Home > linux > Mandriva 2009 Review – Desktop Emphasis

Mandriva 2009 Review – Desktop Emphasis


I was excited about the launch of Mandriva 2009. Why? Mainly because the 2008.1 (Spring) Edition was so good. It had the best KDE 3.5 implementation in its class. So when 2009 came out, with a brand new KDE 4.1, I went for the download like a shark after anchovies.

The download, perhaps, was a little less than straightforward. The first server I encountered actually denied me resume support for my download manager on Windows Vista (IDM). The next server I tried, however, did. So I downloaded, burnt off the CD and went for the install.

Live – and install

The CD went live without a hitch, but then, there was no reason for it not to. What was immediately noticeable, though, was that Mandriva had used not the KDE 4 theming (Oxygen, the Mac-ish Window styling), but their own typical theme. My opinion in that is rather split – I liked KDE 4 style, minus the black TaskBar, of course.

Still, I do not deny that the whole look was very chic.

Mandriva 2009

(Screenshot not taken from my own system)


Truth be told, it was flawless. Nothing to do, nothing to worry about, just simple questions and answers, and advanced disk configuration if you so need (which I do).

On my Ferrari 5005WLMi, (2.0GHz, 2GB RAM, ATI Radeon X1600 Mobility), the install completed in about 30 minutes, start to end.

While the install went perfectly well for me, other reviews around the internet are claiming some install problem, including a bizarre one where the Gnome is loaded as the default desktop. However, I am inclined to think this is either a rare bug, or something wrong done by the reviewer himself.


The best part I have liked about Mandriva is that it is the only Linux distro to date (with the exception of the Sabayon 3.x series) that actually runs my graphics card out of the box. Not even openSUSE or Ubuntu do that. And for me, that scores 10 points, straight off.

The other changes are, obviously, the new KDE 4, and the associated paraphernalia.


KDE 4.1 has a lot of stability improvements. My typical methods of testing include doing many things at once, randomly clicking around and opening and closing repeatedly. The reason is to emulate desktop usage beyond the ordinary: if the distro can survive my ‘strain’ tests, it can take anything the average user may throw at it.

I have, so far, run the system without a crash. There was hang at one point, and I had to kill the X-server, but that was a one off incident.

Update: I have by now done a lot of testing, and my current impressions are slightly less positive. The hang consisted of a screen freeze when I opened five windows of Firefox. What I did not realize is that this recurred for me. I am not sure if it is the same case for others. There were also two more crashes, from unidentified causes.

But more so, the desktop, and plasma improvements are great. Take the time to experiment with each, they are worth it. They too, are stable.

Notable Changes

Another notable is the replacement of the standard KDE 4 “Kicker” menu with the older model, very much like in older versions of Mandriva. Mandriva has shown a lot of reluctance to adapt their design to the new KDE 4, rather, they have adapted KDE 4 to their old design. This is a rather unusual approach: is Mandriva hesitant to evolve?

We have Firefox 3, OpenOffice 3.0 and Amarok 2. GIMP 2.4.7 is installed. All these applications ran well, though the performance of GIMP seemed just a bit slower than normal. For me, Amarok caused no problems, though it did stagger while playing a very high FPS video that runs fine otherwise.

The final port of call in my testing was the Control Center. The phrase “New and Slightly Improved” should cover it, I think. The layout is newer and spacier, but the basics remain the same: categorizations on the left, tools on the right.

Update: Package Management

One of the most important parts of any distribution is the package management. I had not had a chance to test this earlier, but this was a big let down. I was expecting something exceptional here. What I got was an almost exact replica of the management system of the previous Mandriva, which was, let’s face it, slow and cumbersome. The integration and speed, and the intuitive GUI that I have now come to expect from the likes of the latest SUSEs and Ubuntus was missing in the Mandriva 2008 version, and by fair forwarding, in the Mandriva 2009. I had a difficult time downloading packages from online repositories – Mandriva’s package management apparently did not like my slow, albeit passable, internet connection.

The Negatives – and a brief comparison to my present distro of choice, SUSE 11.0

I was used to SUSE 11.0 as my linux of choice. And in that respect, I am perhaps, left to waver. SUSE uses a DVD, Mandriva a CD. The difference that makes is phenomenal, though you can get the Mandriva on DVD (but not the “One”). By hacking away at the KDE 4.1 as Mandriva has done, I get even a functionality more reminiscent of KDE 3.5, rather than the future.

SUSE, in my opinion, takes the cake, however, for the amount of things you can actually do. Webserving, Programming, Development, Documentation, Virtualisation (and regular work) can done on Mandriva, but not via the default load out.


I was a SUSE fan, and I still am. But that is no reason to reject a perfectly good distribution when it comes along, and Mandriva 2009 is as close to flawless as it gets for the desktop user.

Update: I no longer maintain that it is flawless. The best I can do is to put this in the range of “good”, not excellent. The edges appear under careful analysis.

