Review: Mandriva Linux 2005 Limited Edition

I've been using MandrakeLinux for several years now. It's my personal, favourite desktop. Not because it's "So Bleeding Edge" or "Damn Good" or anything, but because for me, it always just worked. I'm a tinkerer and a technogeek, but I want my workplace to work without any fuss. So that's why I've been using Mandrake since version 8.1. Time to check the latest, MandrivaLinux 2005 Limited Edition. And since I'm a Club-member, I got them early!

Okay, so I downloaded the 6 CD iso's and the DVD iso. I'm going to do a full new install. I backupped all my sensitive data (most of it is on the server anyhow) and try to install from the DVD first. If that doesn't work, I'll do the 6 CD install and I'll play disc jockey for a while.

First, the hardware:

  • Intel Celeron 1GHz
  • 512MB RAM
  • 1x NEC DVD+RW
  • SB Live!
  • Some on-board soundcard I never use
  • Netgear MA311 Wifi NIC
  • nVidia GeForce 2 GTS (I believe...)
  • 1x 18GB Western Digital hard disk
  • 1x 111GB Western Digital hard disk
  • Logitech M-BD58 Optical Mouse
  • Compaq Presario MA700 monitor
  • Compaq Presario Internet keyboard
  • Logitech Skype-approved USB headset

And that's about it, I believe.

I'll be doing a specific setup where I want the bootable part and my /home on a software raid 1, divided over the two discs. The rest, which will be about 18GB on the smaller disc an about 95GB on the large disc, I want in an LVM array for my storage needs. Preferably, I want my /home encrypted, but that's not really all that necessary.

Let's get started with the DVD.

DVD install

Well, the machine boots from the DVD and I'm getting a nice splash screen. The graphic is cute, but not really impressive (somehow I always want those graphics to be impressive). I press Enter and I get to see the splash screen again. No annoying text messages running over the screen, a major improvement for a distribution that wants to be n00b-friendly.

I'm getting the familiar Mandrake Installation screen in which I can select my language. Since I prefer English on the desktop, but do like to have spellchecking and the like for Dutch (my native tongue) available, I choose both. As usual, the list of available languages is very, very long. Even Limburgs, my local dialect, is represented. Although I doubt it if packages are actually translated in Limburgs ;-)

Next I accept the license, which is normal enough.

The following screen asks me if I want to update or install. I've had a few very bad experiences with updating Mandrake, so I prefer to reinstall. Besides, I want to change my disc layout, so I'll have to reinstall anyway. I choose Install and a US keyboard in the next screen.

Security is always an important thing in Linuxland. Most distribution (alas not all of them) implement good enough security. Mandrake always had draksec and it's implemented in Mandriva too. For other desktops I install (like my dad's) I choose Standard security. For my own machine, which will be online 24/7, I choose high. And I enter my own email-address as "Security Administrator".

Then starts the partitioning. I select "Custom disk partitioning", because of the special stuff I wanted. Let's see how it works.

First I clear all partitions. That's easy to do. The tabs on top switch between hda and hdb, my two drives. Let's think about this a bit. I'll be needing a large enough / partition, but 1GB is more than enough. Then I'll need seperate /usr and /var partition. Let's make /usr 5GB, since I usually install a lot of programs, since I like to test those often. And I think 1GB is enough for /var, since I won't be using this machine as a server of any kind. It'll mostly contain logfiles. Since I'll be using a /large directory for storage of big files, my /home will have enough space with just 10GB. That makes a software RAID 1 device of 17GB in all. But let's not forget a swap partition. I want my computer to survive a harddisk failure, so I'm putting 1GB of swap in, too. Which makes a grand total of 18GB. Exactly the size of the first disk. I'm not going to use RAID on my /tmp or /large, since those aren't all that important and it leaves more space for actually storing stuff.

First, I toggle to Expert mode. Then I select the partition of hda (the 18GB disk). "Create" will create the partition. I set "Size in MB" to the maximum (in this case, 19092) and for Filesystem type I choose "Linux RAID". I leave the rest as it is. Ok makes the partition. I switch to hdb and make exactly the same partition there (exact same size in MB and filesystem type Linux RAID). Then I go back to hda, select the red-colored partition and select "Add to RAID" in the menu underneath. The next menu is simple, I want device md0 and RAID level 1. I leave the chunk size in KiB as it is, 64. Ok. I do the same for the partition on hdb. When I select "Add to RAID", I get a menu asking me if I want to add it to md0 or to another, new device. I want to add it to md0, so that's easy, the default choice. Ok.

