2009.0 Reviewers Guide

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Welcome to Mandriva Linux 2009!

This page is intended to serve as a guide for journalists interested in reviewing Mandriva Linux 2009. We know it's sometimes hard to understand quickly what differentiates one Linux distribution from another, and how to check out the most interesting and unique features of a given distribution, so we've created this page to make it easy for you to understand Mandriva, the company, and Mandriva Linux 2009, the product. If you have any questions or concerns that aren't addressed by this page, don't hesitate to contact us directly: if you don't already have a contact inside Mandriva, you can email Adam Williamson at awilliamson AT mandriva DOT com or Vanessa Wall at vwall AT mandriva DOT com.

Contents

What to get

There are three editions of Mandriva Linux 2009: One, Powerpack and Free.

One is the flagship edition - it's the one you get if you click on the big green download button, basically. It's a single CD edition that boots live and is also an install CD - there's an install link on the desktop. If you just want to review Mandriva Linux 2009, you should probably get One. There are eight different versions of One available: four KDE, and four GNOME. For both KDE and GNOME there are four different versions which differ only in the languages included. The int version contains the most commonly used languages, the extra version contains the next most commonly used languages, the fp-zh version contains Japanese and Chinese, and the afro-asia version contains African languages and the remaining Asian languages. One contains non-free drivers, firmware and browser plugins, for the user's convenience. There is no x86-64 version of One. It's i586-only.

Even with the four language sets, not all languages for which a Mandriva translation is available are covered. If a language in which you're interested is not present on any One version, it may still be present on the Powerpack or the Free edition.

Powerpack is the commercial edition. It's only available for purchase. It's a DVD with a traditional installer. It comes with some commercial software the other editions don't have. Please note that it doesn't contain any free / open source software you can't get in the other editions - we don't lock up anything that doesn't need to be locked up for legal reasons. The commercial stuff it comes with is pretty good and worth a look. If you want a review copy of the Powerpack edition, get in touch with us and we can provide one for you.

Free is the free software / open source edition. It's a DVD or 2-CD set with a traditional installer. It only contains free / open source software. That means - no NVIDIA or ATI drivers, no Intel wireless firmware, no Java, no Flash, none of that stuff. Please, please don't get Free and then pan it on the basis that it doesn't include these things, because that's the whole point of Free. It's intended for the free / open source software enthusiast. We're perfectly proud of it as a self-contained distribution, and it's perfectly possible to add the non-free bits to it from our non-free mirrors after installation, but if you want a simple, hassle-free installation with all the proprietary drivers and stuff, please get and review One or Powerpack.

What to look for

First of all, you should check out these pages:

  • the Release Tour - this is intended for casual readers, and Mandriva users who want a quick overview. It's a short, graphically-supported guide to the coolest and most prominent features of 2009.
  • the Release Notes - a more in-depth and technical page, it's mainly intended to list significant changes from previous releases which it would be important for a user to know about.
  • the Errata - this lists important known problems in 2009, and where available, workarounds and updates that fix them. The Errata page for each release changes and grows constantly (take a look at the 2008 Spring Errata, for instance).

Here is a quick summary to the most important things above and beyond what's in those three pages that you should be looking for in Mandriva Linux 2009. More detailed information follows further down the document.

For reviewers of all Mandriva Linux editions

KDE 4

The big, obvious, can't-get-away-from-it new feature for 2009 is obviously KDE 4 as the default desktop. This is a huge change, and introduces a big pile of new features - naturally - which it doesn't really make much sense to cover here. You can read about them in the Release Tour and on the KDE site, anyway. The point is, we think our implementation is probably the best among this cycle's major distribution crop. So go ahead and compare it with Kubuntu, OpenSUSE and so on.

There are a few unfortunate regressions in KDE 4 compared to KDE 3, mostly to do with multimedia. See the Errata page for details on the known ones. We are working to fix these with updates as soon as possible.

Netbook compatibility

2008 Spring was the first release of a major distribution to expressly support netbooks - or rather, the first true netbook, the Eee PC 701, which had only just come out at the time. We like to think we were on the money with that idea. 2009 builds on this with excellent support for most popular netbook models, including all available Eee models, the Acer Aspire One, the MSI Wind, and others. One of the biggest Eee enthusiast forums has a dedicated Mandriva forum, due to so many of their members finding that they liked running 2008 Spring and 2009 on the Eee: EEEuser Mandriva forum. We're also proud to have 2009 booting in around 20 seconds on the Eee 901, and around 25 seconds on the original 701.

