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.
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.
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.
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.
Is it too late for Mandriva?
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.