...making Linux just a little more fun!

<-- prev | next -->

Installing Mandriva

By Edgar Howell

A couple of years ago, I thought one GNU/Linux distribution was very close to being ready for the desktop, since the people who usually do the installations aren't bothered by all the questions that come up during the process. On the other hand, though, the installation process was still a bit too "complicated" for someone who had never done anything with Linux, and there are many new users who don't have a savvy Linuxer in their circle of friends.

Given that, the latest version of Mandriva (Mandriva One 2007) had my eyes glassy and my pulse racing - particularly after I had read an article about it, and a non-programmer colleague described having played with the live CD. Could this be The Answer?

I have since installed it, like it a lot, and will be using it more and more over time... but, sadly, it has a couple of show-stoppers. Not quite ready for newbie prime-time, in my opinion. Mandriva is very user-friendly and now sports a completely-3D desktop - but that's not quite enough to make it "automatic" enough for the average grandmother.

Mandriva 2007 comes in several flavours :

The Live CD


Booting the live CD involves answering many questions (almost enough to turn me off from using it as a live CD!) The answers, however, remain available should you later choose to install from the system already booted.

Initially you are told that 'F1' provides more options and the 'Enter' key starts the boot process. Pressing 'F1' does provide a comment that one can enter "live" and kernel options (much like, e.g., "knoppix lang=de") but I'm not sure where the list of kernel options is. And if you wait too long -- not very long -- booting begins anyhow.

Then the questions begin:

At this point booting continued and after a while there was the usual KDE (3.5) screen with the symbols activating as various features were brought into service, soon followed by the Mandriva "greeting" window. After closing it, there remained on the desktop a column of 5 icons on the left and the task-bar on the bottom.

As is typical for KDE, clicking on the button on the extreme left of the task-bar opens the root of a hierarchy of programs. Here is a very brief excerpt of what is available, under these headings:

I will miss Image Magick, although it may turn out that Kuickshow is adequate for my purposes. But where, oh where, is Midnight Commander? It's also nice that there are 2 browsers.

By and large, everything I need on a day-to-day basis was there - or at least the functionality was present, even if it required using a different program. One very interesting item was the ability to play music right away: mount a partition with a few tracks, start Amarok, add a couple of tunes to a playlist and then turn the volume down. No looking for codecs or software to get this working. Well, these tracks were OGG Vorbis, after all.


Category: User interfaces
[The Mandriva One 2007] installation process was still a bit too "complicated" for someone who had never done anything with Linux.

Installation was easy enough, if you know what you are doing. I had already decided on a partition, backed up the MBR in case anything went seriously wrong, and by now get along with Grub rather well. All that was needed was to click on the middle icon on the left of the desktop.

Then began another series of questions:

After rebooting, it was necessary to cancel a window with questions about notebook and Internet connection, enter a root password and create a user. Finito - I was done!


By and large, this is a very straight-forward installation procedure. The number of questions has been reduced to a minimum. A newbie might have trouble with partitioning - but that will be the case no matter what OS he is installing, and Mandriva does have a partioning tool. I just prefer to do it myself.

Category: User interfaces
Double-clicking with the live CD almost drove me crazy! [...] How is one supposed to know when to double-click, single-click or right-click? And why?!

Many or most windows during installation include a button to show additional questions or allow more detailed responses. Unfortunately "cancel" does not mean to go back to the previous question but terminates installation. It would seem there is no way to correct an error - which seems like poor interface design and not very polite.

The Installation DVD

In spite of the occasional problem, I was very impressed. Enough so that when I discovered a brief publication on Mandriva by the development team that included 3 DVDs for about 11 Euro (ca. $15 US currently), I picked it up, since I wanted to see what a "real" installation on a PC is like.


This was quite different from the Live CD:

Partitioning reminded me a bit of using Partition Magic long ago under Windows. There is a graphic that shows partitions relative to their size. As you assign mount points, they are used to label the partitions. A very nice touch.

Category: User interfaces
By and large, this is a very straight-forward installation procedure. The number of questions has been reduced to a minimum. A newbie might have trouble with partitioning - but that will be the case no matter what OS he is installing ...

In this case, installation began with questions about software. I accepted the defaults, but this was far too much stuff for the size of the partition selected. Fortunately, it was pretty easy to switch (via Ctrl-Alt-F2) to a root command line and use fdisk to remedy that problem - which, however, required rebooting to take effect. Note, however, that it wasn't necessary to first boot into something else to adjust partitioning before rebooting - that was very pleasant.

Once I got back to where I'd left off, it was time to assign a root password and create a user. On my first attempt, I had created two users and things hung before the boot loader could be specified. On the next one, with only one user, the installation process continued on to the summary prior to actual installation.

Among other minor items the boot loader again showed Lilo rather than Grub, which I corrected. But, again, there was no sign of the boot information previously used - just 'linux', 'linux-nonfb', and 'failsafe'.

After responding "no" to updates and rebooting, there was Mandriva -- all alone in the Grub menu. In spite of the fact that I had pointed the installation procedure at an existing /home -- or maybe due to that fact? -- the prompt was "bash-3.1" rather than the hostname, the selected keyboard was 'US', and the task-bar (or panel) was essentially empty.

