OpenMandriva Lx 4.1 "Mercury"OpenMandriva Lx, which I will call OpenMandriva from here on, is an independent Linux distro. The project's roots go back to Mandriva Linux, which was a distro produced by Mandriva S.A. The company went under in 2011 but, as is typical for Linux, new distros rose from the ashes, including Mageia and OpenMandriva.
Unlike Mandriva, OpenMandriva is very much a community project. The distro's aim is to provide a free alternative to Windows and macOS and the distro relies on donations to cover expenses. It also appears to be a struggling project. I started my trial on the 4th February, and for pretty much the whole day the OpenMandriva website was down. I sometimes got a "Site under construction" message, while at other times I got a "gateway time-out" error. The next day the home page was showing a "Congratulations, you installed Discourse" message, and after that the site was again either "under construction" or throwing errors. As OpenMandriva 4.1 was released on the 2nd February the timing of the website troubles was unfortunate.
While the website was down I was able to grab an OpenMandriva ISO image from SourceForge. There are two ISOs: plasma.x86_64 and plasma.znver1. The latter image is optimised for current AMD processors (Ryzen, ThreadRipper and EPYC).
I later learned that SourceForge is the only location from where you can download the latest OpenMandriva version. OpenMandriva's download page does list various mirrors but none of them includes an image for the latest release. There is also a link to torrents, but there is again no torrent for version 4.1.
OpenMandriva Lx 4.1 -- The live desktop environment (full image size: 618kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
OpenMandriva can be run as a live environment and uses the Calamares installer. I do like Calamares. It looks clean and, for the most part, it works. If you just click "Next, Next, Next" and let the distro take over your entire disk everything will be fine. Calamares does, however, always seem to struggle with encrypting partitions. I had opted to encrypt my system and all seemed to go well. The installer started to perform its magic and I was presented with a little slide show made up of self-congratulatory marketing slogans:
OpenMandriva, Everybody, Everywhere
OpenMandriva is innovative
OpenMandriva is fast
And then the install failed with the message "cryptsetup -s 512 --batch-mode --force-password --type luks1 luksFormat /dev/sda3".
After a bit of digging I found that the solution was to not use a swap partition. My second attempt was successful and I got to see the remaining slides. I learned that OpenMandriva is also "an exciting ground for users and developers", "stable", "mobile" and "unique".
OpenMandriva Lx 4.1 -- Don't use swap and encryption in Calamares (full image size: 450kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
The boot process is far from flicker-free but I got to the login screen fairly quickly - and throughout my trial I would have no issues when it came to performance. I would have various other gripes, and one them is the sound clip that is played when you log in. I don't know why, but I found it annoying, and it didn't help that the clip is about ten seconds long. If you are a fellow opponent of sound clips, the feature can be disabled via System Settings > Notifications > Applications: Configure > Plasma Workspace > Configure Events > Login.
OpenMandriva's Plasma desktop uses a fairly standard layout. There is a taskbar at the bottom of the display with all the usual suspects: an applications menu, application launchers and a system tray. Open applications are displayed in two rows, which feels a little odd. After some poking in the settings I was able to organise the taskbar to my liking. I was even able to tidy up the rather overcrowded system tray.
OpenMandriva Lx 4.1 -- A slightly customised desktop with OM Welcome (full image size: 520kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
I should also mention "OM Welcome", which is - surprise, surprise - a welcome application. OM Welcome is launched automatically when you log in and features a handful of tabs. The "Features" tab contains information about the kernel, the Plasma desktop and a few applications. The information is presented in a slide show, and each slide is displayed for three seconds. If you aren't proficient at speed reading, you can pause individual slides by putting your cursor on a slide's label.
The "Configure" tab provides shortcuts to various Plasma setting menus (of which there are many) and the "Applications" menu features a selection of curated software, which you can install with the click of a button. You don't get any progress information when you install an application but the software installer works - I managed to install GIMP and Scribus via the Welcome application.
