Comparing the descendants of Mandrake and Mandriva Linux

Distro inferno: Scions include OpenMandriva, Mageia, ROSA Linux and PCLinuxOS


Analysis The OpenMandriva project last week released a new version: OpenMandriva LX 4.3 for x86-64 and ARM64 hardware. OpenMandriva is a continuation of the Mandriva Linux distro, but not the only one. The Register rounds up the siblings.

The OpenMandriva Association was established in 2012 to continue the development of the Mandriva distro. Mandriva itself went into liquidation in 2015. Another prominent fork, Mageia, split off slightly earlier, in 2010.

The same year, a Russian company, ROSA, also started, and continues to maintain its own branch of the distro for sale in Russian-speaking countries.

Their shared parent distro was called Mandrake. In 2005, MandrakeSoft bought Brazilian distro Conectiva and renamed itself Mandriva to avoid a trademark dispute.

Mandriva was one of the first live Linux distros on a USB key, and its founder Gaël Duval now sells de-Googled smartphones.

A 2003 fork of the original Mandrake, called PCLinuxOS, is still around and still getting updated. Since their shared beginnings were as a version of Red Hat Linux bundled with KDE, which Red Hat would not include due to licensing issues, the fairest comparison seemed to be the KDE editions of all four.

Since they're all related to one of the friendliest of the 1990s distros, all of the distros have some basic features in common. They all look unusually polished even by contemporary standards, with graphical GRUB menus, customised loading screens and wallpapers. Three of them have a handy Control Centre, a global system-admin tool, which can handle hardware config, setting up scanners, printers, software repositories, and so on, and all of them include a choice of media players.

OpenMandriva

OpenMandriva LX 4.3 was released on February 6th 2022. This is the newest release of the lot, so as you might expect, you get the latest kernel (5.16), LibreOffice 7.3, and so on. It includes kernel KDE 5.23.3, as it appeared just a few days before KDE 5.24.

OpenMandriva used the same cross-distro Calamares installer as GeckoLinux. It also has a feature that Ubuntu users will find familiar: a combined user and admin account, with the sudo command preinstalled. It uses Fedora's dnf tool for package management, and the Mandriva's urpmi command wasn't installed.

KDE is configured with a dark theme and a coloured start button, and no apps pinned to the taskbar at all. OpenMandriva also has a decorative floral-themed look which extends from the GRUB screen to the desktop wallpaper.

Uniquely, OpenMandriva includes a desktop theme switching tool in its Welcome app, which offers a variety of desktop layouts: the KDE default, plus ones resembling Windows 7, Windows 10, macOS, and Ubuntu.

We found the Ubuntu look to be broken and unusable, but the others worked well. You get Windows 7 or 10-like title bars, appropriately arranged Start menus, and the Win10 look has a taskbar search box, monochrome status icons and so on. The macOS-like layout is a little crude but surprisingly functional, with a global menu bar in the top panel, a customisable dock and so on.

Mageia

Mageia 8 was released a year ago, but after an update, it's pretty current, with kernel 5.15 and KDE Plasma 5.20.

Like most distros before Ubuntu, it has separate root and user accounts. You must enter passwords for both, and the sudo command isn't installed by default. For software packaging, both urpmi and dnf came installed and working.

There are other signs of duplication, too: for instance, it offers both the Firefox and Konqueror web browsers, and two graphical package managers (RPMdrake and dnfdragora). You also get HP's printer drivers pre-installed. Mageia uses its own network-manager applet, rather than the KDE default one, and instead of a virtual-desktop switcher, it pins KDE's Activity switcher to the panel.

KDE's docs are not the clearest on this, but it seems to be a superset of virtual desktop functionality: each "activity" screen can be customised separately.

Like OpenMandriva, Mageia has a nifty "Welcome" app that appears on the first run (and subsequently, unless you turn it off). This offers more than, for example, Mint's fairly basic Welcome screen. You can configure software sources, run system updates, add suggested applications, codecs and plugins (with appropriate copyright warnings). Its Control Centre prominently features UPS support, which is unusual but nice to have, and the distro comes with parental controls installed by default.

