A Free Desktop for Free People

By Timothy R. Butler | Posted at 9:27 PM

This is a critical review of the installation, setup and actual
performance of the Mandrake distribution of the
GNU/Linux operating system, version 9.1
, and comes as a second part of OfB.biz's Mandrake review.
(You can see part I
here
.) The review will cover these areas: (1) Installation
and install-related setup; (2) Post-installation system
administration; and (3) System performance. The review will end
with a general evaluation and will assign grades on relevant
areas.

Background

I am familiar with Mandrake Linux and the GNU/Linux operating
system, with an experience that goes back to May 2000, but I do
not consider myself to be any kind of expert or advanced user by
any means. (You can see more background in
OfB.biz's Mandrake 9.0 review
.)

I have been using Mandrake since the 8.2 version. I was a
previous user of Red Hat (up to version 7.2), and Mandrake
attracted me because it offered features such as the excellent
font installer, the apt-get-like urpmi package manager,
i586 optimization, a desktop focus with an excellent breadth and
scope of packages, user friendliness without dumbing down the
system, easy GUI administration tools but with the command-line
in full force and readily available should one prefer it, and
many other perceived advantages.

Thankfully, I was not mistaken. Mandrake 8.2, my first Mandrake
installation, was my last GNU/Linux system installed on a dual
boot basis with the laptop's previous Windows 98 Second Edition
original setup; when I installed Mandrake 9.0, I finally decided
to wipe out “the FAT” and get lean. This decision was based
largely on my impression of Mandrake 8.2, which might be —even
to this date— the best out-of-the-box GNU/Linux distribution
ever.

The next Mandrake release, Mandrake 9.0, promised substantial
improvements but it was a flawed release with problems, some
serious, some easy to fix, and almost all of them very annoying.
(See
the review
for more details). The bulk of these problems
could be attributed to poor quality assurance and a package
selection that was inconsistent at its best.

Despite that, I hoped that this new release would be better than
the previous. But the latest corporate troubles of MandrakeSoft
SA and the drastic reduction of their workforce brought some
doubts about the quality of Mandrake 9.1. Would Mandrake 9.1 be
worse than 9.0?

Review parameters

Hardware

The review was conducted on a Compaq Presario 1200 XL-118 laptop
system equipped with the AMD K6-2 processor operating at 500 MHz,
with 192 MB of system RAM, 6.0 GB of hard disk space, a
motherboard using the VIA 8266 chipset (which includes the sound
chip) and a Trident CyberBlade AGP video chip using 4MB of system
RAM as video RAM. The display is an 800×600 passive matrix
display panel. It is generally accepted that the hardware offered
by this system is as of now obsolete and outdated; but its
responsiveness and perceived speed is still very good, and it is
well supported by the Linux kernel.

The software

Mandrake Linux 9.1 comes in several offerings. The most basic one
is the Download Edition, comprised of three downloadable CD
images that are freely offered for download over the Internet
(check the downloads and links page for pointers). It is also
possible to buy boxed packages, which are named OEM Edition (1
CD), Standard Edition (2 CDs), Power Pack, and Pro Suite (several
CDs and a DVD each). This review will focus on the Download
Edition, which has been provided by OfB Labs for the purposes of
this review. Part 1 of this series considered
some of the features specific to Mandrake's ProSuite edition.

Assumptions of this review

I will quote the previous
Mandrake 9.0 review
:

I honestly think that all those reviews of GNU/Linux
distributions that focus on installation with the assumption that
the installer should be really dumbed-down in order to
make it “user friendly” or “as easy as Windows”, are dead wrong.
Windows is not easy to install! Have you tried to do it yourself,
right from the partitioning of the hard disk with fdisk
and up to the point in which you have a working system ready to
do its job? If you did, then you'll know that Windows
installation is anything but easy or user-friendly. Furthermore,
the fact that in the Windows world the end user seldom installs
his/her system should be borne in mind; the task is usually left
to the system integrator (the computer manufacturer) for a new
system, and to the “resident nerd” of the family/school/workplace
in the case of an upgrade. Because of all that, I contend that it
is unrealistic to expect a newbie GNU/Linux user to install
his/her system on his own. It would be far more appropriate
instead to expect that the GNU/Linux installation would be done
by someone who would take over the role of system administrator
during the install and configuration process; this would be
usually a GNU/Linux user who has already gained some expertise in
system usage and installation. Therefore, I did not expect
installation to be dumbed-down; I wanted an install routine that
was clear, easy and flexible, that is, something that would
maximize control to the sysadmin while minimizing both failures
and loss of time. However, this handholding by an expert would be
limited to install and configuration only; further administrative
tasks would be left to the end user.

