GNU/Linux Distribution Test: OpenMandriva Lx 4.2 “Argon”

Calling itself a direct successor of the now discontinued and Mandrake-based Mandriva Linux, OpenMandriva Lx is a project developed by the OpenMandriva Association based in France and the Cooker group. Shortly after Mandriva S.A. avoiding bankruptcy by discontinuing Mandriva Linux in 2012, Mandriva’s community took over Mandriva and released the first stable version of OpenMandriva codenamed “Oxygen” in late 2013.

Although being on the market for almost eight years, OpenMandriva Lx relies solely on the KDE Plasma environment and recently expanded its supported architectures to ARM.

An empty Welcome windows always is a good sign…

Before booting the live environment, users can select their language and keyboard layout. Once set and selecting the first entry, the live environment boots quite fast, and a rather unique feature is a startup melody — this one also longer than the classical Windows XP startup sound — playing while KDE Plasma is loading.

Installation

OpenMandriva ships with the graphical installer Calamares. Once proceeding through all steps and confirming the installation, the installation, according to the slideshow, takes 15 minutes. In my case, however, the installation “failed” after exactly 15 minutes, with Calamares claiming that a post-script encountered a timeout error due to being “empty”. Since it already installed the most important components, including a customized GRUB boot loader, I rebooted the system and unplugged the Live USB to find out that OpenMandriva actually installed itself successfully, though now taking more than two minutes to boot and KDE Plasma needing five minutes to load.

This would later become an annoying issue…

Since the installation abruptly stopped after installing important shell scripts, Calamares did not remove itself and the Welcome window instantly crashed after starting. Due to its initial slowness, the laptop’s fan ran on above medium speed for more than ten minutes and would only slow down when idle state lasts approximately five minutes. After thirty minutes, OpenMandriva managed to adjust itself quicker to user input, although idle CPU usage occasionally increased to nearly 10% on my ten-year-old Acer Aspire laptop.

Installed Tools & Software Management

Since OpenMandriva ended up copying the live environment onto the HDD, all software available on the live image were installed, as well, including LibreOffice, the internet browser Falkon, two Terminal emulators (Konsole and XTerm), and other popular programs from the KDE family. Being a grand-child (or great-grand-child) of Red Hat, OpenMandriva relies of RPM packages, which can be managed with Discover or via command-line. The graphical software manager also grants users the option to enable flatpak support and access to flathub via a few clicks.

During my test, I quickly got annoyed with Discover looking for updates every time the program is being started and requiring more than one attempt at finding non-installed software, with the first attempt always making Discover end up in a search loop.

Another graphical tool to manage software is hidden within the tool OpenMandriva Control Center, which crashed instantly when attempting to run it.

Performance

Whereas the live environment required no more than 430 MB of memory, the average idle RAM usage of the installed OpenMandriva never went below 710 MB and often increased to 830 MB. The amount of time needed for the system to boot and finish loading the desktop environment varied significantly between nearly two and up to four minutes with auto-login enabled and performance differences between different KDE Plasma themes and OpenMandriva presets, which take longer than 30 seconds to apply.

Overall navigation would slow down at random times, and the Application menu also tended to freeze at the most random times for no apparent reason. RAM management also appeared to be random, with OpenMandriva sometimes relying a little more on RAM cache and sometimes boosting active RAM usage, even when applying an identical Office-like user routine. Starting a Wayland session takes slightly longer than logging into a regular KDE Plasma session and turned out to be less responsive and more buggy than expected, driving idle CPU usage up to 50% and making idle GPU temperature increase to more than 40 degrees Celsius.

Documentation

OpenMandriva offers both an official forum and a Wiki, though both rather tend to expose the size of the community and its involvement in development. The Wiki itself comes in a more “user-friendly” design and largely covers release notes, yet no installation guidelines. The FAQ section is labeled as a “work-in-progress” and only provides an empty page. OpenMandriva’s news page, while news are being published in English, demonstrates how slow (and even buggy, when taking the timestamps into account) the development of the project is.

The forum, in contrast, is similar to other forums such as Garuda and Manjaro, though divided into five different languages, instead. Despite OpenMandriva’s multi-language availability, the forum only offers guidance in English, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, with some sections such as “Desktop Art”, which has not been updated since June 2020, being exclusive to English and Italian community members.

Other Findings

Both VLC Media Player and SMPlayer crashed when reading a DVD that comes with a select menu.

Not only did OpenMandriva fail to mount both my iPhone 6s and my Canon EOS 700D, it misses the same media codecs openSUSE also lacks. Unlike openSUSE, which excludes said media codecs from being pre-installed due to legal concerns, the team behind OpenMandriva neither claims to do the same, nor do they recognize it as a bug that needs to be fixed.

Among the installed software crashing instantly when wanting to start them are not just OpenMandriva own tools, in fact with both KSysManager and Falkon not working and Discover sometimes straight up refusing to search for programs, I briefly had to rely on GNOME Web, which is so badly configured that I could not upload any media online due to the date being set to 1 January 1970. Downloading and installing Ungoogled Chromium took me more than 20 minutes.

To check performance differences between all desktop sessions, I discovered that the Failsafe X session only opens XTerm and keeps the login screen running in the background. Additionally, when logging back into a regular KDE Plasma, KDE Plasma refused to load properly and I was left with a black screen and only the mouse pointer showing. Despite my curiosity to find out why OpenMandriva also offers a rolling release model, which cannot be downgraded back to a stable system once enabled, I decided to end the test after encountering this glitch.

Perhaps the empty Welcome window should have been interpreted as a warning sign on my behalf before installing this distribution. As I am not a fan of derivates of derivates of large projects due to tending to suffer from easily preventable issues and not offering anything unique besides a few tools, it was even more surprising that OpenMandriva’s own tools were failing spectacularly during my test. The chaotic documentation, in addition with a sparely documented history of this project (both DistroWatch and Wikipedia offer partially conflicting documentation, while OpenMandriva offers almost no separate, more technical page) proved that OpenMandriva is a more value-driven project targeting beginners with little “Linux experience”. The result, however, is a project that should not be recommended to newbies at all due to suffering from a series of bugs and glitches that defeats the project’s claim of being stable.

The most frustrating thing I would discover later on was the hidden rolling release variant of OpenMandriva, which can be enabled via an extra Software Repository manager. Neither is it mentioned on OpenMandriva’s official website, nor does the team offer much documentation, in fact I had to dig through the forum to find out a little more about it. This makes OpenMandriva even more unsuitable for new users in particular and somewhat of a frustration for more experienced users.

With development being very slow and offering a system that is nowhere near as stable as Debian, taking little care of documentation, and most support offered by the forum being limited to three languages, it is far from a finished project.

Hardware

Acer Aspire 5749Z

Processor: Intel B960 with Intel HD Graphics @ 2.20 GHz

Display: Intel 2nd Generation Core Processor Family Integrated Graphics Controller

Memory: 4 GB RAM (3.85)

Storage: 320 GB Toshiba MK3259GS HDD

Network: Qualcomm Atheros AR9485 Wireless Network Adapter

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