Getting started with Mandriva Enterprise Server (MES) is very similar to getting any other main stream Linux system up and running. In my case, since I was starting with an existing virtual image, Mandriva presented me with a GRUB boot menu and, from there, kicked off the first-run wizard. The wizard asks the user for their preferred language and displays the product's license for approval. The wizard then walks the user through setting the current time, picking a time zone and choosing a keyboard layout. In each case, common defaults are provided. The last two steps are to set the administrator's password and create a non-root account. From there, the user is presented with a fairly standard, nicely themed login screen.
The MES desktop is, by default, a blue-themed Gnome environment. Aside from the standard menus and clock, there are prominent icons for accessing Firefox, a terminal, the Control Center and a link labelled Mandriva Server Setup. Being a server system and not designed primarily for desktop use, the application menu of MES is a bit sparse. Aside from Firefox (version 3.0) the OS comes with Tightvnc, a dictionary, text editor and image viewer. There are also the usual collection of Gnome tools for changing the desktop's appearance, adjusting the volume, setting up printers, browsing folders and monitoring the system. But the highlight of any Mandriva release is the Control Center. The all-in-one interface for managing the OS is probably the most inclusive and intuitive configuration tool out there and it makes setting up a server (or workstation) easy, even for less experienced Linux admins. The Control Center contains tools for managing packages, configuring sound and setting up X. It also has features for managing printers and scanners, configuring the network and managing the firewall. Rounding out the options, there are tools for sharing folders, viewing and searching through system logs, creating user accounts, setting parental controls and and fine tuning security. Additionally, the administrator is able to set up snapshots via a very flexible and powerful backup application. Each of these components worked well for me and I encountered no problems.
The Mandriva Server Setup icon opens a web interface to the server where the system administrator is able to select various server components to install and configure. The service is very user-friendly and walks the admin through installing and setting up the Mandriva Directory Server, Samba, a mail server, DHCP, DNS, various databases, backup tools, virtual machine and LAMP packages. The web interface shows what has been installed, what can be installed and makes setting up the necessary building blocks a point-n-click process.
Performance of MES is hard to properly judge since I was running it in a virtual machine. But, during my experiment, the desktop was snappy and the system generally used less than 400MB of memory (including cache), even when logged into the Gnome desktop and running a handful of network services. Though certainly not a minimal server environment, it compares well against other graphical server operating systems, such as OpenSolaris or Windows 2008.
Package management is handled by Rpmdrake. It's a fairly standard graphical package manager with a list of software categories down the left side of the window. Packages, with their current versions, are displayed down the right side and a description of selected software is displayed at the bottom of the window. The user can filter packages based on various criteria, such as available security updates, all updates, or packages with GUIs. Though the interface is simple and easy to use, it's also flexible. Because I was using a trial version of MES, I wasn't connected to the update repositories automatically. Shortly after logging in, an applet appeared on my menu bar and offered to connect me with Mandriva's software repositories if I had an account. People with trial accounts get a month of free updates while they test drive the distribution.
Security is a big topic when dealing with a server system and not one I can adequately cover here, but Mandriva gets the administrator off to a good start. For instance, the system insists on creating a regular (non-root) user account during the first-boot process. Remote root logins through secure shell are blocked and most other network services are not running by default. I found users' home directories are not open to be read by other users and logging in locally as root turns the desktop wallpaper a bright red. Furthermore, the Control Center has some excellent security tuning and auditing tools to help the administrator keep the system locked down.
Last fall I took Mandriva's desktop system, Mandriva 2010, for a test drive and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The Mandriva developers make one of the most user-friendly, stable and elegant systems in the Linux ecosystem. Having played with their Enterprise Server, I find it to be in the same class of excellence. The Enterprise Server is fast, stable, easy to configure and wonderfully intuitive to use. One of the things I enjoyed most about using MES is it does a great job of balancing giving information to the user while staying out of the way. There aren't any annoying pop-ups and neither is the user left alone in an empty sea of UNIX. The Control Center continues to be one of the best all-in-one configuration tools on the market and I like the work the developers have put into installing services as building blocks. Having played with MES for a week, setting up services, running and restoring backups and managing accounts, I've encountered no problems. The system feels polished and well tested, suitable for a business environment and the price tag makes Mandriva's Enterprise Server a good option for small and medium organisations who are looking for an inexpensive solution.