Mandriva Linux: Which Fork Is Best?

Monday Jun 24th 2013 by Matt Hartley
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Mageia and PCLinuxOS are good options, while mainline Mandriva and OpenMandriva are less impressive.

Mandriva Linux is a newbie-centric distribution that has become less of a highlight in the news over the past few years. At one time, Mandriva was considered the de facto Linux distribution for anyone looking to switch from Windows to Linux. Today, Linux has evolved into a complex ecosystem, and selecting Mandriva isn't as black and white as it once was.

In this article, I'll examine where Mandriva is today, how various forks of Mandriva Linux work within the Linux space and whether or not they're something I would recommend trying out for yourself.

Mandriva to Mageia

When the Mandriva company experienced its financial upheaval and let most of its developers go in 2010, those same developers got together and created a fork called Mageia. Development with Mageia took on a life very similar to that of LibreOffice, in that there is now a greater development speed and a renewed sense of freedom.

In various forums and blog posts, some individuals have questioned how Mageia is going to succeed where Mandriva has failed to keep up with the needs of the community. As things stand right now, there hasn't been a new release to Mandriva in quite some time. And in the fast paced world of Ubuntu, Fedora, and OpenSUSE, this dates Mandriva to the point of making it unreliable in the long term.

By contrast, Mageia's most recent release was last month. It's a fantastic, modern Linux distribution that, in my opinion, makes Mandriva a relic of the past.

Mageia vs. PCLinuxOS

With Mageia taking the lead as the go-to Mandriva fork alternative, a number of folks have been wondering where this leaves PCLinuxOS. Upon its inception, this distro was also a fork of Mandriva, although the bulk of its focus has been on U.S.-based users, whereas Mageia takes on a more international flair.

An interesting consideration is how PCLinuxOS came into existence. Unlike Mageia, PCLinuxOS was started largely as a one-man operation, which then grew into a small community of developers. By contrast, Mageia started off as a small community of developers. One area where the two distributions share a common goal is in the use of KDE as the primary desktop choice. Both Mageia and PCLinuxOS are available with other desktop selections; however, KDE is the default desktop when installing either distro for the first time.

One final comparison I'd like to make is that Mageia hasn't been a distribution as long, officially. PCLinuxOS however, has been offering itself to the Linux community since 2003. This certainly doesn't make one better than the other; rather it's an interesting fact to consider.

OpenMandriva

If things couldn't get more complex, now we have news of a newly developed Mandriva option called OpenMandriva. What makes this interesting is that OpenMandriva is actually based on ROSA Linux, which was forked from Mandriva proper. Confused yet? I know I was, as I studied why OpenMandriva was even a consideration since this need is already addressed by the more refined Mageia.

OpenMandriva will be supported by the OpenMandriva Foundation. Trying to find out much about the OpenMandriva Foundation has been challenging, since there seems to be very little information about them outside of a few announcements. But one thing is clear though—Mandriva (the company) is thrilled at the prospect of their work in developing OpenMandriva, the distro.

Choosing a Mandriva Fork Distribution

At this point, you may be wondering which Mandriva-based distribution I would recommend. This may come as a surprise to you, but I think that both Mageia and PCLinuxOS offer everything a newer user could possibly need. Both distributions offer a strong, Mandriva-flavored control center. Both have great hardware support and make connecting to your network a snap.

Where the two distributions differ, however, is in the front-end to the software management and how users keeps their systems up to date. PCLinuxOS offers their users a rolling release cycle, so that, in theory, you only need install the distro one time. Mageia on the other hand, offers its distribution as individual releases. Both are well maintained and up to date, but some may argue that PCLinuxOS is "easier" because you don't need to worry about upgrading the distro.

Now this isn't to say that PCLinuxOS doesn't offer release versions. However the way users of this distribution enjoy these new releases is by simply keeping their system up to date—that's all one needs to do. Mageia, on the other hand, changes from release to release, so you would upgrade using either a provided GUI or a set of commands. This reminds me a bit of how Ubuntu handles distribution upgrades. And like Ubuntu, it's recommended you ALWAYS backup your home directory before upgrading.

So, are there any issues that users should be aware of? Well, PCLinuxOS is designed to be stable, as in, using older versions of software stable. It's not cutting edge in any sense, but it's a very safe distribution if you're looking for stability over the latest software versions. Mageia has been reported to be a solid distribution, and keeps pace with PCLinuxOS. But there are some differences you may wish to consider here. Mageia, for example, is likely to offer a newer kernel release than PCLinuxOS.

This difference in kernels means that if you own brand new hardware, then Mageia may be a better choice for you since it's more likely to support your PC. PCLinuxOS, offers an older kernel that is going to be safe and stable for slightly older hardware.

So what about OpenMandriva then? Is this distribution even a factor at this point? To be brutally honest, it's not really worth bothering with. Perhaps in a year or two, it will be worth looking into, but as it stands today, it's simply an alpha quality distribution not yet ready for the masses. Besides, I fail to see what it's going to offer that Mageia hasn't already addressed.

Final Thoughts

In this article I shared some history about Mandriva and the forked distributions inspired by it. After understanding a bit more about these Mandriva forks, I then explained the differences between these distros by comparing the benefits of PCLinuxOS's rolling release model and how Mageia has the mainline Mandriva-style upgrade approach.

The big takeaway is that the two distributions worth checking out are quite different despite both being descended from Mandriva. I remain convinced that for those seeking stability, PCLinuxOS is where it's at and those who want a more cutting edge experience will be happy with Mageia.

I remain unclear as to where OpenMandriva will fit into all of this. After all, it's brand new, and unless it offers something drastically different from Mageia, I honestly don't see why anyone is going to bother with it.

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