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Distribution Watch: Out of the Box: Mandrake 8.1 Gaming Edition - page 2

Out of the Box

  • December 7, 2001
  • By Brian Proffitt

The first time you start X and log in, the First Time Wizard will pop up to help you set your desktop settings. This would be a cool feature if the keyboard input hadn't failed while I was running the program. Using the mouse was enough to at least to step me through the options, though a couple of options went unspecified for lack of a keyboard.

One other thing about the X start up. Prior to the log in screen is a very lengthy graphical warm-up sequence. If you are one of the few Linux users who does not believe in "always-on," you're going to be unpleasantly surprised about the amount of time it takes for MandrakeLinux to warm up.

Once things are up and happily running along, speed is no longer a concern. In both KDE (2.2.1) and GNOME (1.4.1), the desktop responses were very quick. It seems as time goes on, XFree86, in this case 4.1.3, gets more responsive. Menus and windows were snappy and quick. On-screen fonts in KDE, curiously, did not seem anti-aliased by default, though it was a simple matter to get that feature running.

MandrakeLinux has its own custom set of configuration tools, with Harddrake being at the leading edge for hardware configuration. Harddrake recognized everything on my system very well, with the exception of my sound card, which it did not want to deal with at all. I yanked the card in favor of an old standby, my 16-bit SoundBlaster card, and from then on, all went well. I plan on going back and getting my regular sound card up to speed later, though.

There are enough applets and toys to keep the geeks among us amused for quite some time. There are productive applications installed by default as well: StarOffice, KOffice, KPilot, and The GIMP. Again, no surprises here.

Dude, What About the Games?

Ah, the games. I have to say that without the addition of The Sims, this would have been a fairly blas� release of MandrakeLinux. In fact, if you aren't a big gamer, just get the Standard Edition and save yourself $40 in retail costs.

The Sims is more than a simple port of the popular Windows game over to the Linux platform. There is a second application, WineX, that has been developed by TransGaming Technologies to provide a Windows-like environment on which The Sims can run. In fact, The Sims CD really has just three RPMs: one for the game, one for the game's data, and one for the WineX for Sims.

You can first install The Sims during the DrakX installation of the platform, but upon the first start you will need to run through another quick installation routine to get the product finalized. TransGaming will also encourage you to subscribe to its online services, which I'll get to in just a minute.

After this brief step, The Sims will launch in all it's full-screen glory. Sound, animations, and input responses are perfectly fine. In fact, I found the game to be so robust and responsive, I plan on getting a Windows copy of the game just to compare the play of the game on each platform. Until then, take my word for it, this game runs without a hitch on Linux.

But is this just a special one-shot deal? Or can WineX handle other Windows games?

If you want to find out, you will need to get a full version of WineX for yourself. The version that comes with The Sims only runs with that game. You can get WineX's source code from its SourceForge Project Page or you can download RPM and DEB packages of WineX from TransGaming--if you pay the monthly $5 subscription fee. (If you chose to do the monthly renewal plan, you can get the first three months free.)

What this fee will get you is complete access to the TransGaming site, which includes general and per-game support. The level of support seems fairly high, but I sort of question the value for this subscription service. Yes, the support is there, and it seems all well and good, but besides the WineX packages, all you seem to pay for is the chance to vote on what games you would like TransGaming to direct their support efforts. Granted, $5 isn't going to break anybody, but I came away from this feeling a bit disappointed. The support material is good, but not very well organized. I had to dig to find an installation primer just to tell me what the heck to do with WineX.

Of course, once I did find that, then things got a lot clearer. So, I pulled out my Starfleet Command: Orion Pirates, Dune 2000, and one of my daughters' Reader Rabbit Games to see what would happen.

The best-running game was also the simplest: Reader Rabbit Preschool. The installation worked flawlessly, just as if I were using a Windows machine. WineX essentially creates a fake-out C:\ drive in your home directory that acts as the repository for all of the application's files. The only point at which the installation seemed to stall was during the write to Registry step. I chewed my nails just a little bit (because my four-year old was impatiently waiting for me to get her game installed), but eventually things kept moving right along without my intervention.

And yes, I am pleased to report that Reader Rabbit Preschool did very well. My little one reported no problems at all.

Dune 2000 also installed and ran perfectly. Splash screens and game interfaces all run within a window on the desktop, all nice and neat. Starfleet Command: OP, however, had some problems. The splash screens were rather distorted, and once I got the game running, I found out that the keyboard was not accepting input. If you ever played one of the SC games, you know this is a bad thing, since a mouse-only SC game is bad business.

Looking at the TransGaming forums later, I see that I am not the only person with this problem. TransGaming currently lists this game's status as untested by them and not something they are currently working on, so I would be curious to see the results of TransGaming turning their attention to this or any other untried game.

According to the TransGaming forums, Starcraft and Baldur's Gate are working very well atop WineX, but I need to go over to my friend's house and steal his Starcraft to make sure that this is indeed the case.

That is how MandrakeLinux 8.1 looks right out of the box. As part of a new feature of DistributionWatch, I will use MandrakeLinux 8.1 for at least another month, working with it on a daily basis to see how it runs under everyday conditions. Sometimes the best and worst features of a new distro are found much later than the initial installation phase.

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