Mandriva Linux 2006 for home users part 2

What can Mandriva Linux 2006 mean for home users?


What can a Linux distribution such as Mandriva Linux 2006 mean to a Windows user? Is it a valuable alternative, or do you have to be a real computer nerd to risk the move?

Why would an average PC user make the effort to change over to Linux? Admitted, not necessarily everyone will benefit from such a move. But it might be a lot more interesting than you might suspect. A lot of arguments regarding this topic often lead to a lot of debate. In this article we do not pretend to own the truth or to be complete. This article just sums up our own experiences after several years of use of as well Windows as Mandriva Linux. We wrote them with our Mandriva experiences in mind, but most modern Linux distributions offer the same benefits.

The absence of viruses:

Up till now, there has been no virus outbreak that affected Linux systems outside of lab environments. As such Linux users don't have to worry about anything that is related to viruses. According to Linux advocates this is due to the better software-architecture that consists out of independent layers with specific functions and permissions. Moreover standard users (and the applications that act with their account) only have limited possibilities. Only the so-called 'root' account has sufficient permissions to expose the complete system to dangers. Others claim that Linux is not inherent safer, but that Linux is less of a target for viruses, because to date it is less commonly used than Windows. Whatever the reason is, in practice the result is the same: a Linux user does not have to care about viruses.

The absence of spyware:

Due to the fact that Mandriva Linux is composed from Open Source software (and thus the source code can be investigated by anyone) the risk that a software package contains spyware is much lower than for software of which the source code is kept a secret (closed source software). As a rule of thumb, one can quite safely assume that any software that is distributed by Mandriva sources, is spyware free. Of course, you can get spyware on a Mandriva system when installing software from untrustworthy sources. But because of the high amount of software packages offered by Mandriva, there is very little need to install software that is not distributed by Mandriva.

Installation:

Some people (re)install there own OS once in a while. For those people the installation of a distro such as Mandriva 2006 is a real blessing. Such a distro does not only contain the OS itself, but also a whole bunch of other software is included. During the installation you can choose what software packages should be installed. But even if you just stick with the defaults, you will have quite a complete system. So, no longer playing DJ with a whole bunch if of installation CD's for the applications you want to use on top of your OS. You just use the Mandriva 2006 installation CD and after an hour or so, everything is installed. If you would not stick with the standard choices, you will probably spend more time to make your own specific choices then with the installation of the system and applications itself.

Personally, we have a tendency to try out quite a bit. Our experiences with a Windows based system was that the system degraded after a while. Practically this called for a re-installation about each year. Now that we use Mandriva Linux, we still do that, but this time because a new version with new and improved functionalities has become available. As a result, we have less information on degradation with a Mandriva Linux system. We never worked with the same system for more then a year.

Re-installation of a Windows system took us easily two full days to get the system completely up and running again: installation of the OS, all drivers and all applications and the tweaking of it all. Getting the system in a similar state of usability takes with Mandriva about half a day.

Ease of software installation:

Installing additional software on Mandriva Linux is very simple. At this moment it is fairly easy to install software on most OSses, but with Mandriva Linux this is really very easy. Mandriva foresees Internet based sources with precreated software packages (RPMs in the jargon). A special system management software (the MCC, Mandriva Control Center) allows you to get these automatically installed. You just type in the name of the application, select the correct one from a list with search results, and ask for the installation. The package will then automagically be downloaded and installed on your system.

Software availability and choice:

For about anything that you have running on your PC (or not yet running on your PC) there is choice. This should not frighten you, since the Mandriva defaults already have done the work for you. But if there would be a specific kind of functionality that you cannot find on your system yet, you can have the Mandriva Control Center (MCC) search on that functionality for you. All software packages for which the search term is present in the description will then be presented to you. You can then look at the descriptions of those packages and select every package that interests you. The next step is the automatic installation of all those packages in one go. An installation on Linux allows you to use the software right away. For normal software a restart is never required. So you can test out the installed packages right away. Meaning that you can assess very simply what package suits you best.

That removes the need first to go figuring out which package would be worth the money most (or looking for a free alternative without spyware). And it removes the need to run to a shop to buy your software. Just install and test.

Uninstalling software and updating:

Uninstalling software is equally easy. And it is again possible to select a whole bunch of packages. They will all be uninstalled in one go, which is very user friendly. The same is valid for updates. Windows XP offers an automatic update of your system, which increases the security of your system hugely. But this only happens for the Windows OS itself and a few of the applications that come with it (IE, Media Player, ...). Mandriva Linux offers an automatic update mechanism as well. But as about all of your software packages have been delivered to you in Mandriva packages, Mandriva offers you updates for them. You might still have security risks on an updated Windows system, because of software that is not updated by Windows update. On Mandriva you are sure that as good as all packages on your system are updated.

