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Distribution Watch: A Month Later with Linux-Mandrake 8.1 - page 2

A Month Later

  • January 11, 2002
  • By Brian Proffitt

In my first review of Mandrake Linux 8.1, I did not get much farther than the initial setup and playing around with all the fancy new toys. Once that first look was finished, however, I had to get my machine up to my home office standards. For me, that means talking to the Internet, talking to my printers, and talking to the other machines on my network, including Windows and Mac machines.

The first goal was pretty much already established right after the install, since I use a DHCP server on my firewall to the outside world. I like this option because no matter how cranky Samba gets, I can be assured that all of my machines, whatever the operating system, are going to see the Internet.

Printing is another matter. I can directly hook an HP OfficeJet to my Linux box if I need to, but normally I just try to point the print queue at the HP OfficeJet connected to my wife's Windows 2000 machine on the other side of the office. I like this arrangement as a test, because its a quick way to assess the usability of whatever distro I'm testing. In this instance, I was able to use the CUPS tool within the Mandrake Control Center to hook into that remote printer without any hassles. Print speed was good for a remote connection, and fonts carried over well.

As far as Samba itself went, I have to admit that I've had easier times setting up Samba servers before. I tried to hold off and not just use the same old smb.conf file I use on my network--unless I really have to. The whole point of a review, after all, is to see how the GUI tools configure smb.conf from scratch. After a couple of false starts, I was able to get everything on my network talking to each other. And, since I was using Samba, it was also possible to get my Mandrake Linux box to converse with the Mac OS X machine--a recent newcomer to my network that also uses Samba. That was a rather surreal experience, but it's doable.

Ups and Downs

Beyond my initial goals, I found some ups and downs with configuration of Mandrake Linux as I used it over the past month.

One of the ups was just how fast everything seemed to work, particular in the GNOME environment, where things just blazed by. This may seem ironic, given Mandrake Linux's long-standing support of KDE, but I did a better impression of speed in many activities in GNOME than in the primary KDE environment. KDE wasn't pokey, mind you, there was just always this hesitant little pause before things got going.

Another up was the Mandrake Control Center, which is Mandrake Linux's answer to a centralized operating system control panel. With just one exception, I found the components in the Control Center to be easy to use and very responsive.

That exception leads me to one of the downs: the Control Center's Software management tool. I had occasion to use this tool several times over the course of the month and I found that this was a really slow app. On every start up, all of the sources would be checked for potential changes so a list of what could be installed and what was already installed could be generated. I would have rather the program just started and given me the option to manually start a check for changes, but if there was such a method, I could not find it.

The problem was, this was the GUI's primary way of getting into rpminst, the app for installing RPM packages in Mandrake Linux. Towards the end of the month, I was just clicking on the RPMs directly in the Konqueror or Nautilus file managers to bypass the Control Center and (since rpminst was pretty darn slow too) by the very end of the month, I had pulled out my copy of Running Linux to review all of the RPM command line parameters and just doing it that way.

Of all of the problems I had over the month, this one was the one that bugged me the most. It's not a showstopper, by any means, but a little oomph to these processes in future releases would not be unwelcome.

Another down worth reporting turned out not to be such a big deal--but until I located the solution, I was about ready to call my editor and chuck the whole review altogether. Such is the powerful hold games have on us: when they work, we are content, and when they don't, the whole world is crashing down around us.

In the initial review, I reported (quite sincerely) that The Sims, which is the game custom-fit with its own version of WineX for Mandrake Linux worked like a charm. Sound, speed, graphics--all was running well. Then, about a week into it, the trouble started. They say that on the seventh day, the Almighty kicked back for a break. Well, on my seventh day, my Sim world's sound decided to take a break from me.

No longer could I hear my little creations as the roamed about the world I had fashioned for them. The sound was gone, and I was seriously upset. On every other aspect of Mandrake Linux, the sound was working fine. My CDs were blaring from the speakers, Gaim was chiming whenever someone IM'ed me... what the heck was going on here?

About two days into this aggravation, I found the solution prominently displayed in the little 18-page "Install and Quick Reference" booklet for The Sims that came with the box. Not the big 108-page manual that also came in the release, mind you, which is what I had been checking. Nope, just in the little guide, which had a nice little Troubleshooting FAQ on page 9 that told me that my KDE sound server might be interfering with the game's sound. This clicked for me, since I remembered turning on the KDE sound server after the initial review. I turned the sound server off and found that I could hear The Sims again.

I am not ungrateful for the help I found in the guide, not by any means. But is it that hard for TransGaming or Mandrake Linux to switch off a running sound server during game start? Maybe it is, but if if not, that would definitely be one thing for the "To Be Fixed" list.

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