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Distribution Watch: A Month Later with Linux-Mandrake 8.1
A Month Later
January 11, 2002
It has been over a month since I first installed MandrakeLinux 8.1 Gaming Edition on my primary home machine and after a grueling month of use, I am here to report that Mandrake Linux has been surprisingly deft and convenient to use.
Admittedly, in the past, I have always been a little suspicious of Mandrake Linux. Indeed, some of my direct experiences with this distribution have left me feeling a bit shafted and wondering if Mandrake Linux was some joke the French were paying back on me after I ticked off their customs officials back in 1987. I immediately discounted this theory when I realized the obvious: everyone ticks off the French customs officials, so it wasn't just me.
Still, when Gael Duval released Mandrake Linux 5.1 back in 1998, this distribution had some major obstacles to overcome. A derivative of Red Hat, Linux-Mandrake was always targeted at the home user, a target Red Hat itself seemed to briefly flirt with back in the late Nineties until Bob Young decided to shift the focus of Red Hat to the more lucrative (and less mercurial) server market.
This decision by Red Hat may have done Mandrake Linux a huge favor--by separating itself from the home market, Red Hat's departure left the field relatively clear of competitors for the French distribution. The only major challenger thus far is SuSE Linux, which still maintains its Personal Edition. But even here, there is a caveat: SuSE's own marketing statements push their Personal Edition towards "the advanced home user."
Mandrake Linux has no such compunctions. They unashamedly want to kick Windows off of users' desktops and be a direct replacement for the Microsoft operating system. And while one would expect that this would be a laudable goal in the minds of most Linux supporters, in actuality Mandrake Linux's goals have frequently landed the distribution in hot water with many in the Linux community. Critics of Mandrake Linux have cited that it is a distribution that tries to out-Windows Windows. And while world domination isn't far from the minds of the Linux faithful, taking on even the appearance of the Opposition is apparently enough to attract venomous statements.
It didn't help, certainly, that MandrakeSoft, Mandrake Linux's parent company, was one of those Linux distros that puts a lot of funding and personnel resources into KDE. Given the amount of controversy that surrounded KDE before its developers released the desktop environment under the GPL, this was not the most popular horse for MandrakeSoft to bet on. Even today, Mandrake Linux takes quite a bit of heat for its KDE support from users that don't like KDE because it's (a) not GNOME, (b) an anti-GPL, anti-freedom environment that's all part of a plot by TrollTech to rule the world, and (c) not GNOME.
These particular criticisms are no less than any of the other distros get, but Mandrake Linux seems to be the brunt of a huge Linux user pile-on for vehemence. In the end, much of the unique displeasure for Mandrake Linux appears to be the fact that it is trying to be the "easy" Linux distribution--something that many hardcore Linux user can't help but find offensive.
Through all of these storms, Mandrake Linux had its own internal battles to fight. To be easy, the developers apparently recognized that this would have to be a piece of cake to install, for a tough installation is the bugaboo that will scare off Joe User faster than KISS showing up at a tent revival. Until Mandrake Linux 7.0, installation was something Mandrake Linux had a lot to work on. With 7.0, the DrakX installer seemed to turn around. Things were picking up for the rest of the packages, too, though the 2.4 kernel, KDE 2.0, and GNOME 1.4 were still a ways off. When these milestones arrived on the scene, all the pieces seemed to really fall into place for Mandrake Linux.
Mandrake's partnership with Macmillan Software as its U.S. distributor hasn't hurt the distribution a bit. Macmillan, now called Pearson Education, had a nice little toehold on the U.S. retail channels already from its sales of second-tier games. This is the match that led Mandrake Linux to show up on the shelves of Wal-Mart. Odd sight that it seems, this channel hasn't seemed to detract from Mandrake Linux's success. [Author's disclosure: I am a former employee of another division of Macmillan, Sams Publishing. I currently perform freelance editorial work for Pearson Education.]
In Mandrake Linux's continued quest to soak up as much of the home user market as it can, it is concentrating on that all-important arena of home use: gaming. And, working with TransGaming Technologies to integrate WineX into Mandrake Linux, MandrakeSoft has released the Gamer's Edition of Mandrake Linux 8.1.
It was this version of Mandrake Linux that I set out to live with on the 350-MHz Pentium II machine that serves as my primary work and test platform.