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First Look at Mandriva Linux 2005 (x86 and x86_64)

May 11, 2005

This article was contributed by Ladislav Bodnar

After publishing a brief review of the x86_64 edition of Mandrakelinux 10.1 in January this year and highlighting some of the problems we encountered while testing the product, we received many heated emails arguing about some of the issues mentioned in the review. One of them was an email from the then Mandrakesoft's PR department which insisted that "what you've tested was a half-baked, unofficial product which is a bit unfair to the work we've done". Yes, we would certainly agree with the "half-baked" part of the above statement, but as for the "unofficial" part, it was hard to tell - we downloaded the distribution from the directory labeled as "Official", so it wasn't immediately obvious to us that it was, in fact, an "unofficial" product. Besides, what sane software company would upload a "half-baked" product to public download servers for the whole world to see?

It has been 4 months since the controversial review and we decided to take another look at the company's latest product release - Mandriva Linux 2005 Limited Edition. Have the developers addressed the criticism? To our extreme delight, they did; as a matter of fact, every single issue we mentioned in our review of Mandrakelinux 10.1 was fixed in Mandriva Linux 2005! These included the geographical anomalies in the installer, location of FTP/HTTP mirror sites and, most importantly, the problem we had with setting up update sources to keep the distribution up-to-date with security and bug fix updates.

Mandriva, which is the company's new name after Mandrakesoft's merger with Conectiva, has gone even further with this release. While the x86_64 edition of Mandrakelinux 10.1 was only available in the form of a boxed product for €120 (or as a "half-baked" FTP/HTTP install), this time the company released an ISO image of Mandriva 2005 for free download. This is obviously not the same as the 3-CD ISO image set for the i586 architecture, but it is progress nonetheless. The single CD packs as many of the most important software packages as possible (all the big applications suites, such as GNOME, KDE, are there), but if users need more, the installation program provides an easy way to configure a remote FTP/HTTP server for downloading and installing additional applications. In fact, the installation program includes a long list of available download servers so all we needed to do is to pick a nearby mirror and the installer downloaded the relevant software lists and automatically added them to the urpmi configuration file.

We installed the i586 edition of Mandriva Linux 2005 on a Pentium 4 machine with an Intel 850 chipset and 384 MB of RAM, while the x86_64 edition found its home on a system powered by an AMD64 3500+ processor, with an MSI K8N Neo mainboard and 2 GB or RAM. Neither of them had any problems with detecting and configuring the included hardware. We used the i586 edition extensively for about a week and we have yet to find any problem with the distribution. The AMD64 box did not get to run the new Mandriva Linux much, but the installation process was trouble-free and a quick look around the desktop gave an impression that the 64-bit edition of the product is equally solid. Perhaps the best indication of the quality of this release is the low number of post-release bug-fix updates - after installing the distribution, complete with the GNOME and KDE desktops, but without any server software, the online update utility listed only a handful of packages that needed an update (some of the recent Mandrakelinux releases provided as much as hundreds of megabytes of bug-fix updates within a few weeks after the official release). Nevertheless, there were users on the distribution's mailing lists who reported problems under certain hardware configurations, so not even Mandriva Linux 2005 is perfect.

What's new in Mandriva's first release under the new name? Although the included applications are less up-to-date that those in the recently released SUSE 9.3 or Ubuntu 5.05, both of which come with KDE 3.4 and GNOME 2.10, Mandriva 2005 has its own set of tricks up its sleeves. Besides the usual improvements in hardware support and package upgrade, the developers claim to have increased the performance of KDE by up to 10% - by compiling the KDE packages with the -fvisibility option. This is said to produce substantially improved binary code and is able reduce the load times of dynamic shared objects. The -fvisibility option has been introduced into GCC 4.0 so it seems that Mandriva compiled some of its binaries with a pre-release versions of GCC 4. Two other new features worth mentioning are the inclusion of NdisWrapper for utilizing Windows wireless network drivers, and a new ALSA package with sound multiplexing.

Although Mandriva Linux 2005 has been released only recently, developers are already preparing for version 2006, currently scheduled to be released in September 2005. Some ideas for the new release have been discussed on the distribution's Bugzilla, Wiki pages and mailing lists, including a complete switch to UTF-8 encoding, work on reducing boot time, incorporation of RAID 10 support into the partitioning stage of the installation program, support for iPod, integration of OpenMosix utilities into the distribution, and many other features. There is even talk about building Ubuntu-style installation and live CD image sets for beta testing as well as final release. Of course, these are just ideas at this stage and it remains to be seen which of them will be accepted as new features in Mandriva 2006.

Despite its status as a "transitional" release, we found Mandriva Linux 2005 an excellent, "fully-baked" product that is a delight to install and use. Compared to the previous version, it is also much more polished and comparatively bug-free. The fact that the developers have read our last review and made an effort to fix the problems reported in it is an extra bonus - it shows that the company listens to its users and is willing to improve its products based on users' feedback. Overall, a very impressive product in all departments, highly recommended.

Comments (5 posted)

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