Between 1999 and 2006 I worked for a little company called Electronics Boutique. It was a great place for a college kid to work because you had access to all the latest games all the time. Software came in boxes and some of it was still on 3.5″ floppy. Great game studios like TalonSoft and Looking Glass were still putting out the best stuff you ever played. And, if I could’ve directed you to the far shelf facing the cash wrap, just right of the center, about two-thirds of the way down, you’d have seen something I had a regular laugh about–Something called Mandrake Linux.
It sold for about $35, had a trade paperback novel-sized manual and in a sturdy box with a cute little picture of Tux the Penguin on the front. And that’s exactly what I thought of it at the time; It was cute. The screenshots were laughable. It actually looked a bit like the later versions of DOS. It was totally unappealing. It looked like such a trainwreck that I became obsessed with it.
We actually carried MS Office and other productivity packages there at the time. It wouldn’t run those. It wouldn’t run my favorite FPS, Quake. I was being a major ‘A’-hole.
Long story short, it stayed with me like a creeping virus. I began to see some versions of my favorite games from some company called Loki and for the love of God one of those was Quake! Linux officially had my attention. I bought that lonely copy of Mandrake and decided that maybe it was time to give this thing its day in court.
Since then, that venerable distro has seen good days and bad, getting its teeth kicked in by King Features Syndicate over the name and changing it to Mandriva. “Ooh! You’d better watch out! Prince Valiant is our IP litigator!”
Mandriva was humming along for a few years but in 2015 the development effort dissolved. Pity. But from there, the community forked and three new distros have come to carry on the Mandriva tradition–Open Mandriva, PC LinuxOS and the subject of today’s experience, Mageia.
The Mageia project’s focus, per their official website is “to build great tools for people.” Aside from that, their mission is to collaborate with other organizations and help drive innovation. They utilize an “elected governance” within their organization to build collaborative relationships and oversee the project and are open to all kinds of contributors, from financial to artwork to technical. They place added emphasis on the aesthetics. A stab in the dark on my part, but I think they want it to look as good as it performs. Nothing wrong with that.
The Failed Magician
It goes against my grain to use a virtual machine for reviewing an operating system. I really do want to get a feel for the system and as it stands I’m having to resort to the 32-bit version of Mageia to get things done and to produce a responsible review.
I began by attempting to install Mageia 5 on an old dual-core Celeron system at 1.6 GHz, 4 GB of DDR 3 RAM and a 128 GB SSD.
Installation, once everything got underway, was smooth and speedy, clocking in at around 13 minutes, which is not bad. Right out of the box, you get a choice between several, not one or two, desktop environments, a lot like the old days! Initially I chose Gnome, since I’m starting to get muscle memory accustomed to it on my Fedora setup. More on that in a bit.
The installation procedure is interesting and I can say that Mageia might be one of those environments for people who want to just get things out of the way and get to work; things like keyboard and mouse configuration, time zone, network setup and even network backups. It places it all on one page and allows the user to just go down the list and take care of business. I like that. The business guy in me, who doesn’t have time for the pretty presentation, is impressed.
As I mentioned, you can set up your online file backup during system setup. I like this a lot because it keeps people like me from procrastinating on that and it’s a second backup factor right out of the gate. Smart stuff. So far, Mageia isn’t messing around at all.
Then…I experienced a crash at the welcome screen, which is failing to render text or anything at all in the window. That does it. We’re going to have to get out the new SSD and start this up on my primary system with a Core i5 and 16 GB RAM.
A second installation on a more powerful system later, we’re situated and we have Mageia 5 installed on a more powerful laptop. Let’s get a look at some of the things that stand out most obviously.
I’m Not Happy and That Makes Me Sad
I’m not going to bore you with the yarn about my Gnome experience with Mageia 5. It was just bad from the letterboxed and limited resolution options to networking. It would constantly slip off my wireless network. It would crash and freeze constantly. Let me just say that I highly advise using one of the third group of desktop environments included, namely LXDE, Xfce, Enlightenment, or MATE.
I will also not waste your time and mine about not being able to get the 64-bit version to work. I will tell you that I’m a bit annoyed that with all the great packages that Mageia has to offer natively that it would be great to be able to take advantage of greater system resources that 64-bit affords.
My system has an Intel wireless adapter and it still seems to have some issues with it. I’m just as surprised as you but I have also heard with my own ears that this is not unusual as another well-known Linux developer has had a few issues with Intel wireless. Rather than monkey with this, I decided to use my Realtek USB wireless adapter. My connection was rock solid at that point. But I’m disappointed. After all, what if I didn’t have it? I’m sure this is something the Mageia community is working on. But that kind of thing is a dealbreaker for some and I recently dumped a beautiful Arch-derivative installation due to this fact. I don’t believe myself to be overly sensitive to this issue. From my personal perspective, I want it to perform its basic functions at the beginning. I don’t mind fixing most issues myself after the fact.
