Mandrake Linux 7.2 Beta Review
Open Source (Free)
Linux Mandrake has been one of our distributions of choice for quite some time now. The RedHat-with-some-stuff-added moniker has been peeled away and Mandrake is now standing tall against the competition.
Mandrake's primary aim seems to be combating the difficulty of installation/use complaints that have plagued Linux. These guys are up to the challenge.
Their graphical installation is one of the best, and the configuration tools and update utility make maintenance simple. The ability to begin installation from Windows and easily resize your existing FAT partition allows current Microsoft customers to experience Linux without worry. Now, with the release of the Linux Mandrake 7.2 beta (currently beta 2), it appears the good folks at Mandrake aim to make your Linux experience even more pleasurable.
Not Yet Ready for Primetime Player
The first thing I should point out is that this article is a preview review. While shaping up nicely, Mandrake 7.2 is definitely not for daily use. You should only install the Mandrake 7.2 beta if you're interested in running a bleeding-edge distribution and don't mind sacrificing stability. That's right, even our favorite OS can have bugs, and 7.2 definitely has it's share.
New and Improved
Here is a list of additions and improvements in 7.2, summarized from Mandrake's announcement:
- An Internet access configuration option during installation.
- DrakeGateway, a wizard that helps in setting up Internet connection sharing on your LAN.
- The CUPS/QtCUPS printing system replaces lpr as the default.
- Additional hardware support through HardDrake(now over 1000 drivers).
- Improvements to RPMDrake and MandrakeUpdate.
- Redesigned DrakConf control panel.
- The addition of Aurora, a graphical boot interface.
- KDE 2 beta 4.
- An enhanced version of Gnome 1.2.
- Xfree86 4.01 is now installed by default.
Besides the addition of Tux holding a "Help" sign, the installation hasn't changed much. You are still offered the choice of Recommended, Customized, or Expert installation classes, each offering a different level of control over the installation procedure. Recommended installation is extremely straightforward and fast, with the 300MB minimum package installation taking about three minutes.
One fix previous Mandrake users will notice during installation is the absence of the long pause after changing CDs. When switching CDs, 7.1 would pause for up to several minutes, giving the appearance that the installation procedure had frozen. The installation procedure now resumes almost instantly. The first truly major addition to the installation procedure is the network configuration section. Now, instead of simply being able to configure local and dialup networking, you are offered a choice of how you want to connect to the Internet. The options include Dial-Up, ISDN, DSL, cable, local network, or the choice of disabling networking altogether. Mandrake is currently gathering information on ISP configurations in hopes of making Internet setup nearly automatic. You can submit your ISPs information here. This is a nice addition, but is also where I noticed the first problem. As I have my LAN set up to share a cable modem, I chose the LAN option. However, after installation I was unable to access the Internet, as my DNS entries were not saved.
The only other complaint I have about installation, or the Recommended installation class in particular, is that it does not create a boot disk, which could lead to trouble in the event of any future system problems. Other installation changes, which don't appear in the Recommended class, include the choice of using CUPS or LPR for printing, and the option to keep X 3.3 or use only 4.01. CUPS, which replaces LPR as the default printing system, appears to have better support for a wider variety of printers. During setup, CUPS recognized and installed a Canon BJC-2000 with no problems and offered better print quality than LPR ever had. Also, during user addition, you now see a button with the user's icon rather than the text menu of previous versions.
You will also notice many more services started by default in 7.2's expert class than there were in 7.1, but of course you have the option of activating or deactivating these based on your needs.
And We're Off...
The new graphical boot up is designated as "Linux-fb" in your boot loader's menu, which is set as GRUB by default. Standard text-based boot up is still available if you choose the "Linux" option. The graphical boot up is a nice addition. It's really only eye candy, as it doesn't appear to offer any additional functionality, but it's nice nonetheless. As services start you see their name along with an icon, and a green check mark or a red X to represent success or failure. You are still shown the service's startup message so you can troubleshoot any problems you may encounter.
There is also a large Tux sitting in the upper left corner, who throws his arms up in the air when services fail, as if saying, "I don't know". Once X starts you're presented with the login manager, which now shows usernames and their selected icon by default. Mandrake has always included a wide variety of window managers, and 7.2 is no exception. Looking through the window manager menu you'll see KDE 2, Gnome, Icewm, Enlightenment, XFCE, WindowMaker, BlackBox, AfterStep, and others. KDE 2, which appears to be progressing nicely, is now set as default. I'm not going to go in depth on the window managers here, as most truly deserve their own reviews. With the inclusion of such a variety of window managers, everyone, from the Linux newbie looking for a Microsoft replacement to the experienced Linux user looking for a minimalist GUI, will be satisfied.
Many of the Mandrake specific configuration tools have been revamped in 7.2. DrakConfig, the front end to the individual configuration tools, has simply undergone cosmetic changes. On the other hand, Mandrake Update seems to have undergone a complete rewrite. The layout is different, and installing developmental updates from Mandrake's Cooker is now supported.
This is not recommended for your average user, but should prove useful for developers. HardDrake, the automatic hardware detection and configuration tool, now probes for a wider variety of devices; including joysticks, scanners, tape drives, and TV cards. Unfortunately, one tool that worked previously now appears to be broken. The DrakRes utility, which allows you to easily change your X resolution, does nothing. Clicking its button grayed out the name, as if it were coming up, but it failed to display. I have a feeling this may be more of a compatibility issue with X 4 and I'm sure it will be fixed before 7.2 is final.
Mandrake's philosophy has always been to give the user a choice whenever possible. This has lead some people to label Mandrake as "bloatware". But with a 300MB minimum installation and the ability to easily configure the system to your liking, this label is hardly fair. This is a distribution that can tailor to the needs and expectations of a wide audience. Newbies and Linux power users can set up a system to their liking and have nearly every utility or application they'll need already included. Due to the wide variety of software, and the ease of installation and configuration, I highly recommend Linux Mandrake. With companies like Mandrake fighting the good fight, the realization of Linux on the desktop may soon be upon us.
ConclusionThe Good - Pros
- Easy to use GUI configuration tools
- Simple installation
The Bad - Cons
- Stability issues
The Ugly - Issues
- DrakRes non-functional
- DNS settings not saved during installation
- Overall stability problems
The Verdict - Opinion
Show's great potential but lacks stability, useful for testing only. Could be a great desktop OS in time. But remember, this is a beta!