The old Mandrake Linux, before it became Mandriva which of course Mageia is a fork of, was the first Linux distribution that mostly worked for me. The first actually was Corel Linux 1.0 (the one and only), but it was slow on a 266MHz Pentium 2. So I'm approaching Mageia with a lot of good will and high hopes but realistic expectations.
There are several different images available for download, a live CD with KDE and one for Gnome (both 32 bit/i586 only), a dual architecture image and also full DVD images, at over 4GB no mean feat. This is the only one currently also available for x64. There's also a boot only image. Here's a mirror list. I think it is important the following warning on the Download section of the main web site should be considered if you want to test Mageia yourself:
Be Careful! This is NOT FOR: use, public review, personal or production evaluation. This is FOR: developers, packagers, test users ONLY.
Whatever you may do with the provided ISO disc image will be done at your own risk, with your own responsibility.
I'm not going to do a full disk install of Mageia this time around just in case, because I've got some valuable installations there.
After downloading the Live images for KDE (698 MB) and Gnome (601MB) here are a few impressions. Booting went well and you go through the usual steps of choosing a language and keyboard layout. My M880G [Mobility Radeon HD 4200] was detected and the free radeonhd driver did the job.As a side note, Mageia is set to use one of the latest kernels, currently 184.108.40.206 in this beta.
KDE 4 Edition
Upon auto login the screen resolution was set to 1024x768 and thus not automagically to the highest possible. A quick change in the KDE System Settings solved this but left some artefacts for a while (see screenshot below). As usual with KDE 4, on the right of the panel.
The KDE image comes with 4.6.2 and Firefox 4. There isn't really that much to say. It's a typical K desktop with a wide selection of KDE specific software. Just like Mandriva did the menu and general layout is arranged to resemble the trusty old KDE 3, even the themed panel just screams XP/KDE 3 panel background. Somehow in Mageia/Mandriva it always looks like the old mega-packages of KDE 3 never left given how many programs there are under Internet for instance. Konqueror is still there but easy to overlook, Firefox is clearly the browser of choice and in Favorites. No Rekonq or any other browser by default. Apart from the big K's the application choice is fairly spartan but it's only a CD sized image. I noticed an application called Jovie for the first time though that is a text-to-speech utility that may do some of my disabled clients good. If they actually used Linux. In addition to Kmouth.
Mandriva Control Center is also still present, it's just been rebranded and got a new splash. Urpmi and Rpmdrake are still looking after all your packages. It is not possible at the moment to install or update anything because no sources are configured. This really is just for testing. Oh yes, and for the overall feel, all the ex-Mandriva users will be comfortable knowing that all 'la Ora' themes are still here too.
|Original look and resolution-strange, it doesn't look distorted any more|
|Artefacts-the clock has already recovered. Notice the network icon stuck in the middle.|
|Took a while for the change of resolution to complete, but now: looking good!|
|The old and beloved Control Center|
|KDE 3 style traditional menu|
What I take away from this is that it's a very nicely done KDE desktop that is looking a bit outdated, mostly due to the panel background (never liked the plastic XP'ish look). What astounded me though was how fast the desktop was responding, completely in a different league compared to recent Kubuntu/Mint KDE/Fedora releases. At times I felt like in LXDE, or like using Salix with KDE for that matter which runs comfortably with only 512 MB Ram. I can only explain it with that the Mageia team having put some effort into tweaking and cleaning and they've come up with a lovingly done KDE 4.
Booting the Gnome Live CD suffered from the same problem with the screen resolution, which was easily but manually remedied going into System --> Monitors. Gnome, while also fast, feels a lot less integrated and a bit rougher. For example there's no background image set for the Gnome panels like there was in Mandriva which gave it a softer look. Small things, but important for many users, and not a big deal to implement. But this is only the second beta and some minor polish may still come. On the other hand I like that we get a foot print in the menu and no distribution specific icon. It's what I imagine I would get pulling in Gnome in Unity Linux or in PCLOS (non-Gnome edition of course ;)). You only get two stock Gnome backgrounds at this point.
