I discovered Mandriva in the wake of a catastrophe…but that is a story for another day, one which I shall spin when I write up my review of Mageia. I bring up Mandriva because in my life, the most usable desktop I’ve ever found has been in the Gnome variant of Mandriva 2010. Mandriva 2010.2 is still a go-to installation on the laptop, but that one (and 2010.1) gave me a little trouble with sound on the “Fun Computer”. Otherwise, they were perfect, but a little less perfect, so to speak. But the combination of the Mandriva Control Center and the cool, crisp Gnome design is hard to beat.
Linux Mint 10 came close. Very close. Until that version, I wasn’t especially a fan. I had looked at versions from time to time, and installed a few, but I didn’t return to them, and they were usually the first to get plowed under when I needed the space to experiment. With 10, or Julia (you young people might not remember when the National Weather Service gave female names to all hurricanes; there’s an interesting page about it here), I became seriously interested. Gone was that annoying, if harmless, “unverified source” error message you got while installing new software. The performance seemed livelier; speed is one of my lower priorites and really isn’t a make-or-break issue (Mandriva isn’t maniacally fast, after all), but Mint could be out-and-out sluggish at times. I’m not sure why I liked the appearance better; I think it is slightly more gray and slightly less, ummmm, mmminty, hence more professional in my eyes (which, themselves, are more blue than gray). Anyway, Julia occupies a well-worn partition on the “Fun Computer”, and the Linux Mint Debian Edition, which is so close to the standard edition that I sometimes have trouble remembering which is which, has pride of place (that is, it owns the MBR) on the “Play Computer”. Linux Mint has moved away from its identity as Ubuntu with a different suit (I should say dress, maybe), and has staked out its own place.