Mageia 8Mageia 8 is the latest version of this community distribution which can trace its roots back to Mandrake Linux. Like its ancestor, Mageia mostly focuses on offering a polished desktop experience with user friendly configuration tools. The latest release has a fairly conservative list of new features. Apart from the usual collection of package upgrades, Mageia provides faster processing of package data due to a change in compression technologies and migrates almost all packages from Python 2 to Python 3. Some additional work has been done to support the ARM architectures, though install media isn't available yet for ARM platforms.
We can download install media for 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit (x86_64) computers. Mageia offers several download options, including a large install ISO (4.2GB), live desktop flavours for KDE Plasma (3.4GB), GNOME (3.0GB), and Xfce (2.8GB). There are also network install options available in free and non-free firmware flavours. Most of the download options are available in 32-bit and 64-bit builds, though the live media for GNOME and Plasma are both 64-bit only while Xfce builds are provided for both architectures.
I was originally heading out for a vacation when Mageia 8 was released and so another DistroWatch contributor offered to review the distribution. However, they ran into issues installing Mageia, then getting the distribution to boot. After a few days they reported the operating system would start, but there were several remaining issues, including trouble connection to USB devices and the touchpad on their laptop wouldn't function while booted into Mageia. Given they did not have any success with the distribution, they passed it back to me and I resolved to review it once I finished playing with Void, a project I had just installed.
I decided to download the live Plasma edition for 64-bit machines. Booting from the live media brings up a menu offering to boot the live distribution or install Mageia. Taking the default live option brings up a series of graphical configuration screens. These screens walk us through selecting our preferred language from a list, accepting the project's license, picking our time zone, and confirming the keyboard's layout.
The Plasma desktop then loads. It places a panel across the bottom edge of the screen. An application menu sits in the left corner while a system tray is displayed to the right. The application menu uses a classic tree-style layout combined with a search field. In the middle of the panel we find quick-launch buttons and a task switcher. On the desktop are icons for opening the filesystem's trash folder, launching the system installer, and joining the community. This last icon opens the Firefox browser and displays a community portal website with links to contributing to the distribution and joining the support forum.
Mageia 8 -- The default Plasma desktop layout and application menu (full image size: 390kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Shortly after the desktop loads a welcome window appears. The window offers to guide us through some initial configuration steps. Since we are in live mode, some (or even all) steps can be skipped and I will come back to talking about the welcome window again later as many of its features are more useful post-install. The welcome window provides access to documentation, provides buttons for opening the software centre, and will open the distribution's control centre. There are also buttons for launching the system installer and accessing on-line resources such as the Mageia wiki. The main documentation is stored locally as a collection of web pages and is opened in the Firefox browser. The documentation is mostly useful, though some items are missing. For example, clicking on the link to get information on software updates displays an error page saying the requested file cannot be found.
Mageia uses a custom graphical installer inherited from its parent distribution. The installer begins by asking if it should take over free space on the disk or have us manually partition the drive. Manual partitioning works a little strangely compared to other system installers. We first click on a visual representation of our disk to select a partition (or free space) and then click on a filesystem label (such as ext4 or XFS) we want to assign to the partition. This opens a new window which lets us assign a mount point, filesystem type, and optional encryption settings.
After the disk has been partitioned the installer offers to remove unnecessary packages such as localization and extra hardware support. After that the Mageia packages are copied to the local drive. This takes a few minutes and then the installer offers to install a boot loader. We are given the chance to set the boot loader's location and whether to use a text menu or graphical interface. We are also given the chance to place password protection on the boot loader and set custom kernel parameters.
The installer next asks if it may enable online package repositories and it follows this up by offering to download software updates. There were about ten updates waiting when I installed Mageia and they were downloaded without issue. The installer then finishes and returns us to the desktop.
The first time I booted my new copy of Mageia the system presented a graphical screen where I was asked to make up a password for the administrator account. I was then asked to also make up a username and password for myself.
In essence the install process is divided into three parts (partitioning prior to packages being copied, configuration after packages are installed, and setting up accounts after a restart). The whole process took around an hour. Not because any one step in the process was slow, but because there were so many steps and several of them involved a pause for something to be installed or removed.
Mageia boots to a graphical login screen where we can type our username and password and select which desktop session we want to access. In my case the options were the KDE Plasma desktop and an IceWM session. Plasma is the default and the one I used most during my trial, though I did sign into IceWM once to confirm it worked. The IceWM session is fairly minimal with a classic desktop layout. It is missing some of the nice features Plasma offers and does not have the same bright, polished look. However, IceWM is entirely functional and can be used as a lighter, alternative session.
Logging into the Plasma session brings up the same desktop environment we enjoyed in the live session. Shortly after signing in the welcome window appears and offers to walk us through some configuration options. Mageia's welcome window and its initial steps are a bit more complex and arcane than the steps offered by other desktop distributions. For instance, the first step we are shown briefly describes the different types of software repositories and their licensing parameters. We are then invited to click a button to choose which repositories we want to enable. This repository tool lists over a dozen repositories (free, non-free, tainted, and backports) with each group having multiple options such as updates and debugging.
