Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Mandriva 2007 - Finally Functional & Free Linux From France

When I first got in the Linux movement back in the late 1990's, I went out and purchased a couple of distros to play with. The first of these was Mandrake-Linux and I was always happy with how Mandrake worked, especially on the installer side of the house. But as with anything, as soon as anyone makes any money at anything, someone sues and so the name Mandrake is being tied up with some silly lawsuit about comic strips, magicians or something or another so a while back Mandriva was born. So for many years I always had one or two versions of Mandriva or whatever you wanted to call it laying around, installed on something or another. Even as they emerged from Bankruptcy I had little issue with the group, but then as with many others in Linux, I had a change of heart.

Well, my first issues with Mandriva happened in 2005, and really started when they purchased a company call Conectiva and started re-organizing and eventually early in 2006 they pretty much fired their Founder, Gael Duval. Now I don't know Mr Duval from Adam, but I read a lot of what I saw on the internet about this because I am a paying subscriber to their Mandriva Club, so I want to know what my money is going to. What we in the community (I personally think that the entire community idea came from Mandrake community, but that is just my two cents) saw as a personal slap in the face, Duval saw as a sign that the company was looking more to corpo
rate customers and profit and away from that which was more involvement from the community. As he quoted "feeling is that they are focusing more and more on the corporate market. Mandriva is more and more looking like a standard company, which is trying to sell services to fortune 500 companies, abandoning its initial roots. But at the same time, it's keeping on released geeks products. This sounds like a fuzzy strategy."

So like many I tried to cancel my membership only to be told I was stuck until November. So quite honestly if this would have come out next month, I wouldn't have ever even tried it. But just like many other things in life, once you move yourself away from the politics that many don't really care about, and you look at this distro that took over one year to put together, you see that they really did things right in many, many ways. I can honestly say that if I wasn't so upset about all the crap ongoing in France that I would be jumping for joy on this package. For the newbie who doesn't want to know about those things, welcome to Linux and a system that will work beyond all your expectations.

Let's head to France and see what is happening, shall we?


Download Here
Kernel - Kernel 2.6.8 (and various fixes from 2.6.9rc)
Desktop - KDE 3.2.3 / GNOME 2.6 main
FAQs -
Cost - There are two FREE!!! One LIVE Version and the the Community Free. Powerpack with all Proprietary features sets is $40 Discovery, $76 Powerpack, $184 Office (wow!!!)
Special Features - Full media support including Licensed LinDVD, XGL/AIGLX Version for ATI/Nvidia, and Cedega Gaming engine

Nitty Gritty:
Installation ( )

If you want a Free Linux (as in Beer), Mandriva has two offerings; Live and Free. The Live version is a Live CD that can be installed. The Free version is 4 CDs that can only be installed. Each of these have their downsides, with the Live CD being pretty much static, which cannot be upgraded very easily and the Free version not having any proprietary packages. Both are very viable packages, but the goodies everyone really wants is only found in the powerpack. If you want to try before you buy, I would recommend the Live version to check hardware compatibility, but honestly the Discovery version is great for the newbie, while the others really don't make much sense. Compare this to the other distros of similar offerings and this would be like SLED which runs $50/year.

For me, being a Club member one of the perks (and now really the only one left) is that I get to download the Powerpack DVD iso. So what I am reviewing here is the Powerpack version. There are many excellent reviews of the Free versions that can be found on Distrowatch.

When you launch the DVD you get the standard boot message that defaults to boot from Hard Drive, so you do only have 10 seconds to select your Installation option.

This screen looks like so many others, so not much to add here.

I will try English this time. Below the license is pretty long, so I didn't check it all out.

This is where you will default your firewall settings, which for most people will just be the default setting of High. Just be careful when adding NIC cards later because your firewall defaults can be tough.

The partitioning tool is pretty simple yet also very misleading. Here in my install on VMWare all I have is to choose from is Free Space or Custom. Now, don't let custom fool you, all it really does for you is start a graphical partition tool. If you need one, or you need to select what partition type you wish to have, I would suggest going that route. If you have Windows on your machine, you will also get the option for resizing that partition to make room.