Help:

For a lot of applications, some functionalities do not exist, do not work as they should, or contain bugs. That happens to a lot of software, not depending on the kind. It is however much easier to obtain solutions for this kind of problems with Open Source software (such as delivered by Mandriva) than for Closed Source software. For Closed Source software, you often don't have to expect a lot of reaction if you do not pay for support. But even if you do, you should not be surprised to get an answer similar to “We thank you for your feedback. Although the current version cannot offer you a solution to your wishes, we will keep them in mind.” And that is often where it will stay to. Maybe your wish will be answered in the next version, but then you need to upgrade. Often that means acquiring a new license.

With Open Source it is much easier to contact the developers themselves. We can illustrate this with the following example: At a certain point in time we were looking for a functionality for which we only found a solution with a Linux based package. But we were not able to get the package to work due to a conflict with our system. So we sent a small mail to the developer. Less than 24 hours later, we had a mail in return and a fix waiting. We never had a better service than this.

And even if the problem is not serious enough to contact the developer, often there are user communities that are ready to help with a workaround or configuration.

Evolution and licensing politics:

Each Mandriva version is again a bit better then the one before. Mandriva issues each year a new version (and for club members some special intermediate versions). Something that we consider quite important as well, is the ethically responsible attitude of Mandriva regarding licensing.

Thanks to Mandriva Linux, it becomes very affordable to have a complete system without illegal copies of software packages. You still can install illegal copies, but for the average home user this is not necessary. There are enough legal alternatives that are foreseen in the Mandriva distribution. On top of this, Open Source software is a beautiful evolution for countries that don't have the means to acquire expensive commercial software. By using Open Source software yourself, you support this evolution. For example through buying the boxed version of the distribution or a Mandriva Club membership. But even if you do not support in a financial way, you will contribute: even if it is only by increasing the number of Linux users. Indeed, the more Linux users there are, the more important it is for companies to support Linux, which leads to a continuous improvement of Linux. And that is in the advantage of all Linux users, also the poorer ones that don't really have a lot of alternatives.

Control and tweakability:

About anything in Linux can be adapted. From the way the way the system boots to the letter types used in the desktop environment. This makes Linux very easy to personalise.

Safe to allow others to use your system:

In Mandriva Linux, by default only the 'root' user is capable to perform the 'dangerous' stuff. A normal user is not able to perform much wrongdoing. That means that I was for instance able to allow my four year old son to play on my PC without the least fear that he would mess up the system. It is possible to give a Windows system a similar security (several user accounts that do not have administrator rights), but you really need to put that in place yourself. It is not foreseen by default.

Even if you manage Mandriva Linux totally via Wizards, you still know quite good what you are doing. The Mandriva Linux distribution gives each time quite a good explanation about what you are doing and what the consequences are with each of the choice possibilities.

Requirements:

In comparison to Windows you have in any less need for high performing (read expensive) hardware to be able to achieve the same thing. And where with each version of Windows the hardware load increases considerably, we never knew that problem with Mandriva Linux: each version that I put on my (still the same) PC, increases the performance of that system. So Mandriva Linux demands lower from the hardware with each new version.

Low maintenance:

Users of Mandriva Linux do not need to spend time in updating of virus scanners, spyware removers but also defragmenting is a thing of the past. Most of the file systems that are used under Linux work in such a way that fragmentation does not occur or remains negligible.

Price:

Oh, yeah, next to all those other advantages, I would almost forget the price. Mandriva Linux comes in different versions. First of all a free (as in free beer) version that you can download freely and a few paying versions. The free version only contains Open Source software (also called free software but then in the meaning of free as in free speech). The paying version also includes 'commercial' software such as Java, Acrobat Reader, Flash, ... That does not say that it is not possible to use this 'commercial' software in the free version. You just need to do a bit more effort to install it. But even if you do not wish to do this effort and you want to go for the paying version, you will still be way better off than with the classical Windows installation (Windows + MS Office). More pricing info will be given further in this article.

So this is interesting?

To summarize: Mandriva Linux is a cheap, user friendly and very secure system, which is as well ethically justified on top .

Do all home users need to make the switch?

No! For a lot of people this choice would really be better, but not for everyone. So what might the disadvantages be? Let's take a look:

A minority system:

The majority of PC users are using Windows. And although the file compatibility has improved a lot lately, there is still no full compatibility. So if you are using the more advanced functionalities, you might experience some compatibility problems with certain files. In most cases that is not disastrous and manageable, but if you experience this too often, it could become quite annoying. There are solutions to this (e.g. the installation of MS Office on Mandriva Linux with the aid of Crossover Office), but then you lose some of the advantages of Mandriva Linux (price, a bit of security,...).

