posted by Anthony Hicks on Tue 8th Apr 2003 16:17 UTC

"Linux Distros: Mandrake 9.1 RC2"
Ok, I realize that as of this writing, Mandrake just released the final version of 9.1, but I haven't been able to snag a copy off of the already over-congested mirrors. Hence my review's based off of version 9.1 RC2, which I understand is virtually the same as the final release, with a few bug fixes.

Historically, Mandrake has always been my "backup Linux", meaning that I keep a partition on my drive loaded with Mandrake in case something goes wrong on one of the other partitions (which include a couple of Windows installs, in addition to some other OS's). Mandrake's always been reliable, fast, and very well rounded, as far as the packages included with it go. Mandrake also drives my server/firewall setup, and has done so reliably for the last couple of years!

So it was a little disappointing that after I installed Mandrake 9.1 RC2, I realized that it ran noticeably slower than Redhat's latest offering. At this point, I had done a basic install of Mandrake, and so I had a lot of extra programs and software installed that I didn't necessarily need, similar to my Redhat experiences. After playing around with some of Mandrakes settings, I decided that perhaps these additional "pre-selected" applications were slowing my system down, so I decided to try a minimal install.

What I did was tell Mandrake that I wanted to custom pick all of my packages, and I then un-selected every choice in the install dialogue. I then chose just what I knew I wanted, and let Mandrake choose additional packages based on the dependencies in the packages that I chose.

This resulted in a much leaner installation, and one that runs notably faster than the older "all-in-one" install. My assumptions are that the additional programs and services that were being installed is what dragged my system's performance down so much.

So how does Mandrake run now that I have it installed? Pretty damn nice! It's noticeably quicker than Mandrake 9, and KDE 3.1 runs as fast as Redhats KDE 3.1 does. In fact, for the most part Mandrake runs and acts virtually the same as Redhat. There really isn't much of a difference between the two from an operational point-of-view.

But Mandrake 9.1 also includes the new glibc libraries. Ideally this should mean that my Wine apps won't run under it as with Phoebe, but I found that this wasn't entirely true! Certain Wine apps will run under Mandrake, but certain ones don't. It's very hit or miss, and quite frankly, I've no idea why it wouldn't be treated the same as my Redhat installation if indeed the glibc libraries are the cause of this problem (and I'm quite certain, at least in the case of Redhat, that glibc is the problem!).

I haven't had a need to try Mandrakes more esoteric features such as ntfs partition resizing. I appreciate that it's there, but I think I'll still probably feel safer if I'm rebooting into Windows and Partition Magic if and when I need to play with my hard drives partitions. Not that I like to reboot, but since Linux in general doesn't officially support writing to an NTFS partition, I'm a little leery about possibly trashing my drives by resizing them with it.

Another area that Mandrake reminds me of Redhat is how they've also messed with their KDE installation. Similar to Redhat, they've installed it and it's menu's in non-standard locations. Hence 3rd party applications may or may not install correctly. Since I want to build my workplace around a KDE 3.1 center, it's very important to me that I can expect any KDE add-ons to install and be usable with a minimum of help from me. Mandrake, like Redhat, will require me to manually move files around it looks like. Not cool.

One more area that Mandrake rivals Redhat is in support and software being made available for it. As with Mandrake, there's a ton of sites and programs that deal specifically with Mandrake. One that comes to mind is the PLF, which provides software essential for the desktop experience. My concern is more about non-specific software that I might compile from source.

Here's a brief example of why: Mosfet is a fairly well known KDE developer, and has provided some fun bits of software for the community in the past. He's also one of the more vocal opponents of Linux distributors who hack KDE up, and he's written a fairly well rounded piece on his site explaining what they've done, and how this affects developers. While I'm not saying his word is the final word on the matter, I have tried to get some 3rd party KDE apps to work with both Mandrake and Redhat, and often Mosfet's right in that I end up manually moving files and links around in order to get the application to work correctly.

Just because I know how to work around the problems doesn't mean I necessarily want to though. I'd rather spend my time developing, or enhancing my system than I would tweaking new installs to work with my broken KDE system. In the past, this wasn't so much a problem, but as I move forward and try to come up with "my desktop", I don't want to deal with this problem that much. This is a strike against Mandrake!

But my minimal install of Mandrake was enough for me to replace Phoebe with it! I was really impressed with Redhat's speed, which again, I largely attribute to their new threading technologies, but my familiarity and fondness for Mandrake did, in the long run, win me over (but I'm still considering playing around some more with Redhat once I can get my hands on the final version!). And while I can appreciate the solidness of Mandrake 9.1 as a "backup system", I really wanted something that's more standards compliant for my main Linux desktop.

For now Mandrake's back where it always has been on my system: A good back up system with a lot of tools in case I have problems elsewhere. As my primary desktop system, it falls in with Redhat's Phoebe. It runs nice, it looks great, and as long as I don't want to go outside the box they've built for me, it works great.

Mandrake as a company do leave a bit to be desired. It seems like they're constantly releasing press releases indicating that if people don't support them, they'll be forced to go out of business. I hope this changes with the release of 9.1, but it is a concern right now. No one can say for certain that they'll be here in a year to support their product, but I for one hope they are. Whereas Redhat's just testing out the waters of cutting edge/desktop distributions, Mandrakes been doing this for some time, and it would be nice if they could keep doing this for awhile. Only time will tell though if 9.1 will be the release to push them away from the brink of bankruptcy. Let's hope it is.

Summary: Mandrakes latest offering is a nice advancement over their previous one. As with Redhats Phoebe release, KDE 3.1 is what really makes the system for me, but like Redhat, Mandrakes implementation of KDE leaves me wanting as far as trying out new apps and compiling 3rd party add-ons. Mandrake's reliable enough, and friendly enough to be a great backup or rescue system, but for my new desktop system, I'm going to continue my quest. I want a Linux desktop that both works out of the box, and one that plays nice with other peoples software. Mandrake and Redhat both excel at the first piece (working great out of the box), but they both have issues that could impact me down the road as far as compiling and using 3rd party applications.

Table of contents
  1. "Intro, Windows"
  2. "BeOS"
  3. "Mac OS X"
  4. "GNU/Linux"
  5. "Linux Minus"
  6. "Linux Distros: Yoper"
  7. "Linux Distros: Redhat 8.x (Phoebe)"
  8. "Linux Distros: Mandrake 9.1 RC2"
  9. "Linux Distros: Ark Linux"
  10. "Linux Distros: Vector Linux (Soho 3.2)"
  11. "Linux Distros: Gentoo Linux (and other source based distros)"
  12. "Linux Distros: Suse Linux, Conclusion"
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