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DistributionWatch Review: Linux-Mandrake 7.0 - page 4

Perfection, Except for the Documentation

  • April 7, 2000
  • By Kevin Reichard

After Linux-Mandrake has been installed, you'll still need to perform some additional system configuration from a command line. The default in Linux-Mandrake is to use KDM for system logins and authentication (unless X wasn't correctly configured, in which case Linux-Mandrake loads in console mode), so after logging in you can run DrakConf for system configuration.

Basically, DrakConf is an umbrella for several basic system-configuration tools. The tools on DrakConf configure X, add and mange users, set security levels, define startup services, add packages via the KDE package manager, choose a keyboard, configure a network connection, and oversee printer support. (The accompanying screen shot shows DrakConf in action.)

There tools provides access to most of your daily configuration tasks, and for the new and inexperienced Linux user they are a godsend. We used DrakConf to make changes to our X installation and configure a new printer. (In both cases Linux-Mandrake accurately configured both upon installation, but we made changes to our hardware.) In the cases where DrakConf can't make changes, there are a few other tools at your disposal: the venerable linuxconf can be used to configure pretty near everything on your Linux system, while the open-source Lothar (the result of a project sponsored by MandrakeSoft) configures sound cards. Sadly, a Linux newbie wouldn't know about these tools, as DrakConf and Lothar are not mentioned or minimally mentioned in the documentation.

One nice thing about Linux-Mandrake system configuration is that it isn't necessary to be logged in as root to perform many tasks that traditionally fall under the heading of protected system administration. Linux-Mandrake goes to the point of discouraging users form logging in as root, so tasks like mounting drives and installing packages can be done by non-root users. In addition, if you do try and do a task that's reserved for the root user, Linux-Mandrake doesn't demand an su or relogin, just the root password.

As mentioned, the KDM authorization manager is the default, so as you'd expect KDE is the default window manager, and many of these MandrakeSoft tools are prominently featured on the KDE desktop. The Linux-Mandrake designers did a nice job of designing the desktop with a custom background and every essential tool is prominently displayed as an icon somewhere on the screen. (This is diametrically opposed to Red Hat Linux 6.2, which features a minimal desktop dominated by self-serving Red Hat logos, such as a link to the Red Hat Linux errata page, pretty much worthless on a daily basis.) Even through KDE is the default, Linux-Mandrake includes a slew of other desktop environments, including GNOME, Enlightenment, AfterStep, WindowMaker, IceWM, XFCE, and fvwm. (Default in this situation is somewhat fluid, as you can choose to load GNOME or another window manager directly from KDM.)

Linux-Mandrake 7.0 is optimized for the Pentium architecture, so anyone using an older machine--like a 486--will probably want to avoid it. However, MandrakeSoft hasn't left behind those with 486s; they can go to the Linux-Mandrake Web site and download an older version of Linux-Mandrake (5.3) and use that one.

Lothar has the potential to be an essential Linux tool. Distributed as open source and available for any Linux distribution, Lothar is a GUI-based tool that detects system I/O, IRQ, and XFree86 settings to make sure that devices like sound cards and network cards are properly installed. It's module-based, so anyone who introduces a new device could in theory introduce a new module to address these new needs.

Linux-Mandrake features several tools for making sure a system is always up to date. To make changes to the system, the automated MandrakeUpdate tool will go over the Net and tell you what needs updating. Rpmdrake is a graphical front end to RPM that updates and installs RPM packages. (Shown in the accompanying screen shot.)

If you're looking for a great Linux distribution for download and can burn your own CDs, Linux-Mandrake 7.0 ranks with the best Linux distributions (only Corel Linux and Slackware Linux can compare at this time) and is well worth your time. If you're an experienced user and don't need documentation, check out the $55 Linux-Mandrake 7.0 PowerPack distribution: it comes with a slew of useful third-party tools, and the payment is justified by the convenience factor. Our only warning and our only reservation: a new Linux user who will rely on the documentation as a guide through installation and configuration should think twice about Linux-Mandrake 7.0; the documentation is simply horrible, and you'll miss out on many essential and important Linux-Mandrake tools unless you spend a lot of time poking around the system. In either case, however, Linux-Mandrake is a leading Linux distribution that should be seriously considered by anyone with a commitment to Linux.


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