first have to add a new repository (REPO) known as the PLF repo and you can do that by visiting this link.

Once you have that done open up your Software Manager and search for VLC. In the description box check that it contains the warning that this version of VLC contains codecs that are illegal in some countries. If these codecs are illegal in your country or you feel jittery about using them then you can go to the Mandriva Shop and pay for the codec pack

After adding the PLF repo I searched in the Software Manager for "win32-codecs" and "libfaad" and installed them. After this VLC could play all my media files

Menu Sucks

The Mandrive Menu was confusing because I would see and icon and think "hey I just saw that somewhere a minute aqo but can't remember where". Seeing as main menus are usually categorised and the reason for having categories in the first place is to put things in labeled containers for fast access, the menu needed tidying up before I would use it. 

In Linux customising a menu this is dead easy stuff but so many software developers cram in lots of menus and often duplicated items just to give you impression that there is a lot more happening than is really the case. This is a habit that needs curtailing as it only leads to confusion. A simple menu will do guys and the simpler it is the better

No Terminal Access via Nautilus File Manager

Those people who love working at the command line will notice that in Mandriva the Nautilus File Manager does not give you access to a terminal. Why not? Graphical File Managers are good but many users want to open a terminal from within the currently viewed folder and this is something I can not live without. I expect this feature and even demand it.

Fortunately Nautilus has a plug in called "nautilus-open-terminal" which can be installed via the Software Centre although you need to logout and then log back in again see the changes.

When right clicking in a folder from within Nautilus you then see the command "Open In Terminal". This neat feature gives you rapid access to your file system and is like being able to kill two birds with one stone. It is a killer feature for people who like to use a terminal. Why deny them?

Can't Open Nautilus File Manager as Root User

Sometimes you need to open a file manager as a root user to gain compete control of the the file system.  For example if you are running a web server and want to transfer files created in your own user space over to your web server's public directory.

I use Xampp as a local testing web server and it lives in my /opt/lampp directory. As this directory is under the root directory I need root privileges to quickly create copy and delete files and directories. I need access fast and the fastest way to do this is via a terminal. Seriously, the terminal is where all your power is. Graphical interfaces suck and there are tons of reason why sys admins hate them apart from the fact that most designers can't design a decent interface

The solution is to open the software centre and search for "gksu" and install it. Then from the command line all you do is type "gksu nautilus" and enter the root password to gain root access to the whole file system. Sorted.

Num Lock Key on Start Up

This is a big blooper and I will tell you why. No-one ever notices when the Num Lock key is on and when you reboot Mandy after installing her you are asked to create a user name and password for the root user, who is usually but not always you. If you are a mere mortal like me you will just go straight ahead and type in a user name and password and then life seems good.

After you are logged in and want to carry out some task requiring root privileges you enter what you are sure is the correct root credentials only to be denied access. If you dont realise that you created these credentials with the num lock key on then you will end up pretty confused. Solution is to switch on the Num Lock and then re-enter the root details. It took me a few minutes to figure this out but not all people out there are as computer savvy

Verdict

Mandriva likes to promote their distro as simple and ideal for beginners but come off it guys, does it really sound like a beginner would know how to overcome the hurdles I have just described? Get real. Take a hint from Mint and see how polished it is because that is what I would advocate as an ideal beginners Linux distro

Mint has everything a new user needs and Mandy doesn't. However Mandy after tweaking looks hot and with the added eye candy of Compiz Fusion I think I will stick with her for a couple of months and get the feel of using a new distro for work and play. Out of the box I would give this distro 5/10 and after tweaking an 8 or maybe 8.5.

The issues I have listed might seem small and insignificant to someone of my experience but what would a Linux newcomer think? I would never recommend Mandriva to a newbie (Mint is the one for them) unless in future they pay more attention to these small yet critical details. In user interface design simplicity works and the difference is in the detail. The simpler it is the better it is

Fail.