OpenMandriva Lx: Not the KDE You Knew

OpenMandriva Lx 2014 is a KDE-only Linux distribution that has some rough edges but is otherwise a solid and reliable choice for user-friendly computing.This latest version, released on July 17, is dubbed “Phosphorus.” It is based on the Mandriva Linux project and ROSA, a Russian Linux distribution. ROSA forked from Mandriva Linux in 2012. It integrated many of Mandriva’s original tools and utilities with its own enhancements.

Developed by the OpenMandriva Association, OpenMandriva Lx 2014 caters to experienced KDE users, as well as first-time Linux converts. The default settings are among the most sensible I have tested in the distros that offer KDE.

OpenMandriva Lx 2014 has a main menu screen display that resemblesa GNOME menu. This display makes finding applications quick and simple.

OpenMandriva shares a lineage with Mageia Linux — but where Mageia’s developers created a variety of desktop versions, OpenMandriva’s community kept a single focus on KDE.

This is a big advantage to users. With nothing to choose but the internal settings of the KDE desktop, there are no distractions in deciding from among several desktop environments.

Do not confuse my description of being user-friendly or having a singular focus as indications that OpenMandriva is a lightweight operating system. On the contrary, with only the KDE desktop version as a focus, the OpenMandriva community just has to devote resources to one version.

The OpenMandriva Association began its sponsorship of this distro in mid 2013. That led to the release of OpenMandriva Lx 2013 that November. Phosphorus is the second release from this new community. It is a major update.

First Impressions

I am familiar with the KDE desktop. Before I gravitated to the Cinnamon desktop, I was an avid KDE fan.

However, testing OpenMandriva Lx Phosphorus was my first hands-on contact with this particular distro. I instantly saw some similarities with an earlier release of Mageia’s KDE version.

To my surprise, OpenMandriva’s implementation of KDE was much different than I had expected. KDE can be all over the place with its options for cluttered views, or it can provide utterly stark displays. Setting up desktop animation options in some bare bones KDE installations can be frustrating and time consuming.

The KDE desktop default settings are balanced and sensible. They let me work right out of the box without having to adjust much of anything.

OpenMandriva Lx 2014 gives users a collection of scenic backgrounds to replace the sedate logo image.

Basic Requirements

I generally do not like the sluggish performance that typically accompanies KDE’s heavy footprint on resources in poorly endowed hardware. OpenMandriva is no different.

This distro ran fast and furious on my computers with 4 GB of RAM or more, but it was annoyingly slow on my 2-GB or less computers.

OpenMandriva Lx 2014 requires at least 1 GB of memory with at least 10 GB of hard drive space. For the best compositing performance, you need a suitable accelerated 3D graphics card.

Before you even can get to the installation stage on lesser-powered gear, you need a minimum of 1.5 GB of memory to run the live DVD. To run it with acceptable performance, you need at least 2 GB of memory.

Forget about installing OpenMandriva in a VirtualBox setting with less than 1,536 MB of memory. Be sure you enable PAE/NX under the System/Processor tab. If you use qemu, you may need to select an alternative graphics driver other than your distribution default. Otherwise, you will boot to a black screen.

Expect Some Snags

OpenMandriva runs on i586 and x86_64 architectures, but there are no ARM architectures available for this release.

This is the first version of OpenMandriva Lx that incorporates support for UEFI booting. The release notes confirm that the community only did limited testing of the scripts. Still, they said it should boot on most computers new enough to run Microsoft Windows 8.

I know from experience that UEFI booting will work on the same UEFI-enabled hardware but not on others. Clearly, mine was one of the exceptions that was not tested. Installing the ISO to a USB drive works flawlessly.

If you get double duty out of your computer by dual booting with Windows 8, this UEFI issue may be a significant deal breaker. Before you give up, though, make sure you have disabled Secure Boot in the BIOS. Also enable the Legacy Hardware option. That solved the problem for me.

Under the Hood

The kernel is upgraded to 3.13.11 nrjQL. This is a powerful variant of the 3.13.11 kernel that packs tweaks to desktop system performance and responsiveness.

Phosphorus runs an upgrade of Xorg to version 1.15.1 and an upgrade of Mesa to version 10.1.1. These latest free drivers bring optimum performance. This latest distro release also benefits from a Compose Cache. It speeds up application startup time and reduces memory usage, especially in locales with large Compose tables.

To get the most out of this change, you should change the composite manager in KDE from XRender to OpenGL mode. This gives transparency the proper blur effect and shows the theme and windows decorations more effectively.

This version also uses the latest graphics support for Nvidia, ATI and Intel Graphics Cards. Phosphorus also has KDE 4.12.4, the latest KDE desktop version.

Software Almost Super

The installed software base is very impressive. It is also very up-to-date. For instance, I like the inclusion of FirewallD. Borrowed from the Fedora distro, this firewall application supports dynamic firewall rules and network zones.

The community made sure that essential packages are current. Nothing signals a bad job more than having to wait for a community to update application packages in a brand new distro release. The OpenMandriva Association did not make the mistake.

For example, preinstalled is Firefox 29, LibreOffice 4.2.3, Plasma Media Center and VLC Media Player.

Firefox 29 is the only installed Web browser in OpenMandriva Lx 2014. Users have many options to configure the KDE desktop.

OpenMandriva has made the switch to systemd, a system management daemon designed to replaced the old Init system. It includes systemd 208. Also, the OpenMandriva Java stack has been entirely rebuilt to version 7 and is completely functional.

One mistake the developers did make, though, is not catering to users’ recreational needs. Not a single game is in this distro — not even a basic Solitaire offering.

Bottom Line

Overall, I am very impressed with the tweaking and the attention to details built into OpenMandriva Lx 2014. It is pleasant to use and very modern looking.

One area of sloppiness needs fixing, however. The installation startup process and the aging installation software give a poor impression. Be careful when you boot the live DVD.

The highlighting rested on the second option. If I had not been paying attention, I would have started the installation process by hitting the Enter key. Instead, I had to click the up arrow to get to the Start OpenMandriva option to load the live session.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Please email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

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Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him onGoogle+.

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