Monday, September 29, 2008

Mandriva for Me. Which Doesn’t Make Me Entirely Happy.

Ubunutu is my third favorite operating system (behind Mac OS X and the iPhone OS, which, though still a little immature, has made a real impression on me in terms of its simplicity, responsiveness, and innovative nature), which goes precisely nowhere in explaining how Mandriva has taken over the hard drive of my travel laptop.

Mandriva, which used to be Mandrake, is an older distribution and isn’t bad by any means, but it lacks some of the polish and reliability of the Ubuntu distribution that I was running for a while. I’ve had a number of hangs on startups, a few crashed applications, and one crash that forced a restart of the operating system--all things that shocked me from a mature Linux distribution. The interface (I’m running it with KDE without the more gratuitous windowing gimmicks, one of which makes the windows shake like Jell-o after moving them) is similar to Microsoft’s Windows, but it feels strangely twitchy in a way (and has some peculiarities) that Ubuntu didn’t.

Since the installed programs are similar (and in many cases identical) and each has a package manager to install any other necessary software, and since those software titles run much the same on each OS, how is it that I ended up with Mandriva instead of Ubuntu? Easy: there are some non-negotiable issues driving my choice of operating system.

With my work systems, the OS has to support all of the software in which I have invested thousands of dollars and it has to be quick and easy for me to use (which speaks more to my own preferences and biases than any native advantage to the OS itself). My work computer is fairly well limited to Mac OS X and I have no complaints about that.

The more travel I do, though, the more I realized that I didn’t want to risk the MacBook to the hazards of the longer trips. A low cost, reliable travel computer was in order and the non-negotiable issues changed significantly: the computer had to give me office applications at a low price, had to support my camera, had to be capable of recharging my iPhone and iPod, and had to support my laptop’s wireless card. It’s that wireless card that killed Ubuntu (and a number of other distributions that I preferred to Mandriva)--a card that didn’t work with any other free distribution that I tried. Out of the virtual box, Mandriva worked without having to do any extra work, a trick that I wish Ubuntu could learn.

So as I prepare to head off to India, Mandriva is being tweaked and modified to make sure that it meets all my needs and expectations.

One of the more interesting things that I’m finding as I explore the software available through Mandriva’s Install/Remove Software is that so much of the free software that is available is crap. Don’t get me wrong, there are some titles that are great (Scribus, for example, doesn’t do half the tricks that Indesign or QuarkXPress can manage, but it’s actually a really solid and flexible desktop publishing app), but much of the stuff filling the slots is rankly amateur in execution. Sometimes free is cool; sometimes free just sucks.

Why do I share this with you? Absolutely no reason whatsoever…


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