Since my partition was empty, I didn't have to setup anything. Just know this; if you use the option to use existing Linux partitions WITHOUT deleting them, you will get to select the partitions you want for use of root, home, use, var, etc...or you can also create custom partitions for existing distros like other Linux or Windows. But one thing you won't be able to do is change the partition type, so you better be happy with what you have. If you have Linux partitions already and you know your way around a graphical tool, I would strongly suggest using the Custom Option and forgo the simple ones.

The next step will allow you to design your packages installed with this process. You can go with the default, which selects KDE, leaves off Game System (but wasn't Cedega a selling point????) and LSB (Not really needed, more of a throw back to older Linux issues) so you can select these and they have little impact to the overall storage requirements. You may want to select Gnome on older systems or even IceWM as they are not as memory intensive as KDE. I personally prefer Gnome, but some people live and die by KDE, a more Windows Like environment that tends to attract more user comfort and less learning time. One can also select the Individual Package Selection, which then will break each of these down even more, but if you really are that silly, I don't think Mandriva is for you anyway. Go back to Slackware people, this is for newbies!!!!!

This is where you would do package by package from each of the main categories...Good Luck!!!

I missed the last window which just double checks what you want to do before installing, but once you do, you get the wonderful slide show that explains what is going on in the new packages, or you can go to detailed mode (boring). Overall this wasn't too painful. The key is to keep ahead of the process of partitions by using the Custom tool, which really should be called Graphical Partition tool.

This does seem a bit odd to me, but I like the Root password before the install, but that is just me. Just make sure you remember what it is folks. If you want to use this on a network, you can also change the password Authentication Method on the bottom there, but I have not tried this.

Here is where you setup your user account and please don't skip and run as root. That is by far the silliest thing ever. I try to liken that to leaving signed blank checks lying around town, then expecting people not to use them.

I do wish they would get some better icons, oh well. I do like the blue, did I ever mention that is my favorite color?

The next screen is networking but I am going to skip that here and discuss in more detail below. If you need networking immediately you can go down and check it out there. Wireless people will not be disappointed.

Now, here you are finished after adding the user. You can see a couple of links here, but don't worry, you will be able to get there soon.

Now oddly, there is a wizard here to setup Mandriva Club, Mandriva Online and Mandriva Expert. If you don't know what these are, well basically it is the support arm of Mandriva. If you buy the boxed version you get typically a one month Free to silver club, online and access to Expert. If you are a silver member you get this support for one machine. If you want to set this up later, you can skip it, but I was going to test my Silver account and see if this works.

On the second screen I setup if I have

If you bought the box set, inside will be an install key. If this is from a downloaded ISO, then you have no key unless you purchased the full download from mandriva store. You really don't need the key to run, so skip it if you have any doubt.

Ok, this states that everything registered successfully. I know it says that but later we will find out something different.
Oh well, it was fun and nice graphics...more blue!!!!!

The next screen you will see is the login. By default the system selects GDM, but honestly I don't really care much either way from KDM or GDM. One gives you only the name then after enter you get the password.

What you do care about is the Session, which is where you will decide if you want to use Gnome, KDE or run Drake3D. Drak3D is what will enable XGL or AIGLX, which does require the installation DVD/CD-ROM.

Starting (

One of the big marketing aspects of Mandriva 2007 is the inclusion of XGL and AIGLX. This is easily done via the login page by selecting Session and then Selecting Drake3D. Now, you need to have the install disc nearby for this as two packages will need to be loaded. Once they are loaded you will get a screen that will allow you to select XGL or AIGLX. The main difference between these two is that XGL runs on top of the desktop enviroment as a program while AIGLX is more embedded and native, requiring less memory and working a bit smoother for most experiences. Now that is just my understanding and simple way of putting those too, so if there is more, which I am sure the frothing fans of both understand by heart, please do some research on your own for that, but try not to worry too much about what I state. Either gives you the eye candy appeal that you are looking for, try them both and see which one works the best for you.

My issue was that I did install and run Drake3D but for some reason I was not able to enable the 3D features. Instead everything was greyed out. Now, I know that this works as I also have SLED installed and it is functioning fine, but it seems that Mandriva is too reliant on the supposed "database" of working hardware that exists somewhere. This is rather disappointing for me as I love these features for both their fun and function both. I was able to turn these on with my desktop which did not work with SLED, which is both ironic and frustrating at the same time.

The one aspect of Mandriva that I always enjoyed, which I think sets Mandriva above other Linux distros for newbies, is its fantastic Control Center. The organization of items, the ease of getting things done and the descriptions associated with icons makes managing this Linux distro both easy and flexible.

Now, previously I mentioned that you could install network drivers during installation, which is awesome, but I wanted to really include this here to focus on the after the install support that the control panel offers. This will be of special interest to Laptop users trying to install network drivers for WiFi.

Generally speaking Wireless cards can be installed two ways; include Linux drivers in the kernel and support native, or use some sort of additional software that uses windows drives to run within Linux such as NDISWRAPPER or FWCUTTER. There are other tools out there that are commercial, such as Linuxant that do the same thing, but you have to pay for the right to use and that just doesn't make much sense to me.

Once in the control panel to configure a wireless card, one would simply need to select the Network & Internet tab. Now this may confuse people who try and go to the Hardware tab, where one would expect to configure all hardware, but in the case of Network cards, they do fall under Network & Internet. Go figure. From that tab, the user needs to select 'Setup a new network interface (LAN, ISDN, ADSL,...)

Now, this leads you to choose which type of network card you wish to configure. Please note that this is the exact same dialog you would have seen in the installation, so if you are reading before install, you can follow along from here to do the exact same thing. I just can't do screen captures during install very well except via VMWare, which then doesn't allow for wireless card setup. Just select Wireless and then Next.

The next step will show you what wireless devices the system knows about and also offers you the option to use NDISWRAPPER. Now, the cool thing is that for my Broadcom BCM94306 built in PCI card, the system is already trying to use the fwcutter module associated with the compiled driver that is half baked. You see, there is a kernel module called bcm43xx installed but it isn't complete. FWCUTTER allows the proprietary data from the windows driver to complete the portion that it doesn't have. Now the down side of FWCUTTER from what I have read is that it doesn't support 54 Mbps, only 11 Mbps mode of operation. If you are working on a LAN this might be an issue, but at home on your own WiFi, your network is only as fast as your internet connection. At most, with Cable, one can hope to burst up to 12 Mbps, so having 11 Mbps wouldn't kill you, just keep you capped. If you want and/or need the 54 Mbps then you need to use NDISWRAPPER option here.

Since I love my Cable modem and its bursts to 12 Mbps, I want my 54 Mbps speed I am used too. So I choose the Install via NDISWRAPPER option which leads me to the next screen. Here it will show you the currently installed drivers to select from or the option to install a new one. If you want to install a new one, what you need are the Windows drivers assoicated with your card, specifically two files, the *.INF and the *.SYS files. If you don't have these on your old windows partition under drivers, or on a recovery disc, the go to here and there is a great repository on the ndiswrapper wiki where most common drivers can be found. If you can't find it there, do a Google search, usually with words like "chipname vendor windows XP driver file download" and you will generally be able to find them.

When you select to add a file, you will be prompted for the directory location and then select the *.INF file associated. Since my system is 64 bit, there are two broadcom options for me, with the bcmwl5a being 64 bit. On this install, which was a 32 bit version of Mandriva I have to select the bcmwl5 version and select OK.

If the driver is accepted by the loader, the next screen allows you to input your wireless settings, such as SSID, encryption mode, Operating mode and your encryption key. If you know what these are, then input them now. If you don't know what these are, then why are you following along???? You obviously have not set up a wireless network before, so you might want to work on that first, get these settings and come back. We will still be here.

Once you set up your wireless network settings you need to set up your IP configuration, which typically should be at boot time with DHCP. If you use Static IPs, then enter the IP here via Manual Configuation.

If you select DHCP, the next window sets up where you get the address from. 99.9% of you will get this from the DHCP server itself, while the 0.1% of you setting this up for a corporate work environment may have DNS servers in your system to allocate. If you don't know what these are, you can look on someone else's machine with 'ipconfig /all' in windows command prompt or via your properties in your network card.

The last main step in setting up any network card is to select when the drivers will be installed and initiated and who can perform install operations of the network card. Allowing Access Point Roaming is important if you are operating the laptop in a work type environment where you could move through the building(s) and go from one access point to another. If you don't enable this, you might get onto one Access Point but as you go to a meeting you will lose coverage. Enabling is not much of a security risk so when it doubt, just click. Allowing users to manage is a small security risk, so I wouldn't do this unless you really want too.