Redesigned installer

The old-style installer (Free / Powerpack) in 2009 has been completely re-designed. Aside from looking good, the new design has also allowed us to improve the ergonomics in several areas. Also, as it now uses WebKit not GtkHtml for HTML rendering, things like in-line display of release notes have been improved.

Mobile device synchronization support

2008 Spring was the first major distribution to really work on including working mobile device synchronization out of the box, supprting Windows Mobile 5, 6 and 6.1 devices, Blackberries, and Nokia devices in particular. 2009 adds support for Windows Mobile 2003 and earlier devices and improves support for the other devices; it includes SynCE 0.12, using synce-hal rather than odccm (which basically makes the underlying connection process work more seamlessly). The Barry system used to work with Blackberries has been upgraded to the most recent version to add support for newer devices, and both it and SynCE have been patched so direct synchronization between Windows Mobile and Blackberry devices works correctly (this is likely not the case with any other distribution). There's also now VFS plugins for KDE 3, KDE 4 and GNOME for Windows Mobile devices (try browsing to rapi:/ in Konqueror / Dolphin or Nautilus), and tethering support for Windows Mobile devices (this is somewhat untested, but reported to work) and Blackberries (this does work, see this page). This page has instructions on how to use these features. If you have one of the supported devices, do give this feature a shot.

Hardware support

We're proud of the hardware support of Mandriva Linux 2009. You should find that almost any commonly used hardware is supported to the best of its abilities. Particularly note that One and Powerpack include very recent NVIDIA and ATI proprietary drivers, and a very current snapshot of the radeonhd open source driver for Radeons. Mandriva also has good support for VIA / S3 UniChrome / Chrome9 cards, AMD Geode adapters, and the SiS 670 / 671 chips that have been showing up in some new systems; many distros do not cope with these pieces of hardware as well as Mandriva does. Mandriva has a very complete graphics card database and should detect just about any card and automatically use the correct driver (we don't rely on X.org auto-detection, which we frankly don't consider to be as good as our database, yet). If you have any VIA hardware around - particularly their Mini-ITX boards - give those a shot, and compare to other distributions. We're fairly confident that Mandriva handles VIA graphics chips better than anyone.

Test the wireless networking. All Intel wireless adapters should work right out of the box on One and Powerpack, including the recent 4965 chips. The equally common Broadcom chips are also well-supported via the native bcm43xx driver. Note that the Mandriva network configuration tools make the task of getting the Broadcom firmware as easy as legally possible. Also note that the official Release Notes provide instructions on how to get the necessary Windows driver to extract the firmware from, to help users who have difficulty locating a driver.

Test the sound support. 2009 includes ALSA 1.0.18, with several post-release fixes taken from Alsa HG. The Mandriva kernel also has some modifications to improve support for certain chips. Especially test recent model laptops, many of which use the High Definition Audio codec family. Compare to other distros.

Configuration tools

Check out the huge range of Mandriva configuration tools. Most of them you'll find in the Mandriva Control Center (there's a quicklaunch icon for it on the default panel, or it's in the menus). For anyone who happened to see them in PCLinuxOS first, we wrote them! The tool set is the most comprehensive of any distribution - there's tools for configuring just about everything. For 2009 these tools have been given a makeover, so notice the sleek new look.

A note - there are a bunch of server configuration tools in the package drakwizard. Install it and you can run drakwizard to get a dedicated interface to just these tools, and you'll also see several of them added to the Mandriva Control Center.

Package management

READ THIS PAGE. No, really, please. It covers everything you could want to know about setting up repositories and installing packages in Mandriva. Please read it, and check out all the available packages and the software installation tools (rpmdrake and urpmi) that Mandriva provides. They're among the best in the industry. Changes in the package management tools since 2008 Spring are mentioned on the Release Tour and Release Notes. We're particularly proud of our backports system - you can read about this further down, and it's also explained on the page we just told you to read. :)

Included software

There's a pretty good overview of the software included in 2009 on the Release Tour. Most of it is just the usual keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, but do note the wide variety of desktops available - including Xfce and LXDE as well as the normal KDE and GNOME. Note the inclusion of Compiz Fusion 0.7.7, and the drak3d tool that makes it easy to enable and disable it (if you have a supported card, drak3d should come up the first time you start One, and it's available in the Control Center). Check out the depth of the Mandriva repositories - look for the obscure stuff you like to use. If it's there, great. If not, drop us a line and we'll do our best to give you a convincing excuse ;). We can also probably add it for the future.

