Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Mandriva and PCLinuxOS

Back in February there was an exchange between myself and Adam Williamson (adamw) of Mandriva. Adam asked "What is it?" and I answered "Why it is." Basically, adamw wanted to know why I was so in love with Ubuntu (7.04 alpha at the time), and asked the rhetorical question what was wrong with Mandriva.

The last time I'd used Mandriva was back when it was still called Mandrake, so my experiences were definitely dated. I took up adamw's suggestion that I try out an early beta of Mandriva Spring 2007 Live CD. So I pulled down an ISO, burned a CD, and attempted to boot it on europa, the box with Suse, AMD, and ATI. The CD never went beyond the initial boot screens. As it approached the point where it would show the full graphic desktop the screen went completely black and the system locked up. I couldn't toggle into a command line screen to diagnose the problem. It was locked up solid. So I rebooted and forgot about it.

Recently, however, I've been thinking about a KDE-based substitute for Suse. I tried to replace it with Ubuntu 7.04 final, but in the end I re-installed Suse 10.2 and just left it alone after that. I then started a low-level 'background task' of researching alternative distributions. I looked at Kubuntu 7.04, but did not like how KDE was configured. That and the fact Firefox was not part of the initial install. I love Konq as a file system browser and general viewer, but can't stand it as a web browser.

This past weekend I decided to download Mandriva One KDE (Mandriva Spring 2007 for cheapskates like me) and PCLinuxOS 2007. Both come as Live CDs, so that booting them up and kicking the digital tires a bit is not a problem.

I tested Mandriva One on rhea, europa, and algol. I tested PCLinuxOS only on algol. BTW, these are personal tests, highly limited, so take what you read here with a grain of salt. While I have some screen shots, if you want comprehensive eye candy (lots and lots of screen shots of everything), google for them.

Mandriva One

I tried to boot Mandriva One on europa and ran into the same boot problem the beta had. It hung with a black screen when attempting to start the graphical user interface. I attribute the GUI problems to the fact that europa has an ATI 9700 Pro and Mandriva comes with a poor ATI driver. I know from personal experience how problematic ATI display hardware can be for Linux distributions, but I haven't seen this kind of problem for a few years now. Mandriva One's problem is a serious regression.

I was able to boot Mandriva One on rhea without issue. It came up and allowed me to select the Compiz-based 3D display. This is impressive in itself when compared to the failure on europa. I attribute success on rhea due to its use of an nVidia 7600GS video card and Mandriva's use of native nVidia drivers. You see the nVidia logo flash briefly before the desktop comes up, a dead giveaway that the nVidia driver is running.

Finally I went over to my notebook, algol, with the Core Duo, 2GiB of DRAM, and the nVidia GeForce Go 7800 video card with 256MiB of video buffer. Once again it booted up and allowed me to select not only Compiz but a second 3D desktop, Metisse. I selected Metisse on algol. Everything ran fine up until I tried to grab some screen shots, only to find I couldn't. Ksnapshot produced a pure black screen shot every time.

I played around with Mandriva One for another half hour, then shut it down for the evening.

Pros
  • The ability to detect and use nVidia hardware using the native nVidia drivers. This meant, especially on algol, that I got 1680 x 1050 resolution out-of-the-virtual-box with all colors.
  • The ability to allow the use of 3D desktops from LiveCD. Only Fedora 7 worked as well as this for me.
  • Wireless networking. I was able to quickly and easily find my home wireless network for algol (Gateway M685) and get out on the web. Only two other distributions have worked this well for me; Ubuntu 7.04 and PCLinuxOS.
Cons
  • It has issues with ATI graphics hardware, or at least old ATI graphics hardware. It locks up with a black screen during LiveCD boot.
  • Metisse has a 3x3 navigator panel in the lower right. The KDE panel has 9 screens on it. The navigator panel and the KDE panel are not synced up.
  • Ksnapshot does not work, at least on algol and Metisse.
  • While running Metisse, I grabbed the lower right corner of Firefox (2.0.0.3) and attempted to expand the window. Instead of expanding the boundaries, Firefox behaved like a bit-mapped graphic image, and the whole browser image was distorted. Killing Firefox and restarted Firefox cleaned up the problem, and expanding the window by grabbing edges did not have this problem.
  • No sound. Any distribution based on a kernel earlier than 2.6.20 will not enable sound on the Gateway. Sound was enabled on rhea, but it's a four-year-old nVidia nForce 2 motherboard.
PCLinuxOS 2007

I looked at PCLinuxOS because of the hype surrounding it, the fact it's KDE based, and because it's a fork of Mandrake 9.2. It has certainly evolved over time, and it's look is certainly distinctive and professional, but I still had the feeling it was tracking (and using) Mandriva as a starting point of every release.

If there's one thing I can say about PCLinuxOS, it's ability to detect and enable wired networking is the fastest I've seen. It asks a few good questions about networking, and when it's finished the network is up and running with little or no delay.

PCLinuxOS also booted and ran on europa.

