The Linux-Mandrake distribution started as an offshoot of Red Hat’s distribution, with a few enhancements and KDE thrown into the mix. But where it started is one thing, and where it’s going is a completely different matter. Mandrake has grown into a full-fledged distribution in its own right, and it is now giving Red Hat a run for its money. While still maintaining “Red Hat compatibility,” Mandrake has some features that really set it apart from most of the other major Linux distributions.
As soon as Mandrake 7.1 was announced, it was available for download over the Web. Mandrake is still available as a one-disk install, but they also provide a second ISO
of “extras” if you want them.
The only way the installation on this distro could get any easier would be if they actually sent someone to your home and did it for you. Otherwise, Mandrake’s installation is among the best that we have ever seen, and puts Linux on equal footing with any other consumer operating system.
The only real problems we encountered during setup were involved with XFree86 (go figure). During installation, we had selected the “Try XFree86 4.0″ option, and afterwards found ourselves wrestling a bit to get XFree86 up and running at all. Both xf86config and XF86Setup bombed out after complaining about card data not being in the database. At this point, it remains unclear whether this is a Mandrake issue or an XFree86 issue.
One of the best things about Mandrake’s install is that it offers the user the opportunity to install OpenSSH and other security/encryption software. There are legal barriers to including the software directly, but Mandrake makes life easier by allowing the user to install the software via FTP, if local law permits.
While Linux-Mandrake comes with other window managers and desktops, KDE is their specialty. Linux-Mandrake’s default configuration of KDE is pretty sweet. During our installation process, Mandrake automagically detected and set up icons for the test computer’s floppy drive, CD-ROM, and Zip drive. It is just this kind of refinement that should make former Windows and Mac users very happy.
Mandrake also includes an updater that will query FTP servers for updates to the distribution and download and install them for you. While this is not new (Debian and Red Hat both do this), it’s certainly a welcome addition to any OS and saves users headaches.
Mandrake’s GNOME install is just okay. They’ve included the latest (1.2 as of this writing) updates to the GNOME desktop, but we were somewhat disappointed by their decision not to install Helix GNOME, which comes with the Helix updater.
Overall Linux-Mandrake 7.1 gets high marks from us for being a solid distribution that Linux users in general and newbies in particular will greatly appreciate.