Additionally, this review is not going to be just a quick summary
of the installation procedures. The actual day-to-day performance
of Mandrake 9.1 will receive a great amount of the reviewer's
attention.

Installation and setup

The Mandrake Linux 9.1 Download Edition comes in three CDs: two
Installation CDs and a third CD labeled International CD. Both
Installation CDs are bootable: the first CD is the regular boot
CD, intended for most machines, while the second one is
configured to boot from more exotic setups.

When the first installation CD is present on a boot-capable
CD-ROM at boot time, the Mandrake install routine, DrakX, boots
into the system and presents the user a LILO-based welcome screen
(figure 1.). You can press
Enter to proceed with a normal install or press F1 if you need
to pass some parameters to the install programs.

Mandrake 9.1 welcome screen

Figure 1.

Mandrake Linux Welcome Screen, in fact a heavily customized LILO
setup. (800×600, 83K)

The DrakX kernel then boots into the system and after some
post-boot configuration, the install program proper starts. The
install program is completely redesigned in both form and
function and the changes are readily evident. Now, DrakX is
written on GTK 2.0 instead of GTK 1.2 and as a consequence you
have nice anti-aliased fonts. You also have all the widgets drawn
using the Mandrake Galaxy theme instead of the (really ugly, in
my opinion) Motif-like default theme of GTK 1.2. You can see the
appearance of the new DrakX in Fig. 2.

DrakX showing the license agreement

Figure 2.

Screenshot of the new DrakX showing the license agreement.
(800×600, 51K)

However changes more far-reaching than the mere appearance were
made: DrakX now separates installation from configuration, and
the steps of the whole procedure were reduced from the previous
16 to 11, distributed as five install and six configuration
steps. This is a serious and well-thought redesign that greatly
simplifies the installation and stands out as a major improvement
in the distribution.

The next screen (Fig. 2)
shows you the license agreement of the Mandrake Linux
distribution. The agreement says in reasonably clear language
that the software in the distribution is covered under different
licenses, and it's up to you to comply with them, disclaiming all
liability. Next, you can choose whether you want an upgrade or a
full install and, after setting up your mouse and keyboard, the
install procedure asks you for the system's security level. You
can choose from the categories of Standard, High, Higher and
Paranoid.

Next comes the step that is usually considered as the most
difficult part of a GNU/Linux install: disk partitioning.
Partitioning is handled by DiskDrake, which proposes some
solutions according to the contents of the hard disk: (1) use
previous partitions (if you had a previous GNU/Linux
installation), (2) erase the entire disk and have DiskDrake put
there a preset partitioning scheme, (3) resize the Windows FAT
partitions (if you have Windows installed), (4) wipe out Windows
completely, or (5) use a custom partitioning scheme. Since I was
upgrading from Mandrake 9.0, I was presented only with options 1,
2, and 5. I chose to do custom partitioning.

Custom partitioning is done by DiskDrake. Figure 3 is a snapshot of DiskDrake
taken from DrakConf that it is essentially identical to the
custom partitioning module of the installation. In the previous
review I noted that I found some problems with the granularity of
the partition size selector. I wanted a 16 MB /boot partition, a
400 MB one for swap, and the rest as a large root partition. Now,
the usual size selector (Fig.
4
) is again a sliding one, and with the same granularity
problems. Thankfully, a lot of OfB.biz readers pointed out that
you can get around the issue by using the left and right arrow
keys instead of the mouse. Alternately, if you switch to the “Expert
Mode” before pressing the “Create” or “Modify”
buttons, you are presented with a dialog that lets you specify
the partition size by hand, as it was done in setups previous to
Mandrake 9.0 (Fig. 5). This
caveat and its subsequent workaround are not documented by the
Mandrake official documentation as far as I can tell.

