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Review of Mandrake 9.2 Download Edition

Being a clubmember, I have had the opportunity to get my hands on the download edition of Mandrake 9.2 via bittorrent as soon as Mandrake made that news known. To see which kernel and programs are part of this edition, please check distrowatch.
Mandrake have their own page describing the main features of Mandrake Linux 9.2.

The installation went smooth and nice; you can read about all the steps I took here. Note: use the upgrade function at your own risk. It can certainly work, but there are too many people with problems (on forums etc) due to the upgrade function in the installer to omit this warning. I did a clean install, and the only thing that didn't go 'as advertised' was the configuration of my network postscript printer. It just didn't print out the testpage; I figured I'd not gotten the right address and port number, so later I booted into my old Mandrake 9.1 install to find everything was the same. Back in 9.2, I just printed a test page, and it printed out 2 -- the one from the installation process and the one I just ordered.

The standard look after installation

The most important menu entries for the configuration of the system: KDE Control Center (Desktop environment settings)

and the Mandrake Control Center (system settings/configuration)

I decided to make things look a bit better, and the slogan here being close enough to that I settled on this background.

Some of my favourite applications: Konqueror (here as webbrowser), K3B the cd-burning app (that now can also burn dvd's) and xmms the multimedia program, with the synaesthesia plugin.

Now that we got to the multimedia department, this is a shot of mplayer, one of the most robust players around; throw any file at it, it will play no matter how corrupted/incomplete the file is.

Just for the heck of it, I thought, let's give wine a spin and see how far it has come since I last tried it a year ago. I just issued this command: wine /mnt/win_c/Program\ Files/Starcraft/StarCraft.exe and lo and behold, it just started playing

After beating a couple of Zerg into a pulp, I went back to working on this article...

For the configuration of my system, I followed mostly the same steps as I took with Mandrake 9.1. You can read the whole story here. Basically, I installed the Nvidia drivers (the installer set things up to use the 2D 'nv' driver, which worked fine during the short time I used it), after installing the appropriate kernel sources (which are not included in the download edition to make space for some much requested language things). I then configured my sources for the installer to function correctly. For more ample instructions of setting up sources, please go to (you may want to browse that site for other hints and tips too). Next to that, easyurpmi is up again, with the correct info on Mandrake 9.2. (This paragraph used to read: "For those who cannot access the mirror information: easyurpmi is out of commission for this moment, but you can adapt the results for Mandrake 9.1 to reflect the correct directories and listfiles for Mandrake 9.2.") The system downloaded the synthesis lists, and was ready to have me install software with the urpmi command or with the graphical software installer (start => configuration => configure your computer // Mandrake Control Center ; Software Management => RpmDrake).

Supposedly, Mandrake even outranks Debian in terms of precompiled packages (I know, Gentoo users won't care about this race); in any case, the number of available packages is astounding.
On top of the normal things included on the 3 cds of the download edition, I installed and configured the following extra's

  • for dvd playback: libdvdcss2 (thanks to the US law: DMCA, this package cannot be included in any kind of linux)
  • then some more stuff I had forgotten during the installation (even though I went through the individual package selection)
  • LIRC for the remote of my tvcard (which worked with the list of channels in my user home dir)
  • my MX700 mouse, including the extra buttons for back and forth
  • lm_sensors, for cpu temp and system monitoring, use it in gkrellm
  • K3B had to be configured to allow me to burn cd's logged in as a normal user instead of 'root'
  • configured my network laserprinter, my scanner, the webcam to use it for vga resolutions
  • set up the NFS partitions (of my server) to be mounted at boot time as I had in the past (I just added their entries in the /etc/fstab file)

The user experience in terms of startup speeds was as follows:
boot time from lilo to log in menu: 1m15s.
KDE start time: 25s extra from login menu (including starting some applications that I use a lot: Evolution, webbrowser, gkrellm, bluefish, tight-vnc (viewer)) (OOo) startup time: 4 seconds to actually see the splash screen with the (new!) progress bar, 10s in total to have OOo writer ready for use. On secondary starts: less than 4 seconds total. (Yay, Linux memory management!)
Fonts look nice and smooth. And I like the Mandrake Galaxy theme.

After the install I configured the machine for use; I installed the Nvidia drivers to have 3D acceleration (had my old XF86config file handy) and setup my sources according to the information on: Basically I added the PLF, Contrib and MandrakeClub repositories; each time I added one the system downloaded the 'hdlist' files which are a couple of megabytes each. The Update repositories are added when you click the update icon in the Mandrake Control Center, Software Management section. It proposes a bunch of mirrors from which you have to choose one.

From there on it was all downhill; any program can simply be installed with urpmi or naturally with the software install wizard that can be found in the Mandrake Control Center, Software Management section. The only slight problem seems to be that it complains each time I used urpmi about the 'contrib' repository (that it was trying some alternate method) and that some lib*.so was not a link but a file. I don't know what that was about, but I could still install and run all programs without any problem.

