Mageia 7Mageia is a user friendly, desktop-oriented Linux distribution. The project originally grew out of the Mandriva family of distributions and is independently developed. The project's latest release is Mageia 7 which, according to the project's release notes, offers 18 months of support. Mageia 7 drops support for the ARMv5 architecture while adding support for 64-bit ARM (Aarch64) and improving support for ARMv7. While ARM packages are being built, ARM installation media is not yet featured on the project's download page. The new release includes the DNF command line package manager and features the ability to play MP3 files - MP3 support was not included by default in previous releases due to patent restrictions.
The release notes mention that GNOME users can enjoy their desktop running on a Wayland session by default with X.Org available as an alternative. KDE Plasma users will have the opposite experience with their desktop running on X.Org and a Wayland session available through a package in the distribution's repositories. The documentation also mentions that when running a GNOME on Wayland session some graphical administrator tools will not work when run through su or sudo. The user can run these tools with their regular user privileges and the system will prompt for an admin password when necessary.
Mageia is available for the 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit (x86_64) architectures. We can either download an install DVD with multiple desktop packages bundled or we can download live media with the Plasma, GNOME, or Xfce desktops. There are smaller net-install disc images available too. I decided to try the KDE Plasma live disc which is a 2.8GB download.
Booting from the live media brings up a menu which gives us the option of immediately loading the project's system installer or launching a live desktop environment. Choosing the live desktop brings up a series of graphical screens asking us to select our language from a list, confirm the distribution's license agreement, and we are offered a chance to read the release notes. We are then asked to select our time zone from a list and confirm our keyboard's layout.
The Plasma desktop then loads and immediately launches a welcome screen. The welcome screen greets us to our "newly installed system", which is a bit misleading since we haven't launched the installer yet. The welcome window prompts us to go through the application's tabs in order to configure the operating system. There is no reason to do any configuration yet and we can simply close the welcome window and go through its steps after we install the distribution.
The Plasma desktop has one panel that runs along the bottom of the screen. The panel holds the application menu, some quick-launch buttons, and system tray. The application menu has a classic, tree-style layout which I like. On the desktop there are three icons which launch the system installer, open the Dolphin file manager and there is one labelled "Join the community". The last icon links us to the distribution's forum and areas of the project where people can contribute.
Mageia uses a graphical system installer which begins by asking us how we would like to partition the hard drive. We can either take over all available space on the disk of our choice or we can set up partitioning manually. I went with the manual option and found the partition manager to be very easy to use. We can operate on Btrfs, ext3, ext4, JFS, XFS, LVM and RAID volumes and Mageia supports encrypting partitions with a click.
The installer then offers to skip installing unnecessary packages, like those for hardware or languages we do not use. Software is then copied to our hard drive. Once all the packages have been transferred over we are asked to customize boot loader settings. For instance we can use GRUB2 in text or graphical mode, we can enable password protection and specify where GRUB2 is to be installed, though I found the defaults worked for me. Once the installer concludes its work, it returns us to the live desktop.
The first time we boot into our local copy of Mageia the system spends a few minutes downloading packages, or package information. The user is not told what is being done in any detail, but it looks like repository meta data is being downloaded. In my case the system eventually stopped the downloads with an error reporting a download had a checksum mismatch, but we are not told what this will mean for the user.
Then a graphical wizard appears and asks us to create a root password and to make up a new username and password for ourselves. With these steps completed we are presented with a login screen.
The login screen offers us three session options: Plasma, IceWM, and IceWM Session. Both IceWM options load the same window manager environment. Interestingly enough, IceWM is configured to look a lot like the Plasma session. The minimal window manager is set up with a panel at the bottom of the display and similar application menu. IceWM doesn't have the same colourful, polished look as Plasma, but it should look familiar to any users who need to use it to rescue their systems if Plasma stops working.
Signing into the Plasma session brings back the same welcome window we experienced in the live session. The welcome window features a series of tabs which we can use to configure the operating system, in particular enabling package repositories and installing additional software.
The first configuration tab explains the distribution's many repositories and how software is divided into groups such as "tainted", non-free, backports and 32-bit options. There look to be around 40 software repositories in total, once we account for all the testing and debugging options. The next tab in the welcome window offers to check for software updates and, in my case, the system did not find any.