Screenshot of DiskDrake

Figure 3.

Screenshot of DiskDrake taken from the Mandrake Control Center.
(481×407, 22K)






DrakX's sliding partition size control

Figure 4.

DiskDrake's sliding partition size control.
A dialog that lets you enter partition sizes by hand

Figure 5.

DiskDrake's expert mode partition creation dialog box.

After the disk setup you can choose the packages, which are
distributed in roughly four groups: Workstation, Development,
Graphical Environment and Server. Each of these groups have some
categories of software package which you can choose; and if you
want a more detailed selection, you can choose the individual
packages, which gives you access to hierarchical tree of
packages. You can choose the packages distributed in several
categories of the package tree, and you can save the package list
into a floppy disk for convenience.

In my previous Mandrake review, I also ran into problems here. I
pointed out that there are too many repeated packages; for
example, a package such as XFree86-100dpi-fonts is
present in three different groups. If you want to choose packages
from several groups, you can get tired very quickly of wading
through several screens of repeated packages. Another problem
that in my view was far more serious was the fact that there were
packages that were “secretly installed”, that is, that were not
presented to the user but were nonetheless installed. For
example, no matter how painstaking I was in deselecting any and
all emacs packages, I always ended with 21MB worth of
bloat in my disk, courtesy of an emacs package. Thankfully, many
kind OfB.biz readers suggested to me a great workaround: If you
select the “flat-list” view in the individual package selection
screen, you are presented with only one instance of each package,
and all packages are present, so you can get rid of all
that “stealthy” bloat.

These issues were also present in Mandrake 9.1; you can see a
screenshot of a flat-list package list showing packages that
would otherwise be hidden from the user in figure 6. Unfortunately, as far as I
can tell the issues and the workaround I mention above is not
documented by the Mandrake official documentation in any way.

DrakX showing the flat-list and some stealthy packages


Figure 6.

The DrakX installer in the “flat-list” package selection
mode, showing some packages that would be hidden in
normal mode. (800×600, 41K)
DrakX installing the tetex-devel package.

Figure 7.

DrakX installing the tetex-devel package.
Despite its condition as a critical package for LaTeX
users, Mandrake still does not ship the teTeX docs with
the Download edition. (800×600, 27K)

When you finish the package selection, the system installs all
the requested packages (see Fig.
7
) and then enters into the configuration phase of the
installation. After entering a root password (or choosing not to
have it), adding users, and choosing where your bootloader will
be, DrakX presents you with the main config screen, named
“Summary” (Fig. 8). Here you
can customize nearly every aspect of the install configuration,
with categories such as printer setup, display, boot config,
network and services, among others. As usual, I found that DrakX
correctly detected and configured all my hardware and
peripherals, including a HP DeskJet 840C in both parallel and
USB mode, and a Plextor 24/10/40U USB CD-Writer. Also, in a
pleasant change from 9.0, the network setup worked correctly;
my PCMCIA network card was correctly detected and configured, and
the system was network aware in no time and without any manual
configuration on my part.

On the not-so bright side, however, an Artec AM12E+ parallel
scanner was predictably marked as “not supported by this version
of Mandrake Linux”, since it was listed as unsupported in the
SANE database. (SANE
stands for Scanner Access Now Easy, the standard way to
get scanner support in a GNU/Linux distribution). Additionally,
this laptop has a Lucent LT Winmodem; these winmodems have
good GNU/Linux support
but only in the form of non-free drivers, so I am still forced to
use non-free software if I am to use the full features of the
system hardware.

The second phase of DrakX: the summary screen

Figure 8.

Screenshot of the “summary” window of DrakX. (800×600, 45K)

As usual in Mandrake, I was able to choose either LILO with
graphical menu, LILO with text menu, or GRUB with text menu. I
still wonder why this emphasis on LILO while everyone else is
using GRUB with full-blown menus? I chose GRUB and, as usual,
worked very well. But here lies an DrakX issue too: when I chose
the bootloader, I had to specify the 800×600 framebuffer console
in two different windows of the bootloader selection
screen if I wanted the framebuffer console to be active.
Otherwise, I would boot in the regular 80×25 console. The
solution, of course, was to make sure that the framebuffer
parameter was properly selected in both screens, so this is just
an inconsistency and not a serious problem. However, booting into
a regular 80×25 console gave me some problems that were gone at
once when the framebuffer console was activated (see below).

