Mandriva 2008 VS Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon

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For those of you that follow my blog, you must have noticed that I’m a Mandriva user. Recently though, I took an interest in Ubuntu: I installed version 7.04 on a laptop, and it did look interesting, enough to make me doubt my commitment to Mandriva’s products.

Thus, when 7.10 came out with a bang in the media, and I got another laptop to de-borgify, I downloaded the Ubuntu 7.10 ISO along with the install CD for Mandriva 2008.0 Free.

So, I did a test drive, trying to level the field as much as possible. Here are the results.

Test hardware and distributions

I tested the latest version of both Mandriva and Ubuntu on various desktop and laptop systems with various hardware configurations (and with them, the distribution it ended up running):

  • Packard Bell laptop, Celeron M, 512MB of RAM, integrated ATI graphics. Troublesome sound and wi-fi card. Running Ubuntu 7.04.
  • Dell laptop, with SATA hard disk drive, 2GB of DDR2 RAM, Athlon64 X2 mobile, discrete ATI graphics. Running Mandriva 2008.0 first, then finalized with Ubuntu 7.10.
  • Personal workstation, discrete NVIDIA graphics, 2GB of DDR RAM, Athlon64 X2. Running Mandriva 2008.0.
  • Job workstation, discrete low-range NVIDIA graphics, 1.5GB of DDR RAM, Sempron64. Running Mandriva 2008.
  • Job workstation (assistant), discrete low-range NVIDIA graphics, 768MB of DDR RAM, Sempron64. AGPGART detection problems on cold boot, running Mandriva 2007.1.
  • Test workstation, various graphics cards, 512MB of DDR RAM, AthonXP. Running both Mandriva 2008.0 and Ubuntu 7.10 (dual boot).
  • Dell laptop, SATA, 2GB, Core2 Duo, NVIDIA graphics. Installed Ubuntu 7.10 first, now running Mandriva 2008.0.

To those telling me I didn’t test enough generic hardware, please direct your messages to /dev/null :). These systems have various levels of power and resources, and different hardware add-ons. Some are very close and allow direct comparisons, first between revisions, then between distributions in general. The following article is written based upon my experience with running and tweaking these systems.

Discovering Ubuntu

I had tried Ubuntu a few times before: version 5.04 and 6.10 notably. I must say that, at that time, it felt awkward, unstable (hard crashes) and slow compared with my Mandrake/Mandriva system. A little while ago, I had to overhaul my colleague’s laptop; at the time, I decided that I had better use the most well-known distribution out there, and I downloaded Ubuntu 7.04. This choice helped me compare Feisty (7.04) with Gutsy in this blog entry.

Installing Ubuntu Gutsy

Installing Ubuntu Gutsy (7.10) from the LiveCD was indeed comfortable and felt very stable: since the LiveCD worked, I knew that most of its hardware worked. I hit a snag, though: I wanted to keep a small Vista partition around (just so that support didn’t become a hassle in case of hardware problems), yet Ubuntu allowed me limited options: shrink the Vista partition and create swap and “/" partitions, use the whole disk for swap and “/", or do everything manually. The manual interface was quite limited in my opinion, but still allowed me to do the job (I really, really wanted a separate /home partition). After a few more questions, the install process started—fast.

There was no difference between 7.04 and 7.10—the installer remained identical. So, if you’ve installed 7.04, you should be able to install 7.10 without a problem (barring possible regressions).

Running Ubuntu Gutsy

First of all, I was impressed with the great level of integration the desktop showed: installing proprietary hardware drivers was a snap (required for wi-fi and graphic cards), adding new software was really easy, most (if not all) settings were sensibly located, and all the hardware was well configured.

The wifi saga

The wifi card, which was using the rt61 driver without success, had problems: networks could be detected but not connected to, and WPA support shone by its absence. Moreover, even when not used and uninstalled, the wifi card would eventually hard-lock the system (!).

Thus, I had to physically remove it from the system, and replace it with a Belkin wifi key...

...which was recognized, installed, configured and used in as little time as it takes to plug the key in, select a network in the network manager, and paste the WPA public key when prompted for it. On that account, the Ubuntu system had me bluffed.

Installing that same wifi key under Vista required me to manually extract essential files from the installer package, and shove it down Vista’s throat—literally.


Another problem I had was with the sound chip: for it to work properly, I had to install the Linux development packages, compile the latest version of ALSA, and install it—no problem (this is most likely to be a non-issue with 7.10 anyway, due to the upgraded kernel, which comes with a more recent driver version for this sound chip, as is confirmed by some posts on the Ubuntu forums—however, I can’t dist-upgrade this laptop to 7.10 as I don’t have constant access to it any more).

