- I installed the Gnome version. I thought about installing the KDE version, but I've grown so used (i.e. numb) to Gnome and have been with it so long that I reflexively installed Gnome yet again. I guess I can attribute that unwillingness to switch away from the tried-and-true (no matter how bad, and no, Gnome is not that bad) to all those years of Redmond behavioral modification.
- Installation went well and fairly fast. I have no hard numbers with regard to time, but based on my experiences it went faster than an equivalent installation of Ubuntu. Part of this can be attributed to Mandriva's simpler process (i.e. fewer steps). This is neither better nor worse than Ubuntu, just different.
- In order to get 1600 x 1200 resolution I had to hack the xorg.conf file's mode lines, adding that resolution to the list of usable resolutions. I tried to do it with nVidia's X Server Settings application, but trying to use the X Server Display Configuration displayed a blank window with the notice "Unable to load X Server Display Configuration Page..." I have no idea why. Fortunately System | Preferences | Screen Resolution Preferences worked after adding the new resolution I wanted.
- The Mandriva theme is a very pleasant alternative to the Ugly Brown Ubuntu themes. I even lived with it unaltered for a time, before I changed the window borders to the Zune theme. And the login screen, well, it's certainly not hideous. I have no driving need to replace it.
- After installation, I was presented with the opportunity to fill out a questionnaire, which I did. After finishing the questionnaire I was dumped to a command prompt. I waited and waited, and then finally gave the box the basic three-finger restart. When it came back up the second time it ran the graphic desktop. This was a one-time behavior that has not re-appeared.
- It's nice to have my old buddy root back again. I really missed the little guy. Ubuntu had shooed him away, and Mandriva invited him back.
- Software management is via one tool named ... er, Software Management. Mandriva is RPM-based, but that shouldn't be held against it, especially with Software Management. So far it seems as easy as Synaptic and the repositories seem as rich as those underlying Debian/Ubuntu.
- Mandriva Linux Control Center is complete and nicely laid out. My one and only complaint is that it doesn't have a search box to help look for possible functions/applications within itself. I've had to go hunting for several tools, such as Configure Graphics for Compiz. Speaking of Compiz...
- Compiz is easy to set up. In fact, under Hardware | Configure graphics, you have three choices; no effects, Metisse, and Compiz Fusion. I have no idea what Metisse does, but I did enable Compiz. Unlike current Ubuntu enabling/disabling Compiz requires a log out and back in again, like in the early days. Ubuntu (7.10 and 8.04) does not. With Ubuntu, if you select Compiz then you get it immediately if the hardware and drivers can support it. And if it can't you find out immediately as well.
- Compiz, while enabled, seems to have some minor quirks of its one. Clicking on menus or active parts of the desktop sometimes takes two consecutive mouse clicks, instead of one. And you can see the first one cause the menu/text to briefly appear, then disappear.
- I had the machine lock up twice with System Monitor (which I have running on the upper panel) showing CPU usage of 100%. I was able to determine via top that it was evenly split between X and imwheel. One of the two times System Monitor showed swap space usage at 100% as well as CPU usage at 100%. I had to reset the system the second time to get it back, and when it came back I turned off 3D desktop effects. Since turning it off, I've had no more issues.
- With 3D desktop effects disabled resource usage is lower than Ubuntu under the same set of circumstances. Both memory and swap space usage are lower by about 10%. One of my reasons for trying Mandriva was its support for the Eee. The Eee is a constrained system similar to rhea, but rhea is a bit beefier. My desktop has a more powerful processor and graphics card, but the memory on the box is 512MB.
- Again with 3D desktop effects disabled, performance is quite crisp. It's on par with Ubuntu, and I can't really tell the difference. I can say that with 3D effects enable that Mandriva is a bit slower than Ubuntu (that is, before Compiz functionality died with an Ubuntu update). I believe this to be more an issue with Compiz rather than Mandriva.
- It takes fewer steps to set up multi-media on Mandriva. Applications that need codecs, such as Totem, now pop up a dialog allowing a choice between GStreamer codecs or commercial codecs via Fluendo. I kept choosing GStreamer, and managed to get nearly everything running except DVD playback. In the end I turned (as always) to VLC and libdvdcss2. With the exception of Linux Mint, Mandriva's provided the best multi-media experience of all the distributions I've installed to date. Oh. It automatically installed the nVidia driver and didn't force me to explicitly enable its use nor read me the riot act about what Dire Consequences Awaited Me if I did.
Update 16 April
AdamW in the comments mentioned drakx11 / XFdrake as another way to manage desktop resolution. You can find that under Control Center | Hardware | Set up the graphical server. Sure enough it has a complete list of all usable resolutions for the Sony E400, up to 2048 x 1536. I didn't know it was there or I would have tried it.