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.