Another one bites the dust

In the continuing effort to find my perfect distro for this experiment I have set the goal of having finalized my choice by the end of this week. So welcome to another installment of which distro just didn’t cut it!

Looking at the remaining three candidates, Fedora, Mandriva and Linux Mint, it became apparent that the only distro I really knew anything about was Fedora. Setting Fedora aside for a moment I decided to use the power of Google to help me. I searched “Mandriva 2009 review” and “Linux Mint review” and opened the first four tabs (skipping the garbage links of course ;)) for each. This is what was said about the two of them.



While the install went perfectly well for me, other reviews around the internet are claiming some install problem, including a bizarre one where the Gnome is loaded as the default desktop. However, I am inclined to think this is either a rare bug, or something wrong done by the reviewer himself.

My take: Well that doesn’t sound very good. Hopefully that’s just a fluke.

The best part I have liked about Mandriva is that it is the only Linux distro to date… that actually runs my graphics card out of the box. Not even openSUSE or Ubuntu do that.

My take: This is excellent news, especially because my machine is also using an ATi card.

I have by now done a lot of testing, and my current impressions are slightly less positive. The hang consisted of a screen freeze when I opened five windows of Firefox. What I did not realize is that this recurred for me. I am not sure if it is the same case for others. There were also two more crashes, from unidentified causes.

My take: As a novice user who doesn’t know how to just “kill and restart X Server” this could be an issue for me…

But more so, the desktop, and plasma improvements are great. Take the time to experiment with each, they are worth it. They too, are stable.

My take: I’m not really sold on the plasma paradigm but this is still good news!

One of the most important parts of any distribution is the package management. I had not had a chance to test this earlier, but this was a big let down. I was expecting something exceptional here. What I got was an almost exact replica of the management system of the previous Mandriva, which was, let’s face it, slow and cumbersome… I had a difficult time downloading packages from online repositories – Mandriva’s package management apparently did not like my slow, albeit passable, internet connection.

My take: Installing software easily and efficiently will be key during this experiment. This person’s take on Mandriva’s package management is worrisome.


Mandriva is one of the few distributions that lets you have the  XFS file system on /boot with GRUB as your bootloader, so all you really need is SWAP and one / partition with XFS if that’s all you want.

My take: Can someone in the Linux community explain to me why GRUB isn’t able to just use all of the filesystems?

You do have to edit your Timezone and monitor/video card settings or else it may reboot with the wrong resolution and using the unaccelerated VESA driver (And set for New York’s timezone), I selected 1680 x 1050 Generic Monitor with Nvidia 6100 or later, this brings the system up with the 2d accelerated NV driver until you can get around to installing the Nvidia binary module.

My take: This seems like a lot of messing around just to set up the system time and video card!

Mandriva saw my Windows shares out of the box, and could browse them through Nautilus immediately.

My take: Playing nicely with Windows is going to be one of the things I test during this experiment so this news is promising.


Mandriva One has everything that a home PC user should require, including a graphics suite (GIMP), document viewer (Gwenview), Office suite ( 3.0), audio player (Amarok), Movie player (Totem) and latest version of Firefox web browser. Of course, I need not say that Mandriva 2009 comes bundled with KDE 4.1.2 or GNOME 2.24 depending upon the live CD you downloaded. So you get all the applications that are part of these fabulous desktop environments.

My take: Something that  I will certainly be writing about is the ‘out-of-box’ experience of the distro. How it looks, works and feels before I add additional software.

If you have any of the NVIDIA or ATI graphics cards, you are in luck as Mandriva One 2009 bundles with it the proprietary drivers for these cards and you can use the 3D acceleration capabilities out of the box without any further tinkering.

My take: Again, by the sounds of things Mandriva has all of the graphics drivers I’ll need built right in!

Linux Mint


Linux mint offer number of applications that are not available in Ubuntu. There are many pre-installed applications like multimedia codecs, drivers for Wi-fi cards etc. Moreover as Ubuntu and Linux Mint use the same software repositories, so any software that can be installed on Ubuntu is compatible with Linux Mint, hence it provides users access to a huge collection of packages and software.

My take: My experience with Ubuntu is that it supports most things right away. If Mint can improve upon that it is a welcome enhancement.

