Mandriva 2011 arrived and, in the humble opinion of this non-technical Linux user, "Hydrogen", as the release is called, presents a target/usability paradox.
To explain the paradox, I have to go back in time, a retrospective trip of my dealings with Mandriva. In 2009, I chose Mandriva and installed it to my Asus Eee PC 900 after downloading four distributions at random. All I knew about Linux back then was that there were many versions (I didn't even know what the word "distro" meant!) and that some were more difficult to use than others. Somewhere I read that Mandriva was labeled an "intermediate" distribution.
I first ran Debian and panicked because it had a text mode installer. Then I tried Kubuntu, but it wouldn't activate the wi-fi of the netbook. So I ran the Mandriva One 2009 Live CD and, after trying the desktop and, seeing that I could use the wi-fi, I installed it. The process was a little different from what I had seen in my multiple Windows installs, but I succeeded and Mandriva made me forget about the Redmond OS.
The label "intermediate" was fairly accurate, I'd say. My learning curve was pronounced: I had to turn off the computer manually and I made many mistakes out of ignorance. However, before 2009 ended, Mandriva 2010 "Adelie" was released and Mandriva's usability experience changed dramatically: the computer would turn off as expected, hibernation responded, and even function keys worked. Mandriva 2010.1 and 2010.2 made usability better as they added stability to the distribution. Mandriva became a truly easy-to-use distro for a person who had never used Linux before.
I have been testing the so awaited Mandriva 2011 "Hydrogen" for a couple of days now. From the betas, I learned that developers were making a bold move; they introduced the ROSA panel, which I must confess is not my cup of tea at all. To me, it looks like a gigantic cell phone environment, not like the desktop of a PC. Yet, I understand that they want to somehow "simplify" the user experience.
That's where the paradox lies. You install Mandriva 2011 (a rather simple process) and get to the ROSA SimpleWelcome. It's so convenient that even someone who lacks mouse control can navigate it. However, there are several situations that make a newbie run away in panic:
1. Wi-fi is not enabled by default (the same problem that I had with the new kernel and Mageia).
2. Flash is not installed in your browser, so no Youtube viewing until you learn to walk the Mandriva ropes.
3. No codecs for .MP4 or .flv videos.
Even if Clementine plays .MP3s (which is nice because Amarok refused to do it), those three points represent major contradictions when thinking that Hydrogen is aiming at convincing new users that Mandriva is as "easy" to use as Unity or a cell phone.
Despite all that, in my particular case, there are some considerations that made me keep Mandriva 2011 and stand the ROSA panel:
1. I don't like the SimpleWelcome thing although everyone else to whom I have showed it loved it. However, I must admit that the time line tab is convenient and functional.
2. I like the fact that you get a prompt to start a program without having to navigate the ROSA applications tab.
3. If you add the pager widget, you get the four workspaces back. That's great because, once you have enjoyed this kind of computing, a single "desktop" feels over-restrictive.
4. Effects can be enabled so that the work environment becomes a lot more attractive. (That's a shot of the KWIN desktop cube rotating --with four different wallpapers and the SimpleWelcome menu visible in one of the sides).
5. Oh, yes! iBUS installs easily and runs flawlessly with Libre Office if you need to type Chinese, Japanese, etc. Sweet! それはよかった！
6. The KDE text-to-speech service Jovie is running at last.
Therefore, although I'm not very sure about the direction that Mandriva took, I cannot say that I am utterly displeased with the release. Hydrogen works for me, but Mandriva has gone back to being a distribution with a difficulty level of "intermediate". I don't think I would have kept it if it had been like this when I downloaded Mandriva in 2009...after all, enabling the wi-fi is not a task that someone who knows nothing about Linux can do easily. I would have probably tested the fourth distro I had and by now I'd be a Linux Mint user.