All in all, the system was properly installed without a single
show-stopping problem. There were, as I noted, two serious issues
that were worked around. The workarounds were simple enough; but
the issues remain serious because of their undocumented status.
If a system administrator tries to install Mandrake 9.1, he or
she will find these problems without any hint of its solution
even after an extensive search of the documentation.

System administration

Post install configuration

In the first boot after the installation, GRUB did not boot the
kernel (kernel 2.4.21.0.13mdk in this case) in the nice, usual
100×37 framebuffer console. I found that instead of the 800×600
framebuffer I would boot into a regular 80×25 console and this
got me into a problem. It seems that Mandrake wants you to
use UTF-8 in your console fonts, and wants it really bad. At
install time, I had chosen English (default) and Spanish
(accessory) as my languages, and both are perfectly covered by the
ISO 8859-1 encoding. But this fact was to no avail; Mandrake
wanted me to use UTF-8, and this brought two different problems.
One of them was tied to the fact that I was running the 80×25
standard console. Well, at some point in the SysV-style boot
process, the screen turned extremely bright -it was a black
background, but it looked as it was almost white- and the console
font changed. The other problem was that this console font was
not capable of rendering all the ncurses lines and widgets, so
using programs such as mc was painful. (Ncurses
is a system library that draws lines, boxes and widgets on a
console screen.)

The solution was, first, to make sure GRUB would boot into the
framebuffer console. This took care of the first problem. But
where could I disable the ugly, overkill UTF-8 setup? Well, it
turned out that my /etc/sysconfig/i18n file was full of UTF-8
settings such as, LANGUAGE=en_US.UTF-8:en_US:en.
Removing all the UTF-8 references, i.e., having settings look
like LANGUAGE=en_US:en and changing the console font
(SYSFONT) to lat0-sun16 did the trick.

I chose, as usual, to boot into a text console, and I found that
logging in takes about 15 seconds. I think this condition is
caused by all the scripts placed at /etc/profile.d/ that must be
executed at login time. Some have complained at this, but for me
it is perfectly fine. The real problem I found in this area was
apparent when my wife told me that she wanted to use the system.
“Great,” I thought, and set myself to prepare a nice X-based
login using KDM, the KDE Display Manager in the initlevel 5 to
make things “intuitive” for her. After appropriate configuration
steps, I found out that the keyboard was not working as soon as
the X server started, so I was unable to login. Trying to work
around the issue, I did the unthinkable — I enabled
password-less logins, so we could log in with just a click of the
mouse. And log in we could, but even in our user accounts the
keyboard was AWOL. This problem was consistently present with
every choice of display manager (GDM, KDM, XDM, MdkKDM) and boot
managers. Additionally, in all instances of the X-based login the
X Window system appeared extremely sluggish, with a performance
that reminded me of my Red Hat days. A search for a hint or a
solution was unsuccessful, and I was not able to find accounts of
experiences similar to mine. End of story: My wife uses happily
the system, but she logs in the text console and types
startx at the first command prompt, as I always did. I
suspect that this issue is hardware-related; but I don't have any
clue of a solution.

[The bootsplash and mouse issues did not arise in tests performed on OfB Labs' two standard distribution test boxes. -Ed]

The command startx starts the X Window System using
XFree86, which now is at
version 4.3.0. The default desktop is, as usual in Mandrake, the
K Desktop Environment (see
Fig. 9). Mandrake 9.1 ships
with a rather early version of KDE 3.1 with some bugfixes, which
has been superseded by the standard bugfix releases 3.1.1, 3.1.2
and 3.1.3. Nevertheless, Mandrake backported the critical
bugfixes to its KDE release in subsequent updates. If you choose
to have the newer versions, however, these are available on the
internet. I advise installing the latest KDE (3.1.3 as of now), which
is available from several public sources and MandrakeClub.