The following tab offers to launch the distribution's Control Centre and I will talk more about this settings panel later. The next tab can launch the graphical software manager, RPMdrake, and I will also come back to this utility later. The next tab in the line offers to install popular software items. This tab is basically a mini software centre which lists categories of software and clicking on a category lists popular items in the category. Each item has an Install button next to it. Clicking the Install button asks for confirmation and then prompts us for the root password. The confirmation and password prompt happen for each item and we cannot queue multiple items at once, making this a tedious approach to installing extras. Some of the featured extras include media codecs, Steam, some web browsers and programming IDEs.
The welcome window's penultimate tab offers us system information, such as the release version we are using and our user identification number (UID). The final tab offers buttons to help us access Mageia's website, chat room, forum and other resources. The chat room button opens the Konversation IRC client and connects to a server. However, we cannot join the chat room until we register, through a website, so there is a hurdle in place for people seeking assistance.
I think it is worth noting that while the welcome window does offer some convenient features and is generally useful to getting us up and running with the tools we need, one drawback is almost every tab's feature or utility requires us to enter the root password. In the first 20 minutes I was using Mageia I probably entered the root password a dozen times. It's a practise that loses its charm with repetition.
Once we are done with the welcome window we are shown the Plasma desktop which looks and acts the same as it did in the live environment, except the installer icon has been removed from the desktop. In general, I liked how Plasma was laid out. The default theme is fairly easy on my eyes and I like the classic presentation with a tree-style menu and mostly empty desktop space.
I tried running Mageia in a VirtualBox environment and on a laptop. When running in VirtualBox the distribution worked well. The distribution integrates with VirtualBox and can use the host computer's full screen resolution. Desktop performance was good with the default settings and improved to become excellent once compositing was turned off and some effects were disabled.
On the laptop, Mageia ran smoothly. All my hardware was detected and the Plasma desktop was highly responsive. I ran into no performance or stability issues. The distribution required about 490MB of RAM to sign into Plasma and a fresh install used 6.8GB of disk space.
Mageia ships with a fairly standard set of open source software, though the KDE Plasma edition naturally leans toward providing KDE/Qt applications. The application menu includes the Firefox and Konqueror browsers, the Dolphin file manager and LibreOffice. Kmail is included along with the Konversation IRC client. Okular is available for viewing PDF documents and KOrganizer helps us stay on top of our schedules. The digiKam and GNU Image Manipulation Program are available to help us access and edit images.
Mageia 7 -- Browsing the application menu and managing background services (full image size: 265kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
The distribution ships with the Dragon Player media player, Clementine for playing audio files and the VLC multimedia player. For the most part audio codecs seem to be available by default and extra audio and video codecs can be downloaded through the welcome window. The K3b disc burning software is included. There are some smaller utilities like a text editor, archive manager and documentation that explains how to use the distribution's settings panel. The Marble virtual globe is included and Java is installed for us. Network Centre (also known as draknetcentre) is present to help us connect to networks. Behind the scenes Mageia uses systemd and runs on version 5.1.14 of the Linux kernel.
The included software generally worked well for me. Applications were stable, Firefox displayed web pages, I was able to edit documents and alter images without any problems. I could play videos and audio files too, once codecs had been installed from the welcome window.
Mageia ships with two settings panels, one for handling desktop settings and one for managing the underlying operating system. The latter is called Mageia Control Centre (MCC) and it is probably the most attractive feature of the distribution. Using the Control Centre we can manage software packages and repositories, set up printers, enable scanners, and manage background services. We can also view logs, set up new user accounts, manage network settings and set up network services such as Samba shares. Plus there are tools for setting up a firewall, and configuring the boot loader.
Mageia 7 -- The Mageia Control Centre (full image size: 405kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
The Control Centre is organized in a very straight forward manner and the settings modules are clearly labelled, making this settings panel a pleasure to use. It's probably one of the nicer admin panels in the Linux community and no worse off for having remained mostly unchanged over the years.
I ran into three issues while using the Control Centre which placed a small blemish on the otherwise fantastic experience. The first was the Snapshots tool would not open. Trying to open it causes an error to be displayed saying the tool terminated abnormally. The second is that there are two separate firewall tools for handling IPv4 and IPv6 connections. I don't think I've ever encountered a distribution which used separate GUI tools for different IP versions, but it means if we switch between network types (or have a network that supports both connections) we need to set up all our firewall rules twice. It isn't a bug, but it is inconvenient. The third issue deals with software, which brings me to software management.
A handful of the modules in the Control Centre assist the user in managing software repositories, checking for updates and installing or removing packages. The update manager did not work for me. Launching it shows the manager checking for updates and it finds none. I was suspicious of this lack of updates after a few days and switched over to a command line where I ran the DNF package manager. DNF reported it did find updates and offered to install them. Downloading and applying the new software worked through DNF without any problems.
