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Mandrake 9: Mr. Gates, beware the penguins.
Written: Oct 30, 2002 (Updated Oct 30, 2002)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Very pretty, very stable, very easy to use.
Cons:Still somewhat of a learning curve, espescially for power users
The Bottom Line: Simply awesome. A snap to set up, use, and customize, plus boatloads of excellent GPL software.
Ah yes, the joys of open-source. In my experience, the average guy walking the street has probably heard of Linux. They probably give it little thought, as the common misconceptions about linux run rampant. People think it's an esoteric, ugly, hard to use OS that only coke-bottled, card carrying nerds would ever have use for. Mandrake 9 not only takes on these misconceptions, rather, it destroys them, burns the pieces, and takes a whiz on the ashes. Anyway, read on, for the Patented Action Snark Rundown of Mandrake 9.
What is it? Well, Mandrake is a 'distribution' of linux made with the express purpose of ease of use and flexibility. Unlike Windows, Linux is not created or distributed by a single entity. Rather, the entire 'open source' community participates in creation of applications and improvements to the operating system, and allows users to incorporate them as they see fit. The good news is that this means that there are boatloads upon boatloads of completely free software (Distributed under the GPL) for you to take your pick from. The downside to this is that there is something of a learning curve, as some commands and power-user functions are somewhat esoteric. However, Mandrake 9 makes this curve a piece of cake to traverse.
Where do I get it? Well, there's pretty much limitless choices as to where you can get ahold of Mandrake. If you feel the need to have extra documentation and support, you can cruise over to www.mandrake-linux.com, plunk down some green, and a complete copy of the distro will be mailed to you. If you're a bit more tech-inclined (or short on cash, such as I am), you can download images for the install CD's at a myriad of websites. (www.linuxiso.org is the best place for grabbing CD images, IMO)
How do I install it? Well, once you've gotten your install CD's, simply pop a CD into the drive, configure BIOS to boot from a CD-ROM, and away you go. Mandrake 9's install was probably the slickest I've ever come across. Everything is driven by a very slick GUI, and things pretty much boil down to clicking 'ok' a half dozen times, then sitting back while the installer does it's thing. The only issue with install is not really a problem with Mandrake itself. To save oneself a lot of headaches, a little forethought is required. Since a majority of users will want both Windows and Linux coexisting on their computer, a little trickery is needed. By 1. Leaving some free space on your hard drive (as in space that hasn't been partitioned yet) and 2. installing windows first, installation goes much smoother. This is due to the fact that windows can't really 'see' into linux partitions, and when windows is installed, it simply overwrites whatever's on the Master Boot Record (MBR), even if the MBR has your Linux bootloader living on it. Mandrake's partitioning program was quite easy to use, and installation of LILO (the LInux LOader, a bootloader program) was smooth as silk. Overall, I'll give installation a 9 out of 10. A litte forethought is necessary, but Mandrake's install was significantly less painful than getting Windows XP off the ground is.
The Software: Ok, first a little nitty-gritty for you 'nix rivetheads out there. Mandrake 9 is very up to date, and includes the latest and greatest packages, such as:
Kernel Version 2.4.19
XFree 4.2.1 and XFree 3.3.6
KDE 3.0.3, Gnome 2.0.1, IceWM 1.2, WindowMaker 0.8, Enlightenment 0.16.5, and BlackBox 0.62
Openoffice 1.0.1, and KOffice 1.2
Mozilla 1.1, Gimp 1.2.3, XMMS 1.2.7
For those of you who are not in the know, allow me to translate: Mandrake 9 is built on the latest and greatest core (2.4.19 kernel, Glibc, and GCC, the most important parts of your OS), has the latest GUI (XFree), a plethora of up-to-date 'window managers' (Window managers 'sit on top' of XFree, and provide different looks, feels, and functionality.) Said window managers being KDE,Gnome, IceWM, etc etc. Not one, but two fully featured office suites (OpenOffice and Koffice), as well as some very tasty web browsing (mozilla), photo manipulation (GIMP) and mp3 (XMMS) programs. Of course, the features listed here do not even begin to scratch the surface of the huge plethora of software that can be downloaded and installed.
Basically, Mandrake 9 provides the user with the open-source equivalents to a few thousand dollars worth of retail software. Of course, the downside to this is that the install size for the OS is pretty gargantuan, and can weigh in at near 3 gigabytes if you choose to install a lot of packages. I have around a 1.5gb install, and that was without even touching the 'extras' disk that is avalible for download (or included if you purchase the OS).
Updates, installs, and configuration are a complete piece of cake on Mandrake 9. X, networking, kernel options, sound, bootloader, basically everything was configured automatically for me upon install, and the configurations are wholly satisfactory. This 'automagic' setup may turn off some of the grizzled old 'nix veterans out there, but for the average user, they save a ton of headaches. A little bit of familiarity with the OS is required if you wish to manually install programs, but that goes little beyond reading the 'manpages' (built in manual system).
Overall, software scores a perfect 10 out of 10. A legion of options are at your fingertips, and installation and configuration is a snap. The OS and extras installed so painlessly that my dog could do it if I trained him well enough.
Use: Windows XP's influence has seeped into the open-source community. All of the default graphics have that sort of 'high-tech gumball' look to them, but this isn't a bad thing. I can't comment on any of the windowmanagers other than KDE, as it's the only one I use. However, KDE 3 is downright awesome, and it's ease of use rivals that of WindowsXP, and with a little tweaking, it's a damn sight prettier.
The major stumbling points of every distro I've run across so far have been in configuration and support of NTFS filesystems. I only have 1 hard drive, so linux and windows must share and play nice together. Windows is all but blind to the existance of my linux partition, but I frequently need to get access to files on my NTFS (Windows XP) partition. In the past, this was a bit of a pain, as it required at the very least for me to download and install a kernel module, and dick with my fstab. Mandrake 9 saves me a lot of headaches, and has NTFS support ready to go out of the box. (Currently, read-only access is supported in all linux distros. Write support is out there, but it's still unstable, and may trash your NTFS patiton.)
Also, Mandrake's configuration was utterly painless. MCC (Mandrake Control Center), the config tool, is a snap to use. The system configuration tools span pretty much every setting you need to change, and are a piece of cake to use. All my hardware was supported, and hardware autodetection ('hot plugging') is supported as well. So far, the only gripe I have with the config tools is the bootloader options. I've tried and failed several times to change the default screens, but I'm missing something, and can't get my changes to take. Also, for some reason, my mouse likes to die when I log a user out, necessitating a ctrl-alt-backspace to restart the X server. Aside from one minor operational and a minor aesthetic flaw, use and configuration of Mandrake 9 are top-notch. I'll give it a 9 out of 10. Configuration is a total breeze, and very intuitive.
Overall: Overall, I'd highly recommend Mandrake 9 to anybody looking for an easy to use linux solution. Configuration is a snap, and everything is very 'noob friendly', with little to no need to get into alphanumeric gibberish and esoteric commands in consoles. If you're looking for a friendly, easy to use linux environment that features a metric asston of excellent software and lots of customizability, Mandrake 9 should be high on your list.
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