While installing Ubuntu 7.10 on the first Dell everything went the same way—except, the Ubuntu progress bar isn’t visible (incompatible kernel framebuffer?). The hardware is otherwise entirely recognized and installed. On the second Dell laptop, however, I again had sound trouble—solved with an ALSA upgrade to 1.0.15.


ATI/AMD recently released a much better driver than what they proposed before: fglrx version 8.42.3 not only improves stability and performance from the RADEON 9500 up, it also adds support for Composite and AIGLX across the range! However, I just couldn’t make it work on either laptop—making Compiz unusable on these machines. Driver versions provided through all (whether 7.04 or 7.10, official, universe or multiverse) Ubuntu repositories were too old.

All in all, Ubuntu 7.10 was functional out of the box, and very well optimized with only a little digging required to make it fit perfectly with the system it was installed on.

However, I soon hit a wall: Ubuntu is so graphically advanced that the command line is almost unreachable—which I soon found quite annoying: no “root" account, manual overrides in config files don’t always work, and several operations that should not require a reboot, well, did.

This was true for Ubuntu 7.04, and it still holds true for 7.10, although a few new wizards have appeared to make the transition a bit easier—so, for a few things, this darned command line isn’t necessary any more. Moreover, instead of enabling desktop effects voluntarily, the system automatically detects what the hardware can support, and loads Compiz directly. A tab has been added to the appearance panel, which allows the user to dynamically switch desktop effects between disabled, on and maximum, instantly.

Mandriva 2008.0

Install it!

I didn’t perform a dist-upgrade of any of my Ubuntu systems; I hear that it may work, or not. On a Mandriva system, there are similar problems: upgrading a distribution is not always safe (as a matter of fact, upgrading from 2007.1 to 2008.0 trashed some of my RPM databases so hard they ended up impossible to restore). On the other hand, Mandriva still defaults to a “small“ root partition, keeping “/home" untouched: reinstalling a similar selection of packages will have you back into your usual work environment in not much more time than the upgrade would have taken.

While Mandriva’s installer wizard feels a bit “drier" than Ubuntu’s, it is more powerful in many aspects: a hybrid CD-ROM allows you to install either 32- or 64-bit version, in many different languages (available language selection is on par with Ubuntu’s). In my opinion, the left-hand progress list (visible during the installation) gives a better idea of what is left to do compared with Ubuntu’s method of saying... nothing.

The partitioning utility also gives you the ability to shrink existing partitions, use the full disk or go manual; but then, the manual interface gives you a visual representation of existing partitions, and provides you with an “Expert" mode (under which all known partition types are available); the “auto partitioning" button will save you a lot of hassle. Essentially, when you have freed enough disk space, pressing the button" will instantly create “/", a swap and a “/home" partition. It may also ask you for a “/usr" partition (recommended for server use).

You then create the root and a user account, select your packages (default selection is good enough for most) if you want a fully manual install, or, if you have access to all of the “main" repository, a complete KDE, or GNOME, or “alternative" environment (Enlightenment, Xfce, IceWM are available too) before going to a recap of what will be configured; here, you can set up all network connections, the X server, printing capabilities, security, running services... Or just leave them to default and start the install.

Using Mandriva

For the sake of comparison (and because I just like it), I configured Mandriva to use GNOME instead of KDE; while not the default window manager, GNOME is not a second-class citizen under Mandriva. The biggest difference between the two is that the GNOME control panel has been removed—you are supposed to go through the MCC for most tasks. GNOME-specific settings can still be found under the “system" menu, and are fairly consistent across both distributions.

Setting Mandriva up

However, the real strength of Mandriva is that, while it is perfectly possible to use it full-time with a GUI, most of its tools and functions are also available in command-line mode: you can run a Mandriva system through an ssh session with little in the way of difficulties, and several script managing daemons reduce reboots to a bare minimum (i.e., for kernel updates or improperly reset hardware state).

Updating sound drivers will require a mere “service alsa restart" to look for (and list) applications using sound, save mixer settings, unload all sound-related modules, reload current modules, and reload mixer settings. Same with HTTP, Samba, CUPS... Similarly, tools to configure network connections, X settings, 3D effects settings, mouse and keyboard settings, locale settings, etc. provide an ncurses interface with very similar features to those ones found under their X counterparts.

