In 2001 when I first ditched my Win98 install and turned to Linux, Mandrake and SuSE were about neck-and-neck in the competition to be the most user-friendly consumer Linux distribution, with niceties like good installers and hardware detection. RedHat was the other “Big One” but was already more associated with corporate and server infrastructure, in my opinion.
I went with SuSE for many years, and then began playing the field. But in early 2016 I bought a new laptop and needed a reliable Linux distro to put on it, and Mageia – the heir/successor to Mandrake then Madriva – was what I installed. And it stayed on my machine for about two years, where it was a loyal friend that served me well.
You don't hear much about Mageia these days (2021). The Ubuntu/Debian derivatives kind of ran away with the world's attention, and to be fair, the Ubuntu family is a cinch to install, has a huge package repository, and offers overall a good user experience. In my case, I went to Linux Mint long ago and don't regret it. But Mageia has something I sorely miss elsewhere, the Mageia Control Center (MCC), which manages superuser tasks like package installs, system updates, firewall, and network connections, in a comfortable, graphic format. So it's always puzzled me that this distro doesn't get more attention than it does.
I installed the February 2021 version of Mageia this week, because I wanted a solid KDE desktop with no muss or fuss. OpenSUSE, God bless it, is somewhat of a mess in my opinion (and it was my first love). Ubuntu has rough edges. Other good KDE distros like Neon or KaOS aren't my cup of tea (KaOS for example, doesn't install anything not based on QT, so goodbye emacs, gkrellm, claws-mail, and a lot of other things I love). So I installed Mageia.
I'd love to get into the nitty gritty details about install and configuration, but there isn't much to tell. The graphical install was straightforward, easy-on-the-eyes, and offered good defaults. I assume Mageia is a smaller team than the teams behind other popular distros, and so was surprised they also offered Cinnamon, MATE, Gnome, and other desktops too. I was likewise surprised that my favorite packages –with very few exceptions, were all available too. I'd thought for sure Mageia's repository would be thinned down, but it was absolutely not. Things like setting up NFS shares were easier on Mageia than on Ubuntu, which required the command line.
Beyond the classic KDE/Plasma install (Konqueror, Knode, Okular, Kmail, Dolphin, Digikam, etc.), available were my favorites, some of which are somewhat esoteric:
- Mutt, Neomutt
- Catfish, my new favorite system search app
- Emacs, LaTeX, AucTeX, lilypond, etc.
- Claws-mail, sylpheed, slrn, lynx, links/elinks, w3m
- Joe, Jed, Nedit, wordgrinder
- Gkrellm, Midnight Commander
- Windowmaker, IceWM, i3, openbox/fluxbox etc.
- Scribus, Calibre
- QCAD, QGIS, kstars, stellarium, celestia, xplanet
I only really found a few things I'd have liked but didn't have. Most problems I was able to find a work-around for:
- gopher client (but lynx is available). The kio_gopher library doesn't work here or anywhere else. I installed Little Gopher Client, which works perfectly and makes a nice GUI alternative to Forg and friends.
- Anything related to Gemini (Lagrange, for example)
- Jedit (a java package). It's easily downloadable from jedit.org
- XZGV. I was able to install it from an openSUSE RPM without any issues. It's far better than XV and way faster than anything QT or GTK.
- Mageia's samba set-up wasn't good at all. Wound up accessing local samba shares over SFTP; not ideal but better than nothing.
Conclusion: Mageia stays. I'm running it in a VM at present, but I'll find a box to install it on. The world still needs a consumer-friendly, desktop-oriented distro. Linux Mint is great, but Mageia is just as good, and its GUI configuration tools are far, far better. To those who complain new installs of Mageia have no shocking, new innovations, I respond, Mageia doesn't need to reinvent the wheel, so they're investing their time in polish and fine-tuning, which is just fine with me.
Update, six months later
No Regrets. Mageia's few shortcomings had easy work-arounds. I do miss the Cinnamon desktop, which I had really enjoyed. But KDE Plasma is great, and it's ironed out a lot of annoyances since I last tested it.
- The biggest single win is the KDE file browser dialog and the Dolphin file manager, both of which are top-notch. Gnome software has no equivalent, or plans to produce one. Dolphin is better than Windows Explorer by leaps and bounds. The only improvement would be a Mac OSX three-pane (NeXTStep) type file browser, but I understand that implementation is patent-protected.
- At the console or on the GUI, I can do everything I am used to doing.
- The software selection is impressive
- KDE apps are impressive: kwrite, kate, kmail, konsole: all very wow. And I really dig how easily it allows me to configure my workspace any way I want.
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