Finally, the "Contribute" tab provides links to various resources, including the OpenMandriva forums and donate page. Four of the eight links on the tab result in a "page not found" error. I suspect that this is because various sections and pages on the website have moved elsewhere - I encountered lots of dead links on the OpenMandriva website as well.
On the third day of my trial the OpenMandriva website had recovered, and I was able to read the release notes [PDF]. Apart from the usual version updates (Linux kernel 5.5.0, systemd 244, Plasma 5.17.5 etc.) there are a few interesting new features. There are two new tools: om-update-config can be used to configure automatic updates and om-feeling-like is a desktop theme switcher. Also, Zypper has been added as an alternative package manager.
I was missing some basic information in the release notes. It is unclear, for instance, how long OpenMandriva 4.1 will be supported and what the upgrade path from version 4 to 4.1 is.
om-update-config appears in the menu as "Update Configuration" and gives you three options for applying updates:
Do not install updates automatically
Download updates automatically, install manually
Download and install updates automatically
The first option ("do not install updates automatically") is a little unclear, as it doesn't tell you whether or not updates will be downloaded automatically. You can deduce that nothing will be downloaded, as the option would otherwise be identical to "download updates automatically, install manually". Still, a description along the lines of "Manually manage updates" would have made more sense. You shouldn't have to deduce what an option does.
I did not get to test the tool. That is partly because I got very few updates during my trial, and partly because the tool was removed when I uninstalled DNF (I will get to that shortly). I do have a Top Tip related to the tool though: you can run om-config-update from the command line (as root). The utility takes one of three arguments: none, download or install.
om-feeling-like appears in the menu as Desktop Presets. Put simply, with the click of a button you can change the desktop theme. The available flavours are OpenMandriva (the default), Plasma (which is a stock Plasma desktop), Windows 7, Windows 10, Ubuntu and macOS. It is an idea that has been borrowed from Ubuntu MATE, which has a similar desktop layout switcher.
I tried two themes: macOS and Ubuntu. The macOS theme was fairly nice. I like having a global application menu and I liked the Latte dock. The overall experience wasn't great though. For instance, clicking the OpenMandriva icon opens the menu, which has a semi-transparent background. That might look pretty, but it becomes difficult to navigate the menu when another application is open in the background. When I tried (and failed) to find a setting to change the background I noticed that the global menu also doesn't work as expected: the menu of the Falkon browser would still be displayed when another application had focus.
The Ubuntu theme was much worse and, frankly, looks like a joke. The vertical dock overlaps the top bar and the "Default" button (which is named "Activities" in GNOME); the clock isn't centred properly and you can't open the activities overview using the Super key. The latter might actually be a good thing, as the activities overview looks dreadful.
I also found that most of the customisations I had made to the default desktop were lost when I switched back to the OpenMandriva theme. I am sure many users will enjoy om-feeling-like, but to me it felt like a beta application that should not have been pre-installed.
OpenMandriva uses the DNF package manager, but you can now install Zypper. I felt a little nervous about this. In particular, I wasn't sure if Zypper could be installed alongside DNF, or whether it would be better to replace DNF with Zypper. Having two package managers installed just doesn't feel right.
I decided that it was my duty to take the plunge. As far as I can tell DNF and Zypper can live happily side-by-side (but please don't get angry with me if the experiment turns out to be a disaster for you). I also tested what happens if you uninstall DNF, and that didn't cause any obvious issues either. It is worth mentioning, though, that uninstalling DNF will also removed the above-mentioned om-update-config utility and dnfdragora, which is a graphical front-end for DNF. Removing DNF will also break the software installer in the Welcome application, as clicking on any of the applications executes the command "dnf install --assumeyes ".
OpenMandriva Lx 4.1 -- Using Zypper to uninstall DNF (full image size: 409kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Software and the KDE experience
OpenMandriva ships with a fairly large collection of software. I got on well with most applications. The only real issue I encountered was that KMail was broken, but then I have never had much luck with KMail. This time I got the error "Could not convert value of setting 'AccountIdentity' to required type" when I tried to configure an e-mail account. That appears to be a Qt bug.
As an alternative I installed Trojitá. The e-mail client consistently crashed when I clicked on any of the headers in the messages pane (i.e. if you try to sort e-mails by date, sender or subject) but other than that I liked Trojitá. It's minimal, but does the job as an e-mail client on a spare laptop.
The default web browser is Falkon, which comes with a basic ad-blocking extension enabled by default. For some reason OpenMandriva uses a local file (/usr/share/mdk/indexhtml.html) as the default home page. That is odd, as the page redirects to the OpenMandriva website. When you open the browser it will show the local HTML file for a few seconds before you are redirected. Of course, that is easily fixed - Falkon is quite configurable.
The application I liked most was Elisa, which is one of four pre-installed media players. It looks nice and it strikes just the right balance between ease of use and functionality - at least for me.
OpenMandriva Lx 4.1 -- The Elisa music player and digiKam photo manager (full image size: 468kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
There were a few applications I was missing. Most of them were command line applications, such as pass, moc and newsboat. There were also a few graphical applications I would have liked, including a password manager and podcast player. I could work around these issues by installing pass from source and by adding podcast feeds to Akregator, which is another application I got on with very well.
Discover, which is KDE's software centre, worked better than expected. In the past I never cared much for Discover, but I feel it has improved quite a bit. It was easy to install and remove packages, and I like that it also lets you manage repositories and updates. There were a few bugs though. For instance, Firefox wasn't listed in the category "Web Browsers".
OpenMandriva Lx 4.1 -- Available web browsers, according to Discover (full image size: 269kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
In general, Plasma pleasantly surprised me. There were a few weird dependencies, such as Marble being tied to KMail. There were a few applications with toolbars on all four sides of the window (digiKam was a notable exception) and my volume keys worked on the login screen. For the most part, things worked and the desktop got out of my way - and when it didn't I was able to tweak the relevant settings.
Plasma on Wayland, which is an available session on the login screen, isn't quite in its prime yet. It mostly worked but there were various minor nibbles. The task switcher, for instance, didn't work. Using Alt-Tab would show me open windows, but I couldn't cycle through them.
Documentation and more website troubles
Even though the OpenMandriva website had recovered I wasn't able to find any useful information on the website. For instance, I was hoping to find some information about proprietary codecs (which seem to be installed by default) and Zypper in the wiki. Unfortunately, the SSL certificate for the wiki.openmandriva.org had expired in late December. As they have set up a redirect to always use HTTPS the page could only be accessed by adding an SSL exception in my browser, which I tend not to do.
I wanted to report the expired certificate as a bug. It had been six weeks since the certificate had expired, and nobody seemed to have noticed the issue. The bug tracker, though, was also buggy. After entering my e-mail address I was supposed to be sent an account verification e-mail, but instead I got a blank page.
The wiki got a new Let's Encrypt certificate on the 8th of February. However, to my surprise the wiki was complete empty. The domain showed a "MediaWiki has been installed" message, and there was no content whatsoever. And on that same day I noticed that the SSL certificate for the ‘downloads' subdomain had expired on the 8th February. Whoever is looking after the website is having a difficult few weeks.
OpenMandriva Lx 4.1 -- The OpenMandriva wiki (full image size: 472kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
There is another section on the website with documentation. However, it contains very little content and what documentation exists talks about OpenMandriva Lx 3, which was released in 2017. Like the project's website, the documentation doesn't get much love.
I did not like OpenMandriva very much. The project has quite a few issues with its infrastructure and the documentation is in a very poor state. My main issue, though, was that I found the OpenMandriva-specific features rather underwhelming.
That is an unkind conclusion, and I don't enjoy writing negative reviews. But then, the distro aims to be an alternative to Windows and macOS, and I honestly don't think OpenMandriva is that alternative. There are much better distros for both Windows / macOS refugees and KDE-lovers.
* * * * *
Hardware used for this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a Lenovo Z570 laptop with the following specifications: