Mandrake Linux 10 Community Edition: The Potential is Now Obvious

I have completely skipped Mandrake Linux 9.2 because previous versions of Mandrake Linux were not exactly that “glamorous”. However, I wanted to try out the new Linux kernel 2.6.x on my new Linare PC and so I decided to give Mandrake 10.0 Community Edition a spin. Here are some quick thoughts on it on how MandrakeSoft has earned back my trust with this release. Update: MadPenguin reviews it too. UPDATE 2: More bugs, more bugs. I have changed the rating of the software because as much as I keep using it, I find more and more and more bugs all over the place. MandrakeSoft should REALLY sit down and think hard about their QA department (I have already emailed them about it).The goodies

Click for a larger view Installation went through fine (except that it asked me for a non-existent 4th CD (possibly part of the non-community version)). Mandrake booted in graphical mode all the way (by default) and a KDE 3.2 desktop was unveiled. I liked how MandrakeSoft has organized the menus this time around with the help of KDE 3.2: few sub-categories and only the needed software installed (that’s for the default installation). The only problem with the menus was that for the system tools sometimes you had to go hunt deep into the tree (e.g. the gnome pref panels).

My biggest welcome surprise was the fact that Mandrake now installs by default a video editor, KDEnLive! At last, a distribution that is sensitive enough to the sign of the times and includes a solution –even if that solution is still very alpha. It shows sensitivity to the multimedia issue and I liked that. There is also the option to install Kino, the gnome video editor.

Click for a larger view Other software options include OOo, Galeon, Epiphany, Mozilla, Kontact, Evolution, you know, the usual. Mdk 10 also comes with kernel 2.6.3 which seems to work fine on this Linare PC. Only my $20 USB webcam I bought at Frys 3 weeks ago is not recognized (2.4.x doesn’t recognize it either).

Mdk10 also comes with Xine, Mplayer, Xmovie, Totem but without Rhythmbox, Mono or Muine. There are quite a few CD burners included, including the eRoaster which I never heard before (still pre-release).

The overall speed of Mandrake 10 on this 1.3 GHz AMD Duron seems comparable to my Slackware 9.1-Current on my AthlonXP 1.4 GHz (1600+), booting is a bit slow because of all the services, but usage speed seems comparable (Slackware still uses kernel 2.4.x).

For those who read my yesterday’s review of the Linare PC would remember the adventures I had with both Linare Linux and Xandros for the SiS 740 driver. Mandrake’s Xfree 4.3 had absolutely no problem. It found the card, found the right monitor, and it used the right resolution/depth and refresh rate out of the box without me having to tell it anything: 1280x1024x24bpp @ 85 Hz.

The bugs

Mandrake Linux 10 is not without its flaws though. Here is a quick list:

Click for a larger view 1. KDE’s Kontact will reproducibly crash when clicking on its “notes” button.
2. For the love of me, I can’t change the theme on Gnome. I had to yank completely the ~/.gtkrc and ~/.gtkrc-2.0 in order to get the theme I wanted! When the user says “I want theme X”, the theme manager should do so.
3. During installation and later in the drak time/date tools, I told it that I am in the “Los Angeles” area and also instructed it to use a time server. Mdk would just not listen. It was stuck on the default “New York” timezone and it wouldn’t use the time server. I had to change the time by hand…
4. No matter how much work MandrakeSoft puts into their drak tools, most of them are still butt ugly (e.g. “Manage connections”), they don’t follow usability rules and they don’t refresh their windows enough, as you can see in the shot. Others will resize the buttons as you resize their window. Ugly!
5. The “Install” drak tool is buggy. I spent 15 minutes going throw the whole list and check the software I wanted for additional installation, only to get the installation bail out after a while saying that hylafax is conflicting with some other lib, and upon retry, it would then bail out telling me that a whole bunch of RPMs were not “signed” correctly, and after that point the “URPMI was locked”, and so I had to restart my installation effort from the very beginning. At the end –by doing installation for only few packages at the time– I was able to get what I wanted, but that was not a great experience. Plus when installing the RPMs, the installation window wouldn’t refresh, giving the impression that it was crashed (it’s not). I am shouting for this very thing on Mandrake Linux tools for 2 years now. Anyone listens?
Click for a larger view 6. Check the screenshot in this article, after you close the Bittorrent-gui “Open file” dialog you get that thing with no scrollbars (and I have pointed the exact same thing with LinuxConf on my review of Mandrake 9.0, 1.5 years ago).
7. The Drak-fax tells me that in order to configure the Fax server I have to give my root password after I hit “ok”, but by doing so it never asks me for any password and it doesn’t give me the fax server dialog!

(Update: Bugs, more bugs…)

Update: Even more bugs:
a. After rebooting Mdk, it would fail to load my eth0. People said that I had to go and disable “networking hotplugging”, well fix it then! There is no reason why a network card was working on the first boot and not able to
work after a reboot and the user would have to go disable stuff manually!

b. I wanted to change the “/usr/games/frozen-bubble” command in the menu drake to “artsdsp /usr/games/frozen-bubble” to go around another bug which was crashing the app when its Sound is on, and guess what. MenuDrake brought back to life (without anyone requesting it) the defuncted “What To Do ->” submenu out of nowhere.

The Mandrake-specific tools have seen many updates again and new tools were added. However some they now are more confusing than before. There are so many tools spread across different options that they don’t feel elegant at all. For example, we got different pref panels for “X server”, for “monitor” and for the “gfx driver”. Why the bloat when you can have all three options on the same panel nicely layed out? And why a “Manage Connections” and a “New Connection” and a “Remove a Connection”? All these options are relatives, but it feels that they spread themselves thin all over the place just to fill up the “Network & Internet” sub-category. MandrakeSoft should get a clue from Mac OS X’s preference panels on this one. MandrakeSoft should put together panels that make sense to be together and not fill out screens after screens with panels that for example only have two radio-buttons and nothing else and they could be part of another related panel.

Additionally, configuring CUPS seems to be indeed a nightmare. All these confusing options on the printing submenu about Lexmark, a printer that I don’t have… Sending a fax is not as straightforward as it is on Mac OS X either.

Also, urpmi is awkward. Its setup is not elegant, I would much prefer preconfigured servers based on my location and a nice gui tool for installing new apps.

I truly hope that MandrakeSoft will fix the remaining bugs for the commercial version in 1-2 months, ’cause I will be watching…


Click for a larger view Despite the problems above, I must say that I have re-affirmed my trust to Mandrake Linux. All previous Mandrakes were filled with dissapointment for me, but this time I believe MandrakeSoft has created something that is much-much better than in the past. If MandrakeSoft pulls it off and fixes the problems above, they got a winner. In fact, I believe that this is the highest score I ever gave to any Linux distro so far.

For the next PC I would be buying for my little brother (not so little at 25 years old, but he still is the baby brother for me), it would be with Mandrake Linux in it. Slackware is still my favorite (overall score 7.83/10 in my Slackware 9.1 review) because of its simplicity under the hood, however Mandrake Linux 10 has all the tools/software a newbie needs to start off with Linux. Just fix the obvious bugs please!

Installation: 9.5/10
Hardware Support: 9/10
Ease of use: 8/10
Features: 8/10
Credibility: 5/10 (stability, bugs, security) (it was 7 before this change)
Speed: 8/10 (UI responsiveness, latency, throughput)

Overall: 7.91/10 (it was 8.25 before this change)


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