Then the Clouds Part…
MATE is one of my favorite lightweight desktop environments and it proved to be the breakthrough I needed for a good Mageia experience. It proved to be an amazing desktop environment for Mageia; and maybe some of that is coming from my previous hardship, not to keep bringing it up. But the experience of having fun with my OS is welcome. Exploration into the packages included in Mageia is like Christmas morning.
But waiting for startup and shutdown is not like waiting for the holidays at all. It’s lightning fast, with startup on my system taking roughly 20 seconds. Shutdown was even quicker. The native experience of Mageia is designed to cater to a variety of different people. LibreOffice 5 is comprehensive, containing the ancillary apps such as LibreOffice Math and Draw, not just the core components of Writer, Calc and Impress. Under the Sound and Video menu I was stunned to find OpenShot Video Editor. Wow! I don’t recall seeing that as a native of any distribution I’ve tested. (I need to explore more; I know.) Dia Diagram Editor is included in the Graphics menu, as is GIMP, one of my personal favorites.
The Internet menu is also full of goodness with Filezilla, Firefox and Remote Desktop Viewer. I’m surprised to see Ekiga Softphone, a telephony package that, of course, allows you to make phone calls from your system as well as video conferencing.
Mageia 5 also includes a handy Startup Applications Preferences utility, allowing you to cherry-pick the apps you want to be present from the get-go. This includes the ability to add and remove applications, utilities and processes that aren’t native to the default list. So you can configure your ideal initial startup for convenience and clarity. Sometimes anyone can have those days when stress levels are high. Rather than scrambling to find the app you need to do your job, it’s right there. Amazingly, this didn’t have a huge impact on startup, although there was a noticeable difference upon adding applications such as OpenShot to the list.
Sorcerers’ Apprentices Welcome
The urpmi command line tool is an interesting one to study. It’s a bit terse compared to other, more popular distributions. However, it’s highly functional and methodical. Fore example, there is the immense Mageia Wiki (which is a reason to check out Mageia in-and-of itself). Say, for example, you want to add a software repository. The command requires the parameter of the full URL of the repository; a little more work on your part. But I can’t help but think this takes the responsibility of researching repositories out of the hands of Mageia and gently encourages the user to research these repositories to determine whether or not they’re trustworthy. Honestly, being a guy who loves hard truth, I can’t help but feel humbled and corrected by this. Here’s an example:
urpmi.addmedia nameofmedia ftp://ftp.site.com/path/to/Mageia/RPMS
How many other distributions offer a good measure of caution before adding any package (termed media on planet Mageia) or package repository into the house? It may seem like it’s pushing you around. But evidently, the Mageia community believes this is good for you. I can’t argue with that. Therefore, I strongly encourage anyone who decides to spend time in or commit to Mageia to peruse the wiki. It is exceedingly easy to read and I’m positive that it rivals others in the amount of content. The community has made a great effort to treat Mageia as though it’s the last Linux distribution on earth. That’s not only diligent, but it’s how it should be done.
The Return of the King?
Well, let’s not get carried away. I’m still aggravated that I had to go through so much of what should have worked in order to get to what actually worked. I confess that I’m not the most intrepid of tinkerers when it comes to configuring an OS and making it work no matter what. I’ve done that with CentOS on one of my personal servers. It was fun but, for what it’s worth, it’s an overrated experience. My experience with Mageia 5 was intended to be a workstation experience. That’s something that should, for the most part, work right out of the box.
I felt a bit blindsided by the difficulties I had with Gnome, one of the most common and workable desktop environments in all of Linuxdom. What perhaps saved this experience was my turning to MATE for help and I’m grateful as it works. Therefore, I believe it should be one of the more prominent and recommended choices during the system setup process.
However, once my networking and desktop hurdles were cleared, I felt like things had come full circle between my earliest Linux experience with Mandrake to today with Mageia 5. I’m a little upset with it because, well, I guess it reminds me of myself in some ways; it’s smart, eager and full of potential and can deliver once it gets going. But there are some stumbling blocks out of the gate at times. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world of reviewers. An OS is for users. The difference between the two is that a reviewer will often give second and even third chances. A user will often cut bait after the first bad experience.
That said, I am very confident, given my later experience with Mageia 5 that we are in for one treat after another as its community keeps making efforts to making it better. That’s an encouraging thought for everyone.