Mandriva One Review

by Clem

June 19, 2006

After Ubuntu 6.06, Fedora Core 5 and SUSE 10.1 were released in the first two quarters of this year, I started to wonder about Mandriva. Its last release came last October and the next one was not going to be here until the end of the year. Of course, Mandriva One was released a few months ago, but it was only a live version of Mandriva 2006, and as such, once installed on the hard drive it didn't add anything new. I decided to take a look at it, to see what it gave to the user and how it could still compete after all other three major distributions had had their release. Was there still any reason for people to use Mandriva over Fedora, SUSE and Ubuntu? Had the distribution become outdated? I was about to find out.

Time goes fast when it comes to distributions

Last year, Mandriva decided to change its release cycle and to make it annual. With only one release per year, the Mandriva distribution quickly became outdated compared to others. To make things even worse, Mandriva does not immediately make their new releases available to the public. Every release is first made available to members of the Mandriva Club, and then moved to public mirrors after some time.

In October 2005, Ubuntu 5.10 (Breezy Badger) was released and offered a 2.6.12 kernel, KDE 3.4.3, Gnome 2.12, Firefox 1.0.7 and OpenOffice 1.9. One month later, Mandriva 2006 was made available to the public, and although it was featuring the same versions of the kernel and Firefox as Ubuntu did, it only had Gnome 2.10 and OpenOffice 1.1.5. In other words, when Mandriva 2006 came out, it was already outdated. All other major distributions already provided their users with OpenOffice 1.9 and its new OpenDocument format, KDE 3.4.3 was already shipped in Ubuntu, and Gnome 2.12 in Ubuntu and SUSE. 

Then, in the first and second quarters of 2006, Ubuntu, Fedora and SUSE released new versions. They provided their users with the latest packages and superb artwork and integrated desktops:  OpenOffice 2.0.2, Firefox 1.5, KDE 3.5.1/3.5.2 and Gnome 2.12/2.14. Mandriva didn't release anything.

While many of us enjoy Firefox 1.5, OpenOffice 2.0.2, Gnome 2.14 and KDE 3.5.2, Mandriva users are still stuck with Firefox 1.0.6, OpenOffice 1.1.5, KDE 3.4.2 and Gnome 2.10.

Of course, Mandriva 2007 is coming this autumn, but so are Fedora Core 6, Ubuntu 6.12 and SUSE 10.2. In the meantime, and between two outdated releases, are Mandriva users really stuck with old pieces of software? Do they rely on backports? Is their distribution any good at all compared to recent ones?

I personally think a decent desktop Linux system should provide Firefox 1.5, OpenOffice 2.0.2 and KDE 3.5.x. I downloaded Mandriva One, and decided to see for myself if it was possible to upgrade it to get the latest software, and exactly how hard it was to do that.

The Live CD and the Installer

Mandriva One is a Live-CD version of Mandriva. The user can boot directly from the CD and use Mandriva 2006 without installing it on his hard-drive. If he likes it, and wants to install Mandriva on his machine, he can launch a graphical installer from the desktop. A few distributions now provide this kind of "installable Live CD" (Mepis, Ubuntu...etc) and it's a really good idea. Compared to this, the three SUSE and the two Fedora discs that are required to perform a basic installation of these distributions can discourage some users and make them prefer distributions like Mandriva. A lot of Windows users like to try distributions before they decide whether or not to install them. If they can do both from the same CD without even having to reboot, they'll probably be more interested. I though this was a definite advantage over Fedora and SUSE.

Image 1 not available
Mandriva One Desktop

I booted on Mandriva One. I wasn't interested in reviewing the Live CD itself, so I launched the graphical installer.

Image 2 not available
The installer in action

The installation is quite fast and it is very easy. I was asked to partition my hard drive, then the installer copied the packages on the machine (this took about 10 minutes) and after I answered a few questions about the bootloader, Mandriva was installed on my computer.

Upon reboot, a first boot wizard appeared. It guided me through the configuration of my network interfaces, then asked me for a root password and offered me to define a user. It also asked me to register, but since this step was optional I skipped it.

Image 3 not available
The First Boot Wizard - Network Configuration

Inside Mandriva 2006


Overall, I found Mandriva quite fast. It takes 1 minute and 20 seconds from the BIOS to the KDE desktop. The applications and the desktop were also responsive and running fast. I didn't experience any problem related to speed.


I had mixed feelings about the artwork in Mandriva. Efforts were obviously made to make the distribution nice to use and to look at. For instance, the boot and shutdown processes are entirely customized with splash screens.

Image 4 not available
The Boot Splash

The default wallpaper and screensaver are really nice.

Image 5 not available
The Default Mandriva 2006 Desktop

Image 6 not available
The Default Screensaver shows portraits of the members of the Tux family

Mandriva's style is blue and it features good looking or funny looking penguins. The default set of widgets is also quite nice. The window decorations (galaxy2) though, are old-looking and produce a deceiving contrast with the rest of the theme.

Overall, Mandriva looks nice. However it doesn't look as polished as Fedora Core 5, nor as professional as SUSE 10.1 or Ubuntu 6.06.

Hardware Recognition

I didn't have many issues with hardware recognition on my Centrino laptop. Things worked quite well, as they did with other distributions. Mandriva was better than other at setting up my ALPS touchpad though, and I appreciated that.

The network setup didn't manage to make my ipw2200 wireless card work, however it recognized it, and it was able to tell me what package was missing. I installed the package ipw2200-firmware from the repositories and everything worked well. I also noticed that the network setup wizard was offering a "configure through ndiswrapper" option, which was a nice surprise.

The only thing that I wasn't happy with was that Mandriva didn't include the 855resolution tool developed by Alain Poirier. I couldn't even find it within the repositories. I had to go and browse the internet in order to find an RPM for it. Once installed, I had to set up the init scripts for Mandriva to adjust the resolution at startup. Eventually, things worked fine, but I had done everything by hand.

Default Set of Applications

Mandriva is full of applications, and a lot of them are installed by default. This is probably the most negative thing I have to say about this distribution. I found it very messy. It looks like the development team tried to include as many applications as they could fit on the CD. The menus are consistent but full of useless tools and filled with far too many gadgets.

Image 7 not available
Mandriva includes a lot of applications

While Ubuntu, SUSE and Fedora seemed to focus on a minimal and professional looking Gnome desktop, Mandriva seemed to have taken the opposite direction. If you love gadgets, you'll love KDE, and you'll love Mandriva :)

As expected, applications were outdated. For instance, you can't open or save ODT files with OpenOffice, as it is only version 1.1.5. This isn't a surprise though, as this distribution was released in October last year.

Image 8
Mandriva 2006 comes with KDE 3.4.2, OpenOffice 1.1.5 and Firefox 1.0.6

Multimedia Supports

Mandriva supports MP3 by default. I was very disappointed by that. People who don't want to see patented or proprietary technologies within their operating system will prefer the strict policies of other distributions. Others, who don't care too much about the problem and want things to work by default, will obviously prefer Mepis since Mandriva doesn't read DVDs or DivX by default. 

Image 9 not available
Kaffeine and Amarok

The libdvdcss2 and win32-codecs packages can be found within the plf repositories, and make it easy to install encrypted DVD and DivX support in Mandriva. It's a pity the same wasn't done for MP3.


Samba worked out of the box. I have a computer running Windows with shared folders on the network. Mandriva didn't require any configuration to find the Windows Workgroup and to access the content of the shared folders.   

Package Management

I've always preferred APT over RPM-based package managers. In SUSE 10.1 I was impressed with the many features offered by rug. In Fedora Core 5 I was impressed with the new pirut and pup frontends to YUM. In both distributions though, the package manager seemed heavy and slow. Every upgrade, installation or even listing the installed applications was slow and in the end this became annoying.  

This was a problem I didn't experience in Mandriva though. The package manager is based on RPM and called urpmi. Mandriva provides 4 frontends to it. The first three let the user install, remove and upgrade packages. The 4th one is there to define the repositories and global options of the package manager. Although there is no special about these frontends nor the package manager itself, the installation, upgrade and removal of applications is much faster than in Fedora or SUSE. In fact, it isn't slower than with APT.

Image 10 not available
The Mandriva Package Manager

It was also made easy for the user to add repositories. For instance, the urpmi-addmedia frontend which deals with installation sources knows where to find updated lists of mirrors and the user can add official repositories in a very intuitive way. Also, online tools such as make it easy to add extra repositories.

This is the best RPM package manager I've seen so far. I was very impressed with it.

I was equally surprised by the lack of packages and applications stored in the repositories. After setting up Mandriva official repositories, the Penguin Liberation Front repositories (free and non-free) and SoS (see below), I couldn't even find NVU. I had a quick look at the list of packages within these repositories: it was quite small. I had only installed Mandriva a few hours ago and I had needed 855resolution and NVU... neither of them were in the repositories!

I found both on RPM Search (, so I didn't have to compile the software and make the packages myself. However, I was disappointed by the quality of the repositories. RPM Search is great to find packages, but it doesn't solve dependencies... I remembered the "RPM Hell" situation, when RPM based distributions didn't have repositories, and users had to search the net for every single package and library. Things had not evolved that much in Mandriva I thought... it was such a pity, considering Mandriva had one of the best RPM-based package manager.

The Upgrade process

There is no such thing as the "stable version of the next Mandriva release". In other words, the only way you can upgrade is to "jump" to the next release. If you're running Mandriva 2006, you'll have to wait until the end of the year for Mandriva 2007 to be released. For people who are used to Debian Testing this would definitely be a problem. However, very few distributions provide a branch between the release branch and the development one, so this probably won't seem problematic to a lot of people.

There are three non-satisfying solutions to upgrade though: The third solution is the most popular. In fact, Ubuntu, SUSE and Fedora rely on backports to offer the latest versions of applications to their users. For Mandriva, there is SoS ("Seer of Souls"):

SOS backports packages from cooker and makes them available for Mandriva 2006 and other versions. It is quite easy to add the SOS repository within the package manager, and this gives you access to many up to date packages.

