4 Oct 2011

Mageia, Mandriva and IBM: Battle of Giants

My laptop is very old, so old that many people don’t even remember the model. This is one of the last models designed and actually produced by IBM before it was sold to Lenovo – a good old IBM X31, upgraded to 2Gb RAM at the day of purchase in 2005. There is no single thing it cannot do for me – it works just perfectly for many years, and, perhaps, for a few years to come.

I am also a dedicated Mandriva user since those times when it was known as Mandrake and was one of the two Linux distributions on the market – it means, since late 1990s. True, there were some interruptions in my love story with Mandrake (I cheated on it with Windows for a few years), but apart from that I was true and faithful to this distribution.

So, what was the trigger that made me think about divorcing Mandriva?

I was happy with Mandriva until 2009.1 came out. Don’t get me wrong – it was a marvellous distribution, fast, comparatively lightweight, with eye-pleasing design. It won my heart and I wouldn’t use anything else if... Although there were some flaws in there (as in all operating systems), they were not a big deal except one: WiFi didn’t work. It worked perfectly on 2009.0, but I could not get it fixed for 2009.1. I asked some questions on the internet forums about WiFi-Mandriva-X31 problem, but didn’t get any answer that would help me to fix the issue – it looked like X31 is just too old for the community in general as all answers came from the people using some other hardware.

I hoped that WiFi would work again on 2010, but both 2010.1 and 2010.2 were too slow to work at all – it was normally taking 3-4 minutes for the system to respond a mouse click! True, the core issue with 2010.1&2 failures might have been the ATI video card, but, as you gather, it is much easier to change a Linux distribution than a laptop’s video card.

So, both times I rolled back to 2009.1. Even not to a pure 2009.1 – since this version came out I ran a dual boot of 2009.0 and 2009.1 using the former when I needed WiFi and using the latter when I had a LAN cable.

Do you want another reason I didn’t like Mandriva 2010.x? It has a monstrous KDE package. I use KDE since the same time I use Mandrake – late 1990s – so moving to something else is painful, for both practical and emotional reasons. Mandriva 2009.0&1 had a reasonable KDE implementation. It was lightweight and fast. But KDE setup by Mandriva 2010.x was monstrous. I hate all the 3D elements (icons and so on) which many reviewers praise – as I pointed out above, this might have been the reason for responding 3-4 minutes to each mouse click. Well, again, I could probably recompile and redo everything– but, let’s be honest, if I were up to this challenge, I would have gone with Gentoo in the first instance.

Why did I decide to try Mageia?

It’s simple: Mageia has forked from Mandriva, so it was interesting to see if the new system got rid of some the annoyances Mandriva had. The initial review was good, so I though, it might be the time to change habits.

So, I had an IBM X31 laptop mentioned above, a DVD with Mageia 1, a comparatively quiet weekend, and a willingness to try something new. What was the result?

Mageia 1 took a long time to install.

To start with, Mageia recognised my Mandriva 2009.1 and wanted to upgrade. It took 4 (four!) hours for Mageia to attempt this upgrade, resulting in breaking everything. Thus, the installation was finished, but I could not boot the system since the old operating system was partially demolished, the new operating system was partially installed, but none of them even partially worked.

At this point of time I had to start from scratch and re-start the installation including formatting of hard disk partition. This time the installation was successful and I was able to boot my new Mageia 1 KDE.

So, what are the first impressions?

First, Mageia 1 works faster than the latest Mandriva versions, but still slower than Mandriva 2009.1, which both boots up and runs faster.

Second, unfortunately, many utilities which didn’t work in Mandriva 2009.1 also dodn’t work in Mageia 1. To mention just a few, I am speaking about disk encryption, KDE session saving, and my wireless card.

You can argue, of course, that non-functional disk encryption and KDE session saving aren’t Mageia’s faults, but the faults of encryption utility, KDE, or whatever. This might be true, but these issues do not leave a good impression from the new distribution, especially taking into account that same functionality works in other distributions, in fact, in most of them. These features are very serious functionality aspects in my everyday work and I definitely need them.

In addition to these [potential] issues [which I was not surprised to see], Mageia became the first distribution which could not correctly set up my video card. It did not produce any errors, but the colour schemes on the screen looked different from what I saw in the internet screenshots and were quite a bit more creative than would be expected from an operating system GUI.

To cut the story short, I still don’t see any benefits to move from my Mandriva 2009.0/2009.1 dual boot to Mageia 1 or even to Mandriva 2009.0 / Mageia 1 dual boot.

As a home user for my personal desktop, I would definitely prefer Mandriva 2009.1 and LAN cable.

As an IT security consultant (yes, I am an IT security consultant in professional life) I would not recommend clients to take a risk of using a brand-new system which has issues with installation and basic configuration.

It would be interesting to see what Mageia 2 will look like. It is widely known that some systems which look and behave inferior in the beginning make it up to the level very fast, gaining market share from established long-time leaders. Let’s see if this happens with Mageia. So far I am not particularly impressed.

This post was written by DarkDuck & Vasilijs based on the trials conducted by Vasilijs on September 24-25, 2011. Vasilijs is an IT security consultant in a leading multinational company, and Unix-like operating systems security is one of his major professional interests.
This post continues "The Week of Guest Posts".


  1. What exactly is the problem with disk encryption ? My laptop has disks encrypted, without any problem.

    Bug reports with more details on those issues are welcome on https://bugs.mageia.org/.

