Mandrake 9.0: It takes two, baby

Thumbs-up from Tina

Newsforge logoReview Review The first thing I noticed about Mandrake 9.0 Linux is that the goofy cross-eyed penguin is gone. Mandrake is pointing itself in a more sophisticated direction - it's not drab like Red Hat, but elegant and inviting. It looks expensive.

Mandrake 9.0 is, in fact, not expensive at all; it's free if you're willing to take the time to download it and burn your own CD or do a network install. One thing I can tell you is that buying a set of CDs has become much, much more convenient than downloading, because MandrakeSoft has come up with an ingenious little scheme that places much of the expected stuff on the second CD. More about that later.

The install for Mandrake 9.0 is simple; a given by now, since the past six versions have been getting progessively more intuitive. It recognized everything on my Thinkpad T20. I appreciate not having to fiddle with the display settings. Test. Mangled. Choose different settings. Test. More mangled. Choose other different settings. Test. Ah, finally. No more of that. Defaults all the way. In the visual appeal department, Mandrake has changed the user icons to include beautiful images of flowers and other things (I only really saw the flowers because I like flowers. Now instead of a penguin with yellow ponytails, I am a lovely flower.)

Mandrake 9.0 includes KDE 3.0. KDE has come a long way with this release. It is beautiful to behold, which is important to me, but even more important is the increase in speed. It loads quicker, and KDE apps load quicker. Prior to installing Mandrake 9.0, I ran SuSE 7.3 for at least six months and had switched to GNOME because it was quicker. Maybe it's just because SuSE is a KDE shop, but I found that GNOME was too quirky and non-intuitive for my enjoyment (although I did have a brief stint with GNOME on a Red Hat install that I only kept for about three days). I am very glad to be back with KDE. Oh, and they even changed the dorky orchestral startup sound to something techno and less obtrusive.

A notable inclusion in 9.0 that I haven't seen in any previous releases is the YaST2-like Mandrake Control Center. Much more prominent and convenient to run than the old configuration tool, it provides easy access to all the important administration tasks for hardware, system configuration, and user administration.

Of course, Mandrake 9.0 is LSB (Linux Standards Base) certified as long as you choose to install the LSB modules up front.

Anyway, if you're like me and usually just download the first CD (after all, it's got everything I need), you'll be surprised. I installed it, and started opening up my most-used applications for work - mail, irc, browser, and text editor. The first thing I noticed was that the only mail client on the menu was Evolution. Evolution is fine with me - it is one of those treasure apps I find every now and then that does everything I need it to do and doesn't complain. But where was KMail? It was odd. You just don't expect to see Evolution as the only choice on KDE in Mandrake. It could be part of that move to elegant professionalism I sense.

A quick check of the console revealed that KMail was not even installed. How interesting. Then, to my dismay, I discovered that not only was there a dearth of email clients, but there were NO irc clients at all! Not a good thing for a remote worker whose virtual office is an irc channel on slashnet.org. At least Mozilla was installed (though not on the menu, so newbs are limited to Konqueror), so I could run Chatzilla and show up for work.

Another MIA frequently used app was a simple calculator. There were many other things missing from the first CD - it is definitely barebones, a la Lindows? Bear in mind that I wasn't sure all these missing things were going to be on the second CD, but it was a pretty good bet. So I went back and downloaded it, burned it, and ran an upgrade, packages only. Voila! There's all the "stuff."

Now, when I pull up the menus, they are jam packed with all the familiar items - maybe even more than I am used to, especially under Amusements and Office. Mandrake comes with OpenOffice.org now that StarOffice charges. There was the irc client, there was KMail, there were all the graphics programs - oh yeah, I forgot about those.

And in an effort to appeal to Windows users, there is a new menu element: "What To Do?" Click on this and you'll have choices like "Use the Internet," "Read documentation" (yeah, right), "Enjoy music and video," and "Use office tools."

I've noticed, after using Mandrake 9.0 for a few days, that the era of funky application crashes and X-server misfires seems to be over.. /me crosses fingers really hard. The overall sense is that Mandrake has matured into a tool that anyone could make use of - those familiar with Linux and in need of the advanced capabilities of a "real" distribution, and those who have never used Linux and are coming fresh from a Windows environment. There's nothing to figure out - just point and click and run the applications... as long as you've installed the second CD, that is.

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