While DNF works and should be pleasantly familiar to people who have used Fedora or other members of the Red Hat family recently, I suspect most users will want to make use of the graphical package manager which can be found in the Control Centre and in the application menu. The graphical package manager is presented with two panes. On the left we are shown available categories (and sub-categories) of software. On the right we find the names and descriptions of packages in the selected category, sorted alphabetically. One neat feature of the software manager is it can filter displayed items based on the package's type (GUI, backports, meta packages) and by status (installed or not installed). We can check (or uncheck) the box next to the item we want to install or remove and click another button to process all the changes we have selected.
The software manager worked well and quickly and I had no serious complaints while using it. Sometimes I found that having sub-categories of packages slowed me down. For instance I was not sure if the GNU Image Manipulation Program would be filed under the Graphics sub-category of Photography, Editing or Utility. In these situations, where we know the name and not the location of an application, we can search for items using keywords and I found this worked well.
Mageia does not ship with tools for running either Snap or Flatpak packages. A search for the Snap framework in Mageia's repositories returned no results, however Flatpak is available. I tested Flatpak using some bundles from the Flathub collection and found Flatpak worked properly.
While system settings are handled by the Mageia Control Centre, desktop settings are handled by a separate program called System Settings. The System Settings panel helps us manage the Plasma desktop by adjusting themes, search options, visual effects, fonts and screen locking options. The panel is arranged with two-panes, much like the modern GNOME settings panel. I found most of the settings I wanted quickly and there is a search function to help us narrow down where an option may be located.
I found that some applications, like the Control Centre and LibreOffice, did not follow the desktop theme I had selected. When I switched to a dark theme, they remained light. To make matters worse, selecting a dark theme made the icons in LibreOffice disappear, rendering the application's toolbars useless. This could be fixed by adjusting the icons and GTK application themes, which are managed separately from the KDE/Qt themes.
I made a few other observations during my time with Mageia. One of the first being that the distribution engages its screensaver after just five minutes of inactivity. This setting is a common trend across distributions recently and one which is blissfully easy to adjust in the System Settings panel.
The desktop's application menu uses a tree-style layout by default, which I like. Though the organization is different than on most other distributions. This may require a period of adjustment if you are new to Mageia. Some categories have few (or no) applications in them, shuffling launchers down into sub-categories. This makes finding some items a longer process.
I was unable to install the Steam gaming portal due to missing dependencies. Even with the tainted and non-free repositories enabled, I could not install Steam through the graphical software manager. It was possible to install Steam through Flatpak though.
Mageia is unusual in that it does not ship with sudo enabled, or even installed. For people who prefer to use sudo over using the root account directly, sudo can be installed from the repositories. Then our user must be manually added to the /etc/sudoers file.
Overall I had a good time with Mageia 7. The distribution is easy to install, it looks nice, and its desktop performance was better than average. The system ships with most tools we will likely need and offers a variety of ways for people to find and install extra applications we might want.
I encountered two significant issues during my trial. The first being that the graphical update manager could never find updates. We can work around this by using DNF on the command line, but many users probably will not know to do this. The second was that we need to adjust themes in two different places for all applications to work with the new themes. This is not an issue specific to Mageia, but one which will impact anyone trying to adjust the look of their desktop.
These issues aside, Mageia generally presented a friendly experience that I think will appeal to most users. The distribution manages to offer modern technology and features while maintaining a classic look that I think most people will find familiar. The system has a relatively small memory footprint and the welcome window makes finding on-line resources and popular packages straight forward.
I particularly like the Control Centre, which is both powerful and easy to use. In my opinion, it would be nice if more distributions adopted the Control Centre, or something like it. Having friendly access to operating settings is a great feature projects like Mageia and PCLinuxOS offer and I always look forward to the experience.
Mageia does not appear to be doing anything big or revolutionary with this release. It feels like an evolutionary step forward from past Mageia releases - a little more modern, a little more polished. I didn't encounter any huge problems and no eye catching new features. It's just a solid, friendly platform that makes getting stuff done straight forward and pleasant.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a de-branded HP laptop with the followingspecifications:
Processor: Intel i3 2.5GHz CPU
Display: Intel integrated video
Storage: Western Digital 700GB hard drive
Memory: 6GB of RAM
Wired network device: Realtek RTL8101E/RTL8102E PCI Express Fast