Mandriva Linux 2006 review

The Desktop Linux Showcase

Part 1

Related links

Release notes
Mandriva Linux bugtracker
Community TWiki - one of the best forums for assistance - the one stop shop for your software installer setup needs
translation teams
my Mandriva Linux 2006 configuration page
my Mandriva Linux 2006 installation page

Site news

Latest site additions:

Updated January 13rd 2008:
My LIRC page: The Linux Audio Server Project - Revisited

Added January 3rd 2008:
My (K/X/)Ubuntu review: Ubuntu - beyond the hype

Added December 2nd 2007:
My Mandriva 2008.0 review

Added November 20th 2007:
The configuration page of Mandriva Linux 2008.0

Added November 18th 2007:
The Installation walkthrough of Mandriva Linux 2008.0

Added November 17th 2007:
The review of openSUSE 10.3

Added July 8th 2007:
The Configuration page of Mandriva Linux 2007.1 Spring

Added July 1st 2007:
The Installation walkthrough of Mandriva Linux 2007.1 Spring

Added December 18th 2005:
The third and final part of my Mandriva Linux 2006 review

Added November 14th 2005:
The second part of my Mandriva Linux 2006 review

Added November 6th 2005:
The first part of my Mandriva Linux 2006 review

For older additions please see the articles page.


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This review is subtitled "the Desktop Linux Showcase" which hints that it's not going to be a regular review about Mandriva Linux 2006 - I will certainly mention the strong and weak points about Mandriva Linux 2006, and report how things work in everyday use. But on top of that, I have decided to add some (well, a lot) more information; first, you will find an article within this review, about the background of the software repositories and software installation on Linux (please use that permanent link to the inline article). This will be illustrated and explained with Mandriva Linux specific tools, but most of the information is valid for all major Linux distributions.
It occurred to me that there's actually no clear background information that explains this great system, or at least, one doesn't come across it easily. I have done quite a bit of webbrowsing/searching, but most advanced users just tell the novices to use some arcane (well, arcane to the novice users) commands or fill in some GUI with some information about ftp-mirrors.
Thus most novice Linux users (and some more experienced who just never gave things a second thought) run around in the dark when it comes to installing software. There are two variations of a worst case scenario, the first where the inexperienced/uninformed user grabs some (rpm or other) package from the web and messes up the system, runs into dependency hell, tries to solve dependencies by downloading more rpms, possibly forces the installation of packages not intended for the system of this user, and finally blames Linux and Linux proponents for all the trouble and lost time - saying goodbye to Linux, at least for the time being.
The second variation is where the inexperienced/uninformed user grabs some tarball from the web and finds himself having to compile things, which often doesn't work out without running into compilation dependency hell or execution dependency hell, or both, tries to solve dependencies by downloading rpms, possibly forces the installation of packages not intended for the system of this user, and finally blames Linux and Linux proponents for all the trouble and lost time - saying goodbye to Linux, at least for the time being.
In the not-entirely-worst case where the novice user actually does manage to fix the dependency issues, compilation or whatever, he or she will possibly become part of the vocal group that keeps shouting that Linux is not ready for the masses 'until a proper single standard about installation emerges' (pun not entirely intended...).
So I'll try to explain why none of that is necessary, and what's so great about the Linux software repository and software installation.

Next to that, I'm including lots of information about multimedia, productivity and entertainment software on Linux. For instance in part 2 there's a section about Linux and digital photography, showing some nice features of digikam and including a mini-tutorial about panoramic image creation using Hugin (a GUI frontend, the backend tools are panotools and enblend).

Now, on to Mandriva stuff...
Mandriva Linux 2006 is the first release from Mandriva since the acquisition of Lycoris assets and the first one that includes developments from both Conectiva and Lycoris. It is also the first release in line with the new release strategy of Mandriva, namely one major release per year. This was the (often misunderstood) reason to call this year's spring release Limited Edition.

The old name Mandrake is practically gone - just the bootloader of the boot.iso image had a quick flash of it, the packages names still end in .mdk.[arch].rpm, instead of .mdv and the stock ticker symbol still reminds of it. With the metamorphosis of the caterpillar that could, if - and often only if - treated with care (meaning: I never had showstoppers, but they did occur), into the Mandriva Linux of today, a new era begins. As mentioned, the release strategy has changed. The web presentation has changed too - and I'd like to add: for the better. Mandriva as a company, is shaping up to snatch quite a few percentage points of the dominating desktop vendor. Mandriva Linux, the distribution, is shaping up to set the new standard... at least, for the fall of 2005.

There are 4 different flavours of Mandriva Linux 2006: the Discovery/LX live cd bundled with Discovery/Lx edition, the Powerpack edition and the Powerpack+ edition - all of these for both i586 and x86-64 (AMD64) architectures, except the live cd. They can be ordered from the Mandriva Store, and are available to Clubmembers with appropriate membership level in various steps; for instance, the bittorrent downloads available to me are:

The public Free Download edition should contain practically the same software as the Clubmember / Store editions, minus the closed source software. So if people want to use the proprietary drivers and programs such as Opera, Skype, Acrobat Reader and Java, they will have to get those programs themselves. The download edition will consist of 3 cd images (I'm not 100% sure if there will also be a dvd image, but I think so) for both i586 and AMD64 architectures. In any case, none of the editions actually contain all available software. The repositories main and contrib together contain over 10 GB of software, which is way too much to fit even on a dual layer dvd, and most people would use only a fraction of that. Naturally, external efforts like the PLF repositories can never be included.

As you may already have noticed, this introduction is practically already longer than most reviews. As a reader you are obviously not obliged to read it from a-z; skip whatever you like, you can jump to the sections that peek your interest by using the links on the left side.

Features of Mandriva Linux 2006

See also the Mandriva feature comparison page and Distrowatch.

Software used for testing

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I have used the Silver Member DVD (Powerpack) for the systems in this review, on the hardware as in the hardware section below. For the contents of the various flavours, have a look at the Packages list.

There was, as usual, quite a bit of a hassle about the downloading of the clubmember iso images. Many people (perhaps a vocal minority?) complained about the lack of a good distribution method. Bittorrent was supposedly too slow, and then some. I must say, I can often download at 250KB/s and this time it was limited to about 100KB/s. However, I also downloaded Ubuntu, and there I also didn't get a faster download speed. It's a shame that each release some people have issues. Fair is fair, Mandriva have put a mechanism in place to get ftp access if people really need it, and I guess you can't make everybody happy - not to say that those complaining are nitpickers, just that there will statistically always be people for whom a certain technical solution won't work.

Harware used for testing

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Here's a short list of the most interesting hardware in the machines used for testing, to give you an idea.

Name | type | CPU type/speed | RAM | motherboard/chipset | video | audio | remarks
zurich | desktop | athon 2400+ 2GHz | 1024MB | Asus A7V333/KT333 | MSI geforce4 ti4200 | audigy2 | see sysspec.html
samos | laptop | PIII 650MHz | 384MB| Compaq | ATI rage pro mobility | onboard audio | Compaq Armada M700, see sysspec.html
neuchatel | desktop | duron 1000MHz | 384MB | KinetiZ T7/KT133 | geforce 2mx | onboard audio | see sysspec.html


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First of all, as it seems this can't be stressed enough (so this is a copy-paste from my Mdk10.1 review), if you are at the step of partitioning a drive, and you can spare some 6 to 10 GB (which is quite likely on any recent system, considering the current hard drive sizes), do yourself a favour and create a spare partition for future use as root (/) partition of some alternative system (until that time, just choose mountpoint /mnt/altroot or so). This may be a future alpha/beta/rc version of Mandriva Linux, or some other Linux distribution that you may want to try out. Or who knows, maybe you want to give one of the BSD flavours a try.
It's good to keep your options open, and there are so many messages on all related forums of people who installed a new system, squarely on top of their old-but-nicely-configured-and-working systems, who would actually like to go back - but they can't since the new system has replaced the old one.
Naturally such a spare partition means you'll be able to see how things were set up in that old-but-nicely-set-up-and-working system.
And if you have such a spare partition to serve as root partition, you can easily take part in beta (and rc/CE) testing. In any case, with the current rate of development in the Free(dom) Software world, it is very likely that you're going to want to install some other/new system within the next 12 months.

Now, as for the installation that I did, you can read all about the steps in detail on my installation walkthrough page, which also includes plenty of screenshots. In a nutshell, the installer looks very professional, and works like a charm. I had no issues on any of the three target systems. I used the boot.iso burnt to a cdrw to install via local ftp server (on both desktops) and from the built-in hard disk (on the laptop), which functioned without any issue. It is also possible to do an FTP install from the web (so before the public download iso images are available) or via NFS. The only thing I had to fix after installation due to my choice of procedure was the user IDs and group IDs of all users on the laptop - because of the installation from iso image which resides inside the /home partition, the installer doesn't manage to give the 'new' users the old UID and GID.

The installation procedure has not changed much over time, but things have been polished a lot. The looks are better than ever, serious and professional. The Mandriva installer has predefined groups, so one doesn't have to go through the whole list of packages. It's very easy to install a relatively clean system, and it takes only a few clicks more to have the most common packages for a plethora of tasks installed, this is what I normally choose:

Install screenshot

It is even possible to install a really empty system, no X server, nothing, except urpmi and some other command line tools. And it might even be possible to leave out urpmi - but that would be masochistic...

As I mentioned, the installer works great. The only thing that didn't work as it should was that my network printer model was incorrectly proposed for setup. The printer was found, its IP address and printing port were correctly identified, but the manufacturer string was apparently not properly resolved to the correct model, so I had to do modify that by hand. I'm not complaining (however, I did file a bug report and Till, the man behind, is already on it... I don't wonder why printing is so easy to set up and use on Mandriva - contrary apparently to some competing systems), I just actually had to think back quite hard to find something not quite perfect to mention about the installer. Yes, this is it. The only negative point of the whole installation procedure, on 3 different machines. In other words, a nigh perfect score, well done Mandriva developers!

Getting started

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Booting Mandriva Linux 2006 isn't much different from previous versions, apart from the bootlogo (gone is the starry eyed penguin) and the slightly slicker (IMHO) progress bar that make for better looks. Which one also gets to enjoy shorter than before, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Before getting to the point of logging onto the system, the user is interrupted by the First-Time wizard.
This is another of those 'evil ploys' to trick people into joining the Club, if you have to believe some people. Me, I just click 'no thanks' or whatever other words that that option disguises itself as. It's not like you don't have a choice.

Next, one gets to the login screen. First some disappointment, especially for those who selected their user icon with utmost care in the installation phase: there are no icons, the user has to write their login name and password in the two fields, that's it. Of course, you can have your icons, but I personally don't think it's worth it to exchange my login manager just for that; I use my computer logged on, not to observe the login manager. Although it does neatly tell you the time. And, again in my opinion, it does look good. I've read a comment of someone who said they really liked the 'noble penguin'. As opposed to the freaked out-of-its-mind high-on-crack penguin from Mdv05LE, I guess most people will agree it is indeed way cooler.

Once on the desktop, KDE in my case, one gets greeted by a Mandriva webpage with a globe and links to the various Mandriva services.

Mandriva offers

One can opt to not get this message window ever again, which I did. And for those who (still) haven't seen it, here's the new penguin:

KDE desktop

As you can see, the desktop looks really crisp - nice shadow outline on the icon text, and the Mandriva menu star now has a clear black triangle indicating that it can unfold. For Mandriva Linux 2005 LE they had put some ugly text 'menu' on it. Change is good, if you ask me. A little more looking around got me to the Starter Guide.

Frankly, this might be a more useful starter screen, having this Guide open at first login; the table of contents indicates it's useful for anyone new to Linux and/or Mandriva:

For those who have little Linux experience, it is your ideal starting point: an onboard reference to how things work in Mandriva Linux. There are plenty of sections for various levels of experience; from chapters about the use of the desktop, virtual desktops and the like, to those about differences with other operating systems to those about system configuration. Online but older versions of these Mandriva/Mandrake docs are here - note that the system hasn't changed that much, so these docs are still good reading.

As for the system speed, I'll just give you some benchmarks of my systems (click that link for more info on the hardware; I'll put the CPU type below for quick comparison purposes):

Time (mm:ss) =>
Boot from lilo menu
to login screen
Login screen to
KDE desktop
first start
consecutive start
Shutdown from
login prompt
Athlon 2400+ 0:35 0:32 0:09 0:05 0:27
Duron 1GHz 0:58 0:50 0:15 0:11 0:33
Duron 1GHz
fixed DMA
0:45 0:40 0:15 0:11 0:33
Pentium III 650MHz 0:54 0:48 0:20 0:13 0:30
Athlon 2400+
Mandrake 9.2
1:15 0:25 0:10 0:04 (not timed)
Athlon 2400+
Mandriva 2005LE
1:27 0:38 0:12 0:05 0:31

Some comments: the Duron 1GHz system has some harddrive issues, during boot the DMA is not properly enabled on the second harddrive, which currently holds the system partition (the BIOS doesn't detect the absence of an 80 wire ATA cable and sets the speed to ATA66, which causes I/O errors, which Linux detects and corrects by turning off UDMA; setting ATA33 on both drives works great though). I enable it with hdparm in /etc/rc.local but the boot itself is slow due to that. The Athlon 2400+ is relatively slow to log in into KDE and to shut down down, due to the amound of services and user programs. On the other hand, the boot is so fast that I had to mount my nfs drives with a command in /etc/rc.local (mount -a) because the network isn't yet up during the bootprocess when it tries to mount the nfs shares.
Edit 2005-12-18: I have fixed the DMA issues by replacing the 40 wire ATA cable with an 80 wire one; the benchmark figures have been added to the above table.
The version for Mandriva Linux 2006 benchmarking is 2pre (the final is out, but I got these numbers before that happened), for older systems it's 1.something.
Last remark: the KDE login time depends somewhat on what gets started, this has increased quite a bit, which is why 9.2 was so fast - that's to an empty desktop, whereas the Mdv06 KDE login numbers are to a desktop with 2 gkrellm instances (my server and the workstation itself), evolution, 2x konqueror (one onto java vnc sessions, the other to a number of webpages). On a side note, logging on to a clean GNOME session (without having run GNOME since booting) takes just over 10 seconds (slightly faster than a clean KDE, which I think took about 14 seconds - but that was a consecutive load; now that I think about it, the GNOME start was after having used quite a few GNOME programs, so some parts may have been in main memory already).

So now we have a fast Linux system (great work Mandriva developers, I really like this kind of surprise!), with a KDE which is looking better and better (for GNOME users: yes, GNOME is looking better and better, don't worry there, Mandriva developers have not uglified it or rendered it unusable in any way - I just happen to use KDE), with crisp fonts out of the box and naturally enhancements like 3ddesktop (urpmi 3ddesk - but again, I'm getting ahead of myself...) are a real boost for those who like eyecandy. But a smooth working, good looking desktop is just the beginning, now it has to be enhanced with extra software, in case it wasn't installed during the installation phase. Which brings me to an intermezzo about software installation on Linux.

Background: Linux software repositories and software installation

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(Permanent link to this inline article)

This section is aimed at all those who have no or limited Linux experience, and are unfamiliar with software repositories. It occurred to me that novice Linux users are often at a loss where to get software, and the next thing that happens is that they manage to find some rpm file somewhere on the internet, and run into what is aptly called 'dependency hell' (for Linux insiders: note the pun! Ah well, I'm not good with those anyway..). So I decided to put up a couple of paragraphs about software installation, and clear up a few puzzling points. All those who know all about this, feel free to skip to the next section of this review: Configuration.

Lets first have a look at how software is obtained, installed, found/started and deinstalled, on the most common home user platform, MSWindows. Many pc's come with MSWindows pre-installed, which includes few useful programs (a webbrowser, a mediaplayer, a text editor, a pixelgraphics editor, a cd burning application and then some). Some hardware vendors add extra software programs to make the machine more useful - MSOffice, decent cd/dvd burning program, antivirus and firewall (trial/ time limited license to get the user to buy this product in the future) etcetc - but even with those applications, the user will find the need for additional programs.
The most common sources are:

In all cases, the user must make sure to take the version matching his operating system; an Apple OS X package will not function on a MSWindows machine. On the other hand, the publisher/developer makes sure that the MSWindows package will work on MSWindows (I won't go into differences between Win95/98/ME and 2K/XP packages/programs, since I have no clue about them).
On top of that, in most cases, the user must know what the program is called that has the desired functionality. Some searching on the web and/or asking experienced computer users is often handy, especially with so many spyware / malware programs out there.

Installation procedure The drawing on the right shows the traditional procedure of searching and finding software on MSWindows: (potentially) asking around, searching, finding a site with a comparative list or download archive, deciding which program to take, finally downloading from some ftp server.

After obtaining the installable package, the user has to execute it to install it; this usually has to be done in administrator mode, and with as few other programs running as possible. (Naturally, if the source cannot be trusted, it has to be scanned for viruses/trojans and other malware first.) The installation usually has the form of a wizard, that asks to agree with the software license, then asks what kind of installation is desired (full, default/most common, expert), to which directory/folder the software should be installed and whether an icon should be added to the desktop, (a program specific submenu in) the Program Files menu and/or the quicklaunch bar (next to the Start button - yeah, I really don't know what it's called).
Then the actual installation is done, in some cases followed by a mandatory reboot.

To start the application, the user can use the start-menu entry, the button on the desktop, or the quicklaunch button, if it was added.

To deinstall the program, the user can go into the software management section of the control panel and deinstall from there, or use the deinstall entry in the submenu of the program, inside the start menu - provided it is there.
Depending on registry magic, this works properly or not. It is also known that some programs conflict with other programs, with all troubles that can cause. Windows XP has a rollback mechanism, so one should normally be able to avoid obligatory reinstallation (Win98 had issues with various anti-virus programs that required operating system reinstallation).

On MSWindows, even drivers (which have to be installed separately!) come with at lot of extra baggage that usually takes up its own entry on the start menu as well, and that is actually not really necessary but it's the 'added value' that comes with buying a boxed product. Since most users are afraid they will miss out on some things, they install all that gets proposed by the installer and sometimes all extras too, leading to an overly cluttered system. I already mentioned the start menu, but have a look at the desktop (overloaded with icons) and worse, the loaded applications on the tray (next to the clock), which usually take several MBs each.

All this is organised in a radically different way on Linux systems. Installable packages are managed by the distribution makers and their contributors, and organised in repositories. So basically, for practically all software applications on Linux machines, the sources are:

Basically, the so-called packagers prepare the software for installation on the respective distribution. The most common forms of packages are .rpm and .deb (rpms for Fedora Core, Mandriva, RedHat and SUSE, to name the first that come to my mind, debs for all Debian based distributions, including Ubuntu). These packages contain information about which files are included (and where they go on the target system), on which libraries and other files they depend. The location of the application in the menu is also predetermined by the distribution/packagers, although this can normally be changed if so desired.
Each release of a Linux distribution has its own packages for each platform. When I say release, I'm talking about the major release name: Mandriva 2006, (K)Ubuntu 5.10, Suse 10.0. Many distributions come in various versions/flavours, for Mandriva there is Discovery, Powerpack, Powerpack+, but generally, these have the exact same programs/packages, the only difference is that the buyer gets more or less of these packages on the installation media, and sometimes extras - printed manuals, online or phone support and the like.
When I say 'for each platform' that means: for each target cpu-architecture. If you have a Pentium or Athlon processor, you'll want the i586 system, if you have an x86-64 (AMD64) cpu, you'll want the x86-64 packages (but since these processors are backwards compatible, you could use the i586 system too). For older x86 processors there's the i386 packages, but those are stone-age in computer terms (Mandriva doesn't compile for the 386 architecture anymore, so you won't find packages for it). Pentium class machines are worth less than their weight in old metal; in fact, my server (PIII 866) was being thrown out at work - luckily I'm good at catching... Lastly, if you have an Apple Mac, you'll have to get the ppc (power pc) packages. (And just a tad bit later than lastly, if you're the proud owner of an IA64 system, and you need these pages to help you get started, I seriously doubt it's pages on the web that you really need...)

The packages are built for one architecture and distribution release and are made to fit within that release. This ensures that the package will not mess up the system (Linux actually has no registry so there's no registry to break or rollback or whatever), no other programs will break by installing or deinstalling a package and that no conflicts will exist between packages, if all is done properly. It is the nature and one of the big pluses of Free/Open Source software that the distribution maker actually can take care of the software for the users, instead of the developer of each individual application.

Ok, so there are these packages, one set per release, and then per architecture, that together form the software that is made available for the distribution by the developers and contributors. Now, these packages are organised into so-called repositories, that reside on ftp mirrors. To use the example of Mandriva (which I know best but I actually didn't think very hard about this so I may be wrong on some details - the larger picture is the point, but anyway, feel free to correct me) for the remainder of this section, the following repositories are created as part of each (final) release: main, contrib, updates. The main repository contains mainline programs, the kernel, installation and configuration wizards. The contrib repository contains optional and/or less important programs. The updates repository contains security, bugfix and generally updated packages. Apart from these official repositories, everyone can create a repository. Major third party repositories for Mandriva are plf-free and plf-nonfree. These contain packages that may not be patent-free or otherwise legally problematic - they contain packages that are needed for things like dvd playback.

Each repository has a file that lists all contained packages, including a description, total filesize, the files it depends on, the changelog, package maintainer/builder, and which files are contained within the package - much like the package itself does.
So when a repository is added to a system, this list file (there's also a short version that contains the minimum information but lacks the information that's not strictly required for the system to function properly) is downloaded from a repository mirror. From then on, the system knows about the existence of these software programs, on what other packages they depend, and where to find them. To spell out the implication made here: this means that the so-called software package manager will be able to automatically download and install any of these known packages, including any packages that it needs (so-called dependencies).
Just for completeness, the package managers I know of are: urpmi (and newly smart) in the case of Mandriva, apt-get for Debian, yum for Fedora Core, YaST for Suse, portage for Gentoo - but due to the openness of Linux, there is also apt4rpm for Mandriva, FC and Suse, urpmi for FC. In most cases some nice GUI front-end can be found, such as RPMdrake and Synaptic.

Installation procedure The drawing on the right shows the Linux software installation procedure: the search is done on the local machine since it has a list of the available software, so after the selection the system downloads from ftp mirror and installs the program.
(Yes, indeed I enjoyed drawing these images, OOo draw is quite nice although I could have done this with inkscape as well - the images are from the openclipart package, which contains both png and svg versions of each image. And as for the subliminal information that is intended to subconsciously influence the reader to see the thruth when comparing the troubles of MSWin software installation with the ease of use on any major Linux distribution such as Mandriva, if you don't like it it was not for you! Flame on! :-)

As a quick intermezzo, Mandriva 2006 repositories for i586 contain the following quantity of software and files:

So that is well over 10GB of software! (I'm disregarding the updates repository; its packages are updated versions of main packages.) Note: since this is Free/Open Source software, the applications don't have a tendency to duplicate efforts as is common on other platforms. There's no need to avoid depending on standard libraries, since they will be available from other software projects. For instance, to display png images, only one such program is needed, libpng. If there's a security issue with it (which has happened), only this lib has to be updated, not all programs that deal with png images. So the advantages are many: the total size of the system is relatively small (less diskspace, less bandwidth necessary), there's much re-use and in the case of a vulnerability, the security update is also smaller (less bandwidth), there's only one affected program (no hassle to find out which programs have to be updated).

So what does 10GB mean to the user? Basically, it means that any Free/Open Source software project that is even remotely interesting has been packaged. I haven't had to build any package from source in years (the last time, if I recall correctly, was a plugin for XMMS - I'm not counting the modules that went missing due to some kernel building error). In other words, if a distribution has so much community support as Mandriva, there's always someone else who has the same interest in a certain software program and who, on top of that, has the skills to compile and package it. By the way, one of the benefits of Mandriva Club is actually that you can propose and vote for software you'd like to get packaged.

Now that the background of the Linux software repositories is explained, it's easy to see how a user can install a program. First, the repositories have to be added; for Mandriva the easyurpmi site guides the user through this process in three steps: selecting the release and architecture, selecting the repositories and their mirrors and finally passing the data to the system. Downloading the lists will take some time; for main and contrib I have vague memories that the lists were in the order of 20MB to 30MB in size. After this, the software manager knows about all available packages.
One can either pass the commands that the easyurpmi site spells out to the konsole / command line interface, or open the Mandriva Control Center (menu => System => Configuration => Configure your computer). The new clever opening view is onto the Software Management section:

The fourth option is where the user can manage the sources, add the repository data from the easyurpmi site, andsoforth. As you can see, the Powerpack DVD packages are divided into 6 different groups, and on top of that I have added the main, contrib, plf-free, plf-nonfree and update repositories to my system:

After the repositories are added, installing software is straightforward and simple. The user just has to go to the Mandriva Control Center, Software Management, "Look at installable software and install software packages":

Then you get the Software Packages Installation wizard that also goes by the name rpmdrake. Browse through the lists or use the built-in search function to find whatever software you are looking for (search for partial package name, included file or in the rpm descriptions), flag them for installation:

if necessary, agree on the installation of dependencies:

of which you can go into the details to see what exactly the system wants to install:

and when you're happy with the selection of packages, click install. Alternatively, command line users can just type urpmi [package] to get their fix. (I usually explain things in that way, i.e. if a certain package is needed, I just write: urpmi [certain package] instead of explaining that one has to start the software installer - etcetc...)
If necessary, the user will be prompted to insert the required cd(s) or dvd. Since I installed from ftp and local harddrive, I never have to fetch any installation media.

Deinstallation works just as easy, next to the Software Packages Installation icon you will find the Deinstallation icon:

Selecting the package and hitting the deinstall button will deinstall the package

and all packages that depend on it. (Alternatively, command line users can just type urpme [package] to get their, uhm, un-fix.)

After agreeing and clicking deinstall, rpmdrake will cleanly remove the files and programs from the system. Clean, painless, fast, easy and without risk.

To quickly sum things up:
Advantages of the Linux software installation system - presuming the packages are properly built - from the viewpoint of the regular user:

Now, on to the disadvantage from the viewpoint of the regular user:

Well, since I've just clued you in, this system no longer has any disadvantages for you. Isn't life beautiful?

Okay, there is an extra disadvantage, but from the point of the packagers/developers:

As shown before, for Mandriva Linux, you'll be far outside of the realm of regular Free/Open Source software if you run into useful software that's not packaged, with over 10GB of packages. Normally, the packages must not absolutely be built for each release, since each release is based on the previous. If none of the dependencies have changed in any significant way, packages from older releases will install and work without any issue.

Naturally, for closed source/proprietary software for Linux, this whole explanation doesn't necessarily hold true in its entirety. However, most Linux systems have little need for closed source software, and some of the available proprieatary software is still prepared and packaged. Mandriva Linux 2006 (in the commercial versions, not the Free download edition) for instance comes with Sun Java, Flashplayer, Opera, Acrobat Reader and Skype. Next to that, it is possible to prepare general packages that rely only on the most common libs and compile the rest into the package statically - the price of which is a larger package (disk space) and executable (memory footprint). Linux package managers can solve dependencies of 3rd party software without issue, provided the packages are properly built and the dependencies are indeed available. Mostly it's not more than just click on the package file after downloading, entering the root (UNIX administrator) password and agreeing that the package plus its dependencies get installed.

So all in all, I'd say that the Linux software repositories and installation system form one of the two great killer features that Free Software offers, and that no closed source/proprietary operating system can ever offer - it is really an integrated solution (to use some manager-speak). Naturally, the other killer feature I'm speaking of is the fact that Free Software is just that: Free Software. The user never has to worry about lock-in, being dependent on one single company, having to upgrade at high cost to a next version that actually doesn't bring anything new or doesn't bring anything the user wants, and potentially lots of stuff the user doesn't want - the worst of which: hardware requirements that the current system doesn't meet.

Part two

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Read on: part 2 of this extensive review.


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