A Review of Mandrake Linux 7.0

Product: Mandrake Linux
Version: 7.0
Pros: Compatible with Red Hat Linux, including support for that platform's easy-to-install RPM (Red Hat Package Manager) installation packages. Superior plug-and-play configuration and a choice of Gnome, KDE and several other graphics user interfaces. Distribution CD (downloadable in burn-your-own-CD ISO format) includes Basilisk Mac emulator, VNC remote-control viewer, Samba (Windows networking) utilities, Apache Web Server, WU-FTP FTP Server and many other useful utilities all pre-configured. Can easy be set to dual-boot alongside an existing Windows 9x/NT/2000 installation and, when booted in Linux mode, allows access to Windows-formatted hard disks.
Cons: Our USB printer -- an Epson Stylus Color 740 -- wasn't recognized by the installer. 1024x768 full-screen mode in Basilisk didn't work correctly on our test system. Gnomba (Gnome-based Samba interface) locked up when attempting to connect to Windows network shares.

Getting Started
We downloaded the ISO version of Mandrake Linux 7.0 and burned our own CD, using Adaptec Easy CD Creator 3.5c for Windows. This disk image created a bootable CD. We were then able to set our PC's BIOS to boot from the CD, making installation of Mandrake a cinch. The installer correctly recognized virtually all the hardware on our test system, configured as follows:

  • Abit ZM-6 motherboard
  • Celeron 400 processor
  • 96MB SDRAM
  • Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold (We had to manually change the DMA value to "1")
  • D-Link 530TX Ethernet card
  • ATI All-in-Wonder Pro graphics card
  • 50X IDE CD-ROM
  • Quantum 9GB hard drive
  • Microsoft Serial mouse
  • Optiquest Q71 monitor

It did, however, fail to recognize an Adaptec 1502 SCSI card and an Epson Stylus Color 740 printer connected to the USB port. Changing this printer to use a parallel interface solved the latter problem.

Our test system already had Windows 98 and Windows 2000 set up on it. During the installation, Mandrake Linux allowed us to configure the remaining free space on our hard disk as one or more Linux partitions and then set up a dual-boot configuration using the LILO (Linux Loader) utility. The installer also offered to make a rescue disk just in case things didn't work as expected. Fortunately, they did during every one of our many installations during these tests.

The main thing a novice Linux user needs to understand during a new installation is the need for a so-called "mount point" to be defined. We set our boot partition up with the standard mount point named "/" and a user directory defined as "/home" on a separate partition. For technical reasons, there are certain limitations as to where a boot partition must be located on your hard disk -- in brief, it must not cross an area of your drive known as the 1024 cylinder area. The Mandrake installer warns you if your desired configuration will cause this problem and can auto-configure the necessary settings to avoid this issue. (Third-party utilities such as Partition Magic can also help set up hard drive partitions compatible with Linux and other operating systems.)

In all, Mandrake's installer is vastly superior in terms of ease than that of Red Hat Linux. As the installation progresses, a series of status icons along the left side of the screen show you what phase of the installation is underway and what to expect next -- the entire procedure is a point-and-click affair. There are, of course, advanced options for those who wish to customize their installation. We selected this option and elected to install everything. (Users with limited disk space can elect to install a minimal workstation configuration or one optimized for server or development tasks. We don't recommend the Server configuration unless you are comfortable working with a Linux command prompt. This option does not provide any icons or menus; it provides only a pair of command prompt windows with which to enter commands to start/stop the servers and call up the various administration functions required by these services. However, choosing Custom or Expert will allow you to choose to install and easily configure the servers, along with the graphical interfaces and/or any other choices your desire.

Here are some of the commands we found most useful in Mandrake Linux:

  • ifconfig - shows you your current IP address and other networking details. Knowing this value lets you easily access the FTP server to upload and download files. We found it easiest to access a user account other than "root" by simply entering the Linux system's IP address. Log in with an existing user name (e.g., "guest") and the password "1000" in the FTP client on the remote system. You can, of course, change FTP access passwords from this default value.
  • vncviewer - VNC stands for Virtual Network Computing. It is a remote display system which allows you to view a computing 'desktop' environment not only on the machine where it is running, but from anywhere on the Internet and from a wide variety of machine architectures. In our tests, it allowed us to easily see and control the desktop of a Windows computer elsewhere on our network (or vice versa). The other system must be running vncserver.
  • apachectl - Apache is the system's web server and is installed an enabled by default. This command lets you start, stop and adjust other configuration options. You can access the Web server locally by typing "localhost" (or the localhost value of 127.0.0.1) or, if accessing it remotely, by entering "http://" followed by your system's IP address into the address bar of any Web browser.
  • DrakConf is a graphical configuration tool that sits on the Mandrake desktop. It allows you to easily set up or change graphics settings, network parameters and other hardware configuration details.
  • DrakRPM is another graphical tool that allows you to install or uninstall additional software items as required.
  • If you download additional items using the system's bundled Netscape browser or graphical FTP client "gftp" you can easily extract items from "tgz" archives (roughly equivalent to "zip" files on a Windows PC) by right-clicking them and choosing Archiver. Then, select "extract."
  • Many Linux commands must be typed from a command-line prompt. Frequently, downloaded files, once extracted, must be installed via a "shell script" and must be prefaced by "./" (e.g., "./installername.sh"). Typically, the files will include a README that will describe the procedure in detail.
  • Although Mandrake allows you to type "cd" followed by a directory name to change the current directory (e.g., "cd .." goes up one level), it is possible to invoke a CD command by dragging an icon into the Konsole window. You will then see the options "paste" and "CD" that perform these functions. This is a real time saver for those of us who are typing challenged or command-line averse.
  • The usr/bin directory is the main area where program commands are stored. If you download a program such as VNCserver and can't get it to work using the recommended defaults, drop the files into the usr/bin directory. This is most easily accomplished by dragging them to the desired location using the KDE or Gnome graphical interfaces.

For those who need to run Windows, Macintosh or DOS programs, there are several options. As noted above, the easiest way to run Windows programs is to install Windows on your PC and then install Mandrake, setting it up to dual-boot. However, it is also possible to run some Windows and DOS programs directly within the Mandrake environment, using the WINE and DOSEMU emulators (neither of which we found particularly useful, by the way) included with Mandrake Linux. It is also possible, with a bit of additional software, to run Macintosh programs under Linux using a remarkable emulator supplied with Mandrake called Basilisk II.

With Basilisk II and our 400 MHz PC, we successfully ran 68K Mac versions of Adobe Photoshop, PageMaker, QuarkXPress, Microsoft Word, Corel WordPerfect, Microsoft Internet Explorer and many other Mac-compatible titles (none of which are included with Mandrake, of course) at speeds comparable to (and indeed, often faster than!) the Macs for which they were originally designed. This free emulator can access Mac CD-ROMs, high-density Mac floppies, SCSI drives and even your Unix hard disk directories.

We did, however, have some difficulty getting the networking option of the included Basilisk II Mac emulator to work. We solved this problem by downloading the latest Basilisk II source code and compiling it on our system. (Basilisk II also requires Mac ROM code and a hard disk image, neither of which are included with the Mandrake package for legal reasons. Fortunately, these items are readily available elsewhere.) Although compiling one's own programs is generally a fairly complex procedure, Basilisk author Christian Bauer's documentation, included with the source code,  makes it a viable option for all but the absolute beginner.

For those who need a "do it all" operating system, there's also a commercial program called VMware (www.vmware.com) that provides an environment in which you can install and run virtually any PC compatible operating system: Windows: 95, 98, NT, 2000, FreeBSD, other Linux versions, etc., etc. This screen shot shows Mandrake running Windows 95 inside a VMware window, alongside a Basilisk II Mac window.

For Further Reading:

  • Welcome, Linux users!
  • Why Gnome is a popular GUI for Linux
  • Linux Versions - Comparing Linux releases from Red Hat, Caldera and S.u.S.E. Plus, Corel WordPerfect and Linuxberg.
  • Linux_versions-pt2 - Linux for Mac, plus download locations for Red Hat 6.0, SuSE 6.1 and Caldera 2.2 distributions. (updated May 4.)
  • Ars-Technica: Red Hat Linux installation
  • Linux Today: What's new in the 2.2x version of the Linux kernel (available at www.kernel.org).
  • Dual-booting - additional details about running multiple OSes.
  • Linux Setup Tips - part 1 - mounting drives and copying files.
  • Why VMware isn't always the right solution.
  • More info on Basilisk II and a Basilisk II compatibility list.