Linux

Mandriva's Powerpack 2011 propels it back into the forefront of Linux distros

Jack Wallen takes the new Mandriva Powerpack 2011 distribution for a spin, curious to see a return to form after years of near-irrelevancy.

Back in the nineties, one of the top Linux distributions was, without a doubt, Mandrake Linux. Well, that eventually turned into Mandriva which wound up caught in the midst of an identity crisis. It was becoming clear which distributions were for the new users and which distributions where for the hard-core, well-versed users. All other distributions did nothing but struggle to remain afloat. Some went away and some simply continued to fluctuate.

Mandriva was one of the latter. Unsure of which route to take, Mandriva at any given moment was a distribution that wanted to make new users happy, while at the same time, make experienced users proud to proclaim they were among the legions of Mandriva users.

That was then, this is now. I hadn't tried Mandriva for quite some time; but when I received the email stating the Mandriva Powerpack 2011 was available for download, curiosity got the best of me. So I downloaded and decided to give the Canadian distribution a try. After all, Canada produced the greatest rock trio of all time, why couldn't they produce a great Linux distribution? [Correction: The distro is not Canadian, but French with Russian backing. Greatest rock trio -- still true!] So, like a modern day warrior, I burned the 64 Bit version of the power pack onto a DVD and installed.

I was, in a word, impressed.

Let me offer up some instant reactions to this newest release from Mandriva.

Installation

Figure A

I have to say the install immediately took me back to the glory days of the Linux installation, when the process required five or six disks and allowed you to select anything and everything you wanted to be included in your final result. Figure A shows the Mandriva installation at the Package Group Selection section. Here you can add or remove anything you want for your installation.

Notice the version of GNOME that is offered.

Although the installation is a bit more complex than, say, Ubuntu, anyone that has installed an operating system (or even an office suite) should be comfortable with the process. And every step of the installation offers a Help system to guide you through the process.

The desktop

Figure B

For my installation, I chose both KDE and LXDE. I was curious to see how (or if) Mandriva changed the desktop. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. Firing up the KDE desktop, at first, didn't seem like there was much variation. It wasn't until I opened up the Kickoff menu that I realized something good was amiss.

What Mandriva has done is create a pseudo-GNOME 3/UNITY Lens for the KDE Kickoff menu. Figure B illustrates this perfectly. You click on the Kickoff launcher and a window opens with three "tabs" at the bottom:
  • Welcome: This will display your recent files/applications.
  • Application: Access all applications.
  • Timeframe: Actually displays a time frame of what you have done, making it easy to access/find documents you have worked with at a certain time.

The Mandriva "Smart Desktop" is a fairly wondrous piece of work. It combines the incredible flexibility of the KDE "Activities" with a much easier to understand framework (thanks to the Timeframe tool). But the standard KDE Activities are also available, so you get the best of both worlds.

Another very nice (and long awaited) touch is that Mandriva managed to make both GNOME and KDE applications look the same. So now you will find no graphical difference between GNOME and KDE applications.

Default applications

One area of interest is the included default applications for Mandriva. You won't find the standard offerings for some category. For example, the handling of music is taken by the Clementine application. It's an outstanding application that only suffers from a lack of an integrated store to purchase music from (a la Banshee and Rhythmbox Amazon integration).

There is a new Package Management System as well. This new tool, Mandriva Package Manager looks and behaves somewhat like PackageKit, but seems to be a bit more user-friendly and reliable. A big thumbs up to Mandriva for improving the installation and management of applications.

Who's the target audience?

This one is a tough question to answer with any precision. Here's the thing, Mandriva Powerpack 2011 seems like it could be a very good distribution for new users -- that want to learn more than they would with, say, Ubuntu. So, in all honesty, I would have to say this latest iteration of Mandriva is the ideal distribution for a new Linux user who knows they want to better understand the Linux operating system than they could while using other newbie-friendly distributions.

But Mandriva isn't just for new users. I can honestly say that, since using this release, I'm intrigued enough to keep the distro installed for further exploration. It's a serious piece of work that could easily satisfy the old-school Linux user.

So if you're finding yourself horribly disappointed with the route taken by Ubuntu and other distros, take a look at the Mandriva Power Pack 2011. I will warn you, however; the power pack does have a price associated with it. Why? Because it's not just a simple distribution. This particular version of Mandriva offers quite a bit more than the free offering. The power pack version includes three months of support and a lot of applications (such as audio and video codecs, adobe flash, adobe reader, codeweaver (crossover), Java, Opera and commercial Nvidia, ATI, Intel, VIA, AMD drivers, and much more). The cost of the power pack? A mere $59.00 USD. Trust me, it's worth it.