Mageia 8 -- The welcome window and repository configuration utility (full image size: 182kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
The second tab of the welcome window offers to check for and fetch updates. As I had just enabled a new repository there were updates, even though I had installed all waiting updates from the default repositories during the install process.
The welcome window mentions two package managers, RPMdrake and Dnfdragora, are available. The RPMdrake software centre works and I will talk about it later. Clicking the Dnfdragora button produces an error saying the tool is not installed. Yet another tab deals with downloading software, this one listing software categories and popular applications we can install. Across from each package name is a button we can click to install the application. We can only install one package at a time and each time we are prompted for our admin password. This makes for a tedious process if we want to grab multiple new packages.
The penultimate welcome screen shows us some basic information such as which version of Mageia we are running and which kernel is being used. The final screen provides us with a list of buttons which open Firefox and connect us with on-line resources such as documentation, support forums, and the project's bug tracker.
Many of the tools we can launch and actions we can perform through the welcome screen result in a password prompt being shown. This can get tedious after a while as installing a few applications and tweaking some settings can result in a handful of prompts instead of having the welcome screen ask for the password once and remember it.
I began testing Mageia in a VirtualBox machine. The distribution was unusually slow when running in VirtualBox. Mageia took longer than usual to boot and login. Once the Plasma desktop loaded it was sluggish. Even after disabling compositing and visual effects Plasma continued to be slower than normal in the virtual machine. Though the desktop did resize dynamically to match the size of the VirtualBox window.
Mageia 8 -- Running LibreOffice and enabling the firewall (full image size: 279kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
When I switched over to running Mageia on my workstation the distribution performed better. The operating system could boot in both UEFI and Legacy BIOS modes. The distribution was still a little slow to boot, but desktop performance was greatly improved. The default visual effects, such as menus sliding open, introduced minor delays in desktop responsiveness, but these could be disabled, resulting in a fairly snappy desktop experience. The distribution was able to work with all of my hardware and features such as audio and networking functioned without any problems.
Mageia consumed about 500MB of memory when signed into a Plasma session. This puts the distribution firmly in the middle-weight category. However, Mageia is quite a bit larger than normal in terms of storage space, eating up 8GB of my hard drive.
Mageia's large on-disk size is a result of a huge collection of applications and utilities shipped with the distribution. Mageia offers a lot of the standard open source applications, including Firefox, LibreOffice, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, and KDE Connect. The application menu is also populated by the Konqueror browser, KMail, the Okular document viewer, digiKam, and the Dolphin file manager.
Mageia 8 -- Exploring the Mageia website and running Dolphin (full image size: 199kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Mageia ships with the Clementine audio player, the Dragon Player media player, and the VLC multimedia player. It also includes codecs for playing popular audio and video formats. There are a number of other tools included. For instance, the K3b disc burning software, the Marble virtual globe, a text editor, and at least two address books are included. The Java software is installed for us as are manual pages. The distribution uses systemd for its init software and runs on version 5.10 of the Linux kernel.
The distribution ships with two control panels. The System Settings panel handles desktop settings while the Mageia Control Centre (MCC) manages lower level configuration options. The System Settings panel does a nice job of allowing us to change lock screen settings, change the theme, visual effects, and workspace behaviour. I did not encounter any problems while using it.
The Mageia Control Centre is divided into eight categories of settings: Software Management, Hardware, Security, Boot, Network & Internet, Network Sharing, Local Disks, and System. The System tab is basically a catch-all for extra items that did not fit elsewhere. It includes managing user accounts, snapshots, setting the system clock, and background service management. The other categories are fairly straight forward and the utilities included in them typically worked well.
Mageia 8 -- The two settings panels (full image size: 209kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
While the modules of the Control Centre are sometimes slow to load, they usually provide a friendly approach to configuring the system. This allows us to manage virtually all key components of Mageia through a graphical user interface rather than from the command line.
One feature of the Control Centre I liked was that it allows us to set both the interval of software update checks and the delay prior to starting checks. This allows us to put off checking for new packages after we sign in to avoid network and disk congestion.
On the other hand, there were some less friendly issues that appeared in the Control Centre. For instance, there are two separate tools for managing IPv6 and IPv4 firewall rules. There doesn't seem to be any reason for this design choice and it flies in the face of most other distributions and operating systems which tend to use one tool and apply rules independently of IP version.
I thought it was an unfortunate choice that the service manager lists background services we can toggle on/off by their short, command line name only. There is no description or way to see what a service does. The service manager appears to work just fine, it's only the presentation which I feel is missing something.
I tried to open the Snapshots module, hoping it would help me create backups of the system. The module first asked me for permission to install some dependencies. With this done, the module closed. I re-launched it and the Snapshots module got stuck loading, locking up for several minutes. This failure to launch occurred each time I tried to open the Snapshots module.