Internationalization

One of the strongest features of Mandriva has always been internationalization. Mandriva's available in well over 50 languages, and we do our best to include the widest range of translations and tools for non-English, non-Roman alphabet languages we can, with the help of a lot of contributors from all over the world. If you can call on someone who's a speaker of anything other than English, get them to try out Mandriva in their own language and tell you what they think. We're particularly proud of our CJK (Chinese, Japanese and Korean support) - we have good font sets and good support tools for these languages, and if you select one of them during installation, the appropriate input methods are set up automatically.

Check out the community

Yes, contrary to received wisdom, there is a Mandriva community, and it's pretty big and thriving too. There's this Wiki, of course - poke around! There's the official forums. No, you do not have to pay to use these. There's an official IRC channel, #mandriva on Freenode - feel free to pop in incognito, ask a question, and see how well you get helped. There are a bunch of mailing lists - see Development/Mailinglists and Docs/Support/Mailinglists. There are unofficial forums in English MandrivaUsers.org and several other languages - we've established relationships with several of these, too, so if you click the appropriate flag links on the top of the official English forums you might find yourself redirected to a community site like Blogdrake for Spanish or Mandriva Brasil for Brazilian Portuguese. Heck, we even have a Usenet group, still - alt.os.linux.mandriva.

Mandriva development is heavily community-based. Around half the Mandriva developers are community volunteers. They have extensive access rights to development - any packager can modify almost any package, only a few of the most critical are restricted to staff only. You can track Mandriva development history at CIA - Mandriva is usually one of the most active projects, and you can check and see that much of that activity comes from contributors. Feedback from the development community is constantly taken into consideration for development, and so is feedback from the user community via the official forums - there are two paid Mandriva staff members (Adam Williamson and Stephen Germany) who constantly monitor the official forums in English, helping where they can and receiving feedback to pass on throughout the country, and one (Remi Mathieu) who does the same for the French forums.

Don't fall for the myths

Unfortunately there's several myths around Mandriva that are pretty hard to get rid of. These are addressed in more detail below, but the biggest one is 'Mandriva isn't free'. To which we reply - Mandriva is free! Mandriva is developed in an open, community environment. The free-of-charge editions of Mandriva Linux are not crippled or restricted. The general public has access to absolutely as much of the Mandriva package tree as it possibly can, including all free / open source packages and all non-free packages that can legally be distributed via public mirrors (the range of available packages is exactly as good as or better than every major competing distro). You do not have to pay to get security and bugfix updates for Mandriva. You do not have to pay to be a member of the Mandriva community. Mandriva has always supported the free software / open source software ideals, and has always provided (and continues to provide) a completely free (as in speech) edition of Mandriva called Mandriva Linux Free.

Given all this, you might ask how Mandriva survives. We do sell a commercial edition of Mandriva Linux. The added value of this edition lies in the commercial extra software it contains. This software can only be distributed via a commercial edition - we couldn't legally include it in any other edition. So we're not holding it back from other users. Purchasers of this edition can also get technical support for installation, and it can be bought with a nice printed manual.

We also sell technical support incidents, do large-scale OEM deals like our big pre-installation agreements in Brazil and our ongoing work with the Classmate PC, and have a Corporate product line. All of which you can mail us about for more details if you want to write about it!

For reviewers of Mandriva Linux 2009 One

Hybrid live / install CD

Great flexibility - you can use it as a live CD, for testing Linux, diagnostics, demonstrating to friends - or as an install CD, to install a full Mandriva Linux system.

For reviewers of Mandriva Linux 2009 Powerpack

Commercial extras

The commercial extras are the only thing that's unique to the Powerpack. They are pretty cool, though.

Cedega is a fork of wine, the Windows compatibility layer, that's specifically aimed at playing Windows games on Linux. You get Cedega in the Powerpack plus we can give you a code for a few months of updates from Transgaming (the makers). There's info on Transgaming's site about what games are playable and supported on Cedega, so give it a shot. Works best with NVIDIA graphics cards.

Fluendo is a media company. They licensed rights to various problematic audio and video formats and created legal Linux codecs for them (Gstreamer codecs). These are available as a pack for €28 from the Fluendo store, but most of them are bundled in the 2009 Powerpack, and installed and configured out of the box. Try it out - install 2009 Powerpack and immediately try playing back some WMV and WMA files, and MP3 files. The codecs included are Windows Media and MP3 decoders.

Background information

Okay, so there's your headline stuff. Below is some more detailed background information on Mandriva the company, Mandriva Linux development, and the Mandriva Club. It should help you write the background to your review. Please do contact us for any information that we've missed out here.

Mandriva

Mandriva is the leading European Linux distributor. It was founded in 1998 under the name Mandrake, producing the Linux Mandrake distribution. The name Mandriva was adopted in 2005, following a merger between Mandrake and Conectiva (a Brazilian Linux distributor) and also a trademark lawsuit in which Mandrake was sued by Hearst Publications, an American company which syndicates a comic strip named Mandrake the Magician. Hearst won the initial judgment in the case and Mandrake decided it would be better to change the name of the company and its products than to continue with the litigation.

Mandriva is an independent, for-profit company, based in France, with a major development office in Brazil at the site of the former Conectiva office and contract staff located in various countries. Mandriva's sole business is selling Linux distributions and associated services.

Mandriva Linux

Mandriva Linux is the flagship product of Mandriva. It is a comprehensive, general-purpose Linux distribution which has a consistent and uninterrupted development history back to the initial Linux Mandrake releases in 1998. The full history of Mandriva / Mandrake Linux releases can be found here.

Development

The development of Mandriva Linux is based around a constantly-rolling development distribution named Cooker. Mandriva developers - both Mandriva staff and contributors - commit their updates and changes directly into Cooker. Several hundred testers run Cooker, updating their systems constantly, and help to identify and report problems and bugs. When a Mandriva Linux release is planned, the Cooker distribution will be snapshotted several times, with each snapshot released as an Alpha, Beta or Release Candidate. Bugs are fixed based on the results of this testing, and Cooker is frozen and snapshotted one final time to produce a frozen Mandriva Linux tree which is the base of the new release. All editions of the release are produced from this tree. Once the release process is completed, Cooker is unfrozen and development begins on the next release.

The Mandriva build system

The Mandriva build system is one of the more sophisticated in the Linux distribution industry. It was adopted from Conectiva after the Mandrake / Conectiva merger. It works basically as follows.

Mandriva maintainers (contributors and staff) have an account on a Subversion (SVN) server, svn.mandriva.com. You can browse this server via a Web interface. It contains all the Mandriva tools and applications (in the /soft tree) and all the Mandriva packages (in the /packages tree). RPM packages, as you might know, consist of source files (the upstream source code), patches, and a file called the spec file which is the instructions to actually build the final package from these ingredients. All these types of file are stored on the SVN server for each package. When a maintainer wants to work on a package, they check that package out from SVN (there are sections for Cooker and also for each stable release, so if you're working on an update for a stable release, you check out that version of the package). They then edit the checked-out spec file and, if necessary, add, remove and modify source and patch files. Once they're done, they commit the changes back to the SVN server.

To actually upload the package to the Mandriva tree, they use a tool called mdvsys, which controls the Mandriva build system. By running the command mdvsys submit they issue an instruction to the build system to build the package and make it available. The build system checks the spec file, sources and patches out of SVN and creates a source RPM file from them. It then compiles this source RPM into binary RPMs for the i586 and x86-64 architectures and uploads them to the appropriate section of the tree. Packages are built in a clean chroot environment, ensuring that every package in the distribution is built in a clean and consistent environment to ensure they work together correctly. Any error during the process results in a failure - the upload is not carried out, and the maintainer is notified via email. The process can also be monitored via a web interface. The generated packages are also tested for various common packaging errors, and if any of these is found, a failure is triggered.

The separation of the package building process from the packaging process makes it easy to do things like backports to stable releases and ensures a high level of consistency in the package database.

