Mandriva 2009 Alpha 2 hit the wires yesterday for both the KDE and Gnome desktops. As usual I did the download/ISO burn/boot three-step to check out the KDE version. And as usual, in spite of glowing reviews ("Mandriva 2009 Alpha 2 Brings You a Beautiful KDE 4 Desktop") it had enough rough edges to constantly remind me this is an alpha release. It took hardly any time at all to find the problems I'm about to write about below.
This is not to slam Mandriva (I'm now a satisfied paying customer), but the web sites that put up the multitudinous screen shots and then gush effusively about how pretty it all looks. Nobody seems to really dig in and use the distribution. If they did, they might discover that many of the latest distributions aren't just pretty, but pretty useless. If you want a good distribution that looks good and works as well as it looks then Mandriva 2008.1 is one of the best, if not the best, of the current crop of distributions, certainly rating far better than Ubuntu 8.04.
I choose to test the alpha 2 release with the KDE desktop because Mandriva 2009 will eventually ship using KDE 4.1, everone's favorite desktop. Alpha 2 is also supposed to ship with the latest video drivers for both ATI and nVidia, which means that it should also support Compiz. Unfortunately alpha 2 did not, even though the current version of Mandriva does, and quite well.
In this first screen shot I've got Dolphin looking at all the storage devices available on europa, including the Windows XP (NTFS) drives.
The first problem with this release is that I can't see /home directories, specifically my home directory when running under Mandriva 2008. Other live CDs can see this area. I hope this is fixed in later releases as one of the key uses for a live CD is as a rescue disk (at least for me). You'll also note that fgl_glxgears is running which indicates that hardware 3D is supported. Unfortunately when I went to install 3D Earth Model widget on the desktop it failed bacause "this system does not support OpenGL applets."
I then brought up Firefox and discovered that at least for KDE alpha 2 it's still at version 188.8.131.52, which I personally have no problem with. It's just that one of the advertised features is the (eventual?) inclusion of Firefox 3. I went over to CNN and attempted to play back some streaming video via Flash.
Both audio and video played back fine, but Firefox kept having some sort of problem/error and popping up blank dialogs. In this example I've got five. Closing any of them causes Firefox to crash. I call it a crash because every time I restart Firefox it tells me it exited abnormally and do I want to restart with the same pages it crashed with.
And finally there's System Settings which I offer as but one example of the lack of polish in the KDE 4/4.1 desktop.
In this example, the center panel can't be resized because there's no splitter to grab and resize it. What's worse is a problem that's been plaguing every distribution I've testing for the past year; the inability to determine the maximum screen size, let alone the optimum one. Screen size and maximum screen size both stop at 1280 by 1024. The only way to select a higher resolution to use with this card and monitor (a ViewSonic P90f) is to use Mandriva's Linux Control Center, and under Hardware select "Set up the graphical server" to select 1600 by 1200. At least Mandriva supplies a decent tool. For Ubuntu I had to install native ATI and nVidia tools to accomplish the same task. I don't fault the distributions or the desktops for this issue as much as I do Xorg. Since the drive to Xorg 7.3/7.4, nearly every distribution has had problems with detecting stock ATI and nVidia chipsets on both my home systems as well as notebooks (both Gateway and Dell). Who knows when the situation will improve. But for me the solution is clea enough; stay with Mandriva and its configuration tools.