The Mandrake implementation of KDE now comes with a new Mandrake
theme, Mandrake Galaxy, which is depicted in figure 9. This is a GUI theme
consistent across both KDE and Gnome, so any Qt or GTK+ app would
have a consistent look and feel. The theme, however, doesn't feel
as polished as one would expect, and I decided not to use it; if
you don't want it you can configure KDE to your liking.

Here I must add some commentary. Even though Mandrake Galaxy
still needs some improvement before it could be taken seriously,
I contend that its approach to look and feel unification between
desktops is the best way to achieve that goal. Some time ago a
lot of noise was generated by Red Hat's Bluecurve theming of KDE
and GNOME. A lot of people said that all the complaints were not
valid since look and feel unification between the two major
desktop was a good thing, but these people failed to see what the
substance of the issues were. The issue at hand was not
necessarily the “look and feel unification”; the serious
modifications of the KDE libraries done under that excuse was.
Red Hat hacked the KDE libraries in an extensive way (and there
are detailed accounts of it posted on the Net; I won't delve on
the changes since I am not a programmer) creating a de
facto
KDE fork. This is permissible, since KDE is free
software; but the said modifications created a lot of new bugs that the
KDE developers couldn't really answer for. This was the issue at
hand, and a lousy way of achieving the “unification” goal by any
measure.

screenshot of Mandrake Galaxy


Figure 9.

Screenshot of the Mandrake Galaxy application showing the
Mandrake Galaxy theme. This screenshot was taken from a fresh,
unmodified install. (800×600, 117K)

You can also get Gnome 2.2.0,
which is a great release. Although I prefer and use KDE, I could
see that Gnome feels better, much faster and leaner than the
previous 2.0.x series. As usual, thanks are due to the dedicated
Gnome hackers for their hard effort. However, there is something
I don't like: it is becoming increasingly harder to configure the
Gnome desktop; that is, the configuration windows have fewer and
fewer options. I think this is a mistake; the Gnome developers need
to remember that “GUI user” is not equal to “not very bright,
computer-illiterate user who needs a lot of hand-holding”. There
are also a number of other desktops and window managers if you want to
use them. I chose to install XFce and IceWM, which serve as good
lightweight replacements for KDE and Gnome. If there is a good
window manager out there, chances are you can get good Mandrake
packages for it.

Issues for Systems Using Text Based Login

I mentioned in my previous
review of Mandrake 9.0
that if you chose to have a text-only
login, there is absolutely no documented way of change your
default desktop; it seems that Mandrake expects its users to
stick with the graphical login or if they use the text login, to
stick with the text console. After a lot of exploration, I
learned that it was possible to choose one's desktop by placing a
file named .desktop in the home directory, whose only
contents will be DESKTOP=$DESKTOP, where $DESKTOP is the desktop
you choose, and it could take values such as KDE,
GNOME, IceWM or XFce. This value is
case-sensitive, and the contents of this file would determine the
desktop environment to be launched by the X Window System. As you
might guess, this is not very user-friendly. However, kind
readers pointed me to a small Mandrake script called
Xtart. When you run Xtart from the text
console, it will present you with a menu from which you can
choose which window manager or desktop you would like to run.
Despite Xtart, I consider this state of things not good for a
desktop-oriented distro like Mandrake. The least important
problem here is that while Xtart is OK for having quick
and easy access to all your desktop and window managers, it
cannot change your default WM/DE. If you want to change your
default desktop from KDE to, say, Gnome, your only choice would
be to create or edit the .desktop file in the way I mentioned
before. And, the most important problem is that neither Xtart nor
the .desktop file are documented in any way, anywhere. A system
administrator evaluating a potential migration to Mandrake from a
different desktop platform would be at a loss over this issue if they wished to used a text-based login,
and there is no way to know the workarounds by reading the
manuals. This is not good in any GNU/Linux distribution and even
more so in a desktop-oriented distro. The minimum corrective
action would be to document this issue in the Mandrake
documentation.

The Mandrake tools

Even though the Mandrake tools were completely redesigned in
Mandrake 9.0, the Mandrake tools of 9.1 seem to have been the
subject of a new revamp. This time the tools are written in GTK2,
with a much nicer look using the MandrakeGalaxy theme. A nice
improvement over the tools in Mandrake 9.0 is that now all the
tools can fit in a 800×600 screen. This fixed a complaint of mine
in
my previous review
.

