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Mandriva 2008 Live UX

Ok. I put my hands on Mandriva 2008.

I must say honestly, I never liked Mandriva (Mandrake) too much. In the times when I was working for MaxWeber, I tried to use it as my main distro for some time and I felt like in a candy shop, with all those plastic colors, plus the overall experience was pretty “old-fashion-linux-like” in terms of feeling that I’m using a combination of pieces glued together. It’s my old and well known accusion against KDE. (Gnome was a bit better, especially in Ubuntu edition)

I hope that the past did not influence my review, thus I decided it’s better to inform readers about it, to stay fair.

I focused during this test course on the things that are specific to Mandriva distribution plus the overall experience during 10-20 minutes test. It’s not sufficient to put any general statements about the quality and (same as with OpenSUSE 10.3 UX review) I’d like people to give it a try before judging. I did not install Mandriva 2008, and this may influence the experience I have had, altough most of the things I focused on are unrelated to what could have change in the installed system. (that statement bases on my knowledge about Linux and installation processes).
The first thing you see after booting from the CD is a nice, blueish theme. It’s still a bit too candy like, but I feel ok with that, and I’m sure many people will really find it attractive.
A little glitch with grub is that you see a (themed) menu but with only one option to choose and 10 delay before auto starting it. Most people won’t notice, and you can’t say it’s a bug, but what for? I can guess that it’s made to allow some people in corner cases modify the launch options, but once more the sin of Linux Distributions is presented. Majority experiences options made for minority.

Boot screen is just like a modern boot theme in Linux distros. I find it less attractive than suse’s one, but that’s probably because I spent so much time with designers and they raped my aesthetics, so in result I love when things are very small. suse’s progress bar is smaller. 😉

The first thing that I found different to most live cd’s is that you have to make some choices before seeing the deskop. You’re choosing languages, time zone, time format, 3d special effects (metisse, compiz fusion or nothing).

I can understand the reason for which they did it. Especially the 3d part makes you aware of what the desktop will be like. There is a clear description of each choice, so even a novice user will understand the consequences of his choice. User who’s already aware of what he’s doing (experienced linux user testing mandriva) will like this idea. I like it. It makes it possible for me to choose in 3 steps how I want the desktop to looks like.

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UX of OpenSUSE 10.3

Today, I tried OpenSUSE 10.3. Installation went fine, although it was at least partially because I installed various OpenSUSE many times before. The installation process is definitely too long but I don’t have off hat ideas on how to make it shorter.

The initial feeling after login is… fresh. It feels fresh. I like the wallpaper, sound theme. The start menu is as always extremely cool and usable. Those three aspects make OpenSUSE first experience really nice. My gf spent about 10 minutes and had absolutely no problem to find herself in the new environment. She knew it’s different from Windows, but she liked they way how different it is.

The first unpleasant experience came after updating system with suse system update. Sound card went down. After some debugging it came out that all devices in /dev/snd were in group audio, and I was not a member of this group (nor any other system user was). I just added it to /etc/group, but that’s totally a blocker that makes the system useless. Imagine Joe Average on my place with his first, brave try of this Linux thing, when he can hear cute login sound on the first time, then he clicks on “update” icon to update his system and then, after reboot – no more sound Joe!

Second unpleasant experience came few minutes later during short user-testing session on my gf. She really liked the wallpaper set, she found the start menu very nice and intuitive, she clicked through apps/docs/places, read right column, wowed over search menu, but then said “It seems there’s not too many apps here” – user used to Windows like start menu with zillion apps feels a bit “empty”. She did not find the “Other apps” icon, but this may be due to the nature of this experiment with me standing over her head.

But the problem appeared when I pointed her this button. She clicked on it, and it took over 30 seconds for the new menu to appear. The new menu is a window, almost full-screen with huge amount of apps in a flat layout. That’s different to Windows, but nothing “bad”. Until she started reading the descriptions. “DMA channels”, “OpenGL”, “PCI”, “Partitions”, “SCSI”, “Samba status”, “Processor”, “X Server”… thank you! Stop!

Who the hell came with this idea? Let me guess… no one. No one actually took care to do this very freakin simple user action flow – login, click on Computer, click on Other Apps, read the first line, compare it with what the user expects to see. Hello!?

Clicking on “Home folder” icon on the desktop to see a window with “bin”, “public_html” directories and one file named “nautilus-debug-log.txt” is also something that should be considered as a suicide.

That’s it for now. OpenSUSE looks really good, it makes great first impression, more familiar for Windows users than Ubuntu, it has way more complicated installation process and lacks the LiveCD+Installer idea from Ubuntu which is so obvious once you get used to it.

Anyway, it’s really frustrating that with each and every linux distro I launch, it takes up to 3 minutes to find a first UX bug. Always. And I’m not talking about super-duper-heavy-LFS like distros. I’m talking about Ubuntu, Mandriva, Fedora, OpenSUSE…

We overcame huge limitations of X system, we developed eye candy to the extend never seen before, we have very, very secure systems, we have huge variety of distributions that create healthy ecosystem of competing solutions and ideas. We developed the best ever seen system of application management and installation, we made it all. Few years ago the blockers for Linux adoption were technical. Sound cards didn’t work. Monitor resolution was badly autodetected. Printer was unavailable. CDROM was not detected. Today, we overcame ALL of those. Virtually ALL! Last three or four hardware pieces I bought were much better recognized by my Ubuntu than Windows! Including USB headphones which are recognized as USB hotplugged sound card! No problem for Ubuntu! Huge problem with Windows.

But in the end, it’s depressing that we still fail to provide the UX without very visible, simple to avoid, flaws. In Ubuntu, you have great chance to see something like “/dev/sda2” on the very first desktop you open after logging in. In SUSE you hit “nautilus-debug-log.txt” in your virgin home folder and “DMA Channels” as an example of “other apps”.

I know that users will learn this. After one day, such problems disappear and new patterns are memorized, I know that people with motivation (and the motivation is easily raised by the blue screen of death) will switch and will be happy in the end. But all those “mistakes” looks like ignorance. Like if no one did actually install his own distro on an empty drive and SEE how it works. For 5 minutes. To make those 5 minutes perfect.

Tomorrow I’m going to try Fedora 8.