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Sunday, April 11, 2004

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The Mandrake 10.0 Experience (TM)

Category: Operating Systems

Perhaps I was simply expecting too much out of a RedHat derivative, but my review of Mandrake did not go well at all. I've long heard how easy to use Mandrake is, and how easy it is to set up. Supposedly, you install it and boot. It's that easy. I just wish it were that easy for me.

I downloaded all three ISO images and burned them to CDRW. (I'm just glad I didn't waste CDRs on this.) I then rebooted and began the installation. A very nice looking GUI installer came up and I began to follow the steps. Unfortunately, the installer locked up on the first button I clicked. I had to reboot a few times and keep trying before I finally figured out that this is the same mouse bug as in RedHat and Fedora. I was then able to get through the installer by careful use of the keyboard and mouse. (Hint: Click the button and let go of the mouse until the operation is completed. If you move the mouse, you're dead.)

The upside of the install was that it was very easy to choose the packages I wanted, and the new 2.6 kernel was installed without fuss. The installer even warned me that it would have to downgrade to 2.4 if I wanted to install the Linux Standards Base (LSB) software. This was definitely a nice touch, as I wanted to use the system as Mandrake had intended. (I was also hoping the 2.6 kernel would get rid of that $%Q# mouse problem.) I was also able to easily select ReiserFS as my default filesystem.

The downsides to the install was that there was no small boot CD to install over the internet (all 3 CDs were required), it wrote the Linux partition as a non-bootable extended partition (which the Mandrake version of the bootloader somehow got around), and the sound card couldn't be configured (it told me to run 'sndconfig' after the first boot). Considering that sound was exactly the reason I was performing this experiment, this did not make me happy.

After install, the machine booted up to KDE 4.2. I'd love to give you a guided tour of all the great new features, but to be perfectly honest I never got to find out what they are. The same mouse locking problem that was present in Fedora was also present here. That was annoying in of itself. Then I spent time trying to find this 'sndconfig' utility that I was supposed to run.

I eventually found it under '/usr/sbin' and ran it. It was unable to detect my PnP sound card, and asked me to manually enter the values. I did so, and the sound card tested fine. Upon exit, the utility froze up and I was forced to hit CTRL+C. The '/etc/modules.conf' file appeared to have been properly modified, so I attempted playing a sound. Nothing but an error about sound not being configured. So I restarted the system. When it came back up, I still didn't have sound. I reran the 'sndconfig' utility with the exact same results. I then checked and verified that the audio streams existed under the '/dev' directory. There were there. I then played with the KDE sound config to get it to recognize the sound device. Even manually setting the path to the device didn't work. So, I restarted the system again, hoping this time it would work.

I then made a startling discovery. After I reboot the machine, the sound devices disappear from the '/dev' directory! They only come back after I rerun the 'sndconfig' utility. I then figured that I had better check Mandrake's website to see if they had any help on the problem. Unfortunately, I found I was unable to reach their website. In fact, I then realized that I couldn't reach any website. It seems that after one of the reboots, the network card somehow disabled itself. That's about where I gave up.

Final verdict: I don't have time for this.

I sincerely hope that the rest of you have a much better experience with Mandrake 10.0 than I did. I really wanted Mandrake to work, but it simply ended up being too painful to continue.

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