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DistributionWatch Review: Linux-Mandrake 8.0

The Exciting and the Disturbing

May 10, 2001

MandrakeSoft, bless their souls, just doesn't seem to be content unless they release a Linux distribution that rides right up to the bleeding edge.

If you will recall from last fall, there was a minor hubbub afoot regarding the release of KDE 2.0 in the L-M 7.2 distribution. The boxes said KDE 2.0 beta, if you paid attention, but many users thought MandrakeSoft had released this environment way too early. This was most likely an argument based on principle than anything else, because I noted at the time that MandrakeSoft had clearly put some effort into their version of KDE 2.0 and had made it very stable.

MandrakeSoft, an apparent stickler for tradition, has done it again by releasing some GNOME products before their official gold releases. I find this both an exciting and disturbing phenomenon, which I will address later in this review.

There are three editions of L-M 8.0 hitting the shelves later this month: the Standard, which MandrakeSoft markets as a desktop workstation or a basic server; the PowerPack, essentially the Standard Edition jammed to the rafters with all the software MandrakeSoft could stuff onto seven CDs; and the new ProSuite edition, which is targeted for enterprise use. It will be interesting to see which tools show up in that edition, but, sadly, that is not the one I was sent to review.

DrakX: Simplification Personified

MandrakeSoft kindly sent me the Standard Edition of Linux-Mandrake 8.0, which they are targeting for the desktop user and low-end server (read: personal) market. Again, no documentation was sent along with the package, so if I point out something that will actually be handled in the documentation, then consider it bonus information.

I like to look at the documentation for one very simple reason: I want to see how these distributions are handling the job of explaining Linux to the uninitiated. I consider myself to be pretty knowledgeable in the ways of Linux, but I know that there are a fair number of new users out there who are not. Linux-Mandrake's Standard Edition is aimed right square at that user base, too.

Knowing this and looking at DrakX, I see a potential problem, because DrakX glosses over some of the importance of the individual steps that are taken in the installation process. For instance, DrakX does a very good job of breaking package groups out into logical groups: games, documentation, servers, etc. The server group lists several popular features: Web, FTP, mail. If someone were not "in the know" they might mistake this as a group of client applications and install it.

Granted, this would be a beginner's mistake, but that's who MandrakeSoft hopes will be using this edition.

As a whole, the installation process went very well. I was pleased to see that whatever glitch existed in LM 7.2 that did not properly install the module for my network card was fixed. Everything was detected and installed perfectly, except for the generic PS/2 wheel mouse I use on the test machine. Neither DrakX or L-M's hardware manager HardDrake could get that properly configured.

DrakX also recognized my partitions and properly installed itself in my disk's free space, which was nice to see. X Configuration went smoothly too, but again, I hope there's something in the documentation that explains why this is important to newcomers.

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