Moreover, Mandriva got lauded for their clever little applet for 3D configuration back when 2007.0 came out; in version 2008.0, you have a choice: no 3D (!), Metisse (a Project Looking Glass-like system), and Compiz—the latter can be used in “native" mode (AIGLX) or through Xgl. Compared with Ubuntu’s, it is thus far more powerful, yet a bit less practical as it requires you to close the session when switching effects on or off (this is probably due to Xgl and Metisse concerns, as both would require a session restart anyway).

However, not all is rosy. Several niceties found under Ubuntu, like the Wifi manager or automatic sensors detection, have to be installed manually; read/write NTFS is on by default but has to be enabled through the partitioning utility (it will download and install ntfs-3g by itself), or install ntfs-3g yourself (but then, you can install it from sources, or install the slightly outdated one in the repositories); configuring new repositories is still a bit of a hassle, even though the repository manager has gotten much more efficient and streamlined over its 2007.0/2007.1 predecessor.

I also plugged the Belkin Wifi key into a Mandriva system. Nothing happened; so I went into the Mandriva Control Panel, and chose “Add a Network Connection". Selecting Wireless, it asked me what hardware I wanted to install, citing two detected devices (both referred to the same hardware, but only the second answered—the wizard was basing itself upon udev...); it then downloaded its firmware, loaded the module, asked me for network details, and I was browsing with the best of them.

Many tools are provided to make configuration easier: the smart package manager works a lot like Synaptics, and can advantageously replace urpmi; the MCC covers most administrative tasks you may need; and several utilities, which had for a long time been awkward to use, got reorganized, slimmed down and fixed—and most retain their ncurses-based interfaces.

Personally, I prefer Mandriva’s hardware manager over Ubuntu’s: more details, more features. Still, most hardware installations will require a form of user intervention, while Ubuntu took Plug’n’Play to a new level.

Mandriva vs. Ubuntu: a matter of performance

What defines performance? Is it measurable? Or does it depend on several factors? I will sum up what I found out about both distributions here. Of course, your mileage may vary; I didn’t do precise measurements, but I did submit both systems to inexperienced GNU/Linux users, and introduced them to it. For me, performance is not how much HP a system outputs; it’s about how fast it allows you to do something.

As I said, to level the playing field, both distributions are using the GNOME desktop (and it just so happens that both Mandriva 2008.0 and Ubuntu 7.10 use GNOME 2.20). This gives Ubuntu an edge, as it is natively designed around GNOME, while Mandriva is by default installed with KDE.

Boot time

Both boot reasonably fast; on identical hardware, there is no clear winner. As mentioned, Ubuntu 7.10 had trouble displaying a progress screen on an ATI 1100 IGP—but X loaded normally. On the other hand, Unbreakable X made sure I would get an X server anyway. The screen problem could come from an incompatible ATI kernel framebuffer; since Mandriva uses a generic VESA one, it is less prone to this kind of problem.

No system is ever perfect; as such, it is always useful to be able to track what happens to a system at boot, and to see where it freezes. Now, both Ubuntu and Mandriva provide a loading bar at boot. However, Ubuntu will remove it only in case of a problem (or it will freeze while keeping you in the dark), while Mandriva allows you to see hardware detection and daemon loading messages with a key press.

Mandriva 2008, with its service set-up interface, allows easier tune-up than Ubuntu; you can disable services you don’t want to load at boot time, speeding up the process. For example, if you don’t use a local printer queue, why would you need cups, and if you have one but not an HP printer, what is the use for hplip?

While Mandriva doesn’t provide Unbreakable X, in case X won’t load, the dm daemon provides debugging information and loads an ncurses interface so that you can reset In the worst case scenario, you can delete’s config file; X will rebuild a basic one, dm will try loading it thrice, then ask you to manually configure X. More often than not, it’s a matter of accepting autodetected values, and letting dm restart.

I was also confronted with some strange behaviour: when trying to set up the login screen with a navigator (so that users could merely click on their profile), Ubuntu would sometimes load it, sometimes not. Mandriva didn’t fret; moreover, the complete separation of root and other accounts allows for a no-password connection to a user account, while still protecting sensitive areas with a password.

In short, Mandriva allows you to start your session faster than Ubuntu with only a few tune-ups. On default settings though, both are created equal.

First use

Ubuntu 7.10 comes with everything out of the box: network manager, updates notifier, power saving features, hardware sensors, NTFS read/write configuration and installation, proprietary drivers and applications management... As soon as you’re done installing Ubuntu, you can use it fully. On top of extended compositing capabilities and read/write for NTFS, 7.10 brings refinement and a more contrasted wallpaper, on top of some extra speed and smoothness.