The Mandriva Linux tree

The Mandriva Linux tree is organized into four sections. main contains officially supported free / open source software packages. contrib contains free / open source software packages that are not officially supported. non-free contains packages that are not free / open source software, but can be redistributed in binary form without restrictions that would prevent them being available on public mirror sites. restricted contains packages that are not free / open source software and that cannot be redistributed in binary form without restrictions.

The main, contrib and non-free sections for the most recent few releases, and for Cooker, are made available on all official Mandriva public mirrors. Thus you can see that anyone can have access to all free / open source software packages in Mandriva Linux, and all the non-free packages that Mandriva can legally make available to them in this manner.

The restricted section exists only on the private copy of the tree on Mandriva's own servers. Packages from this section are incorporated into the commercial edition of Mandriva Linux.

Each section is subdivided into four repositories: release, updates, testing and backports.

The release repository in each section contains the exact version of each package in that section that was current at the time the release in question was frozen. The release repositories, all taken together, represent an exact snapshot of the state of Mandriva Linux development at the time a given release was made.

The updates repositories contain completed security and bugfix updates for the packages in each section. For the main, non-free and restricted sections, these are official updates issued only by the Mandriva Security team. For the contrib section, as this section is not officially supported, these are not official updates but are issued directly by Mandriva developers (staff or contributors).

The testing repositories are used for testing potential security and bugfix updates. When a developer wishes to issue an update for a package, he first uploads a candidate version of the update to the appropriate testing repository. Here it can be tested by interested users. If it is a candidate for one of the officially supported sections, it will also be tested by the Mandriva QA team before being made an official update and moved to the updates repository.

The backports repositories are used for providing new and updated versions of packages after a stable release is finished. A common complaint about the Linux system of centralized repositories for software distribution is that it makes it difficult for users to access new versions of popular applications between distribution releases. The backports repositories are intended to address this problem. If, for instance, a new version of the popular Pidgin instant messaging program is released after Mandriva Linux 2009 comes out, it will most likely be made available in the backports repository of the main section for Mandriva Linux 2009, giving Mandriva Linux 2009 users a simple way to access a properly built package of the new version expressly for their distribution. The packages in the backports repositories are not officially supported, but they are usually well tested by the Mandriva user community, and the Mandriva development community is usually quite responsive in fixing problems reported in backports packages.

The nature of this repository makes it hard to test and evaluate immediately as a release is made. If you would like to evaluate the backports system in your review, we would suggest you install the previous release of Mandriva Linux - Mandriva Linux 2008 Spring - and test out the backports packages available in the 2008 Spring repositories, of which there are many. Instructions on enabling the use of the backports repositories via the Mandriva package management tools are available here. Alternatively, you could wait for a month or so to publish your review, by which time several backports packages will be available for Mandriva Linux 2009, or publish a follow-up piece to a review you publish soon after Mandriva Linux 2009's review.

Mandriva is very proud of the backports system. We are aware of a few other distributions which have similar systems, but believe ours to be the most extensive and the most actively used by both developers and the user community.

Mandriva Club

The Mandriva Club began several years ago as a combination of several commercial services and a user community. It was initially very successful but eventually led to several problems. Maintaining the available services and trying to add new ones was a serious strain on Mandriva's resources. Also, the mixed nature of the Club led to an unfortunate perception that Mandriva is a closed community, with only paying users welcomed and many services available only to paid Club members.

Accordingly, we revamped this system. The Mandriva Club now no longer has any paid memberships: being a member of the Club is as simple as signing up for an account at my.mandriva. All Club services are now available to all members, and so available for free.

The one commercial offering the Club was really still providing in its final years was download access to the Powerpack commercial edition of Mandriva Linux for paid-up Club members. This has been separated out into a standalone Powerpack subscription service which is not mixed up with the concept of Club membership. It has just one price and one service: you pay a simple fee of €59 or US$69 per year for the right to download the Powerpack edition of Mandriva Linux. One year covers two releases of Mandriva Linux. No other services or community membership 'privileges' are tied to the Powerpack subscription, it's a simple one-feature service.

We hope that this change will result in a more positive impression of the Mandriva community, more participation in the Mandriva Club, and an end to the confusion over 'paid memberships' of the Mandriva community.

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