Apr 02, 2004
The Fall distribution release period of 2003 was not the most interesting, nor the least interesting in recent memory. For
the most part all of the distributions got better, but not so much
that those running distributions now going on a year in age are
really missing anything terribly substantial. We did find a few
interesting points worth revisiting, however, and those deal with
Mandrake Linux 9.2 and Fedora Core 1.
Mandrake Linux 9.2
At the beginning of the release cycle, we started off with high
praise for MandrakeSoft's new Discovery Edition. At the time, I
release cycles after MandrakeSoft first seriously took aim at the
corporate desktop, it is my opinion that they have overwhelmingly
succeeded.” I continue to maintain that Discovery Edition is
successful at its goal, as is the 9.2 ProSuite that we've tested for
the last few months.
continues to have the clearest focus on automating installation of
the majority of devices. Neither SuSE nor Red Hat distributions have
succeeded, in our opinion, in producing a distribution installation
tool able to handle so many configurations. While Fedora Core 1
performs admirably, it doesn't even come close in matters of ease of
configuration on devices such as multifunction devices, USB mass
storage devices or CD burners.
ProSuite continues the good thing Mandrake has going with Discovery
Edition, only in a much larger, industrial size package. The
ProSuite package may be overkill for the desktop, but as
we noted in the review of the 9.1 edition of ProSuite, it has an
amazing wealth of tools for setting up special types of systems,
such as servers (using the separate, included server installation CD
set). If you are planning to deal with numerous desktop and server
installations of Mandrake Linux, do yourself a favor and get the
ProSuite — just the DVD installation alone will singlehandedly pay
for the price of the boxed set in time saved.
Linux 9.2 on the surface looks almost perfect. Unfortunately,
Mandrake Linux 9.2 was marred by a number of set backs in quality
control. The release was initially tarnished, shortly after our
initial review, with an overly efficient configuration used by the
installer that rendered LG cd burners useless. Fortunately a
firmware update provided by LG a few weeks later was capable of
fixing the bug in the CD-RW drives, but it was still a troublesome
issue and at first appeared to be destroying the drives rather than
just disabling them.
the time December rolled around, 9.2 had collected several hundred
megabytes of updates — far more than anyone on a dial-up
connection would want to deal with. In February, Mandrake did
release 9.2.1 ISO's to MandrakeClub members, thus allowing one to
burn all the updates together and take them easily to non-connected
machines (or start out with the updates), but it is unfortunate this
move was even necessary.
the distribution is not without its flaws, it still nabs our
recommendation for the release cycle. It provides the best package
for desktop GNU/Linux users and doesn't look likely to be surpassed
any time soon.
Mandrake seems to have realized its problems in the quality control
arena and has followed the path Red Hat started last year with
Fedora by introducing a full blown community distribution (called
“Mandrake Linux Community Edition”) which will be released
several months prior to each official edition. Mandrake Linux 10.0's
Community Edition was released earlier this month. (Summary and rating below.)
Hat's desktop strategy has been known to be about as consistent as
Sun Microsystem's GNU/Linux strategy, that is, it hasn't be very
consistent at all. Some inside the company hail the readiness of the
desktop, while others suggest it isn't ready yet (sometimes these
two conflicting opinions have even come from the same person in
relatively short periods of time from each other). Regardless of
that, Fedora Core 1 represents a major stride toward a serious Red
Core is a distribution that will be released semi-annually through
the cooperation of Red Hat and the Free Software community. Red
Hat's plans are to use Fedora Core as the foundation upon which more
stringent controls will be placed to create Red Hat Enterprise Linux
(RHEL) releases. RHEL, unlike Fedora, is supported and provides a
long, stable release cycle and maintenance cycle (one year and five
of that makes RHEL attractive, even at its relatively steep
workstation pricing (still cheaper than Windows), for enterprises.
Despite common misunderstandings, RHEL is Free Software,
however the binary distribution of it comes with a per-desktop
support plan that requires purchasing a license for each seat. Free
Software-licensed source code for the entire distribution is
available freely, however, which is why we can state that RHEL is
not a proprietary distribution like Lindows OS or Xandros Desktop.
RHEL is a good choice, why should a business adopt Fedora instead?
There are lots of reasons. First, Fedora is free (as in price). If
you have internal technical support able to handle customizing and
supporting the desktop, then Fedora may make more sense than RHEL. A
second reason is that Fedora doesn't have long release
cycles. Fedora's 6-month release cycle allows you to provide your
users with the latest and greatest that GNU/Linux desktops have to
offer. In a similar vein, because Fedora is distributed over the
Internet and is more community oriented, there are a lot of program
packages, how-to's and other materials developed just for it (yes,
this is the case despite it being so new). If community support is
important to you, and, considering that such support is one of the
major benefits of GNU/Linux, it should be, Fedora begins to
make more sense.
is very feature complete — for the most part the CD's include all
of the programs you will want, and the freely available Fedora.us
packages and FreshRPM's packages have virtually any other package
you might want. Being unsupported shouldn't be confused with
unpolished. The fusion of Bluecurve and GNOME 2.4 produce perhaps
the most refined GNU/Linux desktop we have encountered. Unlike most
distributions, there isn't any feeling of a distinct division
between “distribution tools” and desktop environment tools.
Rather, Red Hat has perfectly integrated its set of configuration
tools into the GNOME environment to produce a unified desktop that
is truly elegant.
why don't we pick it as the top for the season? Simply put: it is
still immature when dealing with hardware. As noted in our
consideration of Mandrake Linux, above, Fedora does not yet approach
Mandrake's level of hardware detection and configuration. Fedora
lacks scanner configuration tools, USB mass storage detection, and
its automounter does not always catch when media is inserted into
the system. The package management tools also seem less integrated
than would be ideal, and the choice of the (in our opinion) clunky
yum over apt-rpm as the default alternative to up2date is
unfortunate. Fedora also fails to properly deal with Hewlett-Packard
multifunction devices (it only sets up the printer portion),
although it is hard to fault the distribution for this when SuSE
Linux, which has been focused on the desktop for much longer,
completely fails to deal with HP multifunction devices in our tests. (Summary and rating below.)
while neither Fedora Core 1 or Mandrake Linux 9.2 are where we would
have liked to have seen them, their successors are just around the
corner. Fedora Core 2 is nearly out, and Mandrake Linux 10.0
Official Edition will be out in May. Should you adopt the older
versions in the mean time? That depends on your needs. If they fit
what you need already, and they quite possibly will, then go ahead —
they are excellent distributions by and large. Inevitably, as
GNU/Linux distributions have become more mature, we have come to
expect more from them, so my complaints should not be interpreted to
suggest these distributions are of poor quality.
all, Mandrake Linux 9.2 is a strong distribution that offers some
great strides that make it really shine. If Mandrake can succeed at
making 10.0 a bit better in the quality control department, they
will surely have a winner on their hands. Likewise, Fedora Core 1 is
possibly the most exciting distribution I have tested in a long time
— with some concentration on adding configuration tools it will
likely become a serious contender for the desktop Linux crown in
Summary of Mandrake Linux 9.2 ProSuite and Download Edition|
UPSIDE: Mandrake 9.2 is filled with lots of promise and is potentially
|Upgrades and Package Management:|
|Total Cost of Ownership:|
the best overall distribution we have encountered. If not for some unfortunate bugs that crept in,
this distribution would deserve an unequivocal recommendation on our part. (Free to $199, www.mandrakesoft.com).
Fedora Core 1, Red Hat Professional Workstation,
SuSE Linux 9.
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Fedora Core 1|
UPSIDE: Fedora Core, the little brother to Red Hat Enterprise Linux,
|Upgrades and Package Management:|
|Total Cost of Ownership:|
has a lot to offer on its own. While it inherits a lot of its functionality from Red Hat Linux 9,
it shines on its own right even in its first release. (Free, fedora.redhat.com).
< BR>ALSO EVALUATE:
Mandrake Linux 9.2, Red Hat Professional Workstation,
SuSE Linux 9.
Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business. You can reach him at tbutler@uninetsolutions. com.