Once you complete the configuration, then back in the control panel under Network & Internet, select the Wireless connection Icon. This will basically allow your device to scan and lock onto wireless networks. If you are using the one configured in the setup, this should automatically get found and lock in and provide you with an IP. The icon in the tool bar should change to the signal stregth icon and a pop up window with the network name and IP address should appear.

If you travel and need to find a new network, this Network connection tool scans and allows you to configure and connect to other wireless networks.

If you select to use FWCUTTER and any half baked drivers such as bcm43xx, then what you need to select when browsing for the driver is the *.SYS file instead of the *.INF file. Once you get past that selection, configuring the card is the same. Again, the key difference is that the device will run only at 11 Mbps.

My one main grip with Mandriva 2007 at this time is the Kiosk feature, or the ability to automatically manage key updates and security patches. This is key to running any OS and when working, is an excellent tool. We ran the wizard as part of the setup, but as you can see in my screen shots there is an icon in the tool tray that shows an orange question mark. If there was an update to be found, there would be a Red Check mark and when up to date the check mark would be Green. The question mark means my system is not configured, not in communication with the server, or just plain broken. In an email to the address listed when I clicked on the Question mark, I got the following reponse,

> keep getting errors when trying to register my new install of 2007.
> When I run the wizard it says completed successfully.


The Mandriva 2007, Kiosk and Online services cannot work together for the
moment. We already
know this bug and our development teams are trying to fix it as soon as
possible. Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience.

To manage your Mandriva account please visit:

Mandriva Online website:

Thank you for your interest in our products.

Best regards,

Sophie - Mandriva online

Well thanks Sophie. Seems that the service doesn't work with the new software but a fix will be coming. However, there is a ton of irony there, in that the tool to tell me there is an update is broken, so how will I know to go and get my update when the update is available?????

Other than that, everything is working extremely well with my system. I was able to install Wine and get my poker up and running. The graphics drivers that came with the package for ATI and NVIDIA both work well. I truly feel that I have an OS that is up and running and don't need any support from any windows related pieces. Now if I only could turn on XGL/AIGLX for my laptop, and get my updates that I am paying $12 a month for, I would be claiming victory for Linux worldwide.

Bonus Stuff ( )

The Bonus stuff with Mandriva is second to none. First, you get XGL/AIGLX included. Then you add in Cedega for the gamers out there. All the packages you want are included; Productivity, Programming, Entertainment and Communication. And finally someone actually included a licensed DVD player in the install without having to take the time to go and download or pay additional funds for third party support. All American users will be happy to know they are not violating one of the most odd interpretations of legislation ever.

All in all, this is by far the best combination of packages I have seen, where there isn't just crap crammed into the install discs to impress, but rather a complete set of OS and software that will satisfy any users needs up front and allow for complete migration away from MS for Desktop and Laptop users both. Extrêmement bien cuit Mandriva, Extrêmement bien cuit.

Overall ( )

I am honestly pleased to give this package a 5 Pennie review. After my years of frustration with politics combined with poor policies about subscriptions, payment and service, I am able to overlook all of that and really tout this as the first commercial Linux distro that lives up to its own hype and the hype of reviewers world wide. Much has been written about the time it took Mandriva to get this out, taking almost double what others see as a 6 month cycle, but similar to MS and Vista, Mandriva seems to have taken its time to try and get this right rather than just keep pumping out a package, just to say that there is a new one out. This is truly worth the money and I would recomment anyone looking for a Linux package that will work, try the Free version first and once you know this does indeed work for you, invest a little and get the Discovery pack, which will suit most every users' needs and allow you to enjoy Linux the way it should be: Full of Function and Flash while keeping you in control of your hardware.

Sorry this took so long to publish. My laptop decided half way through to melt itself into a paper weight and after a trip to the Best Buy Warranty service center, a new mother board and a brief session trying to keep the monitor working, I was able to finally get back to work and complete my review. As always, if you appreciate what you have read here, or any Linux site for the matter, please remember that Free as in Speech is not the same as Free as in Beer. We need your help in supporting what we do, so please if you can donate here by the link below or simply click one of the adds you see. We truly enjoy bringing our view of various Linux distros and helping newbies get on track with their hopes of becoming free of MS and Patent Lawyers, so anything you can do to help will be greatly appreciated.


No comments: