PCLinuxOS to Mandriva Spring 2008.1

I posted an entry here a month or so ago about my switch from Linux Mint to PCLinuxOS. There was good, bad, and definitely very ugly, which, to be fair, was probably due to the non-standard hardware of my Thinkpad r51e. In the many comments on that article, someone suggested that I should try Mandriva, which uses KDE and on which PCLinuxOS is based. So I did. Another new distro, another day …

I can’t remember what prompted the switch. I think I was having some minor problem with printing, which if you mess with your system as much as I do, is only to be expected. Anyway, I had a CD of Mandriva 2008, so instead of fixing the printing problem, I decided to change operating system. In the topsy-turvy world of Linux, these can both take around the same time.

I have my /home directory mounted on a separate partition, which makes the process of trying all this stuff out pretty easy: the basic idea is to install the new OS over the old one in a single partition, and then re-mount the /home directory to replace the one the installer created. Thus all your settings and data are preserved. That was the theory last time. However the PCLinuxOS installer proved impenetrable, and it actually re-formatted my entire hard disk, despite my instructions to the contrary. But I’d backed up all partitions beforehand (using gparted live CD) so all was calm.

This time the Mandriva Spring 2008 installer handled things a bit better, although it was awkward to use. Having deleted the partition I wanted to use, the “Use Free Space” option forced me to reboot and then tried to use the whole disk. Bad. The “use existing partition” option made some very bad guesses about how I wanted to do things. I ended up using Custom which although it made some bad choices, eventually allowed me to retain my two existing data partitions and install the new OS on a single partition (plus swap partition). It was a struggle, but I got there.

My initial boot suggested that the APIC issues I’d been experiencing previously had disappeared. I was able to boot with no extra flags, and everything seemed to work. [Later that proved not to be the case and I had to use the “noapic” boot flag, which I could actually do from within the Mandriva Control Centre GUI.] Also right on first boot I was able to see that the wireless worked right out of the box, and I was now correctly able to shutdown and hibernate, which I’d never been able to do with PCLinuxOS. So far so good.

I did the initial software update, and although rpmdrake froze at first, once it had updated itself, it went ahead and got the other 144 packages. The download here in the Philippines was slow, but I’ve come to expect that. As I’m using a 1024 screen, I changed all the desktop fonts to 9 point and that made things look better. I then added some software (ssh server, truecrypt, keepass, Thunderbird, and Skype — my essentials) and took stock of things.

Here are some things I think Mandriva and/or KDE has got right.

  • Kopete as an IM client works well and is unobtrusive. I’ve never really liked the big looming icons of Pidgin, and it doesn’t support video, so Kopete wins big time here.
  • Bluetooth seems to work immediately. I had problems with PCLinuxOS and Ubuntu 7.10. Still haven’t tried using it with OpenSync, but the management tools on KDE are streets ahead of Gnome.
  • Wireless worked without any issues.
  • I like using a root user instead of sudo. Just a personal preference.
  • PrinterDrake was awesome. I plugged in an HP all in one printer/scanner/fax, and it was recognised. PrinterDrake went off and installed all the drivers, including a utility to check ink levels and perform cartridge maintenance. The distribution actually surpassed Windows in this respect.
  • I like K3B as a CD burner. I normally install it on Gnome as well, but it runs much better natively under KDE.

Here are some things I wasn’t so keen on.

  • The truecrypt in the repository didn’t work for me. They call this realcrypt due to licensing issues and they’re still on version 4.3. In the end I went to the truecrypt site and compiled my own version 5.x, and this worked fine, although it was a bit of a hassle to get going (I had to install build-utils and sudo using the package manager in order to compile it and get it to run). In addition to get it to work for a non-root user I had to edit the sudoers file, add myself to the truecrypt group, and then pass my uid and gid to truecrypt in the mount options. A bit fiddly, but we go there in the end.
  • Had some problems with Audio in Skype. In the end I just had to disable pulse audio, whatever that is, which I could do from Mandrake Control Centre.
  • I prefer OpenOffice, so I got rid of Kspreadsheet, Kwordprocessor, Kpresenter and all that nonsense. What’s with this Kprefix anyway? It wears thin kquickly. I saw a post recently somewhere suggesting that instead of writing a separate Koffice, the developers should just help out OpenOffice. Makes sense to me …
  • xrandr / krandr still doesn’t work, meaning I can’t set up an exernal monitor. They will mirror, but I can’t set up dual head. Expect another post on this sometime.

Executive summary: There were less problems than I’ve experienced with any other distro on this particular (admittedly troublesome) laptop. But I still haven’t tried Ubuntu 8.04 on it properly yet.

8 thoughts on “PCLinuxOS to Mandriva Spring 2008.1”

  1. Hi there, thanks for posting your impressions of Mandriva!

    On your negative points:

    TrueCrypt – yeah, we cop to that. Honestly, there just aren’t any maintainers with the time and expertise to update the package at the moment. We will try and get it done before 2009 comes out, though.

    Skype and PulseAudio – that’s a known issue, covered in the Errata: http://wiki.mandriva.com/en/2008.1_Errata#No_sound_in_Skype . It affects all distros, as the problem is in how Skype uses ALSA (executive summary: badly).

    KOffice – KOffice is officially part of KDE, so we include it in our default KDE install.

    xrandr – if you have an Intel chipset you are likely to find this in all distributions. You need to make a single manual modification to xorg.conf to make it work. The basic procedure is documented here: http://wiki.mandriva.com/en/2008.1_Eee_External_Monitor – that’s written specifically for the Eee, but you can generalize the instructions logically to apply to any system with an Intel adapter. The technical issue here is that the Intel driver is not yet capable of dynamic framebuffer allocation; meaning that you have to allocate enough memory for however big a display you want when X starts up (that’s what you’re actually doing by setting a Virtual line in xorg.conf , as the instructions lay out). By default the driver will allocate enough framebuffer space for the size of the largest display, which is why you can’t use dual head.

    The driver could default to 2048×2048 framebuffer, of course, or we distros could customize this. The downside of that is that it eats about 50MB of RAM, which is why we don’t.

    The driver developers tell me that dynamic framebuffer allocation (meaning that the framebuffer can simply be made bigger when you instruct xrandr to span to a second display, and all will work hunky-dory) should show up around the end of this year.

    Thanks again for posting your impressions 🙂

    Adam Williamson

  2. And thanks for your comments … actually very impressed that someone from Mandriva got back to me here in my very own little corner of cyberspace. And maybe a little scared … I’d better watch who I’m dissing … 🙂

    KDE — I understand there’s nothing much you can do about what is included in that. OpenOffice is just a personal preference, and at the end of the day it isn’t really much hassle to uninstall a couple of apps and replace them.

    xrandr is a strange one. It usually works on my Thinkpad R50e, but not on my R51e, so I think there must be some odd hardware in here. Furthermore, on the R51e it hasn’t worked with Ubuntu 7.10, PClinuxos 2007, Mandriva 2008, but *does* work when I boot off an Ubuntu 8.04 Live CD. Just haven’t the time or inclination to re-install again right now. The fact that it works on one distro but not another indicates that its not a problem with xrandr or drivers per se, but a difference in how the distros handle the same hardware. If that makes sense.

    The symptom is that whereas with the three distros which don’t work, I only get one output identified (as identified by the xrandr command), which is “default”. With Ubuntu, I get the “VGA” and “LVDS” outputs as advertised. Once these appear, then everything else works OK.

    I tried the process outlined for the EEE PC, but that didn’t work for me. So I guess the key for me would be identifying where Ubuntu’s xrandr and Mandriva’s xrandr are different.
    Does that shed any light at all?

    Frankly its not a deal breaker, but I just like to get things working!

  3. Hmm, and one more thing I just remembered. When I set the Virtual line to eg 1024+1024 x 768 I do get the Virtual screen. However its just a double-width virtual screen on my laptop screen which I have to scrrrroolllll from one side to the other. Still no VGA or LDVS noticed when I issue xrandr. I think this uber-wide screen is mirrored on the external monitor, even though it isn’t detected by xrandr. Perplexing.

  4. Again, the difference is in the driver and not in xrandr.
    Ubuntu 8.04 is using Xserver 1.4.1git whereas Mandriva is using xserver which is older.

    you may want to try the intel driver x11-driver-video-intel-2.3.2-1mdv2008.1.i586.rpm which is available in the main/backport media.
    You will be able to find Firefox 3 there too.

  5. Fabrice is right. If you don’t see the extra output on xrandr, it means there’s a problem with the driver’s handling of your particular Intel chipset. As he says, try the newer version of the driver in the /main/backports repository – it might help.

  6. I’m running 2008.1 Mandriva on my Dell Inspiron 1525 laptop, with a DVD burner, bluetooth and 4965 Intel wireless-N card. The burner works great with K3B, but bluetooth and support for the 4965 are so-so. I suspect it is the driver issues at time of Spring’s release. The only real problem that I have, my sound card went crazy, and started making squealing sounds. The solution that I found is a strange one – plugging anything into the headphone port solves the sound problem, the sound card shuts up. I thought that maybe the installer failed to properly detect my sound card, but a reinstall did me no good in that regard.

  7. Hi Alex,
    If sound is the only problem, then you might try disabling pulse from MCC.

    As you mention you’re also having problems with wireless and bluetooth, maybe you should try booting with the noapic option. This has cleared up most of my Linux hardware problems in the past. Well try it at least once if you haven’t already.

    From Mandrake Control Centre (aka Configure your Computer), go to Boot > Configure your Boot. Open the Advanced pane, and uncheck the box by Enable APIC. Reboot. See if things are better or worse. You can re-enable it in the same way, or also by editing the grub command line.

  8. OK, this is insane … I tried updating the driver using the one from backports. Nothing much seemed to change. No more options on xrandr, which still doesn’t detect the VGA and LDVS ports. xorg.conf looked the same.

    I randomly searched around the Internet and found a reference to a utility called aticonfig. I tried this as root, and got a _load_ of options. I tried
    aticonfig –verbose –initial=dual-head
    Which wrote me a new xorg.conf and backed up the old one. Restared X and the new monitor came up perfectly. I now have a dual head configuration.

    The strange thing is that xrandr still doesn’t know about the VGA and LDVS ports. Krandr seems to know about the second screen and will let me choose the resolution, but not in the expected way: it has a menu item at the top called Screen 2 where I can change resolution and Refresh Rate.

    Glad to have got this solved, but still don’t really understand it …

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