posted by James Smyth on Tue 21st Oct 2003 17:51 UTC
IconMandrakeSoft has recently released the latest version of their desktop operating system. Mandrake Linux 9.2 Download Edition is available on their web site across three ISO files for the Club members. The first disk is about 650megs and the following two are ~700.

Installation:

The system in question is a Dell Latitude CPx laptop. Hardware setup was completely automated. Mandrake successfully detected and configured everything it could (as no current linux drivers exist for my D-Link DWL-650+ or ATI Rage Mobile card).

The installation procedure hasn't changed a bit since 9.1. Aside from the new splash screen as you boot from the CDs, the only visible differences are the choices of packages (which you only notice when doing a detailed install) and the ads in the package installation step. The ads really aren't worth complaining about since they are interweaved with their standard ads for GNU and their own operating system. It'll also generate a little extra revenue to allow Mandrake to survive (Which has been in financial danger for quite some time now).

Using the new OS:

Unfortunately, there really isn't much that's new. They changed the graphical LILO to their newest theme. Also changed is the default desktop wallpaper and the setup of the application menus in KDE and Gnome.

Most user-end changes are superficial. The new menus are changed only in what they lack. In KDE, gone is the 'most frequently used programs' list, 'what to do', 'quick browser', and 'run command'. This leaves you with the standard logout/lock screen buttons, your home directory, and Mandrake's standard set of application categories. I don't know about other users, but I never really used those features anyway. It's also worth noting that the only terminal I have available from the menu in KDE is Konsole.

Gnome isn't quite as lacking in the menu. By default, it also includes 'Run application', 'Search for files', 'Open recent', and 'Take Screenshot'. I'm left to wonder why they left these features on by default in Gnome but not their in the default desktop (KDE). When I go to look at the available terminals, all I see is the GNOME Terminal. Personally, I'd rather have the ability to select from both.

The default package selection also seems lacking. The only games installed when I selected 'games' durring setup were LBreakout2 and Frozen Bubble. Not even the huge set of simple KDE games is installed by default. When I go into the 'Game Station' category of Mandrake's rpmdrake tool, I see armagetron, chromium, csmash, tuxracer. I assume these would also have been installed by default were it able to detect and install 3D drivers for my laptop. What's with the preferance for 3D games over KDE's set? I find myself in Ksirtet and Ktron quite often. The full KDE set doesn't take much more room than tuxracer.

In the area of networking, the default set gets you gFTP, Gaim, XChat, KMail, Evolution, KNode, Pan, some remote access tools (LinNeighborhood, TightVNC, etc), and the standard set of browsers (Galeon, Konqueror, and Mozilla).

Beyond that, hardly anything in the package selection has changed. Worthy of mention is that they swapped out Xine's own GUI in favor of the Totem GUI. I for one am in favor of the change, as I like media players where the video is embedded in with the GUI, something lacking in most Linux media players. Even so, I think it would have been a better move to make MPlayer the default media player because of its better codec support. Though when it comes to computers without XV drivers (such as my laptop) Xine is prefered for its ability to display zoomed video (Which MPlayer can't do except throught methods such as GL, which require 3D drivers to be at all watchable).

From what I can tell, Mandrake's Control Center hasn't changed at all. For some reason, the icon for "Set where your CD/DVD Burner is mounted" is displayed seven times. I'm assuming most of the changes are behind the scenes. I wouldn't belive Mandrake would release a new OS without some new code in their Control Center.

I remember hearing sometime back about ads set to appear in Mandrake's default set of screensavers. I went to check this out in KDE, but to my amazement, KDE came with no screensavers at all! Gnome, on the other hand, came with a plethora. Once again, questions about why all the extras were put into the desktop that isn't the default came to mind. Even in Gnome's screensaver menu I couldn't find the screensavers containing ads. I'll just leave it on my favorite BSOD screensavers which gets more realistic with every release.

Most of the real improvements are in the induvidual programs. Frozen Bubble would play fine on my laptop with Mandrake 9.1, but it would massively drop frames when many balls would fall. The version that came with 9.2 ran fine in spite of my mere 600mhz of Pentium power. Also noteworthy was that Totem played my Divx movies off CD just fine. Usually, Xine would drop many many frames when playing off the CD as it endlessly seeked. Now it plays smoothly.

Conclusion:

As I said, most of the changes are merely superficial or security and performance tweaks. Mandrake Linux 9.2 Download Edition is a worthy OS, but beyond perfomance and security tweaks, it just doesn't offer much of an incentive to upgrade from 9.1. It's a bit sad in a way. I've been using Mandrake since I first got into Linux with 7.0 and each new release of Mandrake was exciting, but now we're left with a release which looks and feels much the same as the previous version and users are left to wonder where all the innovation has gone. Sure, we get newer kernel releases and a bigger version number when we do 'gcc -v', but I just don't get that feeling that I got when I could get an MPEG to play properly and smoothly for the first time in Mandrake 8.1 or the wealth of codec support when Mandrake included MPlayer with 9.1. Mandrake is a good Linux for someone moving over from Windows, but the newer releases just seem like more of the same.

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