Mandriva 2008, on the other hand, requires some fiddling to perfectly fit with what one would expect of it. Don’t get me wrong, most useful applications are here, and installing any complete environment is but a meta-package away. Hardware sensors don’t come out of the box: you need to run lm_sensors to get them all, and then you have to set up the applets... While Ubuntu also provides lm_sensors, “easy" sensor modules (such as Athlon64 internal CPU sensors) are detected and loaded.

As such, this is an overwhelming victory for the Ubuntu camp: Feisty Fawn was already quite good, but Gutsy Gibbon sure squeezes the juice out of your hardware right away.

Mandriva’s shortcomings

Mandriva was long decried for its awkward graphical installer, rpmdrake, which required four separate interfaces to work: an installer, an uninstaller, an updater, and a repository manager. Starting with version 2007.0, these interfaces were merged, and in version 2008.0 add/remove became one while updates added a different layout for extra information. It also took a page out of Ubuntu’s book by adding an “add/remove program" icon to the application menu. Ubuntu still has the edge in speed here, thanks to Synaptics (although Mandriva provides smart, which is essentially Synaptics for RPM, but not used by default), and also a user-rated application search engine, where Mandriva merely sorts packages by use, categories and sub-categories.

Another problem with Mandriva was that you either loved the themes, or hated them. In version 2008.0, the “Ia Ora" themes are still present, but the fonts have changed: Red Hat’s Liberation fonts are used all over the place. They bring a crispier display, save on screen real estate and don’t get blurry when filtering is on—even subpixel filtering looks better. Of course, the scary looking monster of 2005LE is history; icon sets are slick and gained some more contrast; and opening sounds are less intrusive (to me) than Ubuntu’s.

Both distributions can deal with various uses; Mandriva comes with a very large repository of user-contributed free software, but Ubuntu dwarves it easily. Please note, however, that when you reach over 20,000 packages (as is the case for Mandriva, too), there is very little chance that you can’t find what you’re looking for.

Ubuntu’s shortcomings

Using a system for the first time sure gives you a lasting impression, and I can’t fault people for using Ubuntu: on the matter of ease of use, it sure beats any other operating system I’ve seen—Mandriva included. However, you can very well use Mandriva with its default settings—and don’t forget that this is the free edition! Powerpack comes with a different set of applications pre-installed, which may reduce some of the gaps found here.

There is also one area where Ubuntu 7.10 proved slightly trickier than both Mandriva and Feisty Fawn: the installation of the Flash plugin. Mandriva and 7.04 rely upon Firefox’s integrated plugin search system, which works much, much better in 32-bit mode than Ubuntu’s wizard (it crashed on me; I had to use Synaptics to install it, and restart Firefox to use it); on the other hand, Ubuntu 7.10’s wizard has the advantage of providing Gnash as a fallback option (which works for 64-bit), while Mandriva leaves you guessing as it provides it too (and a plugin for Konqueror, too), but you will have to install it yourself.

Non-free drivers

If you want to install proprietary drivers (essentially, 3D drivers), both are pretty much a wash: Ubuntu provides a manager that seats on your notification area, while Mandriva will merely inform you that a proprietary driver is available if you care to use it, if it appears on a repository when you configure Thus, Ubuntu makes it a bit easier, but on the other hand, Mandriva gives you a bit more options to tune up either drivers (typically, Freedesktop’s Ati drivers provide EXA and Composite acceleration; the latter is enabled by default, not the former).

Mandriva—just tweak it

But then, here is where Mandriva pulls slightly ahead: due to its older roots, Mandriva doesn’t let the command line fall into disarray; setting up a new graphics driver should be done with X turned off, and there, merely by allowing easy management of daemons and services and a fully fledged root account, setting up a new driver, while not being a breeze, is at least possible without too much head scratching... And a lot less reboots.

Ubuntu provides several versions of the proprietary ATI driver: version 8.37 takes care of “older" hardware, while 8.41 is there for RADEON HD. However, version 8.42 came out recently, and it brought many, many improvements to ATI cards from the r300 up—including AIGLX support, and I wanted to see Gutsy Gibbon in 3D. Mandriva comes with several versions of the fglrx driver, but also with current 6.6.3 r300, abandoned avivo, and nascent radeonhd driver—and if that’s not enough, a CVS extract of future 6.7.0 r300.

Installing a driver myself proved inconclusive. Unbreakable X was, I suspect, reversing every and all changes I made to X to make the system work with the new driver. I did try to build a package, then to install it manually, then to find a pre-built package: nothing. Well, maybe in a few weeks...