I found out that different versions of the same packages were considered different packages by the package manager. I don't think this is fault in urpmi, but rather in the way the packages are made by SoS. For instance, you can't upgrade OpenOffice 1.1.5 to OpenOffice 2.0.2. If you install the latest, you'll end up with both versions on your machine. In order to get the latest KDE, you first have to remove KDE 3.4.2, and then install KDE 3.5.3. The problem with this is obviously the dependencies, so you have to force the removal by telling urpmi not to consider dependencies, and this can obviously break some things on your system.

After a few removals and a few installations, and after you've fixed things that got broken in the meantime, you end up with a nice KDE 3.5.3 desktop, featuring OpenOffice 2.0.2 and Firefox The upgrade process is not trivial, but if you have some knowledge of Linux, it's not too hard either.

Image 11 not available
OpenOffice 2.0.2, Firefox and KDE 3.5.3 can be easily installed from SoS repositories


I was pleasantly surprised by Mandriva One. I was expecting to find a completely outdated distribution. In a way, I did. It was quite easy to upgrade the components I needed though, and I managed to get a working KDE 3.5.3 with the latest applications in a reasonable amount of time and without much efforts. I also found things that were better in Mandriva than in Fedora and SUSE, such as the package manager which was much faster and easy to use. The artwork was ok, and so was the default set of applications. What disappointed me the most was the small number of packages within the repositories, and the fact that many applications were not in it. In many ways, I thought the latest releases of Ubuntu, Fedora and SUSE were better, and I wouldn't recommend Mandriva to anybody who's looking for a good distribution that works out of the box. However, I wrote this article wondering if there was any reason left for Mandriva users to still use their favorite distribution. And there is. It might require some work to upgrade it, it might require some hassle to find and install packages that are not in the repositories. You might have to change things a bit to make the artwork look better, but with a bit of perseverance and efforts, this distribution can be changed into an up-to-date and attractive desktop operating system. One year is a very long time, and this is how long Mandriva users have to wait between each release. It doesn't mean they're stuck with old packages tough. Things might be a little harder for them, but they do have access to the latest applications and their desktop might in fact look as nice as yours.


By Eric Hawk

June 19, 2006

I have recently installed PCLinuxOS and found it to be the most out-of-the-box-ready OS I have yet encountered. It has fewer applications in its default repository (a little over 5000), but includes OpenOffice 2.0.2-5, firefox, and NVU 1.0, and KDE 3.5.2. It has handled all multimedia file types I have thrown at it by default (Windows media, quicktime, mpeg, mp3, flash, java, etc)
I believe it was an offshoot of Mandriva


By miles

June 19, 2006

As a Mandriva user for some time, it's quite nice to find a review of a system I used a while ago.
I won't use Mandriva anymore, for some of the reason you mention. Updating was really a pain (glad to know they improved their package manager, because at the time - Mand(rake)riva 10.0 it was painfully slow), and no, I don't consider Mandriva Kiosk as any solution. This still hasn't been fixed, I'll just have to keep away.
However, I really think that you should correct your article about mp3 (instead of expecting everyone's going to read the comments). There's no problem to provide *GPL* mp3 libraries, and yes there's good ones available. The situation in Mandriva is far better than in distributions that make everybody suffer just because of the States (and possibly Japan). Since the rest of the world can enjoy free and legal ways to listen to mp3 and encode it, it's a bit silly to force upon us the patents problem that's in the USA, especially if you're against software patents yourself.
DVD situation is quite another problem, apparently you might have to read a bit to understand why they don't provide it by default.
Overall, thanks for the review. I hope Mandrake can get as good as it was before, even though I'd rather they dropped rpm in favor or deb ;)


Some answers

By clem

June 20, 2006

Thanks for the feedback guys, 
MP3 support within distributions is a very controversial issue. People disagree a lot and for different reasons. Myself, I like to see it available as a package you can decide to install but not as somethings that's already there in your distribution. 
As you mentioned, there is a problem with US laws, and Mandriva is a French distribution. It is available for everybody though, and the ISO file I downloaded was called: Mandriva-One-Americas-Western-Europe-2006-CD.iso. If Mandriva wanted to make it simple for European users without going against US laws, they could have made two separate ISO files. 
I read the Fedora and Ubuntu policies about MP3 and Restricted Formats: and and I completely agree with them. The beauty of Linux is its freedom. You cannot call yourself "free" and depend on patented technologies. The basic principle of patents is to take away freedom of use! It doesn't matter if the patent only applies to some of us. You can't call a distribution free if its "freedom" relies on where it's installed. Ubuntu and Fedora are better at explaining that than me, and I suggest you read their policy on that. As a basic principle I see two categories of distributions: Those who prove a strong adherence to free software philosophies, and those who prefer to make things easy for the user. Mandriva was sitting in the middle and didn't seem to have a clear strategy on that, I think it's a pity. 
About the number of packages: I did use easyurpmi to add the official repos and plf, and I couldn't find NVU. It looks like I made a mistake somewhere or I misconfigured something. Thanks for the feedback on that, this was one of the major issues I had with Mandriva, and I'm glad to see I was mistaken. 


Copyright 2006