posted by Eugenia Loli on Thu 17th Oct 2002 18:29 UTC
IconMandrakeSoft released Linux Mandrake 9.0 about three weeks ago. How does this version compares to the also recent SuSE and Red Hat releases? MandrakeSoft sent us the Download Edition over for a review and here is what we think about it.

NOTE: MandrakeSoft had access to this article before publication (something that I do not normally do, but this time was at least the... moral thing to do) and they have confirmed or reproduced several of the bugs I am mentioning here.

Installation

Installation is very similar to what it used to be, not much has changed since the last time I tried version 8.0 last year and 9.0-Cooker last summer. It is pretty easy to install Mandrake, but I encountered problems (I used the expert mode, as Mandrake is installed on a PC with 8 more operating systems and I needed flexibility). Except that the actual UI in some of the installation modules is not great (e.g. the terribly un-intuitive partitioning tool, dated layout and UI), I had three main problems.

Click for a larger version When the installation started it asked me what mouse I have, and it had automatically picked up the PS/2 model. But it did not pick up the wheel mouse option, because all my mice have a wheel. Clicking in the right option, it would make my mouse jumping like crazy all over the screen making the installation impossible to continue. I don't see the point of providing such a mouse panel in the installation if Mandrake and Red Hat (yes, Red Hat has the same problem in their Gnome2 admin mouse panel, I tried 3 different mice, all have the same effect) and all the other distros are not able to fix the damned re-initialization code of the mice on the fly. I tried with three of my PS/2 mice I had around: 1 Logitech Cordless mouseman optical, a no-name optical and a normal Keytronic. Same effect.
(UPDATE: Please don't send me emails that this can be tweaked afterwards. I very well know about how to allow wheel operations on my mice, back in the day I used to do it by directly editing my XF86Config file. This was not the point of my paragraph about the mice. The point is that the driver does something *unexpected* for the user, and from the usability point of view, is just not right.)

The second problem was that the installation wouldn't tell me that the XFS option does not support booting. While I know that an XFS (root) / partition would require a /boot in ext2/3, most people don't know this. MandrakeSoft replied that there should have been some warning messages, but I saw none. Even if they were there, the fact that they went completely unnoticed, should say something to their UI designer.
(UPDATE: Please note that I needed to put LILO on hdc4 and not on MBR, as I don't want my BeOS bootman bootmanger to get overwritten by LILO. Apparently, XFS can boot a Linux only the bootmanager is installed on the MBR, some OSNews readers replied.)

But this is just a small detail, as I find the whole partitioning application terrible GUI-wise. I have talked about it here.

At the end of the installation, the Installer would ask me if I want to download some available patches. I said "yes" and it tried to contact some FTP site to download the updates. The update never took place because the operation timed out about 5 minutes later. Needless to say, I was not impressed.

The rest of the installation went well though, Mandrake successfully found and supported all my hardware (except later I found out that my 2-years old digital camera is not supported). One thing I like in the Mandrake installer is that you can configure your card to support 3D (as long there is DRI support for it).

The First Time Booting

Linux Mandrake 9 features a graphical LILO screen and it had successfully placed as default an SMP kernel for my dual Celeron 533 Mhz. Loading the OS takes a while, because Mandrake is loading by default a number of things (that I don't necessarily need). You can always remove these startup entries from the Mandrake Control Center.

Something that I find annoying with this distribution is that authenticating is slow. Why the heck it takes a whole 3-4 seconds to authenticate my password in the command line (I don't use any *DM), when loging in either as eugenia or as root? Mandrake Cooker also did the same. Mandrake 8.0 didn't (on the same machine) and other distros I have here don't do so either.

The Desktop

Click for a larger version Mandrake uses KDE 3.0.3 as its default Desktop Environment, running on top of XFree86 4.2.1. Mandrake is using pretty much the default themes and colors of KDE 3.0.3, which looks dated and ugly at best. Even the default Gnome2 looks better than the default KDE. MandrakeSoft should realize that their two main competitors have made strides in making their desktops more delightful and nicer to the eye and the usability (while RH and SuSE are not even trying to compete to the desktop as straightful as MandrakeSoft is), while Mandrake is still the same old, same old. I had to change a lot of things to my desktop to make it look something that can moderately please me. The fact that you can change a lot of KDE's aspects with some downloads is not the answer. Mandrake should have worked on the looks and the UI. I wonder if they do employ a UI designer, and if they do, if their developers actually listen to him/her.

MandrakeSoft replied to me that their customer research showed that businesses favor their default grey-ish UI, while home users customize everything on their own. Personally, I find hard to believe that businesses would not favor a better UI, while the home users won't have to tweak everything after installation.

GNOME 2.0.2 is also installed and works well, ICEwm, BlackBox, Enlightenment and WindowMaker are also available. Unfortunately, WindowMaker is broken. It can't find the file that includes its context desktop menu. After fixing a missing symlink in the /etc/ directory fixed WindowMaker too..

A number of other applications are broken on Mandrake 9. I found that a few apps just wouldn't load (i.e. Everybuddy would segfault). Except these few apps, the rest of the applications do seem to work fine. In fact, I was happy from the overall stability of X and KDE.

The only thing MandrakeSoft has pretty much done in the desktop area is to re-arrange the Kmenu and add some Mandrake-specific options like this arcane "-> What to do?" menu. The idea of the "What to do" menu is good (similar to SuSE's "work" menu), but the execution is absolutely poor (the option is "drowning" among other KDE menus and at the end of the day it just duplicates a bunch of options that are easier to find via the KMenu rather than the "-> What to do").

Also, Mandrake has under the root menu an option called "Terminals", which is a submenu where you can select from... 7 different terminals. Choice is good, but this is hardly a desktop-oriented design decision to have so many different terminals waiting for you to a root submenu.

Another potential problem is that the default Mandrake's Kicker does not fit on a 800x600 screen, which is what most Internet users still use these days. KDE has the same problem, I asked for this to be fixed months ago, but it has yet to be considered by the KDE Project.

Table of contents
  1. "Installation, First Time Booting, Desktop"
  2. "Control Center, Other Applications, Conclusion"
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