As usual, the tools are grouped in the Mandrake Control Center,
which now offers not only the tool title (such as
drakfont) but also gives a short description of its
function. This greatly enhances the usefulness of the Control
Center. Another improvement is that in most cases, the output
that used to be in console (that is, standard input and standard
error) is shown in windows. A great example of this is Mandrake
Update, which now uses gurpmi to install RPMs using a window
instead of the console output. You can see screenshots of
Mandrake Control Center in figures 10 and 11.

Mandrake Control Center splash screen


Figure 10.

Mandrake Control Center splash screen. It is useful to
start the Control Center from a root shell window because
some important messages can be seen only in the console.
(800×600, 106K)
Screenshot of the Mandrake Control Center


Figure 11.

Screenshot of the Mandrake Control Center. (728×552, 77K)

Not all is perfect, however. There is still some output directed
to console, so I would advise to always start the Control Center
by typing the drakconf command from a root shell window.
The font installer, which now has become a Mandrake hallmark,
makes the selection of directories unnecessarily difficult (you
have to manually erase a window message that becomes input to do
that). And the Mandrake Update still makes you download 2-4 MB
worth of an update.cz file every time there is an
upgrade, instead of resorting to a differential download. For
many people 2-4 MB would seem trivial; but for dialup users,
especially in countries that have phone access metered by the
minute, this is a waste of resources.

System Performance

The performance improvements of Mandrake 9.0 were repeated in
Mandrake 9.1. The system feels snappy and responsive, even when
using it with a heavy load (meant as using KDE with lots of
windows on four virtual desktops, at least one window being
OpenOffice.org, at least one window each for a graphical Web
browser and email client, and a compilation going on). Below is
the summary of some performance comparisons between Mandrake 8.2,
9.0 and 9.1. The measurements, obviously, are not scientific.

Table 1

Application Startup




Command
Mandrake 8.2
Mandrake 9.0
Mandrake 9.1
startx

(with KDE as desktop)
1m 40s
1m 05s
58s
konsole
09s
05-06s
03-04s
konqueror
10-11s
04-06s
04-05s








Table 2

Compilation times

(according to the command

time rpm -ba —sign —target i586 .spec)

Package
Mandrake 8.2
Mandrake 9.0
Mandrake 9.1
ksetiwatch-2.5.1
30-35m
10-15m
7m 34s
kile-1.3
1h
49m
53m
krusader-1.11
1h 20m
40m
59m 33s

These measurements show that, while there has been some decrease
in compile time performance, the actual execution and startup of
applications is noticeably faster. I guess the increased compile
time is due to more optimizations being applied to GCC 3.x, the
compiler used in the Mandrake 9.x series. This shows off the hard
work of the distribution developers, who should be commended.

Two Issues

Before concluding, I would like to mention two problems that I
found. These are major annoyances, and Mandrake would do well in
addressing them.

  • The criteria for package inclusion remain problematic. In my
    previous review I complained that Mandrake included some
    packages that might seem irrelevant or with a low priority,
    while leaving out some very important (in my opinion) packages.
    This is, sadly, again the case. You can install languages such
    as Prolog or SmallTalk, an obscure typesetting system (lout),
    and such things from the CD; but packages such as the teTeX
    documentation have been left out of the CD. I wonder which is
    more important: a prolog environment or the documentation of
    the teTeX distribution? One is a really obscure (now) language,
    while the documentation of teTeX is absolutely essential for
    any LaTeX user. Shipping teTeX without the docs is tantamount
    of having a LaTeX installation without a local guide.



    And this is not the only case, either. Timothy R. Butler,
    OfB.biz Editor-in-chief, told me that having such an essential
    package as kdeartwork included in the CD set was an extremely
    difficult thing to do. I really wonder what goes on in the mind
    of the person or persons that figure out which packages are
    going to make the CD set.



The Package Inclusion Issue

MandrakeSoft's package inclusion policies have been the
center of some controversy going back to at least Mandrake Linux 8.2, when some very useful packages
were not included in the commercial packs but were included in the free download edition. The kdeartwork package's
almost omission from 9.1 was a case of inconsistent policy, since artwork and screensavers for other desktops
(including XScreenSaver) were included. It was only through intense lobbying and voting, on a Bugzilla bug about
the issue, that the package finally was added. Perhaps more disconcerting was that, for a short time during
the beta process, OpenOffice.org's help files were taken out, while many games and other non-essentials
to the enterprise desktop remained. In the end, MandrakeSoft remedied the situation, however these various
packaging controversies suggest to us that a standardized package inclusion policy, including defining the
priority of core productivity packages over that of games, might be beneficial in the future.

-Timothy R. Butler



  • Mandrake did not include any official documentation in the
    Download Edition CD set save for a “DrakX Tools Guide”, which
    is in fact a subset of the Starter Guide. (Previously, you
    could get all the official docs in a convenient RPM package, so
    you could browse all of it on your computer). While not as convenient as offline documentation,
    the
    official Mandrake documentation site
    does feature the Mandrake Linux 9.1
    documentation.

I would like to see a README in a Download
Edition CD telling the users that this edition comes without the
Mandrake documentation, which of course would be available under
online or in a boxed set. Notice that I don't even ask for re-inclusion of the
documentation; clarity in dealing with the users is all that I
would like to ask Mandrake.

Conclusion

The Mandrake 9.1 Download Edition continues to be a 100% Free
Software distribution of the GNU/Linux operating system, and a
very good one at that. The fact that the Download Edition
is totally Free Software (as in Freedom, not price) makes it, in some ways,
even more attractive than the other Mandrake editions that contain
proprietary software. Its emphasis on the desktop, without
sacrificing its use as a server OS, places it at the center of
the Free Software utopia: having a Free OS that is easy to use
for newbies, yet powerful and customizable for the experts.

Mandrake shows its class with an excellent installation program;
great GUI tools that make administrative tasks simple enough;
matchless hardware recognition among the GNU/Linux distributions;
and all this with excellent performance that makes it run very
well even on legacy hardware.

The best part of this is that Mandrake really listens to its
community. The development of the Cooker betas is public and very
community centered, and many changes and improvements in Mandrake
9.1 were the result of user feedback. As a consequence, one could
not avoid having sometimes the impression that Mandrake 9.1 is
just a Mandrake 9.0 done right and with slightly more updated
software. If this is true, then it's very good.

However, there are shortcomings, such as the omission of
crucial packages in the Download Edition. There
are also some issues with the post-install
configuration that could frighten some users, but thankfully
these could be sorted out by an enterprising sysadmin with a
minimum of effort.

All in all, this reviewer thinks that Mandrake 9.1 is a winner,
and with already two Cooker betas and a release candidate out of
the oven paving the way for Mandrake 9.2, one could only hope
that the next version will follow this trend. This reviewer feels
confident in recommending it for wide desktop deployment
provided that the system administrator can get around
the issues raised in this review. With speed, stability, ease of
use, tons of software, and especially freedom, Mandrake is right
now the cream of the crop of current GNU/Linux distributions. Way
to go, Mandrake.

  • Want to try Mandrake 9.1? Check out Eduardo Sánchez's tips, tricks, and download links page.



Summary of Mandrake Linux 9.1 ProSuite and Download Edition



Overall:
A B C D F
Installation:
A B C D F
Functionality:
A B C D F
User Interface:
A B C D F
Upgradability:
A B C D F
Total Cost of Ownership:
A B C D F
Deploy:
YES NO MAYBE
UPSIDE: Mandrake 9.1 is a well-done distribution. With a good system
administrator, it will perform well in most corporate desktops
and servers, and can provide a good computing experience for the
home user. 100% Free and recommended. (Free [as tested in Part 2] or $199 [as tested in Part 1], www.mandrakesoft.com).

n

ALSO EVALUATE:
Red Hat Linux 9,
SuSE Linux 8.2.







Eduardo Sánchez (32) is a Contributing Editor of Open for
Business. He is married to Gloria, and lives with his wife in
Asunción, Paraguay (South America). You can reach him at esanchez@ofb.biz.





Figures 1-2 were taken from the Mandrake documentation and
are covered by the GNU Free Documentation License.