I noticed another, new tab when I first added the partition on hda. It's called "raid". I select the tab to see that the installation program automagically created one large ext3 partition on this new device. I don't want it, so I delete it. Damn, that was stupid, I deleted to complete RAID device. Let's see what's going on here. I repeat the process of adding the partitions to the RAID and again, there's a large ext3 partition on the raid device. Not exactly what I want... I'm checking what I can do with this partition.

Apparantly, Mandriva did something wierd, because when I say I want it mounted as /, Mandriva gives me a message that I should have a /boot, because no bootmanager kan boot from a RAID partition... That's strange. I'm not sure if this is normal behaviour for Linux software RAID and at the moment I'm not in the mood to search the 'Net for the answer. So I decide to make several RAID devices and add a /boot.

I delete the partition I already have and start anew. First, I make a small /boot partition, 50MB in size. It's going to be ext3, nothing fancy. Then I create a RAID partition for my /, 1GB in size. I do the same on hdb, exactly the same size, and I add both to the same RAID device, md0. There's that "raid" tab again. I choose it and select Mount Point /, Type ReiserFS (a lot of people bitch about Reiser, but it has served me well these last few years). That's all I change. I go back to hda and create the RAID partition for the swap, 1024MB. The same on hdb. No new tab, but when I go to the "raid" tab, I can see two partitions on there. The first one is /, so the second one will be my swap. I select it and change it to become my swap. Back to hda. I do this several times for the rest of the partitions. I get:

  • a /, 1019MB (rounding error, I presume)
  • a swap, 1019MB (same rounding error)
  • a /var, 1019MB
  • a /usr, 4.8GB (close enough)
  • and a /home, 10GB

As I told you before, I prefer to have my /home encrypted so I choose that from Options. I select "encrypted" and get a new screen. It asks me for an encryption key twice (as in, a passphrase) and the encryption algorithm. The algorithm goes from AES128 to AES2048. Although AES128 would be more than enough, I choose to use AES256. And no, I'm not giving you my passphrase :P

I still have 93GB on hdb, I'll format it as XFS and mount it under /large.

Then I choose "Done and the partitions are written to the disk and formatted. In the meantime I asked Bart about the partitioning and he tells me that it's indeed normal for a software RAID device to only contain one partition. He solves it by putting a LVM partition on it, so he can distribute that one again. And he tells me booting should be possible too, with lilo and even grub. Ah well, let's stick with the Mandriva tales for the moment.

Now it's getting interesting: Package selection. Let's go crazy, let's choose everything except LSB, servers and Gnome/Other desktop. It wants to install 3GB. That's okay, go ahead.

I'm not sure how long the installation took, since I went walking with Aagje for about 50 minutes, when I arrived back here, it was waiting for me to enter the root password. Of course I'm using a secure root password because, even though I'm using an encrypted partittion, the partition is still being mounted when I start the computer, which makes it easy for intruders to see the contents.

The next thing is making the first user, which will of course be me. I fill in some values and choose a cool penguin as my icon. I accept the user and go on. After that it seems to be installing some stuff and ends with the preperation of the bootmanager. I want it in the MBR and choose next. Again, it seems to be installing stuff, but it's not telling me what it is installing, unless I press "Details". Apparantly, it's the kernel 2.6 source. I'm not sure why it is installing that, since a normal desktop doesn't need the kernel source. Ah well.

On a positive note, it seems to be installing the nVidia drivers, which is a Good Thing©. Next, I see the summary. In it, I get the option to configure the network. Since I'm using Wifi, I need to do this by hand. It detects the RTL8139 card without a problem and here I see something that's new: The possibility to use ndiswrapper to load a windows driver in Linux. Nice. Not something I'll ever use (I rather spend money supporting vendors who sell hardware that's usable under Linux), but still nice to at least have the option available. Most of the options are obvious, I'm using DHCP, I don't need to track the netword card id, I want to start the network at boot, I'm not using WPA and I want to use the network with ESSID "stoop". Everything else I'm leaving empty.

After the network is up, I want to detect the printer that's running on my dad's computer. I'm not running a local cups server, since my dad's pc is running one. Next, the firewall. I often want to connect to my desktop machine from the internet. So I check if the firewall let's me connect to port 22. It doesn't, so I tell it to allow it.

Last but not least, let's tell the computer I'm not living in the United States, but in The Netherlands. Timezone is set automatically to "Europe/Amsterdam". Now, to check the services that are started by default. I don't have any bluetooth stuff in the machine, so I disable that. I don't use the Zeroconf networking option, so I can disable mDNSResponder and nifd. Also, I'm not using NFS, so I can disable netfs and nfslock. All done.

It asks me if I would want to install the updates. Yes, I want that. The installation program automagically brings up the network connection and contact the Mandriva website for the mirrors. Apparantly there aren't any updates, since nothing is installed. I get the option to reboot... Let's do so. It doesn't automagically eject the DVD, so I do that manually.

First boot

A new splash! Although it's the same one as you see when you start the installation. When it get's to mounting the encrypted partition, the boot process disables the splash screen and asks me if I want to mount the encrypted partition. I'll have to enter the password and all looks well.

Some things are going wrong, though. Since the boot process doesn't go back to the splash screen, I'm seeing everything that's going wrong. The first thing I see is something with the nVidia drivers. It's trying to install something, but doesn't mention what. But when the display manager is loaded later on, it starts with the nVidia logo, so I guess everything worked out alright.

Another thing that's going wrong (although it isn't really a biggy) is the network. The boot process is bringing up eth0 nicely, but wlan0, the device I configured during the installation, wasn't found. Not sure what went wrong here. I'm definitely not happy with this.

Graphics come up with MandrakeFirstTime (I always hated that program), but the first thing I do is leave for the prompt with Alt+Ctrl+F1. I log in and check the network. Indeed, it's not up. The RTL8139 I mentioned earlier isn't my wireless card, I should've known that! The Netgear MA311 uses the orinoco chipset! Apparently, Mandriva doesn't recognise it by itself, which is a real shame. I manually load the orinoco_pci driver and immediatly the network is up. I'll have to file a bug report for that.

Back to the graphics, Alt+F7. Ah yes, MandrakeFirstTime. Did I mention already I always hated that wizard? Well, let's see what it does exactly. It starts with a plug for the club. I don't need that, I'm already a member, next. I'm being congratulated for choosing Mandrakelinux. Hehehe, they haven't done a grep Mandrake * on their full codebase yet, so it seems. Next. Hm... that wasn't DrakFirstTime. It was just a splash-ish screen. Ah well. I'm getting a login prompt now. Let's log in with the user I created. There are options for choosing another Window manager and even rebooting or remote logins. Nice.

It starts KDE 3.3, all very "Mandriva"-ised, a bit too much for my taste. Hey, no DrakFirstTime! Great! Let's see, what do we have here...

The desktop is very empty, with only a Home and Welcome icon in the top left corner and a Trash in the bottom right. The taskbar is quite full, though, with from left to right the menu-button, a link to the desktop, a link to Firefox, a link to Kontact, OpenOffice.org Writer, KDevelop, Emacs (which I delete immediatly shiver), Konsole and de Mandrake Control Center. There are two virtual desktops, but that's easily changed by right clicking on the icons. The tray is quite full, too, with KwikDisk, KMix, MandrakeOnline, a network-is-up icon, a screen resize applet and the KOrganizer reminder deamon.

The desktop isn't really all that different. Sure, the background image is different, the menu is a little different, apparently Mandriva thinks a "Game Station" needs only 8 games in total, programs are brought to their newest version, but hey, nothing special here.

Nope, I'm not all that impressed. But maybe that's because almost everything just worked out of the box. Except for the network connection I had to setup myself, everything is looking good. Mandrake... Excuse me... Mandriva has a history of ease-of-use and they still live up to the image. But it's nothing special either.

And maybe that's why I like Mandriva, just because it works (most of the time). I'll report back when I've worked with it some more.

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