On the other hand, I have the bad luck of owning a very fickle digital flat panel—a Viewsonic vx2025wm—which is known for a very moody numeric connection. NVIDIA driver versions past 97.55 would constantly make it go black and show an “out of range" error—luckily, Mandriva sticking to age-old rules of logs and using existing low-level systems made overriding NVIDIA’s blob’s failing detection routines not a breeze, but not a harder fight than it needed to be—something I couldn’t fathom ever happening under Ubuntu without turning off Unbreakable X—in which case Mandriva’s error detection and fall-back systems just rule.

Moreover, for business use, Mandriva’s numerous installers (found inside its Mandriva Control Center, MCC for short) are extremely useful: installing several printers, be they connected locally, over a network, or connected to a networked machine, is a breeze; Samba configuration requires zero config file editing; network management can be done through the same applet Ubuntu 7.10 provides, but also through several wizards that allow any type of network connection known to man to be configured.


Well, finally, what can be said? Both distributions have their pros and cons. Mandriva has recently consolidated its product lines and offers, allowing users afraid to be on their own the reassurance of paid for support while leaving a very convincing offer available to free software users, while Ubuntu is appearing more and more often pre-installed on consumer computers—and version 7.10 should be even easier to pre-install.

I would close this little comparison with what I think those distributions are for: Ubuntu (and 7.10 more than ever) is good for a no-nonsense, powerful, integrated system where everything works out of the box with minimal or no support, while Mandriva is more for the curious user, even if a beginner, who doesn’t want to waste too much time installing a working system, and then tweaks it the way he wants it to be. However, of the two releases, I find Mandriva 2008.0 a bit more polished than Ubuntu: some translations are missing in Gutsy Gibbon, and the welcomed Flash/Gnash installer just didn’t work. It may need a few more updates to work, while Mandriva 2008.0, for once, worked well right out of Release Candidate status.



Frederic Crozat's picture

First, thanks you for this interesting review. We'll look at some of the point you raised for next Mandriva release.

However, I'd like to correct some errors in your article about Mandriva 2008.0 and ask some questions :
-it might have been more interesting to compare Ubuntu LiveCD installer with Mandriva One Live-install and Ubuntu installer with Mandriva "standard" installer (called DrakX). There is even a Mandriva One 2008.0 GNOME release to make sure comparison is fair, specially when you are stating Mandriva is not completely ready after installation.
-draksound should be able to help you reconfigure your sound card. But I'm not sure it will kill programs still using sound card when you want to switch sound drivers.
-the rpm database corruption is still under investigation but it appears to be only for people who did a 2007.0 initial installation and then upgrade to 2007.1 and to 2008.0 (or directly to 2008.0). Fortunately, we have been able to duplicate it in our office yesterday (friday), after more than one month trying to find what was causing it and why we could duplicate it (and fixing a bug you can't duplicate can be very hard). More information is available at
-GNOME control center interface (often called shell) is not "removed" from Mdv 2008.0, we just have hidden it from default menu (just like Fedora or upstream GNOME), because we felt it would confuse user to have both Mandriva Control Center (for system "administration") and a separate desktop control center.
-about NTFS/NTFS-3g, it should have been automatically configured by default for NTFS partitions detected at install time. Was it not the case ? Or did you plugged a NTFS drive after installation ? (We know there was a bug for Mandriva One ISO images which are lacking ntfs-3g, it will be fixed for 2008.1).
-about Wifi, net-applet is automatically installed and configured by default and it handles Wifi network transparently (and it includes now a Network Center with a quick summary and fast way to change wifi network). You didn't got the "automatically working" wifi when you plugged your USB wifi key because you used installation which only install software relevant to your current hardware at install time. If you had installed a Mandriva One image, you would have had wifi firmware pre-installed by default (since they must been supported at boot time). It is a trade-off between installation vs liveCD. You obviously wouldn't like ton of useless packages installed by default on your system for hardware you don't have. But I agree net-applet should try to warn you it detected a new hardware and ask you if you want to configure it.
-what was the problem with configuring ftp repository ?
-stating that Ubuntu has an edge because Mandriva is shipping KDE by default is a little too extreme, IMHO. It might have been true 7 years ago, for Mdk 7.2, but since then, situation has evolved a lot. We are committed to support BOTH desktop environments (which is why we make sure to include features in both environments when it is relevant), which is why you are asked at install time which environment you want to install. Not modifying GNOME a lot, compared to upstream, is a design choice : we prefer to stick to GNOME upstream as much as possible and modify it only when it is relevant.
-I agree sensors are not configured by default by installer. I'll forward this request, but I'm not sure it will be done (not everybody is monitoring their system sensors ;)
-Mandriva fallback for X not working is not using a fallback X server because sometime, even a VESA server would not work (try on old i810 systems ;). Using ncursing might not be pretty, compared to Ubuntu solution, but we know it will always work. Moreover, this feature is available for 4 or 5 years in Mandriva / Mandrake distributions..
-Changing X driver can be done while X is running, you don't have to fallback to text mode first.
-Liberation fonts are NOT used all over the place for the desktop. They are only used as Microsoft fonts substitute for web pages under Firefox / Konqueror. All desktop applications are still using DejaVu font by default ! What you probably noticed is font rendering improvement, thanks to hard work of freetype team.

