posted by Eugenia Loli on Thu 17th Oct 2002 18:29 UTC

"Control Center, Other Applications, Conclusion"
The Mandrake Control Center

First of all, why all the Mandrake utilities are written in GTK+ 1.x when the company ships KDE as the default DE? All their utilities look ugly and out of place on the default KDE environment. This Control Center is what mostly differentiates Mandrake from its competition and it should have received more care. The control center just doesn't "blend" to the rest of the default Qt-based environment.

The control center includes tools for the booting process, monitor and graphics, TVCard, keyboard, mouse, printer and scanner. Also, Mandrake comes with a feature named "supermount" and you can define mount points for WebDAV, Samba, NFS and other local media (removable or not). I haven't used most of the networking mount points as I don't have any such need or facilities here to test them.

Default Mandrake Kicker on 800x600 does not fit - Look at the Clock at the bottom right The "Network and Internet" center includes Networking setup wizard, proxy configuration and Internet Sharing. But the latter is as buggy and incomprehensible as most of the modules over there. Why the "Internet Sharing" utility never asked me to enter any CDs, but rather it said "installing - please wait" and it kept reading my empty DVD-drive? After killing the buggy module, I had to force umount on the DVD drive to free it from spinning itself to death.

The Security modules seem to work ok, and it is handy to find an easy to use Firewall application there.

MenuDrake seems to work without any easily visible bugs, and it allows you to edit the menus of KDE, Gnome, IceWM and Blackbox. However, updating the menu configuration (that is to delete or add a new item) can take up to 30-40 seconds. On Windows and BeOS this is instantenous. [MandrakeSoft says that it takes them only 4 seconds to do so, but it isn't the case over here. And I got a fast IDE drive.]

Oh, wait, I take that back. I tried to add my /usr/bin/nano application to the KDE's editors menu and I checked the "Open in a Terminal" option and nano just doesn't load, neither any terminals are loading. The graphical apps I added worked fine, but this terminal-based one doesn't.

I picked my timezone with the Mandrake's tool, but KDE's timezone doesn't pick it up. Great integration. Not.

There is another option on the "System" panels called "Terminal". I clicked it and it loads a full XTerm window. And then it removes the window manager from that xterm and 2 seconds later, it "embeds" it in the Control Center window. The way this is done, is just that: gross. An ugly hack, UI-wise and integration-wise.

The "Configure Users" module seems to work well.

My first attempt to use the Mandrake control Center ended in failure when the Font application tried to "leach" the fonts off my FAT32 partition. It obviously got confused because I have two Windows partitions, one FAT32 and one WinXP NTFS. Tried another approach (I used its "Advanced" button to specify from where to get the fonts exactly) and at last had my fonts installed on Mandrake. But the worst had yet to come.

Why, oh, why, does it take a full 1 to 2 minutes to load the following modules:
Graphics card detection, monitor, resolution, XServer configuration, RPMdrake (install/remove apps) and Mandrake Update. In fact, now that I am writing this, the Install Software module is also trying to read the empty DVD rom for available packages (never prompted me to put any CDs in the drive). It just feels that these modules are just frozen. They don't even load a window to tell you that they are at least working on the background. The Software Sources Manager, is also whipping my poor empty DVD drive before it loads its small window after 3 minutes. The Installer for online updates also tried to read my empty DVD.

Two days later, after more than 20 emails back and forth with MandrakeSoft, we were able to find the problem about the CD-reading that resulted in many of the Drake utilities to take a long time to load. In fact, they found that this bug was submitted to their bug database by a number of other users. (Too bad that I was one of them, because I am among those who have to publish my experience online for people to read.)

After we fixed all these issues with the CD-reading, I was able to fully appreciate the Mandrake Control Center. It is not the best control center/panel in the world, but it does what most people will want it for. What I liked mostly is the fact that you can add sources to an app called "Sofrware Manager Sources" from other FTP, HTTP or internal network addresses and be able to download and automatically install additional software.

Other applications

Click for a larger version Mandrake comes with quite a number of recent applications, OpenOffice.org (modified to look prettier), KOffice 1.2, a number of games (Frozen Bubble is so addictive - I've finished it :), Mozilla (much uglier and much slower because MandrakeSoft has enabled AA by default (not through XFT2 unfortunately)), PostgreSQL, mySQL, PHP, Apache, Gnumeric, Sketch and lots more. The choice is pretty good and it should be satisfying for most users.

If there are two good things to say about Mandrake 9 that would be its speed and stability. The choice of GCC 3.2 helps the overall speed of the system. I found Mandrake 9 to be faster than my Gentoo Linux 1.2 (which was specifically compiled for -march=i686 but with GCC 2.95.x).

Mandrake comes with kernel 2.4.19 and stability has been exceptional for me, for the most part. I generally have problems with X and KDE, but for the 1.5 weeks I am running Mandrake 9, I haven't seen any major stability problems at all.

Conclusion

Mandrake 9 seems to be a bit out of focus. The OS itself has no clear focus of what it wants to operate as. A Server? Desktop? Workstation? All? No one really knows what the actual market of Mandrake is. The fact that is loading a lot of (useless for me) server stuff by default and also the fact that it tries to pinch itself as a desktop system at the same time, just doesn't go well together.

Update: MandrakeSoft sent me the following:
"Our approach is very clear: although we know many "power" Linux users use Mandrake as a desktop machine (for replacing Windows), our target is clearly to provide a system that is a great choice to install Linux in enterprises. For servers and desktops. Nowadays, when you install a server, you like it to be easy to configure graphically, you don't want to learn all these configuration files. Mandrake is targeted to these people. Also, it's very good to implement multiple desktop machines (workstations), with excellent networking capabilities. We want to provide the best Linux swiss-knife ever."

So, Mandrake is trying to compete mostly at Red Hat's and SuSE's playground. However, Mandrake is regarded by most people as a desktop distribution for the home user, "my first Linux" kind of thing. The fact that the distribution includes so many games (with automatic support for 3D rendering), edutainment and a large number of multimedia apps, it really does not make it as clear as MandrakeSoft claims to be that they are aiming for the enterprise. To me, it mostly looks like MandrakeSoft wants to sell to the enterprise, but at the same time they seem to want to keep the community (and resulted free marketing) of the home users.

Overall, Mandrake 9.0 is an interesting distribution. But it is not the best out there, neither trouble-free. While Mandrake includes some GUI tools to help you with configuration, as a whole, I was more satisfied by the fresh offer and looks of Red Hat 8 and SuSE 8.1 than those of Mandrake 9.0. This is mostly because of Mandrake's dated UI, problematic (for me) Control Center, while at times it just feels amateurish (e.g. when the control center's modules are loading and you momentarily put another window on top of your module's window, they don't refresh their windows).

I truly hope that Mandrake 9.1 has all these issues fixed and bring a new, stronger Mandrake to compete with SuSE and Red Hat's offerings. Mandrake has a strong community and some great developers behind it. I used Mandrake for years, on and off on this very machine, but for me, this hasn't been the best release ever. In fact, not a lot have changed to Mandrake except the Control Center (which is nothing more but a "placeholder" for the GTK+ modules to "mount" under a common window. Most of these GTK+ modules exist from previous versions of Mandrake).

Times are changing, and Mandrake hasn't changed much. Having an installer than is better than Slackware's doesn't automatically make you the killer distribution anymore. Heck, having a Control Center doesn't make you the best either these days. It is the overall experience you get when you put all the pieces together. And this is what Mandrake 9.0 lacks today.

Installation: 7/10
Hardware Support: 8/10
Ease of use: 8/10
Features: 7/10
Credibility: 6/10 (stability, bugs, security)
Speed: 8/10 (UI responsiveness, latency, throughput)

Overall: 7.3 / 10

Related Reading:
Red Hat 8.0 review.
SuSE 8.1 review.

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