If you've used Mandriva Linux, you'll feel right at home with Mageia. Mageia has quickly established a reputation of working well for both the novice user and the power user. Installation is typically easy and hardware support is among the best of any distro. The user and administrative tools are comprehensive and easy to use. Of course, under the hood, it's all Linux and all configuration files are plain text files and all a competent administrator needs do is to choose a shell and a text editor.
If you've used Red Hat or Fedora, the differences with Mageia are examined here.
Just like Mandriva, Mageia is known for excellent default fully-featured configurations of the KDE4, GNOME2, LXDE and other desktop environments as well as a broad range of available applications.
For the average user, the changes in Mageia4 are mostly cosmetic. The Mageia art, colors and graphics are very well done (and contributed by the Mageia user community). But if it's just a pretty Mandriva or prettier Magia3, why is there a need for a newer Mageia distro?
These changes are mostly "under the hood", but are done to keep pace with improvements in technology and compatibility with standards and interoperability.
Most tools have been ported to Gtk+-3which will allow the use of the Broadway technology. For improved security, all admin tools have been ported from to polkit when needing root privileges. Mageia 4 still comes with GRUB as a default but also provides GRUB2 for forward compatibility. For GNOME2 fans, the MATE desktop is available; it is a updated version of GNOME2. All software packages are the most recent stable versions (a few are stable beta releases).
Mageia began life as Mandriva. Mandriva began life as Mandrake Linux, based on Red Hat 5.2; Mandrake was essentially "Red Hat Done Better". It offered a well-configured KDE as the default desktop as well as its own administrative tools that provided more flexibility than those tools offered by Red Hat. The under-the-hood difference in these tools was that they were (and continue to be) written in perl language rather than the python language as used by Red Hat. Mandrake/Mandriva also spent considerable effort on its unique urpmi package management tool, essentially an intelligent, powerful console/gui wrapper around the RPM system of package management.
At some point, the business management of Mandrake/Mandriva lost its way, rallied, re-grouped and then lost its way again. The first time, they lost focus on Linux and the second time, they lost focus on their community. Mageia stepped in to fill the void in the community so that all the good things that were represented by the Mandriva distro would not be lost in the corporate buyout.
Which is why the software is so similar and the community is so different; you only need to fix what is broken.
Mageia4 offers the most recent version of your favorite application software and all the major software you expect to be there is there.
Both 32-bit and 64-bit installation DVDs as well as a Live CD are available. Migration from existing Mageia3 installations is easily done. A large on-line software repository is available and provides a wide range of software of both free licensed and other licensed categories (the latter is not enabled by default, but is opt-in). Third-party Repositories are also available.
As with any initial release, you're likely to find a few minor bugs, but the Mageia community is there to help you. As a long-time user of Mandrake/Mandriva and co-author with Bill Ball of the Red Hat/Fedora Unleashed series, I believe you'll find Mageia a full-featured and easy-to-use Linux distro.