This review isn’t like most: I’m installing Mandriva for my mother in law who uses her computer for the most basic tasks…checking email, light web surfing, and playing a few casual games. She lives close enough that if there’s a problem I can fix it the same day. And I don’t want her to worry about accidentally getting infected with malware. I chose Mandriva because her old laptop doesn’t seem to like Ubuntu or Mint.
Laptop specs – Gateway 7340 (2005) ….. 15”, 1280×800 screen , 1.5 Gigabytes RAM, Pentium 4 3.06 Ghz, 80 Gigabyte hard drive, and an integrated graphics card.
When doing a Linux install for someone else, it is very beneficial to have another computer running nearby with internet access. These days, that isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. Starting the Live CD was pretty straightforward, but in addition to language, keyboard, and timezone, it asked for your choice of desktop effects: none, Compiz, or Metisse (an alternative effects creator from Mandriva). I chose none.
One thing I have always liked about Mandriva is that if you already have a Linux operating system installed, you can choose to only format the root (where all the system files are), and leave /home (where the users’ files are located) alone – great for updating an older version. I wish more distributions would offer this.
The process noticed there were some hardware specific packages that this computer didn’t need, and didn’t put them in. The installation took less than 20 minutes and doesn’t ask you to select packages – it installs what it wants and lets you remove or add afterwards. Mandriva comes with an excellent default screensaver, a rotating series of landscape pictures vertically centered in the middle of the screen. It is little details like this that make me appreciate this distribution.
After installation, it asks you to set up your internet connection. I chose wireless, and it asked me to locate the file it needed and select it. I didn’t have it yet – so it helpfully suggested exactly which package it needed and where to find it. The next part (installing that package, and the pre-requisite one) definitely requires someone used to doing these things.
I found that although setting the root password gives a tiny graphic showing relative strength, you are allowed to skip a user password with no warning – something that isn’t really such a great idea. Mandriva gave me Gnome 2.28 to start with, and a “first time” registering link showed up when it first booted. I was surprised to find no games installed at first. The system did tell me how many installation transactions failed during update, and through perseverance I was able to get it mostly current. That process would be intimidating to a beginner though, because I had to edit the online sources for files from Mandriva 2010.0 to 2010.2. The changes I made didn’t get reflected in any of the names that show up – it still appears to be using 2010.0. On the bright side, there is a very decent set of games in the repository once I updated to point to version 2010.2 (winter 2010 edition). Also, the software manager lets you select to see all updates, only bugfixes, or only security updates. I wish more distributions would divide their update list in a similar way – security updates are obviously vital, but sometimes you don’t mind waiting on regular ones.
Before updating you have to choose a mirror, and it helpfully reminds you to restart after “glibc” package updates (the standard C library set of files for Linux).
One strange aspect was that Open Office 3.1 got installed, but the desktop included a folder of “utilities”…which featured an OpenOffice installation icon. I removed a few applications that I knew she wouldn’t need, such as Inkscape and Cheese (no webcam on this old machine). Youtube played with no additional tweaking, but watching Quicktime movie trailers requires extra files to be installed.
Here is a partial list of what the laptop currently includes:
A rather limited set of backgrounds – but you can install more.
Firefox and Epiphany for browsers, Empathy for an IM client, the OpenOffice suite for her writing and spreadsheet needs, F-Spot for photo storing and tracking, plus GIMP and Eye of Gnome for image viewing and manipulation. GIMP is the most popular Linux alternative to Adobe Photoshop, and for most people will serve their needs just fine.
Sound Juicer, Kino, FM radio, TV tuner, Movie player, and Rhythmbox get installed for her music and movie needs (I forgot to check its ability to watch DVDs)
Games: Blockout, Frozen Bubble, Ltris, Gnome Mahjongg and 3d Majhongg, Aisleriot and Freecell (solitaire games), and I installed Wine in case there are MS Windows games that she’d want to play.
The Gnome Help file is on the Main Menu screen, very useful:
To sum up, Mandriva One seems to work quite well on an old machine that otherwise would be utterly useless. There is a little hesitation when programs first open, but they don’t seem slow, and moving windows around is quite smooth. There was no need for an environment such as LXDE or Xfce that uses less RAM.