Mageia 5, released on Friday and over a year in the making, is familiar territory to those of us who cut our Linux teeth on Mandriva back in the days when it was called Mandrake. That’s not to say that the distro is old or outdated, far from it, but any Mandrake old-timer will instantly recognize the roots of this distro.
That’s a good thing. In this age when the distro gene pool is mostly based on two families, either Debian/Ubuntu or RHEL/Fedora, it’s good to see some other branches of the Linux family tree thrive.
Of course, there are others: SUSE and Slackware come immediately to mind, as does PCLOS, which also started life as a Mandrake fork, but within a release or two had moved so far in its own direction that it was no longer associated with its parent distro. This seems fitting, since Mandrake itself started as a clone of Red Hat, but within very few releases no longer resembled dear ol’ dad at all — other than the fact that they both relied on RPM packages.
As soon as I heard that Mageia 5 was available, I decided to try it on for size. I downloaded the “live CD” version, which weighs in at just over 700MB (a DVD version with more apps is also available), and loaded it onto a thumb drive. After that, I booted it on our Symple PC test machine, which has 2GB RAM and a 2.8GHz dual core processor, and ran from the thumb drive just long enough to make sure the USB Wi-Fi dongle was recognized by the OS. When it was, I clicked to install Mageia’s latest and greatest on the hard drive.
Installation was pretty standard fare and quick. Within about ten to fifteen minutes, and a dozen or so clicks, Mageia 5 was up and running. Unlike many modern distros, Mageia’s installer prompts to create both a root password and regular user account.
I chose the KDE version of the distro for a couple of reasons. First, Mandrake was always a KDE based distro, so KDE is in Mageia’s DNA. The second reason was because KDE has a reputation for being a resource hog, and I wanted to see how it would do on a machine with somewhat limited resources.
The verdict: It does just fine. I’ve been running Mageia on the test machine for two and a half days now, with nary a glitch or any nasty little bugs raising their heads. It’s stable and fast. As a matter of fact, I’m writing this review and editing all of the screenshots on it. The main trouble I’m having? The keys on the old keyboard I’ve connected to this machine keep sticking — which, of course, has nothing to do with Mageia.
A look inside Mageia 5 from the distro’s website:
- Low-level: Kernel 3.19.8, X.org 1.16.4
- Toolkits: Qt 5.4.0, GTK+ 3.14.8
- Desktop environments: KDE 4.14.3, GNOME 3.14, Cinnamon 2.4.5, MATE 1.8.0, XFCE 4.12, LXQt 0.9.0, Plasma 5.1.2
- Applications: LibreOffice 184.108.40.206, Firefox ESR 31.7.0 (will soon be updated to Firefox ESR 38.x)
Again, anyone who used Mandrake back in the early years of the 21st century would immediately recognize Mandrake as being part of this distro’s lineage. The old Mandrake/Mandriva Control Center is here, now called Mageia Control Center, with much the same look and feel it had back in the day. It’s actually pretty nifty, a one stop shop for handling nearly all system configuration needs, from setting a firewall to networking with other computers — be they Windows or Linux — to manually configuring any stubborn hardware that refuses to plug and play.
The Control Center has been updated, of course. Mageia has kept up with the times, and a lot of tasks that once had to be handled manually are now automated — just as with other mainstream distros. And these days, it’s not a big deal to be able to configure a Linux box through a graphical interface — meaning the Control Center no longer has the “wow” factor it once had.
There’s one area I’ve found, however, where a Control Center tool could use a little updating, just from a usability standpoint. For some reason, the graphical application installer doesn’t come preloaded with Mageia’s repositories. Although installing them is a simple one-click process, it’s not very intuitive. I spent five or six minutes trying to figure this out, then easily found the answer online.
I’m a longtime Linux user, so if I experienced a little bump, how much more difficult is this for new users?
But that’s just a little thing — and I’m not here to nitpick.
Other than that, I’ve found Mageia 5 to be a fine, easy-to-use distro with plenty of spit and polish, a distro I’d have no trouble recommending to anyone. Indeed, it would be near the top of my list of recommendations for anyone who’s looking for a distro that isn’t derived from Ubuntu/Debian or Fedora/Red Hat. It’s stable and well maintained, with a strong user community.
Is it beautiful? I suppose that depends on who you ask. There’s no doubt that most commercial artists would approve of the sparkle and eye candy, but to me the beauty of any Linux distribution is in how it functions — it’s stability and speed, as well as the ease in which it gets me from start to finish when I’m working on a project. By that measure, this is about as beautiful as a distro can be.
I also must give Mageia’s user community a big thumbs up — especially in the support they offer to new Linux users.
I subjected the Mageia community to a test yesterday, just to see how they react to new Linux users with limited technical expertise. I opened an account on the user forums under the name “crazynewbie,” and asked a question about an issue I was sure they’d covered many times before, echoing the bump I’d hit with the package manager. I purposefully posed the question with the vagueness and lack of specifics you might expect from a newbie, then sat back and waited to see if I’d be flamed.
The question was answered within a half hour — politely and to the point. I wasn’t reprimanded for not searching to see if the question had already been asked, nor was I told to RTFM. I’ve conducted this same test on support forums at other distros with much less satisfying results.
Does this mean I’m planning on adopting Mageia as my distro of choice? If I were shopping for a new distro I might, but for the time being I’m happy with what I’m using. I am considering, however, installing Mageia on one of the older laptops I have lying around. Why? Unlike with Debian derivatives, with a simple “telinit 3,” Mageia will drop down to a real honest-to-goodness runlevel 3, a single user mode without X and with nothing between the user and the operating system but the keyboard. That comes in handy sometimes.
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