Originally Published: Friday, 26 October 2001 Author: David Mckee
Published to: enhance_articles_sysadmin/Sysadmin Page: 1/3 - [Printable]

First Impressions of Mandrake 8.1

Those of us with few other skills are always thinking about: "what will be the next big hot thing?" Well, here's a clue, two Mandrake 8.1 reviews in a single week on Linux.com. Is that an astonishing development, or what? Is this distro as hot as these tantalizing statistical indicators would lead us to believe? Read on for the exciting conclusions.

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Mandrake has long been heralded as the best Distribution for new users. From its reputation of an easy to use installer, excellent hardware support, good package management and a familiar user interface. Mandrake's latest offering continues this tradition, and adds a few new twists.

Please note this is not a HOW-TO but a review. So other then quirks we ran into we will not be making suggestions on how you should install Mandrake. There is just to many variables and possible combinations to try and attempt that here.

First a look at the computer used for this review

CPU: True Intel Mendocino Celeron 533MHz
RAM: 192MB PC100 SDRAM
Storage: 10.2 Gig Maxtor IDE drive ata66, standard 1.44mb Floppy disk Multimedia: AC 97 Compatible soundchip, Intel I810 chipset on-board AGP video chip
Peripherals: HP Deskjet 612c Injet printer, Dexxa PS/2 Optical wheel mouse, Default HP pavilion 105 key keyboard NEC MultiSync 75 Monitor, 2-USB ports (not-used)

The Mandrake 8.1 Install

Those of you who have used Mandrake before will be pleased to know that the installers front-end remains a familiar one, from even back in 7.0. One thing I have always liked about the installer is how easy it is to go back. The left hand side of the installer has a menu listing all that can be done. The advantage of this is that at anytime you can go back to, say "portioning" and you are taken back to that section of the install, and can choose again. While this is not unique to Mandrake, the ease with how you can make these reversals is. Oh! Unlike some other distros we have tested this feature actually worked right the first time.

While speaking of partitioning, I did the install two ways. Once with the Harddrive being all FAT32, and once without Microsoft Windows on the drive at all. Mandrakes portioning tool managed to shrink the Windows partition without a hitch. Installation time has taken a turn for the better. We where up and running and surfing the net within an hour.

Pre-Package Installation

While Mandrake has always had excellent hardware support, some quirks still exist. Mouse detection is lacking. I could not get Mandrake to get my mouse correct even in advanced mode. Choosing even Generic PS/2 wheel-mouse caused the computer and installer to freeze up solid, and nothing short of hitting the power button would recover it. This has been a problem with Mandrake on this machine for at least back to Mandrake 7.2, so your milage may vary.

Another fault I did find with the installer is no options to set your Location or time zone. While hardly the end of the world, these options really should be present at the pre-install. Even when you have installed all of Mandrake, setting up the time zone is going to confuse some users. Don't go looking for things like Canada-Mountain Time, you won't find it. Everything is grouped as "America/city" While it was fine that I noticed America/Vancouver this is not a logical setup.

Users of 8.1 are going to love the File system options, although ResierFS was also in 8.0. You can choose to use EXT2, EXT3, ResierFS, IBM's implementations of JFS, as well as creating FAT partitions. Portioning is done via the GUI and is point-'n-click, and as with previous releases, it went perfectly. Even when we shrank the Windows partition to accommodate Linux on one install. The portion software in Mandrake's installer shrunk it perfectly, without error. Though some user knowledge is required, such as how much free space they actually have. So be careful when shrinking your FAT partition, as Mandrake has no idea how much space you are actually using on that drive. This is true of any Linux distribution, so get used to trying do some pre-install searching of your hardware, and drives etc.

Default Package Choices

I highly suggest users pay attention to this part of the install. For whatever reason Mandrake still does not select install Dev packages by default, or even most of the documentation. This is true even if a user chooses "recommended" and not "Expert" as their install setting, a major mistake in my opinion. Without choosing the dev stuff, you cannot compile programs properly. Also, for those tight on Drive space, DO choose to go through the packages individually. If you don't do this, even if you don't have a PALM-PILOT, packages for Palm synchronization will be installed. While this is handy for users, it is also a waste of space if a Palm was not detected. However, a plus is the fact that individual selection is the default. In addition you can't install a package if you earlier deselected a package needed for it to function. The installer checks for dependencies, a big plus for many users. In closing I will say the package manager choices are clear, easy to follow, and install the packages extremely quickly compared to previous releases of Mandrake

Post Install Configuration

Mandrake the company has put work into their install time, it's fast. Once your install is done Mandrake will present you with a summary of your hardware. Here we find what I think has to be a bug. As with all releases of Mandrake this summary indicates "No printer" even though there is one. Clicking the entry "no printer" opens a new screen asking "do you want to add one", and if it is local or remote. Now, as this printer is local it should have been detected from the outset. When we choose Local it installs quite a few packages, and boom there it is: the installer detected the printer and model this second time around. While not a big problem, a first time user could get the impression their printer will not work with Mandrake. Other then that, detection of the hardware was fine, and the printer did a test page when asked. While on the subject of printers, Mandrake is the only distribution I have ever got a Xerox DocuPrint M750 USB printer to do color with by default. In case you'r wondering, the test page in Linux looks better then the Windows test-page :) even though it is only using 600x600 dpi.




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