Having by now lost count of the attempts, I installed yet again and left /home out. There were no surprises during that process, but the summary at the end, just before installation, needed to have keyboard, country, and bootloader corrected.

I rebooted into Knoppix to fix the Grub file, then booted Mandriva from a now-populated Grub menu. Task-bar, etc. were finally in a reasonable state.


As much as Mandriva impresses me, there were several problems. For example, there were far too many questions just to get a live CD functional. I much prefer the approach used by Knoppix where one can override known defaults as needed and the available parameters are made known at boot time (at least the major ones). Apparently Mandriva can do this as well, but this facility is not well advertised.

Double-clicking with the live CD almost drove me crazy! I detest this carry-over from Windows - not only with Mandriva, I wish OpenOffice would grow up as well. How is one supposed to know when to double-click, single-click or right-click? And why?!

As I've already mentioned, while installing from the live CD, the "Cancel" button terminates installation. That would be OK -- if there were a button "Back". Unfortunately, there is no way to correct a mistake.

Both versions are dangerous in the way they deal with formating. I am used to and expect the chance to review everything before anything happens that can't be reversed; this is good UI design. But formating here happens immediately, and without an obvious preceding clue. It was quite surprising in both cases.

Lilo is the default boot loader for both. There is nothing wrong with Lilo - I've used it for years - and Grub may be a bit intimidating if you consider its power, the size of its man, er, info page, and its ability to do things on the fly. But the installation would be greatly improved if it looked at some of the Linux partitions to check for a Grub configuration, incorporate it in the boot configuration if it exists. To ignore existing Linux configurations is as impolite as the standard "destroy everything else" Windows procedure. Mandriva does automatically recognize the Windows system, though.

When configuring the boot loader with the Installation DVD after selecting Grub, there is an option to add entries - but this doesn't show any that might have been used anywhere else. It just asks for Label, Image and Root - the stuff that Grub needs and nobody can provide without having seen something that works. That's close to good, but this isn't horseshoes.

(And while I'm on a rant about bad stuff - does anybody know how to turn off that infernal noise at boot and shutdown? Knoppix does this too and it irritates the hell out of me. I do a lot of stuff early, when my wife is still sleeping. The last thing anyone needs is irrelevant noise, er, music.)

[ That's KDE noisy introduction! In the "Control Center", go to the "Sound and multimedia" panel and delete the "KDE is starting up" sound. -- Francois ]

When installing from the DVD, Mandriva offered to upgrade Fedora Core; instead, I pointed it at the partition I had decided on. It seems odd that the SuSE partitions weren't mentioned - but the oddest part was that even this recognized partition was left out of the boot menu.

User IDs here begin with 500. Yeah, I know, Fedora Core does this too - But SuSE doesn't. Not for a number of years, anyhow. Anyway, according to LSB, this behavior is alright - it just seems strange and unnecessary.

I wasn't able to do anything useful with the version I had installed, since I couldn't point /home to a partition on which I normally have my /home content. Presumably, that ID number attribution was part of the problem. For Linux the user *is* the ID - so even with the same name, it was 'no go'.

[ Perhaps in the future, Edgar will consider emailing a group of knowledgeable Linux people called The Linux Gazette Answer Gang for help. It seems likely that he has heard of this fine publication. :) -- Ben ]

So it only makes sense to do that if both distributions assign user IDs from the same starting point. This is not something a newbie should be confronted with. Probably it is just a bad idea in the first place. I began doing it to make it easy to go from one release of SuSE to the next.


In spite of a few complaints, I was very impressed with what Mandriva can do; installation from the live CD is fairly straight-forward. Problems with partitioning and dual-boot are not easy to resolve and inherent in any attempt at peaceful co-existence between two OSes.

For what it's worth, it was quite literally a piece of cake to upgrade the live CD installation with the DVD. That may actually be the best way to go. Grab 4GB or so (drives today are huge anyhow), install off the live CD and then go for it! Mandriva's software manager also reminds me of SuSE's YaST, which works quite well. And the DVD is full of interesting stuff.

The folks at Mandriva have made a magnificent product: everything I described above took place in not much more than 24 hours! And I'm already upgrading from DVD? Color me impressed.

Even Mandriva just isn't quite ready to be turned loose on the newbie (to be fair, neither is any other OS.) But someone cursing and screaming about Windows often enough and loud enough would certainly appreciate the help of a Linux-savvy friend in setting up Mandriva in a dual-boot environment - and that friend would not be in for a very difficult time.

Talkback: Discuss this article with The Answer Gang

Bio picture Edgar is a consultant in the Cologne/Bonn area in Germany. His day job involves helping a customer with payroll, maintaining ancient IBM Assembler programs, some occasional COBOL, and otherwise using QMF, PL/1 and DB/2 under MVS.

(Note: mail that does not contain "linuxgazette" in the subject will be rejected.)

Copyright © 2007, Edgar Howell. Released under the Open Publication License unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 134 of Linux Gazette, January 2007

<-- prev | next -->