It is a Debian-based distribution and as such it is very solid and it comes with one of the greatest package managers.

My take: Debian is an excellent, stable distro and this bonus was inherited into Mint through Ubuntu.

Ubuntu as compared to Linux Mint have got very larger support community but at the same time every advice and help is also applicable to Linux Mint.

My take: Having support to fall back on is going to be key so let’s hope this statement rings true.

“It’s one of the most community driven distributions. You could literally post an idea in the forums today and see it implemented the week after in the “current” release. Of course this has pros and cons and compared to distributions with road maps, feature boards and fixed release cycles we miss a lot of structure and potentially a lot of quality, but it allows us to react quickly, implement more innovations and make the whole experience for us and for the users extremely exciting” –Linux Mint Team

My take: While this sounds like a neat idea I think I would much prefer a solid roadmap over feature creep.


I booted into it via LiveCD. Yikes! Gripes. Dunno why, but it didn’t boot at first. It just showed me a nice black wallpaper, and my cursor. GNOME was not starting. Reboot! Again, but this time, I saw the GNOME bottom panel, but blank, and no icons! WTF! REBOOT! Poof! This time, for a weird reason, everything loaded fine, and I got my desktop and all icons and all. Strange…

My take: This… doesn’t sound good

From the menu, I could see a whole bunch of applications already installed, most notably Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin, GIMP, Totem, Mplayer, Amarok, Open-Office 2.3 and Serpentine

My take: Sounds as though the basics are covered.

Regarding drivers, I was amazed. My WiFi (Intel Pro Wireless 4965) worked directly, prompting me for ESSID and the other usual settings, and minutes later, I was on Google. Same for my graphics driver (Intel GMA 965), giving me my 1280×800 native resolution. Sweet!

My take: Just like the Mandriva review this seems to point to Linux Mint being an excellent experience right from the start.

What I want to say is that Linux Mint is really great for users that want a simple and clean system, that is fast and efficient, and that works without hours of configuration.

My take: While this sounds nice for the beginning I’m not sure how well the lack of configuration options will play out as the experiment goes on.


The install was painless, as usual, and the theme was just as elegant and smooth as ever.

My take: Maybe I’m a spoiled Windows user but if the install isn’t painless why are we even bothering?

One of my biggest complaints with Linux Mint in the past was the mintMenu application. While I loved its functionality of allowing you to search for programs and documents all right when the menu is open, it never had the ability to open with a hotkey, until now. I found out by accident. I pushed the “Super” key and started typing Firefox because that is what I usually do in Vista.

My take: This is a very nice feature and one that I use on Vista all of the time.

The only other surprising feature to find was that Evolution was not the default mail client and instead Thunderbird still held that title. While I still do like Thunderbird I feel like Evolution is a step in the right direction and I love that it can not only manage all of my personal email addresses but it can also painlessly get my works Exchange email.

My take: I currently use Thunderbird so that’s a plus. However in order to get the true Linux experience perhaps I should install Evolution even if it is not the default?

Conclusion: It seems that no matter which of these two is chosen to stay on, the other could have been equally qualified. With that in mind I will have to base my decision on some other factors.

The Sweet Taste of Mint Just Isn’t Enough

This was a tough call but I am going to allow Mandriva the honour of staying in the race. While Linux Mint seems like a solid distro it also feels a lot like it’s just Ubuntu with a different theme. True there are the mintTools and other features but if the goal of this experiment is to truly dive deep into the guts of Linux and learn something new I shouldn’t be hidden from them. The small community for Mint only features and tools is also kind of troubling because they may not react as quickly to an issue, for example a Mint specific security flaw, as one of the big name distros would.

Well that’s all for now. I hope you made it through this giant post. When I wake up in the morning I’ll try and fix the spelling mistakes that are bound to be there :P. Don’t forget to tune in next time for the showdown between Fedora and Mandriva!


  1. Hahaha… This certainly is original! I’m glad you’re having a great time testing and investigating about Linux distros. Keep up the great work!

