As a non-technical user of Linux, and after reading several posts about the battle between developers and users who feel neglected by them, I could not prevent myself from worrying a bit about the soon-to-come release of Mageia 2. You know, maybe Mageia also jumped on board that train that takes you to DumbOSland, where you "use-your-computer-as-if-it-were-a-cellphone".
So, I downloaded the beta2 to have a preview of what Mageia offers to users of Linux who are not computer gurus by any standard, but who like computers to behave as what they are.
DISCLAIMER: This is not a technical review, so I'm not getting into codecs, Flash, boot-time, and the like. As a simple computer user, I wanted to check on the progress made by Mageia and I saw both positive points and negative ones. This is what I found on the negative side:
1. The artwork needs some, er, work!
I am inclined into thinking that OSs must keep a balance between efficiency and beauty. While I do not find myself necessarily annoyed by the color scheme or login screens of Mageia, I do believe that lack of consistency might make potential users to refrain from using a system because simple users, when seeing an inconsistency in the booting process, tend to think of it as "a problem". The graphical screen of Mageia 2 Beta 2 overlaps the text screen and it looks strange. Of course, that is not going to make a computer blow up, but still...
2. A hideous bug crawls through Mageia Control Center/ RPMDrake
Although the installation was smooth, when I opened Mageia Control Center to start adding programs, it told me that RPMdrake had to be updated. That is normal, so I marked some packages for install and waited.
The installation was successful and so was the updating of RPMdrake. The latter was the problem: after the updating, RPMdrake became unusable, which prevents you from performing any further software install operations.
Now, this is what I really call a problem. I presently ignore if it is a localized issue or many users experienced it, but this is not good. I tried three different combinations and all of them led me to the same dead end:
a. Install Mageia, select no upgrades, refresh repos (leaving DVD), install software from MCC=locked RPM db
b. Install Mageia, select upgrades, refresh and select some additional repos, install software from MCC=locked RPM db
c. Install Mageia, select no upgrades, refresh repos (unselecting DVD and selecting some additional repos), install software from MCC=locked RPM db
However, this worked:
Install Mageia, select no upgrades, refresh repos (unselecting DVD and keeping the default active), install software from MCC. I suppose this problem is going to be taken care of with the RC.
3. Japanese IME with iBus: Dekiruka, dekinaika?
This is perhaps the most technical requirement I have for selecting an OS: I need a free and efficient way to write in Japanese. There are many functionalities I can live without (games included), but my computer has to accept Japanese character input.
Mageia 1 Beta2 astonished me when I saw that iBus worked flawlessly out of the box, something I could never achieve in Mandriva 2010 regardless of all my efforts (iBus works perfectly in Mandriva 2011, though).
Since Mageia 1 Live CD removed this functionality (I must use SCIM for Japanese IME with that version of Mageia), I was a bit concerned of whether or not iBus will work in Mageia 2. I tried the beta 1 and, to my disappointment, although iBus seemed to be activated, all the languages were shown in light gray, the "conventional" color for unavailable features in a menu.
iBus in Mageia 2 Beta 2 showed the same. However, I discovered that, although they were displayed in a lighter color, if you click on the arrow preceding each language, a tree opens and you see the possibilities... Wheeee! My bad, really. After my battle with MCC, I downloaded all the packages to get Japanese working (Anthy, ibus-anthy, Japanese font) and tried iBus. It works... sort of. Now, although you see the ibus keyboar in the taskbar, you must restart it to get Anthy running. And you must install the java packages for LibreOffice, too. Interestingly, iBus works in LibreOffice even if you do not uninstall the Libreoffice-kde package. Another issue: it does not seem to work with Firefox.
Mageia 2 beta 2 で、日本語のIME、できるか、できないか？できそう。
On the other hand, Mageia 2 Beta 2 brings onto the table some tempting features for simple computer users like me:
1. New KDE
I really like the way in which Mageia 2 is working with KDE 4.8.1. Let me say this and, please, computer experts, do not feel offended. I simply do not care if KDE is a resource hog or not. I mean, KDE runs perfectly on my 2GB RAM, 500GB HD, even if I have several programs open (including Firefox with 6 tabs). It also looks beautiful with all the eye candy and plasma widgets. People can get systems with twice the horsepower of mine to run another OS that requires a ridiculous amount of resources and they are happy that way. So, to be honest, I find KDE's demands reasonable (again, I am a simple computer user, not a technical expert). Stability? Well, I haven't experienced a single KDE crash in a very long, long time. Yes, maybe it's because I do not use each and every KDE application, but I use the ones I find indispensable. That being said, I think that the prize KDE obtained was well deserved and using it is fun.
By the way, now the bottom panel marks with indicators the programs that are active and it also offers you an instant full-screen preview of the applications that are running. Some people I know are going to be crazy about these new features...
2. A satisfactory assortment of programs
Mageia 2 Beta2 packs LibreOffice 220.127.116.11, KOrganizer (I cannot live without it!) Okular (another gem), Scribus, Amarok 2.5.0, which nows incorporates the Amazon Store... I don't care because it works in some countries and mine is not included), Kdenlive, the players Dragon and Totem, and Gimp 2.7.4 with its new "export as" instead of "save as" dialog and image transformation tools.
3. Solid translations
As a Linux user, I cannot emphasize this point enough. Linux distros that provide only a couple of languages or inconsistent translations might not realize it, but they are reducing their possibility of adoption. Not all computer users speak English.
I believe that Mageia wants to offer a nice usability/freedom blend. Yes, I know that many Linux distros use the same motto, but they do not deliver; some say "We are the easiest computer experience", but then they switch your desktop for something you had never seen before and you are stuck with a desktop that that you simply don't understand. Mageia developers seem to understand that non-technical computer users need an OS that works with them, not against them. Thus, instead of "dumbifying" the user interface to the maximum, which is rather popular lately, they are following KDE's progress while keeping the same installation process. For computer users who lack technical training, that is certainly the right approach: I can follow the same steps and obtain a familiar, more polished desktop in the end. I can use it in my own language; it has the appropriate tools, and it requires little effort to use as I am not expected to relearn everything.
...A desktop that tells me I'm using a computer, not a gigantic cellphone. Thank you, Mageia!