Software-wise there's both Firefox and Epiphany for browsing the interwebs, plus the usual assortment of applications of that desktop environment, Evolution, Empathy, Totem etc. I was a bit miffed to discover F-spot in there because it means Mono libraries are installed and I never figured out what F-spot is actually good for. I know of at least four other applications doing a better job, but it's easy to remove all that cruft. LibreOffice is included for your writing and spreadsheet needs (does anybody actually use Draw?).
Unfortunately fonts in the Gnome edition look fairly horrible. It's a lot better on this LCD with subpixel smoothing enabled, but even after changing to Liberation Sans in Firefox's Preferences
it didn't look quite right. I noticed that it was much better and on par with other distributions once installed (see below). The Live Install shortcut is hidden in the Tools menu, whereas in KDE it was prominently displayed on the desktop. And, no Compiz in this beta, so it may not be in the final either.
|Setting screen resolution in Gnome|
|All my network interfaces were detected and I was browsing off the CD for hours|
|la Ora decorations, here to stay|
|Mageia 1 will employ Gnome 2.32|
|Network up, memory stick auto-mounted|
I also checked out the installation process (in VirtualBox only) and came to the conclusion it's basically the same as known from the Mandriva One Live CD's. Installation took less than ten minutes choosing the auto-partition option, no need to partition or define mount points. After you have defined your location and keyboard in the beginning, it will install and set up the Grub boot loader. After this it's time to enter the root password and set up a user - done. Booting into my new VM gave me the same issue with resolution I had encountered while running from CD's. No difference to the live environment (slightly less responsive as to expect). In Gnome df resulted in 2.2GB used. Trying Epiphany choked and I reverted quickly back to Firefox. I also noticed that after installing from Live CD it booted straight into the desktop without asking for a password.
For the people asking about VirtualBox support, only the mouse pointer has seamless integration which is a feature I believe now common in newer releases. I don't think guest additions are installed and presently there is no copy/paste support, shared folders etc. Anybody wanting that would have to set it up.
Documentation and web site
Mageia has a simple clean web site that gives you in a nutshell reason for existence, i.e why it was forked, news and upcoming events related to the project and most prominently in the middle a countdown to their first official release. Blog, wiki and forum sections are all accessible from the main page and appear quite active, so new users don't need to worry about community support and unanswered questions. Given that many people here are very knowledgeable long-time Linux users and many have used Mandriva before you will likely get a response. There's also access to a calendar section detailing road map and planning milestones, team meetings and other events. You can also download an .ics format calendar file and get contact details for the developers. Quite obviously the Mageia project places a huge emphasis on transparency, perhaps at least in part as a legacy of why the fork from Mandriva was created (employees feeling shut out and subject to erratic moves), but also due to philosophy and to attract developers who want to know their contribution is being valued. Look at the About page for information on Governance, a Code of Conduct and defined values. Financial reports are also out in the open, a nice touch as the project lives from donations. Many do, but I don't know of any that publish annual financial reports.
Right now the beta feels like a rougher Mandriva, or perhaps similar to another derivative, Unity Linux, which also includes the Mandriva Control Center and is intended as a base for DIY'ers and not a full ready to go desktop, although you can certainly use it like that if LXDE is enough for you.
I did not test NFS and Samba, or if printing works. On the desktop it is shaping up quite well though, all my hardware was recognized and worked, and with a month to go I'm sure they will be able to iron out the remaining kinks. I did not run into any show stoppers, and everything seemed smooth, with problems redrawing the panel in KDE 4 being the only issue, but this is not even Mageia specific and has been a source of irritation since the very beginning. Important to resolve though for their main desktop.
If they apply a little more polish in the meantime this can be a good first release, and with the Gnome edition using 2.32.1 another friendly haven for refugees who do not want to move to Gnome Shell/3 yet, at least for another year or so. I'm just wondering how the community will split once Mandriva manage to get 2011.0 out of the door, if ever, or will it be 2012 then?
Give Mageia a try and perhaps report some bugs.