This is mainly a problem with software that you really need to communicate with others. An example of this is / was the Internet telephony software. This communication passes a server the client software needs to be able to communicate with, e.g. Skype. It took a couple of months before a Linux version of Skype became available. Also from the GoogleTalk software no Linux version is available yet (although Google announced this would become available).

'Pro'-software:

Some commercial software delivers functionalities that are not available under Linux. The other way around happens as well, but that does not give so many problems, as the majority must do without them, and you are not expected to have it available. That is only a real problem for quite advanced or professional functionalities, but if it is those you really need, ...

Games:

This is probably the weakest point of Linux for home users. Games are made for the big public. Porting them to Linux is not always easy, since often Microsoft proprietary graphical 3D technology is used, which is not available under Linux. But even much simpler games (for instance for small children) are just not made (yet?) to be able to work under Linux. But also in this area, there is evolution. There are a number of Open Source games in development which (I hear from the grapevine, I'm not really experienced with games) are not bad at all. There is as well the possibility to run Windows games under Linux with the aid of special emulator software such as Cedega (commercial). But today, gaming under Linux is still a problem for many.

The future might bring changes into this. And we might have to thank for that the increased recognition of Open Source software by the big players. For producers of specialized hardware , the use of Open Source means a serious saving (compared to developing an own technology or to pay for commercially available technologies). As a result an increasing number of companies are starting to turn away from proprietary technologies and turn to open technologies. Sony for instance, will base it's coming Playstation 3 on Open technologies. The result of this is that games that will be developed for Playstation 3 will quite probably be easy to port to Linux. If that is all correct we can expect a much larger offer of commercial games for Linux in the not so distant future. For more information on Playstation 3, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayStation_3

Hardware:

In general there is a very decent support under Linux for most hardware. But the really new hardware is still often less well supported. Manufacturers still often don't deliver Linux drivers for their hardware. The Linux community tries to support as much as possible hardware, but that is not always easy. Manufacturers are not fond of releasing details about their hardware. This makes it difficult for the Open Source community to find out how to build drivers themselves. That unfortunately means that using all newest hardware at full functionality is often not possible under Linux.

The installation:

Although a Mandriva Linux installation is much simpler than a Windows installation, the latter is most often not required for most users. Almost all PCs you can buy in a shop have Windows preïnstalled. So not even a need for installation. And it is even worse, it is even difficult to find a PC that does NOT come with Windows preïnstalled. That is something that disturbs many, as it forces Linux users to pay for a license of Windows they might not even wish to use. This is often called the 'Windows tax'.


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License

This work is governed by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 license. In order to obtain a copy of this license, please visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.5/deed.en_GB or send a letter to Creative Commons, 543 Howard Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

The author to be credited is Wim Coulier (website: coulier.org).

I love my Mandriva Linux system

I'm an very untechy kind of gal (over 50 btw) who loves her Linux! My son-in-law is a software tech and he suggested Linux when I had so many problems with Windows, which was a constant pain of crash and burn. He installed Linux on my new machine back in 2003 and I fell in love. I'm now using it on my new pretty laptop. I have no problem accepting text files from Word users or sending my files out as Word docs. I don't play games so that isn't an issue to me. And it's really cool not doing that old-fashioned defrag or scandisk. And NO viruses! Yea!

I have had no problem using my iPod, my video card reader, adding a printer or any other type of hardware. I've found every program I've needed such as a video editing program and a graphics program (like Photoshop). Good old Gimp. It is a very rare occasion when I can't immediately click on a video clip or a movie trailer and it doesn't immediately play in Kaffeine or any of the other five or six Linux compatible players. And the CD burner is simple to use.

Don't be afraid of Linux! It rocks. Penguins are good critters.

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Great

Hey I am a Linux newbie, and I am interested in your site, I would like to thank you for a consice explanation of Linux, and a simple summary of KDE. I am only interested in this now because I have a few IRC friends that have mentioned that they use Debian and Gentoo. I am am not a *complete* hermit to my computer, but I am interested in this OS. Thanks for the guide, and it is definately making me want to take the plunge. The only things I dont like about the article is (I downloaded the OOo version) is the screenshots are in german. I am a native english speaker, none the less thank you very much for a cnsise explanation of Mandriva (I've read it about 5 times now :)

-Doug

Thanks for your positive note

Thanks for your positive note. It feels good to hear that my time writing this article was well spent. The screenshots are in dutch (not german) because the article was originally dutch. When I made the translation, I thought about creating english screenshots, but by then I already had reconfigured my machine. So that would have required me to reinstall it. I decided that that was too much effort for what it's worth.

Re: Thanks for your positive note

I apologise for my linguistic ignorance, but I still cannot read the screenshots; regardless the screens are quite helpful. Do you think that you could maybe include a small section on how to introduce transparency to desktop. I would like to make the panel menu transparent, against my background; as I enjoy designing them using GIMP. By the way, I have yet to see how you would shut down the computer, i only see that you can log out with it! Do you regularly choose the Log Off Option to power down the computer, then make a choice from a dropdown list, or would you have to use a completely different function button. None the less it's a guide that is a lot easier to sift through than the LNAG (150+ pages) or the KDE 3.5 guide (180+ Pages). Anyway thank you for the guide.

-Doug

Answers to your questions

Doug,

To be honest, on my system today I would not be able to make the panel menus transparent. I know there are projects that are ongoing to add this kind of stuff, but it is not yet present in Mandriva 2006 by default (will probably be in Mandriva 2007). You might be able to add it in Mandriva 2006, but I would advise you then to ask on some of the forums about it. You might find people there that might be able to help you.
On powering down: yes I do use the Log Off Option to power down the computer, then make a choice from a dropdown list. I have added a Log off button to the panel though, so that I do not need to go via the KDE menu button.

Ciao,

Wim

Google Talk

"Also from the GoogleTalk software no Linux version is available yet (although Google announced this would become available)."

Most Linux distributions come with GAIM (http://gaim.sourceforge.net/), and Google has had a "how-to" on using its Talk service in GAIM (http://www.google.com/support/talk/bin/answer.py?answer=24073).

You are right, but this only

You are right, but this only covers the chat part. Not the VOIP part. Which is a pitty, because that still forces people to use the proprietary Skype when it comes to VOIP on Linux. I believe however that in the next version (would be a major upgrade) of GAIM there will be VOIP support included.

Thanks for your comment.

Ciao,

Wim

"Which is a pitty, because

"Which is a pitty, because that still forces people to use the proprietary Skype when it comes to VOIP on Linux."

Not so at all. See Gnomemeeting, which has recently been greatly improved and renamed to 'Ekiga' (google it). It supports the standard open VOIP protocol (SIP) that the entire VOIP industry uses, with the exception of a few proprietary programs like Skype. So if you use Ekiga you can setup an account with just about any VOIP provider and use them with it, if you want PC-to-'Real Phone' calls.

Plus Skype on Linux only works with the semi-deprecated OSS, this means that many new soundcards which only have ALSA drivers will not work at all with it. I found this when I bought a new laptop and its what prompted me to search for alternatives, and find Ekiga.

Voip support for GoogleTalk

The VoIP component of GoogleTalk is called Jingle and a library supporting this functionality was released as OSS by google. Psi has had a development version of this support available for some time. It's not yet ready for mainstream use, but it's most definately coming.

There are solutions to this

There are solutions to this (e.g. the installation of MS Office on Mandriva Linux with the aid of Crossover Office), but then you loose some of the advantages of Mandriva Linus (price, a bit of security,...).

You lose at proofreading.

I'd rather nitpick on

I'd rather nitpick on Mandriva Linus

How good is your Dutch?

How good is your Dutch?

Better Question

I think the better question would be: "How good is your English?" Or, maybe, the translator is a native English speaker who both speaks and writes like a slightly confused robot.

No I'm not a native english

No I'm not a native english speaker. But the fact that you are not sure is a compliment to me. I even never studied english a lot (just the plain school stuff from third grade onwards or so). The fact that I am able to translate an article such as this one, is thanks to the fact that I was able to practise my english during my professional acitivities.
Even if my writing sounds like that of a confused robot to you, the purpose was to share the original dutch article with a broader audience. Since it reached you, that clearly worked. If you would prefer to read a more fluent version, I invite you to read the dutch
original article
.

Kind Regards,

Wim

No offense intended

No offense intended, the robot comment was meant to be a bit humorous. Thanks for taking the time to do the translation, it helps you with your english and us with our decisions regarding OSes. And, the response you wrote was more natural than the translation... I know it's the same for myself when going from one language to another. Translating from something written can be difficult because the syntactic framework is set in the original language. It usually works best to merely use the original as a strong suggestion of the way to say the key ideas, as opposed to a strict form in which only the words are translated, not the structures. It's this mixing of one language's syntactic mannerisms with another's words that causes the "robot effect".

Games

Games are an issue when it comes with any Linux distribution. However there is a large quantity of games included with each linux distribution thats usualy bundled with your favorite distro.

Mandriva has a few 3D games along with a bunch of other normal games. There's even a few educational packages bundled with it. The default installation might not have them but if you make sure the games selection is fully checked off in the software package selection of the installation you should be in good shape.

Finally there's some comercial games available for Linux such as Quake, Doom, etc. Quake 3 was released with a full installation CD for Linux. I have and use it myself. Other may require you to copy over the Windows installation to your Linux machine and just untar(unzip) your linux binaries(executables).