Mitch Meyran's picture

...but then I really, really, really couldn't afford to download and burn the several gigabytes of CD-ROM and DVD-ROM images and test them all. Talk about floorin' a FTP!
I don't use draksound to reconfigure my sound card, usually - but then, I find "service alsa (re)start" useful enough for most of my uses (as in, updating ALSA). By the way, a suggestion: a 'dkms-alsa' package, installing a more recent version of ALSA would be damn useful.
The rpm database corruption has, indeed, occurred on a 2007.0 upgraded to 2007.1 thenupgraded to 2008.0.
The 'hidden' Gnome CC was not a problem - I just mentioned it because it was, well, different.
As for ntfs-3g, no, it wasn't the case on USB disk drives formatted in NTFS - and unfortunately, it's not very easy to overcome.
The network center: yes, I've discovered it too after writing the article. It's nice - but it would need a bit more polish: hardware-deactivated cards (those with a switch) appear as 'eth1' and are not obvious enough; moreover, it would probably be better to invert the tray's icon right-click and left-click behaviour, or have the wizard pop up when clicking a "advanced..." option.
The FTP repository was probably just off-line at the time of testing...
Ubuntu uses GNOME - to the exclusion of everything else (Kubuntu is often seen as 'Ubuntu with KDE glued on it'). I'm not saying that Mandriva doesn't support both desktops, just that Ubuntu supports GNOME very, very, very well.
I know that a fallback to VESA doesn't always work (Ati Rage Mobility chips have dodgy VESA implementation too ;) - so I'm not critical about it (on the contrary, I like it a lot!)
I know it is possible to change X drivers without switching to text mode first, but - dixit several programmers in Nouveau and r300 projects - it's better...
As for the font, well, the DejaVu fonts must have been changed a lot because their width/height ratio has changed - if it comes from work on Freetype rendering, all the better, I'm not one to complain. On the other hand, go and tell Liberation Sans apart from DejaVu Sans, on a 12pt size... You'll understand my mistake, then.

Merci pour toutes ces précisions :)

A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open windows.

Ano's picture
Submitted by Ano (not verified) on

As a Mandriva user, I really tried ubuntu in a fair way and as such, I really like your article which does the same.
But one thing I didnt stand is the lack of cooperation of the 2 desktops, KDE and GNOME. In mandriva install a KDE app using GNOME, or a GNOME app using KDE, and you get zero problem.
I installed ubuntu but wanted to keep on using kmail, as my mail and configurations were done for this app. Well, after installation, it just doesnt appear in the menus. I discovered I had to actually go into an advanced menu and manually activate the kmail menu.
I found that gross and unproductive. It may seem a silly point to complain about, but it was the spirit of this problem that was really chilling. I mean, if I install an app, it's because I want to use it, why does the system try to prevent me from using what I want?

Paranoid Dave's picture
Submitted by Paranoid Dave (not verified) on

Thanks for a well considered comparison. Indeed there are now quite a few top notch distros and I suppose in the end its a matter of personal preference after having prioritised the pros and cons of each. After defecting from Xandros a few months ago I considered both Mandriva and Ubuntu but the latest Gutsy release has one feature that gives it the edge - the ability to encrypt the partition or drive and which seems little publicized but which I found here I'm not sure that this be done on Mandriva or not but I think all the major players ought to consider this.

Mitch Meyran's picture supported at the kernel driver level. Mandriva still supports cryptoloop (use of the kernel LVM encryption on a loopback device), but it is considered obsolete - you should use LUKS instead.
A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open windows.

yoho's picture

Mandriva currently supports both but loopback-based encryption system is going to be deprecated.

lavaeolus's picture
Submitted by lavaeolus (not verified) on

Mandriva's Draknetcenter network configuration-tool lets you configure a wifi-card just as easy as ubuntu and on top of that gives you much more options (just open the advanced section), I had much less problems setting up my wpa-protected wifi-network on Mandriva than on Ubuntu, which didn't give me an option to use wpa when setting up the network manually (I use fixed IP-Adresses and therefore prefer to configure my network by hand).

