France is known for fine wine, haute cuisine, chic clothing, and great art. But while the French are especially good at all of those things, they didn’t invent any of them. What does all of this have to do with Linux?
MandrakeSoft, a Parisian software company, is doing to the world’s most popular Linux distribution what the French do to everything else — refine it until it becomes distinctly their own.
Out of the box, Mandrake 7.0 closely resembles Red Hat 6.1. Mandrake is compatible with Red Hat RPM files and has virtually every utility that comes with Red Hat. In fact, if it weren’t for the presence of a few extra icons on the GNOME and KDE default desktops, you’d swear it was Red Hat 6.1.
But the similarities end there. While Mandrake 7 is based on Red Hat 6.1, MandrakeSoft has added many nice things that give it that je ne sais quoi we have come to recognize as a Mandrake distribution.
First, there’s Mandrake’s installation program, which is the best of any distribution we’ve seen to date. The program uses a graphical “flight checklist” that proceeds in stages and allows you to backtrack to any previous step. For example, if you chose a configuration early on with low-security default settings, and you’ve specified the disk partitioning, and are ready to copy the installation files, you can still change to a server installation with high security simply by clicking on the “Select Installa-tion Class” entry in the checklist bar.
In addition to the checklist, the installation program includes the new DiskDrake partition-management program, which can auto-allocate disk slices and mount points, a very handy thing for newbies who might not know how large their /root, /home, /boot, and / partitions should be.
Improving on a Standard
While Mandrake 7.0′s similarity to Red Hat 6.1 will be comforting to many, MandrakeSoft has upped the ante in the end-user experience quite a bit. For starters, Mandrake 7′s kernel and binaries are optimized for Pentium-class machines, providing users with new computers a slight performance boost. (But don’t bother installing Mandrake on a 486 — it won’t work.) MandrakeSoft has also made enhancements to the configuration and management facilities of Red Hat 6.1. The linuxconf utility now sports icons that make it easy to find a particular section, like networking, and is now part of Mandrake’s DrakConf, which integrates all the Linux system-administration and -management functions.
DrakConf also includes a graphical XFree86 configuration program that’s vastly better than Red Hat’s Xconfigurator. Mandrake features many updated packages and bug fixes since the release of Red Hat 6.1, including XFree86 3.3.6, which supports new chipsets such as the GeForce256 and the ATI Mobility.
With Mandrake 7, MandrakeSoft has taken an already very good distribution and made it into a piece de resistance. This only goes to show that while we may question the French for their taste in humor (Jerry Lewis?), they certainly know how to take someone else’s raw material and turn it into a masterpiece.
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