PCLinuxOS would not allow me to run its 3D desktop drak on the notebook. I attribute this to PCLinuxOS' use of the poor nVidia 'free' driver.

Screen Shots

Here are some screen shots of PCLinuxOS running on algol.

This shot of PCLinuxOS has Firefox doing it's thing on CNN. I've opened up a separate window and streaming WMV video from CNN. This is the first LiveCD distribution I have ever booted that allowed me to do this without having to do anything else. When you start the CNN video viewer the very first time, you will be presented with a screen that says it's only good with Windows Media Player, but there is a button that says to play it anyway. Click that button, and the Mplayer plugin will then render the streaming content. I can only conclude that the proper W32 codecs are in PCLinuxOS. I did not attempt to play a DVD.

And, of course, Konsole. Once again, something of a first. Konsole comes up as white text on black, not black-on-white like very other distribution. Call me reactionary, but it should always be configured like this.

And, of course, what 'review' would be complete without poking at Open Office? This is version 2.2, which is now slightly dated.

This is where I see a strong similarity between Mandriva and PCLinuxOS. And I like this feature on both. It looks good and it works well, and I wish other distributions, especially Ubuntu, had its configuration tools as well organized. I could write a whole series of entries about how poor the management tools are across nearly all the distributions I've tried, particularly the Gnome-based distributions.

Final Comments

I place a lot of value on clarity of font rendering. I am border-edge legally blind, and I spend a lot of time in front of various types of screens. It really is important how well text is rendered on the screen. Mandriva One, PCLinuxOS, and Fedora 7 have demonstrated the best font rendering on the algol, my primary work system. Algol has a 1680 x 1050 LCD display driven by an nVidia GeForce Go 7800 video card. This combination is quite speedy and capable if driven by nVidia drivers.

It's hard to say which is better, Mandriva or PCLinuxOS. It's best to use contemporary hardware for Mandriva; it really shined in networking and 3D rendering on the Gateway. Since the Gateway is used primarily for business I would lean towards Mandriva. But if I wanted better multi-media support out-of-the-box, PCLinuxOS is certainly the better of the two. Mandriva failed the CNN streaming video test, and I would want to know how hard it would be to add the necessary codecs and playback software. Ubuntu is convoluted as is Suse. I'm tired of having to go to special repositories and then select the necessary codecs, then make sure I re-install applications that don't have MP3 and DVD playback deliberately disabled.

My advice is to download and try both, and see which one is better suited for your particular needs. You would be well served by either. Keep in mind that PCLinuxOS seems to handle older hardware better, while Mandriva is more focused on a better experience with contemporary hardware like the Gateway M685.

4 comments:

  1. I'm always surprised noticing how every review about PCLinuxOS (wich I tried; I don't know Mandriva) lacks in blaming the messed structure of the menus and the bunch of duplicated applications

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  2. From my perspective I don't care. I've never found a menu structure I liked in any OS. I always create links on my desktop or the panel to the few applications I use the most. If I can edit the menus I can. But a "messed" menu structure is a minor nit.

    As for duplicated applications, I have no idea what you mean. I stated this was a quick and dirty view of the two. The closest complaint I have is the fact that all distributions come with so many applications that pretty much duplicate functionality between them, all in the name of "choice". There is now a considerable amount of bloat that can and should be stripped out. But no-one wants to touch them for fear of damaging the sensitive sensibilities of some group of fanboys somewhere.

    If the issues of menus and duplication in PCLinuxOS is so important to you, then why don't you take the time addressing them in detail in a blog posting of your own? If many eyes can find more bugs, then many smaller reviews can provide a more comprehensive overall review of a distribution.

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  3. Hi Bill,
    I really found this review to my taste.
    I am currently using PCLOS and can easily relate to what you said.
    Currently PCLOS has OO 2.3 and even their GIMP version is most recent 2.4.
    Also I found PCLOS to be very stable, not sure about Mandriva

    ReplyDelete
  4. I found your blog entry while looking for info on, humorously enough, a Mandrake-compatible package of Xgalaga Hyperspace. Seems there really isn't one.

    Anyway, I can attest to your suggestion that PCLOS runs well on older hardware. I'm writing this from a Dell Dimension L1100R, a circa 2000 PIII 1.1Ghz machine with 384MB RAM, a Voodoo3 2000 PCI card, and a Belkin F5D7050 USB wireless adapter.

    One has to boot the PCLinuxOS 2007 LiveCD in FBDev mode to get anything graphical, but the PCLOS Control Center made it ridiculously easy (compared with most other distros I've tried) to switch over to the right Xorg driver and fix up the resolutions.

    The Belkin wireless device wasn't recognized as such by HardDrake, but when I manually added it and helped ndiswrapper to the .inf file on my Windows partition, it just worked.

    Beyond this, a Yamaha YMF754 soundcard was picked up and configured automatically. Compared to recent releases of Ubuntu and Fedora, PCLOS is a dream on older equipment. Now the real acid test would be trying to get it to work right on my Dell Latitude CPi laptop - the last distro that worked right on that was RedHat 9.0 ;)

    ReplyDelete

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