With this Powerpack release of Mandriva, the distribution from Canada could easily save itself from becoming irrelevant in the world of both Linux and desktop computing. Mandriva is doing some amazing things with the Linux desktop -- you owe it to yourself to try this out.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

12 comments
lordofserbia
lordofserbia

Mint 12 ......me liked Mandriva 2011 .....nice

gazmanic
gazmanic

pcbsd / freebsd increases the life usability of your older hardware.

tagnostic
tagnostic

ZZ Top & Stevie Ray were from Texas Disgusted with Ubuntu's latest, switched to Mint 11, I've played with most of them, play OS Roulette on weekends, been through Fedora, Backtrack, Solaris, Suse, the usual suspects, so far nothing compares to Ubuntu 9.07 Server 64 for stability, ease of tweak, overall useability, and availability of apps.

pgit
pgit

That kickoff is the work of the Russian element of Mandriva, Rosa Labs. They call that the Rosa panel. The log in screen is also their invention, called "simple welcome," it doesn't have advanced options like being able to change the desktop environment before logging in. No doubt this is aimed at the new user. But Mandriva is as loaded with additional packages as ever, they package by far more apps and tools than any other distribution. Combine this with the near infinite ability to configure the system and all environments and you have the most power user-friendly distribution as well. Mandriva still treats the user with respect, even though the default setup is aimed more at the "typical" end user. They took some bold steps with this release, upgrading to rpm5, for one thing, which promises to deal once and for all with the "dependency hell" non-Linux users still taunt us with. Another huge change is they went with systemd, rather than the old sysvinit type system. This has caused some problems, but they are obviously transitional, as they work to rescript everything so it will be configurable with a single tool, as it had been before with the control of sysv afforded by the "services" page in the Mandriva Control Center. (mcc) mcc by the way is what made Mandrake the go-to it was back in the day. Nobody has made such a complete one-stop system config tool like Mandrake/Mandriva has. ...again, a tip of the hat to the power user. They have definitely worked out some bugs that came along with the massive changes they have undertaken with 2011. The initial release had a lot of people scratching their heads, wondering why when they shut down the cups system and set it to not start at boot with "services" in mcc, it was still running and starting at boot. To Mandriva's credit, not even the well funded fedora juggernaut has mastered systemd completely. (though with updates/bug fixes to 16, that may well change) It was a bold step to dive into this "future of Linux" and I dare say they accomplished much of what was needed to make it a robust and easy to use system. Now, with these experiences under their belts, and a diverse development team bringing the perspectives of Europe, Russia and Brazil to the table, this distribution is back in the saddle again. Expect much from this distribution, you won't be disappointed. It will be interesting to see how other distributions fare in the transition to systemd. I expect you're going to hear a lot of grumbling from Linux communities far and wide. But Mandriva is back in the lead again, ahead of the curve as it's legacy had been for so many years prior to the economic slowdowns that troubled the company's finances in the recent past. Mandrake/Mandriva had always been an ambassador of Linux in the market of the desktop environment. They hit a home run with this release, and you can bet the game ain't over yet. Congratulations Mandriva, and thanks... I'm loving 2011 on all my production units, from mobile workstations to control remote servers, to those servers themselves. Rock solid and trustworthy all around...

vdanen
vdanen

Mandriva hasn't had an office in Canada since the Montreal office closed in 2002 (or thereabouts). It's likely been a good 8-10 years. And the last of the Canadian remote contractors left almost 3 years ago. There is nothing Canadian about Mandriva anymore. Although I do appreciate that if you wanted to cut the budget, you'd hire a bunch of Canadians and let go of the Brazilians... Canadians don't work for money, just firewood.

obxbiker
obxbiker

I think with all the budget cuts they out-sourced both the Paris & Curitiba offices to Canada. http://http://www.mandriva.com/en/contact/

laseray
laseray

Anybody who knows anything about Mandriva, Mandrake, knows it is from France. Good homework there!

What the ...!
What the ...!

I didn't realize that Blind Faith was Canadian!

happy_jack
happy_jack

Didn't realize that four people made a trio!

atoms
atoms

Triumph really wasn't all that.