Mageia has some pleasing touches. We liked the animated loading screen which is coordinated with the GRUB background and the desktop wallpaper. At the end of the installation, the installer runs a full update on the newly installed system. It takes a little longer, but by the first boot, it's bang up to date.

ROSA Linux

We tried the ROSA Linux Fresh Desktop 12.1, but the ROSA also offers other distros for enterprise users, virtualization hosts and so on.

The Fresh desktop uses the Anaconda installer from Fedora: it's not a personal favourite of the author's, but it works and it will be familiar to Fedora fans. By default, the root account is disabled, and the normal user account is also the admin.

Also like Fedora, the only package-management tool installed by default is dnf, and unusually, the default browser is Chromium rather than Firefox.

A little like Ubuntu Kylin, even if you install in English, now and again things appear in the language of the region the distro targets. In ROSA Fresh, the software updater is in Russian (which your correspondent does not speak), as was the tooltip on the panel's date/time indicator in the live environment.

One peculiarity of computing in Czechia is a near-universal love for orthodox file managers – the old two-pane type of tool, exemplified by Norton Commander or the modern Total Commander. ROSA Fresh includes one of these, Krusader, so maybe this affection extends further east, too.

ROSA adds icons for system settings and a trashcan on the right of the panel, and dispenses with Welcome or Control Centre apps. For graphical package management, again ROSA looks towards Fedora with the dnfdragora tool. Its theme is a restrained icy blue, perhaps reflecting a more businesslike focus than OpenMandriva and Mageia's novice or home user.

Post-update, ROSA Fresh had KDE Plasma 5.22 and kernel 5.10.

PCLinuxOS

PCLinuxOS is an American distro, founded Bill "Texstar" Reynolds in 2003. This means it's had longer to diverge from its shared roots than the others.

We tried PCLinuxOS 2021.11. After an update, it has kernel 5.15 and it's the only distro on test with the latest KDE 5.24.

Like Mageia, it has the old-style model of separate root and user accounts, and sudo isn't installed by default. Unusually for an RPM-based distro, though, it uses apt for command-line package management – so you won't find dnf, urpmi, yum or anything else. The only graphical package-management tool provided is Synaptic.

PCLinuxOS looks simpler and more stripped-back than the others. The desktop is bare other than a shortcut to the Dolphin file manager, and the wallpaper and GRUB menu are simple colour blends. There's no Welcome app and a very simple, clean Start menu: no sidebars, no pinned favourites, no categories or sub-submenus.

Quite a wide range of apps are pre-installed, including non-KDE ones such as GParted instead of the KDE partition manager. It comes with MEGA, Filezilla, Nitroshare, Anydesk, OBS Studio, even Zoom and Spotify. Unusually, the Control Center [sic] has a tool to import documents and settings from a Windows installation.

There are a few instances of duplication, such as both Bleachbit and Sweeper for privacy-oriented clean-ups, and both the normal Konsole terminal app and Yakuake for a drop-down Quake-style terminal.

The distro feels almost stark and bare compared to the others, but given KDE's tendency to be cluttered with options, controls and widgets, that's a good thing. There's less hand-holding, but more pro tools: drop-down terminals, htop and CPU-X.

PCLinuxOS feels refreshing: like a distro for someone who knows what they're doing, rather than the newbies for which most distros try to cater.

Conclusion

There is a lot of overlap between these distros, as one might expect. There are more options than we have space to cover: Mageia also offers GNOME and Xfce editions, and PCLinuxOS MATE and Xfce ones, for example.

There really isn't a lot to choose between Mageia and OpenMandriva, and both seem to be trying to address the same type of user. We hope it's not too impudent to suggest that settling their differences and merging might benefit both.

ROSA Linux focuses on a different market and is going its own way, including importing features from Fedora, which is no bad thing.

Meanwhile, PCLinuxOS offers an interesting alternative for the clueful, with some handy additions, even including proprietary ones. It does some things better than more mainstream alternatives and has just won itself a place on the writer's emergency Ventoy USB key.

All of them could teach their more mainstream rivals a trick or two. The Control Centre rivals openSUSE's Yast as a global system-management tool, for example. All run well in VirtualBox, too, complete with auto-scaling to window size. If you haven't looked at the Mandrake/Mandriva family in a decade or two, as the author hadn't, you might be impressed. We were. ®

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