But beware, it is not more than that – after all, there’s only so much you can put onto one CD. For bigger designs and heavy work, I keep my SUSE 11.0.

Update: There seems to be some confusion about why I have referred to Mandriva as less fully loaded as compared to SUSE 11. The point to be noted here is that SUSE 11’s default offering is the DVD, while Mandriva’s is the ‘One’ CD. Mandriva’s DVD comes in only the ‘Free’ version, which does not contain the advantageous proprietary chunks as One, and thus loses the advantage.

  1. 17 October 2008 at 12:05 AM

    The various editions of Mandriva are equally ‘official’. If you’d rather have a big install with lots of apps, just install Free. It’s no different to using SUSE’s non-live installer. But we’re glad you enjoyed Mandriva, and thanks for writing the review!

  2. 17 October 2008 at 6:41 AM

    I’ll second what Adam said. There is a DVD version of Mandriva, just like there is for SUSE. I use both, and like both. I have generally liked Mandriva better because I have been more successful at getting support for specific hardware with it.

    For me, it has pretty much boiled down to which tools one is more comfy with in terms of upgrade and GUI-based administration. Personally, I like the “drak” tools and the way Mandriva is laid out, but that’s largely a matter of familiarity. When I tried out SUSE, I found Yast to work fine, but I was more at home with the Mandriva tools.

  3. Willard
    17 October 2008 at 10:56 AM

    I’ve been using Mandriva since 5.2, i could not get RedHat to work with my hardware at that time since i was a complete novice with Linux back then. Today i’m a paying Powerpack subscriber for my company and we’ve been using Mandriva for 10 years and it always works without problems.

    I haven’t tried the free edition of Mandriva for years so i can’t comment on that but if you need a more powerful distro that has everything, Powerpack is the way to go. It has official drivers, several commercial applications etc.

    I downloaded the Powerpack this morning so i know what to do this weekend 🙂

  4. 17 October 2008 at 12:34 PM

    @ Adam Williamson & Bill Oliver: The ‘Free’ version’s DVD may have all the apps SUSE has, but it is not the default on offer. Secondly, one of the major points about the “One” edition is the fact that it picks all my hardware, specially my Graphics card. Going to the Free DVD will, in all likelihood, nullify this massive advantage to me.

    @ Willard: I have not yet tested Powerpack. While I have heard reports that it is great, it is a paid version. That may be useful for companies and corporations, but for a home enthusiast like me, it is not so essential, particularly when there are other distros that I can use to achieve my needs without paying up.

  5. 28 October 2008 at 3:54 PM

    I do respect you point of view & you review is based on your own experience. What i dont understand is your bashing on mandriva packet manager ? this works really wel, i dont see any kind of issues.

    Im still testing mandriva 2009, so maybe i may not like this new version at the end.. i dont know. I only can tell you after testing opensuse 11 i was horrified ! Linux desktops still makes the same errors.. ive been using Linux since the very beginning & im always more disappointed when it comes to desktop thank happy.

    I cant tell you more than 10 bugs out of the box on opensuse 11, i already found one after one night mandriva 2009.

    & is every time the same songs for the last years.. i’m used to it because is open source & i can fix every problem every time but is NOT what i’m expecting from an O.S.

    I still hope one day for the perfect linux desktop to come.

  6. 28 October 2008 at 5:25 PM

    @ Anibal: Well, experiences certainly do vary across the board. I have seen/heard many review with the same opinions as mine, and many contrary.

    The package manager does not work ‘well’ for me. The worst point, of course, that it could download packages from online repositories (on my connection). Why? I have no idea, because SUSE 11 and Ubuntu certainly do.

    About the desktop bugginess of SUSE 11, I am inclined to think of that as a very hardware platform specific function. Some hardware, and some reviews (thus) claim excellent running, mine nearly being one of them.

    And you are right in your final statements: I am sorry, but I still have to keep Microsoft Windows on my system, simply because of its massively higher maturity.

  7. 2 January 2009 at 3:01 AM

    I think if you would have taken some time personalizing your desktop, which is infinite, you would have found out that with some software of the installer and a couple of things, this operating system flies all over SUSE, it is just superior in stability, hardware recognition, and about a tousand times easier to use, not once have I opened the Mandriva terminal, in SUSE 11.1 I had to use the Forums, mails, and of course the terminal many times over to get it running half as stable, and that was in all the machines, as it is in all the machines with MANDRIVA, not the case for SUSE. But, you could have tried the GNome version, again implanted incredibly. If only for the signal 11 crash report from the desktop in KDE 4, thay all do this by the way, so KDE, get a move on and get that solved. Makes the system the most beautiful pieze of non existing software in existence. Make it work.

  8. 2 January 2009 at 3:40 PM

    @ Granbaba: One of the most quirky things about Linux distros is that they may work very well under some hardware combinations, and cause a large number of problems in others. The Mandriva vs SuSE debate is no different. My experience, as I noted in this review, was almost exactly the opposite. Truth is, I am fond of experimenting with Linux desktops, and I do not invest much time in customizing and personalizing one particular distro. For me, it becomes a matter of choosing the one that starts best off (for me).

  9. Sandip Srivastava
    11 March 2009 at 6:48 PM

    I’ve been disappointed with Mandriva Linux Free 2009. After installing Mandriva, I installed Gnome but it doesn’t show up in the kdm login manager as one of the options. I’ve looked all over the internet to try to add this desktop as one of my choices in kdm, but to no avail. In openSUSE after I installed a window manager or desktop, it showed up in kdm the next time I logged in, no tweaking required.

  10. 11 March 2009 at 7:53 PM

    @ Sandip Srivastava: For starters, avoid the ‘Free’ flavour. ‘One’ is far better. Secondly, Mandriva is best with KDE, though that is no reason to say that Gnome shouldn’t show up in KDM. But yes, openSUSE is my favourite too…

  11. Larry Harbin
    1 April 2009 at 1:15 PM

    I am very impressed with the gains in Mandriva 2009. I have been working with linux since the 90’s when even getting the GUI up was almost a pipe dream and a boon for the few of us that had an endless supply of coffee and just the right video card and monitor. There are 2 type of Linux purposes…Workstation and Server. If you are using Linux as server…who cares about the desktop. If you are a Workstation user, then the Gui of your choice is just that..Gnome vs KDE. I like gnome myself. (Nautalis…ie Mac programmers..hmmm). I think that trying to compare Suse (Novell) with a Mandriva is pointless. I have been using Mandrake since thier first distro (back in the day of the redhat-pre IPO-spin off) to current and am glad it has grown and has staying power. Just make it a bit more US english instead of Great Britian english and you have it!

  12. 2 April 2009 at 2:10 PM

    @ Larry Harbin: I love GUIs. I am one of those who laud Windows for their phenomenal GUI support. I even believe that servers should have disable-ables GUI for configuration. I thus wish that GUIs in Linux were as good as they are in Windows. And slowly, they are becoming so.

    Mandriva is great. Nevertheless, I find a few points that make openSUSE better for me. Not many, but some. I want my distro to have everything ready and working, lots of software to choose from, and a perfect GUI for everything. I also want stability, and compatibility with Windows as far as possible (because Windows is still the dominant OS). SUSE meets these requirements with the least hassle, and is so far the only distro in which I can stay logged in for some days, without having to reboot to Windows for one thing or another.

  13. Leonk
    5 April 2009 at 7:16 AM

    I also have been using mandriva since 5.2. Through version 10 the op seemed to be moving in the right direction, but when the 2005-2009 editions made the scene, it seemed that the mandriva people lost sight of their mission. Mandrake always had an issue with losing mounts especially the cdrom. Thats still an issue. And I dont know whether the mandriva people are just teasing us with the free editions to get us to purchase the powerpack to make the system operate correctly. But I just installed 2009. It’s pretty enough, but every time I update, my desktop applet for my control center crashes, and I cannot open it. Once I get it fixed, my mrinter and scanner will not work. Mandriva has been at this long enough to know better. One thing about Open suse, its not pretty, but it works perfect every time~

  14. 5 April 2009 at 1:01 PM

    @ Leonk: You’ve hit the nail on the head – openSUSE isn’t the flashiest distro out there, but works when you need it to.

  15. Trond
    9 April 2009 at 4:38 PM

    I have been using Mandrake/Mandriva since release 5, and it never stops frustrating me. Usually, I have been able to get around most of the bugs, but several releases I have had to pass by. Among them 2007.0, 2008.0 – and I should have dropped 2009.0. It has done more harm than benefit for me – I hope for a better 2009.1.

    As i have Linux set up on several machines, I have been able to compare the releases on different hardware, and it’s inconsistent. Every time. As I have used Knoppix as a tool besides Mandriva, I must say that the hardware detecting and adapting abilities of Mandriva have never impressed me. For instance, right now I’ve tried to install Mandriva One 2007.1, 2008.1 and 2009.0 on a Dell Inspiron 8200. No luck getting the live CD to run, while Knoppix, several releases, runs flawlessly.

    Tried “free” a couple of times, it’s even far worse than “One”. Also tried the “Power” version – maybe a bit better, but the version I tried was far from stable across different hardware architectures.

    Too bad with all the bugs, for when it runs well, Mandriva is a very nice system, for server and workstation use alike.

  16. 10 April 2009 at 2:11 PM

    @ Trond: That is what happened with me too. I initially gained a very good view of Mandriva, but the edges do come out after use. But you really must not compare Mandriva with Knoppix in terms of hardware detection: Knoppix’s hardware detection is legendary – not to mention that it was the distro where real hardware detection for Linux began.

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