I explored the Parental Controls module which offers to block access to domains, limit login times, and prevent execution of specific applications. The blocking of specific local applications worked and it is possible to include exceptions in case we want to only allow certain users access to some programs.
Blocking access to websites was less successful. I tried blocking two domains and then attempted to visit them in Firefox. One domain was blocked and caused Firefox to show a warning saying the site was off limits. The other domain I could visit without any hindrance. I'm not sure why one worked and the other did not, both were secure sites and I double-checked the domain names being blocked. It seems there is a hole in the method used to prevent access to domains.
Connecting to wireless networks feels dated and overly complicated. Unlike Network Manager, where we can simply click on a network's name and enter our password, Mageia's connection manager has us select the type of connection management we want, and pick the encryption type, along with entering the password.
Mageia ships with a graphical package manager which is referred to by many names. Depending on which screen or bit of documentation I was looking at the software centre was alternatively referred to as the Mageia Package Manager, Install & Remove Software, RPMdrake, Rpmdrake, and Software Management. Whichever name we choose to use, the package manager shows a list of categories in a pane to the left of the window. On the right we see a list of packages in the selected category.
Something I find interesting about this software manager is it defaults to showing us desktop applications (called Packages With GUI). However, we can select alternative views from a drop-down box. We can choose to see all packages, security fixes, all updates, backports, and meta packages. This means the software manager can act somewhat like a classic package manager (such as Synaptic) while also providing a focus on more front-line applications the way more modern software centres do.
Mageia 8 -- The software centre (full image size: 176kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
We can check a box next to application entries to mark them for installation or removal, then click a button to process all the queued transactions. The software centre locks its interface while it is working, making us wait to queue more actions.
Something I found interesting about handling software updates on Mageia is the different types of updates and the different repositories can mean we see different updates at different times. Earlier I mentioned I installed all available updates during the install process. Then, after I had enabled additional repositories, I checked for and installed a second wave of updates. Later that first day I was using the software manager and discovered I had installed all security updates, but not all available updates. This meant I installed all available updates three times on the first day, using three different tools, and getting different packages each time.
This sort of curious logic, the case of getting three different waves of package updates using three different tools, mirrored my overall impression of Mageia 8. The distribution often provides tools that look good and technically work, but go about things in an odd or unexpected manner. Needing to use separate tools for IPv4 and IPv6 firewall rules was another example. Both tools are very friendly and clear to use compared to the firewall tools provided by other distributions, but why are there two? As another example, the distribution has a tool which makes it easy to block website domains, but doesn't always work successfully.
Sometimes the issues were more a case of unfortunate naming. Mageia (like other members of its family) falls into the trap of using two settings panels: System Settings for managing the desktop and the Control Panel for handing system settings, which feels backwards. Technically this is more KDE's fault than Mageia, but the distribution does nothing to mitigate the confusion. In a similar vein, the available software centre has at least four different names, depending on where we look. Plus there is another software centre mentioned in the welcome window which is not available, which just makes the distribution feel uncoordinated.
To be fair, on the whole Mageia works fairly well. The excessive password prompts, missing pages of documentation, and confusing network settings aside, most of Mageia works smoothly and well. The operating system worked with my hardware and, while it was a little sluggish in the virtual machine, it still functioned properly. There is a strong collection of software installed for us and lots more in the repositories. The system installer, while it has a lot of screens to get through, did work successfully in my trial.
My main concern with Mageia 8 is it feels like the distribution has not evolved much during its life span. Mageia is about a decade old at this point and - some core package upgrades aside to keep up with the kernel, LibreOffice, and the desktop environments - it doesn't feel as though Mageia is doing anything to improve. I don't just mean change for change's sake as that doesn't help anyone. What I mean is the parental control issues I ran into this time, I also has a year and a half ago when Mageia 7 was released. The network manager doesn't look like it's been improved or streamlined over the past several releases. The system installer basically looks and acts the same as it did ten years ago, despite some of the screens taking long pauses to manage packages and others not being useful to most people, meaning they could be tucked away behind "expert" buttons. It's telling that the headline big feature for Mageia 8 was slightly faster package information parsing rather than something more impactful for end users.
Mandrake Linux and its children have always had a well deserved reputation for looking good and for providing some great configuration utilities. Mageia continues this tradition. However, the project feels stagnant. Mageia 8 is a pretty good release, certainly at least average by desktop Linux standards. However, it's falling behind. Ten years ago I'd have recommended Mageia (or Mandriva) to Linux newcomers who needed hand holding and slick graphical tools. These days I can't recommend Mageia to Linux beginners because it requires more work, more steps, more knowledge to configure than other desktop systems like Linux Mint and Pop!_OS which have continued to evolve. It's not that Mageia is getting worse, but it's not getting better - it's not evolving or fixing bugs, and feels like it hasn't kept up over the past ten years as other distributions move to make things easier and introduce features desktop users expect these days.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a desktop HP Pavilon p6 Series with the following specifications: