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November 13, 2002

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Mandrake Linux 9.0, Desktop Magic You Can Use: A First Look

Mike Angelo -- 13 November 2002 (C)

Article Index

Are you looking for a desktop Linux that you can use right out of the box? If so, give Mandrake Linux 9.0 a quick spin. Whether you are an experienced Linux user, a Microsoft Windows user, new to computers, or an IT-IS manager, Mandrake Linux 9.0 could be the operating system (OS) for you or your organization.

Mandrake 9.0 is easy to install, easy to use, and has tools you can use to get your work done. Moreover, Mandrake 9.0 lets you see and edit Windows files and documents easily.

If you are into fun, gaming, and entertainment computing rather than productivity and work computing, Mandrake 9.0 has lots to offer there too.


One thing that is particularly impressive with Mandrake Linux 9.0 is that it is a Linux distribution that you actually can use all the time. Many people have multi-boot boxes with both the Linux and Microsoft Windows operating systems installed on them. They do some tasks in Linux and some in MS Windows -- from time to time rebooting into Linux from Windows, or from Windows to Linux. With Mandrake Linux 9.0, there is little need to boot into Microsoft Windows.

Before installing Mandrake 9.0, this writer would seldom stay booted in Linux for more than a day at a time on a multi-boot, workstation computer -- because there were things to do that were better done in MS Windows. So it was that continual rebooting, into Linux from Windows or from Windows to Linux, on the multi-boot boxes.

However, with Mandrake 9.0, that has changed. Now one of the multi-boot boxes with Mandrake 9.0 installed on it stays booted in Mandrake Linux 9.0 most of the time. If that sounds like a hands-on recommendation for Mandrake Linux 9.0, it is.

One reason that box stays booted into Mandrake Linux 9.0 most of the time now is the ease of accessing FAT32 partitions on that box -- plus the ease of accessing shared resources on MS-Windows-based computers connected to the local network. Another is that the KDE 3.0.3 desktop suite configuration in Mandrake 9.0 is very functional and easy to use.

Note 1: Overall, the Microsoft Office suite products are more feature-rich, easier-to-use, more user friendly, and more functional than are the AbiWord, KOffice, and OpenOffice products. However, that gap is closing. Moreover, that gap is now close enough that for less complex or less intense office/work/school productivity tasks, you do not need to reboot into MS Windows so that you can use the Microsoft Office suite products. Interestingly, some writers have indicated they feel the Office Suite Gap is based on the .doc file format. We do not believe the Office Suite Gap is a matter of file formats, other than Linux office tools need to be able to read and to write .doc, .xls, and other Microsoft Office files. Rather, we believe the Office Suite Gap is a function of feature-richness, ease-of-use, functionality, and so forth. If and when the Linux-based office software becomes more feature-rich, easier-to-use, more user-friendly, and more functional than the MS Office software, Linux easily could become the operating system of choice. The Office Suite Gap is in the functionality, not in the file formats.)

Tech Tip 1: If you use LiLo (Linux Loader) to boot Mandrake 9.0, at the very first text screen that comes up hit <esc>. You have to hit <esc> before the boot process has time to move past this point. Then insert the line linux noapic and hit <enter>. If you use the GRUB loader, type and enter e at the first text screen that comes up in order to enter the edit mode. Then type and enter e again in order to edit the boot parameters line. When the white text on black background command line prompt appears, hit the <space> key, then type and enter noapic. Next, hit the <esc> key to get back to the initial GRUB screen and hit <enter> to proceed with the boot process. FYI, this problem and its solution is discussed in a MandrakeForum post, ML 9.0 Troubleshooting: Problems with USB, by Deno (MandrakeSoft's Denis Havlik). Link in the Resources section at the end of this article.

The combination of improvements in AbiWord 1.0.2, KWord 1.2 (on KDE 3.0.3), and OpenOffice 1.0.1 Writer now provide a viable word-smithing environment for Mandrake 9.0. Additionally, the totality of improvements in the KOffice and the OpenOffice productivity suites included with Mandrake 9.0 now provide a viable collection of office, work, and school productivity tools. That means that for the most part, it no longer is necessary to reboot into Microsoft Windows in order to use MS Word, MS Excel, and the other Microsoft Office tools. (Please see Note 1 in the right side-bar.)

Something else that impressed us about Mandrake Linux 9.0 is its ability to deal with USB devices. So far, Mandrake Linux 9.0 outperforms Red Hat 8.0 and SuSE 8.1 USB-wise on our test machines.

It seems that the Linux kernel still has problems with USB. We experienced some of those problems on our test boxes with all three leading Linux distributions, Mandrake 9.0, Red Hat 8.0, and SuSE 8.1. However, by merely adding the noapic boot parameter to our Mandrake 9.0 installations, those problems went away on our Mandrake 9.0 installations. (Please see Tech Tip 1 in the right side-bar.)

Because Mandrake 9.0 can deal with our USB devices, we do not need to reboot into Windows in order to use those USB devices. Yet another reason that multi-boot box stays booted into Mandrake Linux 9.0 most of the time now

In just a few years, Mandrake Linux has earned its place as one of the top three Linux distributions, market-share-wise. Moreover, it does very well in the popularity poles.

DesktopLinux has been conducting an interesting, on-line, reader poll. Readers are asked which distribution(s) they use (or plan to use) for desktop purposes. The results over a seven-month period through 26 July 2002 show Mandrake a clear leader, with about 32% of the total vote followed by SuSE with about 16% and Red Hat with about 12%. Updated results of the continuing poll show that over the ten-month period ending 3 October 2002, Mandrake still is a clear leader with about 26% of the total vote followed by Red Hat with about 12% and SuSE with about 12%. Please see Figure 1.

The July results of the DesktopLinux poll are based upon 2,640 responses and the October results are based upon 4,441 responses. Jill Ratkevic, DesktopLinux Producer, told MozillaQuest Magazine that the poll uses a combination of IPs and cookies to protect against multiple voting.

Today's first look at Mandrake Linux 9.0 focuses on the three-CD, free-download offering of the Mandrake Linux 9.0 Standard edition, which is available now. Mandrake also produces a seven-CD PowerPack edition ($69) and an eight-CD plus one-DVD ProSuite edition ($199). The Mandrake Linux 9.0 ProSuite Edition was Linux Standard Base certified (LSB 1.2) on Sept 25th, 2002.

You can download the PowerPack or ProSuite edition now as an online purchase. Retail pack, boxed-sets now are available too. There also is a retail-pack boxed-set version of the three-CD download Standard edition for $30. (All prices are in United States of America currency.)

Figure 1. DesktopLinux on-line, reader poll of 4,441 responses. (Link in Resources section at end of this article.)

Mandrake 9.0 Standard Edition at a Glance

Mandrake 9.0 is based upon the 2.4.19 Linux kernel and features:

  • Apache 1.3.26 Web server
  • Galeon 1.2.5 Web browser
  • GCC 3.2
  • glibc 2.2.5
  • GNOME 2.0.1 desktop suite
  • KDE 3.0.3 desktop suite
  • KOffice 1.2 productivity suite
  • Konqueror 3.0.3 Web browser and file manager
  • Nautilis 2.0.5 File Manager
  • OpenOffice 1.0.1 productivity suite
  • The Gimp 1.2.3 Image Editor
  • XFree86 3.3.6
  • XFree86 4.2.1
  • XMMS 1.2.7 Music Player
  • and lots more.

Mandrake Desktop Linux v. Microsoft

Microsoft owns some 85% to 90% (maybe more) of the personal-computer operating-system market. If Linux is to become more of a major player in that operating system arena, it has its work cut out for it. It has to make it easy and desirable for MS Windows users to migrate to Linux.

The Mandrake Linux 9.0 desktop does several things to make it easy for Microsoft Windows users to migrate to Linux. One is that you can read and write to Windows partitions on a multi-boot Mandrake Linux 9.0 and MS Windows box easily. Another is that you can see, read, and write to MS Windows shares on a LAN (local area network) from your Mandrake Linux 9.0 computer easily and vice-versa.

That means that Microsoft Windows users who want to try Mandrake Linux and/or switch to Mandrake Linux can do so without losing access to their MS windows files and data while they are in a Mandrake Linux 9.0 boot. That's particularly important!

Easy to View FAT32 Partitions

During the Mandrake Linux 9.0 installation process, the installer locates all the FAT32 (Windows 9.x-formatted partitions) on a multi-boot Mandrake Linux 9.0 and MS Windows computer. Then it transparently adds those Windows partitions to the configuration file that keeps track of such things, fstab (File System TABle).

After that, whenever you boot your Mandrake Linux 9.0 installation, all the MS Windows FAT32 partitions are available to you for read or write access -- if you know where to look for them. They are listed in the /mnt folder. Please see Figure 2, below.

Figure 2. The KDE Konqueror file manager on the Mandrake 9.0 KDE desktop opened to the /mnt directory.

Easy to View Network Neighborhood

LinNeighborhood is a very handy third party network utility, which lets you easily see Windows shares on your LAN from your Linux computer. It is not included with the Mandrake Linux 9.0 Standard edition. However, there is an easily installed Mandrake 9.0 compatible binary (RPM) located on at least some of the Mandrake download mirrors. (Please see our article Linux for Windows Users #6: Using LinNeighborhood to Create a Network Neighborhood for Linux for links.)

You can use LinNeighborhood to mount shared Windows resources such as directories, files, printers, and so forth so that you can access them from your Mandrake Linux 9.0 computer. Mounting network shares is not a big thing for experienced, command-line, Linux power users. However, utilities such as LinNeighborhood, Gnomba, Komba2, and so forth that make it easy to mount network shares are very important to and useful for Linux beginners, computer newbies, and people migrating from MS Windows to Linux.

In Figure 3, a Windows-like Network Neighborhood directory (folder) has been added to the user's home directory. Then LinNeighborhood was used to add a Windows-based computer share to the Network Neighborhood directory. You can mount a share to any directory you like. The Network Neighborhood directory was created for mounting the Windows share in order make things simpler for Windows users who are use to the Network Neighborhood directory-metaphor.

You also can use LinNeighborhood to mount shares from other Linux machines on your LAN too. In order to do that, the root user (system administrator) for each such Linux box will have to add you as a Samba user on that box.

For more about LinNeighborhood and working with shared files and resources located on other (remote) computers on your local network, please see our article Linux for Windows Users #6: Using LinNeighborhood to Create a Network Neighborhood for Linux.

Figure 3, above. AWindows-like Network Neighborhood directory (folder) has been added to Linux user's (drake's) home directory.

Figure 4, left. Network Neighborhood directory in Windows Explorer file manager.

Easy to Configure and Administer

The somewhat unique Mandrake Control Center is another nice and easy-to-use Mandrake 9.0 tool (actually a collection of tools) that is very handy and useful for configuring your Linux-based computer from the Linux desktop. Mandrake 9.0 also includes the KDE Control Center.

Because Mandrake 9.0 includes both the KDE and Mandrake Control Centers, Linux desktop users easily can perform just about any system, user, or software administration, maintenance, installation, or configuration task from the Mandrake desktop.

Taking the Mandrake Control Center and KDE Control Center together is somewhat akin to the Microsoft Windows Control Panel. Moreover, the Mandrake Control Center and KDE Control Center taken together might provide as much, or perhaps even more, system configuration and administration power than does the Microsoft Windows Control Panel.

  • See Installing and Updating Software on Page 2 ----->

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