  2. I wrote the part about GRUB not being able to boot XFS, and at the time (last year), it was the case that most distributions could not boot if /boot was mounted on a root (/) partition formatted with XFS, the reasons for this are complicated and GRUB (the original GRUB) is spaghetti code and full of hacks and workarounds and hasn’t been significantly upgraded in years. Because of this, most distributions didn’t want to use the patches that let it boot up XFS, but many distributions now support XFS on /boot because the same patches are required to get it to boot up on Ext4, which a lot of distributions are pushing out to users. (Fedora is an exception to this and still needs /boot on ext3)

    Eric Sandeen, who did a lot of work on XFS while employed at Silicon Graphics (and still does manage a few patches now and then at his current position as file system engineer at Red hat, for the Fedora Project) also is responsible for a significant amount of work on Ext4, they both share a lot of features in common, though one or the other may clearly be preferable depending on your use case. Mr. Sandeen gave me the impression when I talked to him a while back that Fedora doesn’t trust those patches and that this is why it still relies on ext3 on /boot (even in Fedora 11). Most other distros use those patches, among them is Ubuntu (9.04 and later), Mandriva (has for quite a while, and OpenSuse (even though the installer will try to warn you away from XFS and get you to put the bootloader on a floppy disk, you can simply use xkill on the warning dialog).

    The patch/hack for GRUB won’t be needed for a whole lot longer as GRUB2 will eventually start replacing GRUB, Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic) development branch is using it already, and Fedora may in version 12 or 13, the rest will migrate eventually.

    The plan, at least for Ubuntu Karmic, is to not disturb the original GRUB if you already have it installed and are upgrading, so you’ll either want to format and start over when Karmic is out, or install GRUB2 yourself (careful! and make backups of your important files!)

    Basically this boils down to GRUB is old and stupid, its limitations may be hacked around, but no enterprise-quality distro will trust it in that configuration, GRUB2 ftw! 🙂

  3. PS: Mr. Sandeen also mentioned there were even a few cases that Red Hat has had to deal with where GRUB could corrupt an Ext3 partition(!)

    Given this, I doubt that Red Hat wants to spend the extra effort and money to support XFS for a few oddball customers, though the Red Hat Enterprise kernels are quite capable of loading the XFS drivers as modules, this is an unsupported state, and don’t go crying to them if something bad happens. (Also compiling a kernel yourself immediately invalidates your support contract)

    Scientific Linux is probably your best bet if you’re going to be needing to use RHEL in an unsupported state since it’s pretty much just a clone of RHEL without any paid support options. (CentOS is another option but they don’t tend to respond as fast to patches and point releases).

  4. “I pushed the “Super” key and started typing Firefox because that is what I usually do in Vista.”

    Vista puts you in that habit because the “Vista Menu” brings up all kinds of irrelevant crap that probably has nothing to do with what you wanted to do. XP and Vista allow the Classic Start Menu, which is better. Windows 7 doesn’t allow Classic Start Menu at all.

    Mandriva has fixed the KDE menu to not act all stupid and Vista-ish, and GNOME intelligently sorts out programs using a task-based approach that is quick and intuitive.

    The Windows Search in Vista and the optional Windows Search 4.0 which can be bolted onto XP are only good for sucking down CPU and RAM like they’re going out of style, and grinding the hard disk to build gigantic databases. Unfortunately some Linux distros are copycatting this, including Mandriva, with Beagle Search, but you can remove that.

    I’ve just never seen the point in having a system service gladly munching on 100+ megabytes of RAM and eating a CPU core and thrashing the disk so I can get to a document half a second faster because they’ve pushed the programs menu into a horribly constructed maze. 😛 That makes Beagle on Linux even more of a $20,000 toilet seat, because GNOME works OK without it.

  5. “Mandriva saw my Windows shares out of the box, and could browse them through Nautilus immediately.”

    Samba should make this easy in any distro, but Mandriva has the friendliest configuration tools, in Mandriva Control Center.

    As for actually mounting and using your local NTFS partition, the kernel driver is only good for reading NTFS, but there’s a user-mode driver that can write to NTFS as well, called NTFS-3g.

    You can probably imagine why this will never be in the kernel, it would invite a Microsoft lawsuit, or add an appearance of legitimacy to Microsoft’s anti-Linux patent FUD/nonsense. As far as user-space drivers go, NTFS-3g performs well, most distros include it, in Debian you have to add it.

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