Sunday, June 01, 2008

Mandriva 2008 Spring vs. Ubuntu 8.04 LTS ... and how neither one wins :(

You might remember from my old Ubuntu 7.10 vs Mandriva 2008 story and later from the Fedora vs. OpenSUSE vs. Ubuntu on both x86 and PPC that the winner of the 'end of 2007 Linux competition' was Ubuntu 7.10 (but only by a whisker or so) - and I was actually mentioning that the competition only started to get more interesting - so now we are a the end of the spring 2008 and it's time to see how things have evolved ...

Mandriva launched the new 2008 Spring version (or 2008.1) around April 9th 2008 and just 2 weeks later around April 24th Ubuntu 8.04 LTS was out clogging the internet pipes in a download frenzy :) Needless to say - I have tested some of the beta and release candidates before those launch dates and very soon I have also installed both final versions on a number of computers - but as always there were too many other more urgent things to finish first and I wanted a slightly longer-term experiment with those so only now I will try to do a (rather short) review of those two.

I will start with the good part - Mandriva 2008.1 got slightly better than the previous version with the new 2.6.24 kernel and the entire color theme and user interface remains very good, polished and usable - which probably make Mandriva one of the best distributions around if you want both KDE and GNOME.

In a rather similar way Ubuntu 8.04 has integrated the newer 2.6.24 kernel and all the latest sofware and has also done a number of small usability improvements - for instance for a newcomer from Windows WUBI might a nice way to take a first look at Linux.

Unfortunately here is where the constructive criticism must start - BOTH Mandriva 2008.1 AND Ubuntu 8.04 LTS just scream 'unfinished work' all over them - it might be a general Linux feature that it's an evolving target but the fact that 'managers' from both Ubuntu and Mandriva somehow decided that they will replace the major winner of the entire open-source philosophy of building software - we will ship when it is ready - with time-fixed release dates (which not even Microsoft is able to pull most of the time) is such a huge mistake - and is mind-blowing that the entire media is still missing the fact that by officially abandoning the 'we will ship when it is ready' approach the open-source just handed a major victory to the closed-source camp :(

Among the worst parts in Mandriva:
  1. On clean installations on certain notebook video cards (and NOT the 'latest stuff', just ordinary intel cards that worked perfect with the previous installer...) the dual-output leads to a bad graphics configuration and the system can not start in GUI mode - a more experienced user is able to fix things very quick from the command line but it's easy to see how somebody without any previous Linux/X11 experience will run scared and never look back;
  2. There is still a problem with suspend/hibernate which seems to be related to a 'video suspend script' - the 'suggested workaround' is to remove the script /usr/share/pm-utils/sleep.d/20video ???
  3. CPU SpeedStep is OK for 1.2 GHz Low-Voltage Pentium-M models but not for the slightly-newer 1.4 GHz Low-Voltage Dothan ??? (which works fine in Ubuntu or Windows).
  4. HUGE problem in certain configurations with the default inode size on EXT3 - 'normal/older' versions of GRUB can not even boot from those !!!

Good or at least better-than-Ubuntu stuff in Mandriva 2008.1:

  1. Ndiswrapper still works;
  2. Compiz seems to be working for the first time stable with KDE;
  3. notebook HDD problems seem to be handled better than in Ubuntu;
  4. Default UI is better than in Ubuntu.

Worst parts in Ubuntu 8.04:

  1. Ndiswrapper is no longer working (there is a bad workaround here but it's not working in all Broadcom configurations);
  2. Suspend/resume is again not always working :(
  3. Many things that look 'unfinished' or 'untested';
  4. still using the old/unpatched GRUB that can not boot on newer EXT3 with big inodes;
  5. Default UI is still hurting my eyes :)

So who is the winner of the spring contest ? If I would be forced to pick just between the two from above I would say Mandriva might be now one whisker ahead on some configurations - but the actual unexpected winner is Ubuntu 7.10 which still remains the main Linux on my ultraportables !!!

That is showing a dangerous closed-source precedent now moving to Linux - just like many people will still favor XP over Vista or OSX 10.4 over 10.5, it is now the first time when a newer 'generation' of Linux distributions fail to become clearly better than the previous one ... That is definitely related to the fixed release schedule imposed by the above distributions but might also raise a small question - is it possible that the complexity of modern distributions (meaning full operating systems, and I include here Vista and OSX 10.5) might have now reached a point where it is no longer possible to 'get them right' the first time ?