Mageia 6Mageia is one of the many forks of the now defunct Mandriva Linux. The latest release, Mageia 6, ships with version 4.9 of the Linux kernel, KDE Plasma 5.8 LTS, GNOME 3.24, and a wide selection of other up-to-date software. Like many distributions, it ships most of the common open source packages and supports all the common desktop environments, so what, if anything, sets Mageia apart from its competitors? To find out, I tried out Mageia 6 for a couple of weeks and I share my thoughts about the experience below.
Installing Mageia 6
Mageia offers a wide selection of installation media. There are Live images for KDE's Plasma desktop, GNOME, and Xfce. There is also an image that Mageia refers to as the classical installer, which is a traditional non-live install image. The classical installer is much larger than the live images, but comes with a wider selection of software and has a custom install option that lets the user pick what they want to install. The classical installer is 3.9GB, the KDE Plasma live image is 2.6GB, GNOME live is 2.2GB, and the Xfce live image is 2.0GB. For this review, I used the classical installer.
Booting the USB drive brings up a GRUB menu with options to install Mageia or to boot into a basic rescue mode. The rescue mode can re-install Mageia's boot loader, restore Windows' boot loader, mount the hard drive's partitions, or start a console interface. The console interface provides a handy list of commands for installing modules, listing partitions, and getting the system logs from the last 24 hours. Not the most advanced rescue tool available, but handy enough.
Mageia's installer, known as DrakeX, asks for the same information and provides the same functions as just about every other Linux installer out there. There are really no surprises. Walk through the prompts, make choices, and enter information when prompted. Using the classical installer gives the option of installing KDE's Plasma desktop or GNOME as the primary options. Using the custom options provides more desktop environments and lets the user tweak their package selection. For this review, I selected Plasma and let Mageia install its default selection of software.
Mageia's implementation of Plasma 5 is pretty standard, but does come with a few minor tweaks. Widgets are locked by default, there is a tiny lock and logout widget to the right of the clock in the bottom panel, and the application menu is organized to put more common categories and applications at the top, instead of alphabetizing everything. Other than those things, Mageia's KDE desktop is pretty standard and comes with all the typical software. Firefox 52 ESR, LibreOffice 5.3, GIMP, VLC media player, and the standard selection of KDE software come installed by default. Pretty typical, really, but still very nice. I did not need to add much to the system to get things customized to my liking. Most non-developer users could probably get by with using Mageia as-is with the possible exception of needing to install patent-encumbered codecs for media playback.
As I have noted in past reviews, I am a GNOME user. I use GNOME shell without any extra tweaks and I like it. However, I have to admit that KDE's Plasma desktop is really growing on me. This review is the second time that I have really had the chance to use a current version of Plasma for all of my daily tasks for a couple of weeks. (The first time was for my recent openSUSE Leap 42.3 review.) I doubt I will be switching desktop environments on my own computers, but I will be recommending Plasma to people switching from Microsoft Windows. It is familiar enough and polished enough (though, like most open source software, not entirely free from rough edges) that anyone looking for a traditional style of desktop could use it comfortably. Mageia's implementation, in particular, is very nice.
Mageia's welcome screen
The first thing that really sets Mageia apart from many of its competitors is its really nice welcome screen. The window appears the first time the user logs in (and every time thereafter, if the user doesn't uncheck the “show this window at startup” checkbox) and gives the user an excellent overview of the distribution. It provides quick access to documentation and support, explains how to use Mageia's Control Center to configure the system, and describes how to install and upgrade software.
The welcome screen also provides an applications page that helps the user add common packages to the system without having to use the more robust/complicated tools for package management. Many of the most common packages are included in the list, so a novice user who just wants to add a few common packages could easily do so using just the welcome screen. Simply check a few boxes, click on “Install selected” and wait for the process to finish.
Mageia 6 -- The welcome screen's application list (full image size: 236kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
Mageia Control Center
Mageia's Control Center is the core of what sets Mageia apart from other distributions. Much like openSUSE's YaST, Mageia's Control Center provides a centralized location for configuring a wide variety of options. Control Center can be used to update and install software, configure hardware, change system and network settings, and it can even be used to import documents and settings from Microsoft Windows. Sadly (or not so sadly, depending on your perspective) I was not able to test out that last option, but being able to copy documents and settings from Windows would be very, very useful for users taking their first foray into Linux.
Mageia 6 -- The Control Center (full image size: 92kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
In addition to accessing it using the Control Center, the graphic tool for installing software, known as Rpmdrake, can be run directly, or packages can be installed from the command line using either urpmi or dnf. Like many distributions, Mageia splits free (in the Free Software Foundation's sense of the word) and non-free packages into separate repositories. The non-free repository contains proprietary drivers for video cards and firmware for various wireless cards. The firmware for my wireless card is in Mageia's non-free repository, so I had made sure that I enabled that repository when I installed the distribution. The most common non-free packages are included on the install image, so there was no problem with getting my system working, networking and all. (The sole exception was my laptop's built-in webcam, which does not work correctly on any distribution.) In addition, Mageia has a repository named Tainted that has packages with patent issues. Enabling the Tainted repository is a requirement if various media codecs are required, though even without the Tainted repository, many media codecs are included by default. Honestly, the process of getting non-free and patent encumbered packages with Mageia is much, much easier than it is for Fedora or openSUSE. While I fully understand why it has to be the way it is for those distributions (and I fully agree with the decisions made by Fedora and openSUSE to not ship various packages), I have to admit Mageia's approach is easier and more user friendly.
Mageia 6 is very nice. While not much different from many of the other modern distributions, it comes with enough polish and extra features to make it worth checking out. The Welcome to Mageia application and Control Center make the distribution very friendly for new Linux users. Similarly, the ease of enabling non-free and tainted packages also makes it a good choice for anyone looking to quickly set up a fully functional system. While I cannot personally attest to their usefulness, users switching from Windows might find the various importing tools helpful for making their transition to Linux. If you are looking for a new distribution to try out, or want to take your first foray into the world of Linux, give Mageia 6 a try, you will not be disappointed.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a Lenovo Ideapad 100-15IBD laptop with the following specifications: