Short bio: Computer Scientist, FOSS supporter (read more)
Tux Machines (TM)-specific
Last fall when the two mega-distros openSUSE and Mandriva both hit the mirrors, it was difficult to decide which I liked better. In an attempt to narrow it down, I ran some light-hearted tests and found Mandriva won out in a side-by-side comparison. But things change rapidly in the Linux world and I wondered how a competition of the newest releases would come out. Mandriva 2008.1 was released this past April and openSUSE 11.0 was released just last week.
My history with Mandriva goes back eight years. It was the first Linux distribution I was able to make work and paved my way to freedom. openSUSE swept me off my feet when 10.0 was in development and I've followed it closely since. I like both of these distros very much and as this article will show, it is very difficult to pick a favorite. But lets try:
Welcome to our re-match - In the blue corner weighing in at 4.4 GB, defending champion Mandriva 2008.1 Spring. In the green corner weighing in at 4.3 GB is our returning challenger openSUSE 11.0.
As many of you already know, openSUSE's installer received a big old facelift this release. They've eliminating some steps to streamline and speed up the process. Despite that, Mandriva's is still a hard one to beat. The partitioner alone still garners much of the glory as it enables a new user as well as the experienced to visualize how their partitions lay on their hard drives. It's easy to see where the space is distributed and where any free space may be. I've installed a lot of distros and I've yet to find one to equal Mandriva's.
However, there was a distinct difference in the speed of the package install step this time. The eliminated steps didn't do much to speed things up - or it didn't figure into the equation much, but one could definitely tell that openSUSE has improved the package installation immensely. In fact, it wasn't as noticeable until I actually installed Mandriva and it became very clear.
With the looks, package selection screen, and bootloader installation being more-or-less equal, we have one point for Mandriva's partitioner and one point for openSUSE's package installer. I guess that leaves us with a tie on the installer.
This is a difficult area to judge as it comes down to taste. openSUSE's default wallpaper is new this release, but it's rather flat. I wasn't impressed with it much. I didn't dislike it though. Mandriva's wallpaper is real nice with its blue tones and penguin motiff. Who doesn't love penguins?
openSUSE and Mandriva both use really nice KDE 3.5.9 window decorations and style. I like Mandriva's panel appearance, start button, and menu a bit more. Color themes match well in both and fonts are rendered equally as well for me in each.
Although it's a matter of opinion, I think Mandriva is just a little bit prettier.
With both installations I went with the default packages except added all window manager/environments and kernel developmental packages. They both come with lots of great software and both have extensive on-line repositories. It seemed to me that Mandriva had a bit more variety included in the default install, but openSUSE did have to make room for KDE 4.
One area where openSUSE is going to win is in the multimedia support. Out-of-the-box they both suck equally as bad, but openSUSE's community branch and one-click make installing the codecs much easier. Mandriva will open a Codina window from which you can install many codecs, but it doesn't include decryption for DVDs where openSUSE's does.
In addition, openSUSE includes a repository listing that carries NVIDIA proprietary graphic drivers.
Perhaps erroneously, last time we used version numbers to judge and Mandriva had a few weeks advantage. This time openSUSE has had a coupla months advantage. Despite this, very little difference was found in software beyond kernel and Xorg versions.
|openSUSE 11.0||Mandriva Spring|
As you can see, despite the two month release gap, the versions almost line up. Firefox was still too beta two months ago to be included, so no points lost or gained there. Mandriva does have more apps by default, but openSUSE almost has to win for its inclusion of KDE 4. And not just the inclusion of it, but their treatment of it as well. It's close, but I think openSUSE is gonna squeak passed Mandriva this time.
openSUSE's software manager has seen lots of improvement this release too. It's faster and sleeker and it's very easy-to-use. It appears Mandriva's graphical interface got a few changes at some point, but I don't like search function much. It was difficult to tell if it really searched for a package and didn't find one. There was no busy or progress indicator - just an already empty pane remained empty. I had to go back and search for something I knew it had to make sure it was working. I also prefer the way openSUSE's filter is right there on the window. I also think the groupings are more logical - just easier to find things listed. As far as the commandline version, they are really just about equal to me. So, in an upset, this time I like openSUSE's package management better.
Hardware support is also a tough race to call. Basic support is there in both as is much advanced power saving features (with pretty much equal hit and misses). The point of contention this match is with the wireless ethernet chip. I know I'm talking about a proprietary chip and it's unfair to judge based on it, but I can't help it - dang it, I want it to work - by any means necessary. And I could not bring it to life in Mandriva this time to save my life. I tried Ndiswrapper and b43-fwcutter after Mandriva's "Use windows firmware?" to no avail. Yet despite openSUSE using a 2.6.25 kernel, Ndiswrapper worked wonderfully.
So, as close as it is:
Well, here we go again with "not much difference." I experienced a coupla niggles from both here and there, but it seemed openSUSE had a few more and one more serious. I'm still having trouble with openSUSE's Online Update Applet crashing while in GNOME. I'm not sure if this is being seen by others, but if it is, it could be serious for those who use GNOME exclusively. This is a point-0 release for openSUSE, but still:
Mandriva and openSUSE are very close in performance as well. Both are snappy and responsive with no artifacting. Those fancy menus in openSUSE are much slower than Mandriva's more traditional menus, but applications seem to perform almost equally. But here are some times for comparison:
|openSUSE 11.0||Mandriva Spring|
I was actually surprised by how close these number were. In fact, if you count the menus, it's another tie.
Well, in a surprising upset, openSUSE seems to have won this time. It's surprizing that their stable release that everyone liked so much lost out to Mandriva last time, and then their point-0 cutting edge release won this time. I really wasn't expecting these results when I started. Please remember that this was just for fun and very superficial. But in any case, it's so close that you really couldn't go wrong with either. They are both great distros with dedicated and talented developers.