Farewell to an old friend
Saturday, September 17, 2011 4:20:41 PM
I'm not sure if you know how these open source projects go ... I discovered a bug in some of the math functions and I reported it, and they said "Okay, fix it." Needless to say I did, eventually ... it took a while to figure out what I was trying to do. In the interim I got involved with their support email list (10 years ago support forums weren't so common), helping people fix their own issues - well, like I do here.
In July of 2000, someone posted about a bug that occured only in the Linux version. At the time I was using Windows 98 SE, but there didn't seem to be anyone else around who knew anything about it either. So I went to the local "office superstore" (downloading something like that on dial-up ... without being able to tell what you were even getting into ... wasn't really an option) to see if they had anything. Back then, they did - they had a couple of packages of RedHat, and a couple of packages of Mandrake. Mandrake looked like the safer one to try to install and still keep my Windows system, and the "Power Pack" edition was the one that indicated it actually included libraries necessary for development, so that's what I got. At the time, that was Mandrake 7.0.
(While Mandrake was based on RedHat, they set their version numbers at that time one full version higher than RedHat. RedHat was at 6.0 back then, Mandrake at 7.0.)
Oh, for the record, the guy with the bug figured out the answer himself before I was familiar enough with Linux to actually try it myself. But I kept at it and eventually got proficient with Linux as well.
Of course Linux versions don't stand still, but as I said downloading them over dial-up wasn't exactly feasible ... and the local store stopped carrying Linux also. Eventually it got to the point where I decided I'd have to drive about 50 miles to the larger city and see if they had an updated version in one of the real computer stores. They did, by then it was Mandrake 7.2. Again I got the PowerPack edition, though actually reading the package I thought the standard edition might have what I needed to run XBasic - from time to time they seemed to change their minds about what belonged in the standard edition and what didn't.
I did find some bug in 7.2 though, I forget what exactly it was. Something both severe in its effects and fairly trivial to fix once you found a way around it. I emailed them to report the problem, someone replied asking what help I needed and I said something like "I don't need any help, I fixed it on my system, but I'm sure some other people must be having problems with it so here's what needs to be changed ..."
I guess they were somewhat impressed, they asked me if I wanted to be a tester and sent me a free copy of 7.2 (though I'd already bought one). I'm not exactly a major hacker in either sense of the word ... I'm resourceful, I think in terms of the bigger picture, and so it is that I can find a way to get around a severe bug. I am a hacker in the old sense, someone who will modify code to better suit his needs rather than just "making do". There's probably a few lawyers out there who think that's wrong - I'm sure you've seen those licenses which say that you may not modify the software? I paid for it, I'm not selling anything ... in fact, I'm probably helping them since I'm making their product more useful.
Anyway ... I was a "Crash tester" for about 3 years I guess, even have a T-shirt and so on. But eventually they reached a point where my (by then) 5-year-old hardware was no longer supported.
About that same time there were a couple of Linux magazines that actually included a different CD every month, I picked up the ones that sounded interesting and tried different ones. Several did still work with my system, though Fedora 3 (the successor to the original RedHat) kept removing and then reinstalling my printer at every startup, etc. Some of the live CDs were not intended to be installed, some - while it was possible to install, they left you in a sort of "no man's land" ... the disk was technically a modified version of some other distro, installing it would put you into a bare-bones version of the original distro. But many of them worked, the one that seemed most suitable was openSUSE.
But it wasn't Mandrake. There were several things they just did in a more clumsy fashion ... when I inherited my brother's computer in 2006, the first thing I did was install Mandrake.
Okay, that needs just a little explanation. My brother had owned the computer for about 3 years, it had Windows XP, but for most of those 3 years he had no internet service at all. That means, the anti-virus which came with the system had expired 2 years earlier, the computer had no security updates - nothing. When he finally decided to join the modern world, he was susceptible to every virus and malware out there. One week after finally getting (dial-up) internet service, he had so many viruses and whatever that his system would no longer boot Windows properly. So of course he decided to give the computer to me and get himself a new one.
The 3-year-old reinstall disk would have removed all the bugs of course, but that would just put me back where he'd been a week earlier ... and we do know where that went. So instead I just wiped the disk to install a new OS, and of course my preference there was Mandrake. (Okay, I think they were Mandriva by that time.) I did also install openSUSE (you can dual boot two different kinds of Linux if you want), but Mandriva was my primary OS. And it stayed that way for a couple of years.
I eventually did buy another computer - one with an up-to-date version of Windows on it. And while I did install Mandriva to it as well, I also kept Windows (XP SP2).
Unfortunately, last year Mandriva fired a lot of their people and kicked out several of their volunteers (you can't technically fire a volunteer) ... we all know the economy has been pretty poor of late, that doesn't explain why they'd remove volunteers.
But Mandriva was an open-source project, the former developers and volunteers who felt very strongly about their product couldn't be stopped from developing it on their own. (In open-source terms, this is called a "fork", as in "a fork in the road". They would go their own way from that point, but started from the same common point.)
So it was that I waited to see what would happen. The new fork was given the name Mageia. Mandriva did release an update they called "2010.2" but really it wasn't even an update, it was more of a rolling release (it included all the bug fixes since 2010.1, but nothing new).
Finally about 3 months ago, Mageia announced that version 1.0 was ready. I downloaded it ... it wasn't a big change since Mandriva 2010.2. Okay, they changed OpenOffice to LibreOffice, they had a new kernel and so on. Didn't seem like anything really special there. Not that I expected anything ... oh, I suppose "daring" would be a good term. No, on the contrary I expected them to "play it safe", and not to do too much with their first release separate from Mandriva - and that's what they did.
I didn't really keep my eyes on Mandriva during this time, but I noticed they seemed to be running a little slower than I'd expected. Then I noticed a couple of posts to Distrowatch that they were pushing back their release date, and something about a new interface or some such...
At the time I figured this would be something like Ubuntu's new Unity desktop, which people have described as a netbook interface. I don't use Ubuntu, I have never even seen what Unity looks like, so I have to use my imagination there. Maybe Unity isn't that bad - I have no way of knowing - though I do get to hear lots of complaints, of course it is those who are upset who make the most noise. And likewise I had no idea at all what this new "Rosa" desktop would be like.
Well, they finally did release Mandriva 2011 late last month, and I downloaded it to give it a try. (Of course I downloaded the live version, so that I could try it without having to replace Mageia 1.0). And I have to say ... I still have no idea what Rosa is like.
I'm not sure what's going on, it seems like it doesn't have enough RAM on this system. Possible, I only have 1 GB of RAM and onboard video (which means the video chip steals some of that RAM for its own use) but either way it just keeps reading different parts of the disk swapping stuff into memory. I decided maybe some of that was start-up related, and so perhaps if I let it idle for a while some processes might complete and eventually it would settle down ... but after 3 hours it was still at it. And still unresponsive in any practical sense. I could move the mouse and eventually the cursor would catch up, I could right-click and maybe several minutes later the context menu would appear ... and for that reason I never have gotten to really see what their new interface is like.
I can say, they are using some sort of a KDE 4 desktop - though you could have found that out at their website. And yes, it looks a lot like KDE 4 on any other distro (when nothing is open anyway). They've supposedly replaced what on Windows would be the Start menu with something a bit more graphical, but I never was able to look at it. I even had to use the power button on my computer since I couldn't shut down any other way - so of course I didn't get to look at any of this new stuff they talk about on the website.
I guess I'm just disappointed. Well ... that's not really an adequate word. I wasn't sure what to expect - whether it would be something impressive or perhaps just "not for me" - but I'm deprived of even that because whatever it is, is just to demanding for my system. Maybe it has a place, but I'll never really know.
So it is after 11 years that I have to bid a final farewll to Mandriva. While they've left me behind before, I really had nowhere else to go back then. This time, I have no reason to go back. Yes, I'm sad to see it end - especially this way. I do wish them well, though at this point I have my doubts in that regard.