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VNU Net: Mandrake Linux Deluxe [Review]

Jun 23, 2000, 22:23 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Nik Rawlinson)

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By Nik Rawlinson, VNU Net

A commercial version of the open-source OS, with an ease of installation that makes it worth every penny.

Earlier releases of Mandrake's variant of the open-source Linux operating system have received acclaim right across the board. Perhaps its greatest asset is that it's based on Red Hat, reckoned by many to be the best Linux available. But rather than simply re-badging an existing product, Macmillan Software has taken things a step further and effectively out-Red Hatted Red Hat. This latest version is based on the 2.2.14 kernel, which is currently the most recent stable kernel, although 2.3.99 is now in alpha.

In the best tradition of Linux benching, we decided to test it on a system with fairly low specifications - a two-year-old Cyrix based PC with a 233Mhz processor, 32Mb of RAM and a tiny hard drive of not much over 500Mb. This had previously been running Corel Linux, so we were keen to see whether Mandrake would be lazy and install into the existing partitions or show a little initiative and define its own. As it turned out, it opted for the latter, although it still gave us the chance to maintain the disk state as it was. In the end, we hit the button to clear what was already in place and then asked Mandrake to define its own partitions. For easy identification, these were colour coded in the onscreen diagram.

This was just one of 15 steps, each of which sits beside a traffic light that turns from red to green to indicate your progress. While 15 steps might sound a lot, it isn't really when you consider that things like adding a user name and password takes up a step, as does installing a printer or telling the system in which time zone it is to be used. Of course, this is still more involved than the default process for Corel Linux, but this method gives you far more flexibility.

We liked the way Mandrake handled package installation. We were using a small drive, so had no chance of installing everything we might have wanted. We were therefore able to select broad package categories along the lines of 'communications' or 'office' and then, after a warning that we would not be able to fit everything onto our hard drive, use a sliding bar to select the size of installation with which we would be happy to proceed. What we ended up with was a working installation that, although a little sluggish because we had put it to the test on a machine that did not quite meet the required specs, would make a competent office or home platform.

Linux Mandrake Deluxe comes on a mammoth collection of no fewer than six CDs. The first of these is bootable, but if your BIOS doesn't allow you to install in this way you can revert to the more common boot floppy.

If you're new to Linux it's worth paying for a retail package like this for the bundled support. In this instance that support comes from Linuxcare, which guarantees to respond to any enquiry within 24 hours, provided certain system information is sent with every problem.

When you consider what you would have to pay for an equivalent 'Windows' installation, Mandrake comes out as extraordinary value for money. Three of the additional CDs include more than 900 applications including Star Office 5.1a, Corel WordPerfect 8 Lite (one step down from that found in Corel Linux), everything you need to access the internet, the IBM ViaVoice SDK and a whole host of applications for running a web server.

The documentation is extensive. As well as the usual disc based manuals, you get a chunky user guide and reference manual. We did wonder at times in which language it had originally been written, especially with gems such as:

'What is Samba? You must tell, an implementation of an exotic dance for Linux. What does this mean, indeed? No, it has nothing to see with the Brazilian dance, it is a server for SMB clients ...'

Such nuggets of pure nonsense are few and far between, though, and the documentation is, on the whole, comprehensive and easy to follow.

If the only thing stopping you installing a Linux distribution to date has been the fear that it'll be beyond your technical ability, perhaps this is the time to give it a go. You no longer have to worry about manually mounting drives, and an automated update utility ensures you are always running the most up-to-date system.

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