This is a problem with ubuntu in my opinion: it tries to dumb the system down in many places, making it unneccesarily hard to configure something manually, either you go the ubuntu-way or you go nowhere.

Just one thought on themes: not everyone likes Ubuntu's brown either, and it is easy to change themes on both distributions.

I would prefer Ubuntu for a new user who just wants to have a running system for his day-to-day tasks, but I personally prefer Mandriva, because I find it easier to configure it to my personal needs.

Two things in Mandriva that nobody seems to mention are the drakwizards and msec, the drakwizards let you set up many network-services, while msec lets you secure your system.

Back before Mandriva(Mandrake) 9.0 rpmdrake (the graphical package installer) was one application as it is now again, so this four seperate apps was not always the case, btw. it was still one app (rpmdrake), there were just four seperate links to it (starting it with different parameters), but yes the new interface is definitely much easier to use (like it was back in the old 8.2 times :-)). Personally I can't say that synaptic is really that faster and to be honest I don't find smart that much smarter than rpmdrake, btw. synaptic is available for Mandriva, just look in the contrib repositories.

Mitch Meyran's picture

...urpmi is only able to download one package at a time. When you have 190 packages of a few kilobytes each to download, synaptics' and smart's ability to start 2 simultaneous downloads allow for a much better use of available bandwidth.
And yes, I noticed after posting that synaptics is also available for Mandriva.
A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open windows.

yoho's picture

How could downloading two files at once be faster than downloading one file at a time ?? Your bandwidth is the limit... Suppose your bandwidth is 1MB/s : downloading two 1MB files will take 2s, whatever method you choose... However, I agree urpmi first download all the files then install them : it should be possible to download one file & install the previous downloaded one at the same time.

Mitch Meyran's picture

...are part of any Internet transaction; when setting up a transfer, you can have several seconds of delay when a transfer is started, during which bandwidth is unused - at all. By starting several transfers simultaneously, you ensure that bandwidth is used all during the transfert.
Moreover, if downloads take place from several sites, you remove one possible strangle point: the server's maximum available (or allocaed) bandwidth to your download.
As such, downloading several files at the same time optimize your available bandwidth - and this improvement can speed up downloads at least a little, and at best incredibly.

A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open windows.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Nice, now why don't you compare Ubuntu to Mandriva One instead of Free?

Mitch Meyran's picture

...being that Mandriva One and Free differ on one very simple point: One comes packaged with non-Free drivers, and is a LiveCD with install capabilities. That's all there is to it - oh, and the Ia-Ora theme is a different colour in One.
Mandriva One is best matched against Kubuntu + non-Free drivers - I don't really see the point in comparing those once installed on a system.
A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open windows.

freelock's picture


Nice article. I used Mandrake/Mandriva on my primary systems for years, and eventually switched over to Ubuntu with 6.06. What eventually made me switch was just that Ubuntu had a bit more support for 3rd-party software, as a Debian derivative. I found that while Mandriva was quite good, it had its own ideas of where to put different libraries, which meant tracking down the right switches to feed configure scripts, and all sorts of other things, when there's already a .deb available.

Anyway, the main thing I wanted to point out is that Ubuntu has not let the command line environment slide in any way at all. It's just different. It is rooted in the "Debian way" of doing things, rather than having Red Hat roots. Yes, it's unfamiliar at first, and yes, some of the tools are different or missing, but it's no less powerful. Reconfiguring X can be done with dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg. You can get a root account by simply using sudo passwd, and setting a root password. Yes, Ubuntu installs a minimal shell environment by default, but all the power tools are an apt-get away. And if you try to run a shell program that isn't there, most of the time it'll tell you what package to install to get it! The shell is hardly a second class interface in Ubuntu.

I'm not sure what manual overrides in shell files aren't working for you, or what required a reboot--about the only time I have to reboot is related to incompatible hardware drivers. The config files all take changes the same way, but often the actual files you change are different in Debian systems.

In all, I do like the way Mandriva sets up the shell environment by default--aliases for ls -l, lots of tools and automatic system checks. I just thought I'd point out that Ubuntu is no slouch. We've even been using it on servers--we have probably a dozen running various versions of Ubuntu, none of them with X. Certain things make them much nicer to administer for our needs--a2ensite for quickly enabling/disabling Apache virtual hosts, for example.


Michael Scherer's picture
Submitted by Michael Scherer (not verified) on

Well, dpkg-reconfigure only take care of configuring a single package, which mean you cannot do high level operations, like setting a complete gateway, or a mail server with postfix + clamav + amavis ( as this need to modify 3 single packages ), and I doubt dpkg-reconfigure can install on demand needed package, like XFdrake does ( well, it can, but this is likely be forbidden by policy ). That's not the goal of this tool.

