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The “fragmentation” of the Linux desktop market is a double-edged sword: while it isn’t the best strategy to achieve greater overall desktop market share, it does offer the informed user a plethora of choices, where surely at least one of them should suit his or her every need. We’ve looked at many distributions in the past, including some favorites such as Ubuntu, Fedora, and Linux Mint.
However, there’s a relatively new distribution out in the wild which is catching the attention of Linux users, grabbing the #2 spot on DistroWatch’s most popular distributions list over the past 6 months.
Mageia is an RPM-based Linux distribution which forked off Mandriva (formerly Mandrake) in September 2010 when Mandriva was experiencing severe financial difficulties. It’s first release was in July 2011, and after just about a year and a half later it’s been creating quite the buzz. In fact, there are three main aspects of Mageia which are grabbing people’s attention.
The young distribution places a strong emphasis on stability without becoming outdated. It keeps somewhat older software, such as Linux kernel 3.3, LibreOffice 3.5, and Firefox 10 ESR, and maintains the series throughout the life of the release. As you can tell, all of these versions aren’t the newest, but it’s not necessarily old, unsupported software either. Do note that when a release of Mageia first comes out, the software will be fairly new, but the team only does security and stability updates until the next release. I think it creates a nice balance, because it’s not as unstable as a distribution like Fedora, and not as outdated as a distribution like Debian. If you don’t absolutely need the latest and greatest out of everything, then Mageia’s package selection will do just fine.
One of the most iconic features of Mageia is the included Control Center, something it received from its Mandriva/Mandrake heritage. Mageia’s Control Center is a custom tool for configuring different aspects of your system, such as installing printers to setting up network connections to enabling parental controls. It’s nicely organized, and surprisingly effective. Don’t necessarily expect these tools to be entirely beginner-friendly, however, because there are still some highly technical settings which need to be configured. As a power user, I love to see these settings that I haven’t seen in any other distribution (or in a GUI!), but it may not be ideal for someone who’s testing the waters of Linux. Also, I cannot say whether these tools are better than openSUSE’s, although I do believe that they’re a little easier to navigate.
Last but not least, Mageia does evoke some sentimental feelings in old-time Linux users. For many who started out with Linux 10 years ago or longer, their first Linux distribution was most likely Mandrake as it was the most popular distribution before Ubuntu came around. In fact, Mandrake was my first dab at Linux way back when I was still too young to know what Linux really was. While it wasn’t very good back then when compared to how far Linux has come today, it still has a place in my heart as the first ever distribution. As Mageia is the continuation of the old Mandrake Linux, there will surely be a handful who will be using it for just that reason.
While Mageia does have its positive points with its stability, custom system tools, and rich history, it does have a fair-sized problem in that the package selection for Mageia is rather limited. I’m not giving it harsh criticism about this because it’s still a young project, but users with high expectations might be a little disappointed. Mageia does come with many applications that people will want to use, but there are those occasional ones that simply cannot be found. For example, Mageia forces you to use an older version of Chromium as downloading Chrome directly from Google leads to installation issues. Another package that I could not find was FileZilla — I suppose I’d have to compile it myself (something I’d rather not do) or find an alternative.
Mageia can be installed onto your system like most other Linux distributions. You’ll first need to download an ISO of the release. You have the choice of the free-software-only DVD or the Live CD which includes proprietary drivers in case you need them out of the box. You also have the choice between 32-bit and 64-bit, where I would recommend 64-bit if you have 4GB of RAM or more. With the correct ISO downloaded, you can either burn the ISO to a CD/DVD, or write it onto a USB drive. Then, restart and configure your system’s BIOS to boot off the CD/DVD or USB drive, whichever you ended up choosing. Your computer will then boot from the installation media, and then you’ll simply follow the installation wizard to complete the process.
Mageia is an impressive distribution that has plenty of potential for new, innovative features. Again, while I wouldn’t quite recommend it as a distribution for absolute beginners, it might be a pleasure to use for power users or those who feel they are adequately knowledgeable. We’ll be able to see in a few releases down the road how it will compete with other top distributions.
What’s your opinion of Mageia? What do other distributions offer that Mageia doesn’t? Let us know in the comments!