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First some background about me and my machine. I've previously installed (and used) Mandrake 8.1, 8.2, and 9.0, along with Red Hat 7.2, 7.3, and 8.0, and finally Gentoo 1.2. And of course, every version of Windows since 3.11 for Workgroups :) I was also employed in a position doing computer peripheral support for about a year, and most of the problems were with Windows, not with the product, so I know my way around a computer that has Windows from that, and I have a decent grasp of Linux from installing Gentoo 1.2, but I am by no means a Linux Guru.
My machine is an Athlon XP 1700+ on a Soyo Dragon Plus (built-in sound and wake-on LAN) that I built myself. GeForce 2 MX 400 64 MB DDR, Yamaha 44x24x44 CD-RW, Sony 16x DVD/52x CD-ROM, 256MB Atlas Precision Brand DDR-SDRAM. I'm also very proud of my aluminum Lian Li case :)
Enough about me, onto the part you care about: My experiences with installation AND use of Mandrake 9.1. I started the download via Bit Torrent Friday night and had all 3 .iso's when I woke up Saturday morning. I also use this program to distribute audience recordings of bands, and I highly recommend using it whenever possible as a user, and urge people who serve to use it more frequently in situations where lots of people want the same thing at the same time (i.e. new Mandrake).
So I started the install, and if you've installed Mandrake before it's pretty much the same now, only prettier and more professional looking, and a bit more organized...no more huge laundry list down the left side and no more bad English translations! I won't go through the nitty-gritty details beyond that because there are dozens of reviews for this on the web already, just keep this in mind - it's fast and it works. Upon finishing the installation, I was absolutely delighted to see that it not only found my printer and scanner, but configured them both and they both work out of the box! This has been my major beef with every distro I've tried...printer config is a bear and sorry, no scanner for you (I have an HP ScanJet 4300c)! It was REALLY disappointing with MDK 9.0 and RH 8.0, because they saw that the scanner was there and the model, and it STILL didn't work. I did a preview scan of a piece of my wife's notepad paper just to confirm, and sure enough it worked. Opened openoffice.org writer and printed out "this is a test" just to see and yep, heard the sounds of my HP DJ 932c start up above me on my hutch. Sweet.
We've knocked away two of my three main reasons for not converting to Linux for day-to-day use, so let's address the third and final one: CD Burning. I had read a lot about k3b now being included, so I thought I'd give it a shot.
I ran through the setup utility without a hitch, everything seemed cool there and so I started the application and tried to copy a CD. No devices listed. I tried running the setup utility again, still no dice. This is disappointing. I'm figuring it's either a bugfix issue (it is only ver. 0.8.1 of the software after all), or a simple problem that I have yet to figure out, since the setup utility correctly identifies both of my optical drives. I guess I'll find out sooner or later.
A big part of the hype for Mandrake 9.1 is the look and feel, particularly with the new Galaxy theme, and I must say I am HIGHLY impressed. It takes Red Hat's Bluecurve concept and caters it more towards the home Linux power user than the corporate desktop - KDE still looks like KDE and Gnome still looks like Gnome even though the menus are set up in the same manner, and both are undeniably MANDRAKE. The anti-aliased fonts all look great everywhere, so that's another plus. Mozilla 1.3 is a really nice release; I had been using 1.0.2 on my Windows box and I definitely see now that there is no reason to do this! The new Mandrake Control Center is beautiful and intuitive...everything is grouped logically and each individual control has a short description, "use this to control xyz". The default menu and panel organization is very clean and neat, something I can't say about RH 8! (though I guess this is being improved in 9, but really, what the hell happened there?) And even if I didn't like the setup, it's very easy to change...I took a lot of the KDE programs out of the panel and put Mozilla, Open Office.org writer, the KDE calculator, System Guard (to make it more like a Windows configuration), and some other things that I use. It's as simple as delete one icon/right-click and navigate through the menu to select the icon you want to add. I was mildly disappointed that there was no drag-and-drop, but I figured out how to do it and it's still very easy, so no worries.
RPM installation went without a hitch. Went and got Texstar's MS fonts package and NVIDIA drivers. For the latter, rebooted and it was done, it automagically edited the XFree86 config file from nv to nvidia. This is more a kudo for Texstar I think, but I had to add that in there because this is an essential fact of life (installing proprietary nvidia drivers) for a lot of Linux users. URPMI is also awesome, so slick and nice, I didn't think I could like an update utility better than RH 8's but this one blows it out of the water. It satisfies the detail side of my brain by giving you "this is the update available, this is the vulnerability that was found and is why you should upgrade". And of course, the upgrade selection, download, and install was easy and painless. Very very impressive. Only wish there was some kind of system tray notification like in Red Hat, that's the only thing it's missing (or that I can't find).
The only other grievance aside from what I've already mentioned is that Abiword doesn't seem to be included, or I didn't deselect it at install time and I would have selected it if I saw it, anyway. Not too big of a deal since it's easy enough to obtain and install. I have yet to encounter any major omissions other than that.
In conclusion, I'm going to give my numerical ratings and overall score:
Highly recommended. This is the best distro I have ever used out of the box. If I can get my CD burning issue figured out, I'm going to become a silver member of Mandrake club and order a power pack. I'm that impressed!