It would be nice to have such wizards for debian, and from what I have seen, macosX does this quite well.

And well, debian people always refused to enhance the default configuration of some console tool ( like having vim using syntax on by default, or grep --color, or various tricks like that with less ), so they are not really a perfect exemple of "treating the console as a first class citizen". i think ubuntu could be much improved in this regard.

tenshu's picture

Thank you for this great review

You should mention that ubuntu is a reelly young distro
And that's exiting to be a part of this project

A tip for you
To install restricted codecs, falsh plugin, rar ...
Juste install ubuntu-restricted-extras

Steve Brennan's picture
Submitted by Steve Brennan (not verified) on


First off thanks for such a great article. It's refreshing to see an open-minded review. I too use both Mandriva 2008 and Ubuntu 7.10, and whilst both have their advantages and disadvantages one of the things that Mandriva has that Ubuntu doesn't have is the ability to customise the software you install. For example I prefer using Epiphany rather then Firefox as my web browser. Mandriva gives me the ability to deselect Firefox from the installation and to select Epiphany in it's place. Ubuntu on the other hand pre-installs Firefox whether you want it to or not.

However this is just a minor thing and any software you want which is not included in the default installation of Ubuntu can be easily added afterwards :). One of the joys of Linux is the freedom of choice it gives the end user, and with such great distro's such as Ubuntu and Mandriva those choices can be hard to make at times. Anyway enough rambling from me, thanks once again for such a great article :)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Many people keep making reference to the freedom of choice that free software provides and in particular the large number of Linux distros. I The trouble is that the distros are all so similar in the fundamentals, but very different in the fine details, and this makes the choice very difficult to make. There are so many variables to consider, and no large important differences that would make the choice clear cut. I find myself continually oscilating back and forth between different distros. Really I would prefer no choice to these very difficult choices. No matter which distro I pick for the moment within a week I am beginning to think I made the wrong choice and I make a new choice.

Mitch Meyran's picture

Well then, I have a nice computer to sell to you: it has an operating system that displays its files in several trees based on disk drives, mapping network connections to virtual disk drives if I need them, and the tree goes top to bottom.
If you want to display your files in a single tree, you can't; if you want to connect to network shares through the share's protocol, you can't; if you want to browse the Web with an image-less browser, you can't; if you want to use an interface in a different language than the one installed, you can't; if you want to install unapproved drivers, you can't; if you want to use keyboard shortcuts to do some actions, you can't; if you want to automate some actions through scripts, you can't.

Welcome to Microsoft Windows. Where do you want to go today? <click> unknown file type. Do you want to browse the web and install virii-infested malware to try and open it? <no> are you sure? <yes> Installing web application, bypassing malware checker <cancel> system error: user has performed an illegal operation. Please reinstall Windows.

Of course, when you don't have any choice, you put up with this.
A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open windows.

EisBlade's picture
Submitted by EisBlade (not verified) on

I'm new to linux, have distro-jumped for about a 1.5 years, and settled on Mandriva One 2008 for it's overall packaging, appearance, and feel it had to it. I don't require much, but do want to be able to watch movies and other media on my home PC. Mandriva now sits on the shelf, unused, staring jealously down on me as I happily hum along with LinuxMint 4.0. Not my first preference, but noone was able to help me through my soundcard issue. During the boot process (black screens) my soundcard would activate and a loud squeeling would come from the speakers. The mic had been turned on which picked up room noise, the speakers turned on and spit the sound from the mic out, and that sound fed directly back into the mic. A wicked loop of feedback. The only real suggestion I got on the forums? To mute the mic. What sort of nonsense is that? I need to be able to video chat with my son on the other side of the US, and that requires a functioning sound card with nothing disabled nor muted. Ubuntu installed smoothly and properly detected as did Mint, but Mint didn't require tweaking anything and...just worked. I'd still like to get back to Mandriva One, but the sound card issue is beyond me and I didn't have access to anyone that could help.


Mitch Meyran's picture

ALSA provides 2 settings by input device: capture, and playback. Muting the mic would make the mic still pick up sound, but captured sound would not be fed back to the speakers! So, muting the mic is a VERY good idea - unmuting it is useful for debugging (it allows you to test that your mic actually works), but you will usually keep it muted (probably what Mint does).
You may take this Mandriva CD off the shelf now.
A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open windows.

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Mitch Meyran's picture


Have you ever fixed a computer with a hammer, glue and a soldering iron? Why not? It's fun!