  2. I don't think that I saved any logs or audit trails - but will double check if I can still fetch them. The problem was that the encrypted partition did not mount properly. No error messages, but when mounted, could be accessed only once. To access it again, it had to be unmounted and mounted again. No similar problem with non-encrypted partitions.

  3. As a quick comment, when we released Mageia 1 we did only guarantee upgrade from Mandriva 2010.1 and 2010.2. So I'm not that surprised upgrade from 2009.1 failed :)

  4. @ennael:
    You're right... It is no wonders that upgrade from 2009.1 failed. It was a surprise it was ever proposed!

  5. Maybe I don't understand what you mean with KDE session saving not working, I am under the impression that it works perfectly on Mageia 1 here.

    I haven't encountered problems either installing on my laptop and desktop, but a one-time experience is hardly a review :)

  6. @Stormi:
    That may be an issue with particular set of hardware on Vasilijs' laptop (IBM X31). As he quotes, he tried to solve same issues on Mandriva forum, but did not get decent answer.

    I'd like to disagree about one-time experience. It is still valid for review. And I am sure Vasilijs spent more than 5 minutes digging the distribution and trying to make it running properly.

  7. @Stormi:
    By the way... Nice to see so respectable member of Mageia development team on this blog! Kudo!

  8. Have you tried Mepis? I've had a lot of luck with it on older machines. Good luck finding a distribution that works for you!

  9. Hi, as far as Mageia upgrading anything, I explicitly saw notes, either during the installation itself, or somewhere on the Mageia Web site - probably BOTH, that not only said that test version upgrades may or may not work, but would NOT be officially supported. Certainly an upgrade from ANOTHER vendor's system, even a fairly compatible one like Mandriva, clearly would not be supported. Finally, Mandriva themselves would allow upgrades only from one point version to the next, and yet recommend complete reinstallation. That's enough evidence right there to suggest that while an upgrade is "theoretically possible", it is trouble prone and clearly NOT recommended.

    I actually had VERY GOOD experience with the Mageia testing cycle, starting with it from the VERY beginning, and I WAS able to go from the test cycle through the release, and I happen to be using a version of "The Cooker", the same idea Mandrake and Mandriva have used for years. I have, in essence, Mageia 2 Alpha-Beta at this point, running it now, and it is working fine. Wireless works for me.

    In general, I find that machines that work well with Mandrake-derived systems tend not to work well with certain other software, and vice versa. You may want to try either openSUSE, Fedora, Mint, or SimplyMEPIS. One of these four is likely to work right off the bat; PCLinuxOS, which comes with ndiswrapper, is another one. Ndiswrapper, in case you do not know, is a tool that allows you to use wireless firmware drivers that are packaged with Windows systems. The drivers are free of charge, but do not come with free source code, so they are not "free as in freedom", just free as in no extra charge - a distinction that the "Free Software Foundation" (FSF) always wants to make clear. With the Ndiswrapper drivers, you may have to disable one thing and enable another, but if you work at it, you can, guaranteed, get your wireless working. Frankly, you ought to be able to do that with Mandriva and Mageia too; check around their forums.

  10. I too was going to mention Mepis and a possible run at PCLinux could be an option. I pretty much quit using Mandriva when I started using bot Mepis and PCLinux. I did enjoy Mandriva's Gnome version, but alas I'm not running an antique lap top either.

  11. Nothing new under the sun -- until some distro will add regression tests and treat them seriously, we will experience roller coaster experience again and again. Version X -- hardware Y works, version X+1 -- Y does not work, because devs "improved" things.

  12. @macias : you can't expect devs to do regression tests on all existing hardware on the planet, they can only do it on the hardware they have. But that's why there are beta releases, so that users can check that it works on their hardware and report problems.

  13. I briefly used Mandriva in the past, until I discovered PCLinuxOS which, in my opinion, is similar to but better than Mandriva. You might try one of the PCLOS versions on your old X31 laptop to see if it will work. I currently use PCLOS with LXDE.

  14. LXDE version of PCLinuxOS works great on my 2005 (or 2006 -- lost the sales paperwork) Acer Travelmate 3000.

  15. Why not give Gentoo a shot? The currently recommended way of installing is by way of a stage 3 build. This is basically a minimal system with a compiler and "package" manager (in its main role more of a "source" manager).

    Every package can be seperately configured yet you will not have to actually build it (and patch it) from source by hand. Hence, you could use your beloved KDE and get rid of all the nasty 3D effects. The Gentoo maintainers are meticulous when it comes to marking software as stable and thus you will have a hard time breaking your system by updating its packages. Plus Gentoo uses rolling updates of independent packages instead of periodic ones, so you will never have to wait on the next major release of the distribution itself. In fact, once you are set up, Gentoo base distribution releases are meaningless.

    But when it comes to hardware support, one should really try his/her hand at compiling a custom kernel. It is a pity to set aside an entire distribution merely because of its default kernel configuration. And certainly with the 2.6 series, it has become a lot easier to configure the kernel properly. (For starters you could use 'distribution X's default kernel config file and cherrypick configuration items as you see fit.)

    Anyway, I have one old laptop without a harddrive on which I boot PartedMagic via PXE. It is a minimal live system that caters most of my needs/wants as a remote control to my other systems ;)

  16. you can also just manually install the wirless card on your Mandriva 2OO9 and maybe forge another kernel if that driver is there.