The good: its looks and feel. It's a pleasure to use. BTW about the looks: I haven't even grabbed the fonts from my windows partition yet, and maybe I won't do that this time around.

I borrowed a flash-card and a keychain sized USB-reader. After hooking it up to one of the usb ports I was slightly disappointed that no icon appeared on my desktop (as happens when I switch my scanner on, or when I plug in the webcam). Then I realised that this would go under storage and I had switched off "Display devices on desktop" in KDE-CC, LookNFeel, Behavior. Sure enough, Mandrake 9.2 automatically created the directory /mnt/removable and mounted the flash memory. I could read from and write to this memory without any problem (no commands necessary, it was mounted rw as my username, not as root). Very nice!

My 1GB of RAM gets used completely, I don't have to compile a new kernel to use more than 896MB (don't recall if that is the exact limit, but it's close enough). I guess at install time the 1GB of RAM was detected and the "...up-4GB" kernel was automatically used.

The bad: The system wouldn't start with my webcam plugged in. It mentioned something like: unable to load module pwc and just hung. Since I knew 'pwc' is the module for my webcam (and pwcx for the proprietary decompressor module for vga resolution), I knew what to try next. Sure enough, unplugging helped to boot the system, but plugging in at any time would immediately crash it completely (no more response, not even via ssh, and nothing after unplugging again). A short glance on shows that this was know in the beta stadium. It was apparently a kernel problem for which there is a simple workaround. Just execute the following command (as root):
echo "snd-usb-audio" >> /etc/hotplug/blacklist
and your computer will boot and work fine with the cam plugged in. BTW this was actually a problem with the usb audio module that is necessary to use the cam microphone. The problem is fixed in the later kernels; I'm currently running kernel: 2.4.22-21mdk-i686-up-4GB (urpmi kernel-i686-up-4GB- kernel-source-2.4.22-21) and I don't need the fix to be able to boot. However, I kept the snd-usb-audio module blacklisted, since it was messing with the audio stuff; for instance, in aumix it would only give me the microphone control.

Something else that people complained about: the kernel-source is not included in the download edition. It is in contrib, so if you configure your sources and have a network connection, urpmi kernel-source should do the trick. Since I upgraded the kernel, there was no sense in having the original kernel sources anyway. BTW you may have to do
uname -r
urpmi --fuzzy kernel-source

and then urpmi to get the kernel source of the kernel you're actually running.

I also borrowed an external usb2 harddrive. The same as with the flash-card happened, it was automatically mounted to /mnt/removable1. Unfortunately I was not able to transfer data at the USB2 speeds, the maximum speed I got was around 1MB/s, which is USB1.1 -- at over 95% cpu usage. I am not sure if this is actually my motherboard revision, I have the Asus A7V333 V1.01 and it wouldn't surprise me if USB2 is actually not completely properly implemented. It may also be linux, but I know plenty of people who have USB2 equipment working at full USB2 speeds (for a harddrive, a transfer speed of 5 to 10MB or more can be expected -- usually the harddrive is the limiting factor, not the USB2 bandwidth), even on A7V8 series motherboards (which are very similar).

Update! (22 Jan 2004) The external USB2 harddrive can work at high speed (20MB/s) -- if I mount it by hand, instead of letting supermount do its thing, it works ok. I had the following in my /etc/fstab:
/dev/scsi/host1/bus0/target0/lun0/part1 /mnt/hd-sda1 vfat rw,noauto,user,exec 0 0
which I put instead of what Mandrake automatically created:
none /mnt/hd supermount dev=/dev/sda1,fs=ext2:vfat,--,codepage=850,kudzu,iocharset=iso8859-15 0 0
and like this, I can mount the drive as a user with:
mount /mnt/hd-sda1
and all works fine.

Sometimes artefacts show up when scrolling in certain apps, notably in OOo but also in Konqueror -- horizontal stripes, that don't disappear when scrolling them out of sight and back; minimising and restoring the window helps in those cases, but it is not so nice.

I strongly recommend to anyone ready for linux and with an open mind to the FLOSS way to have a thorough look at Mandrake Linux 9.2.

The strong points of Mandrake 9.2, such as:

  • the easy access to the software repositories with urpmi or with RPMDrake (in which case you can easily search through the packages, by name or description for instance)
  • supermount that avoids having to mount/unmount any drives by hand
  • NTFS resize
  • the various graphical tools to configure and manage the system
really are unique for a Linux distribution that is true to the GPL / Free Software spirit in its freely available 3cd download edition. Add to that that all Mandrake users, Clubmembers or not, get access to Mandrake Update, where security updates, bugfixes and standard updates are only a mouseclick away, and in my opinion we have a winner.
Naturally, your mileage may vary, there is no such thing as the perfect Linux distribution, but if you get the ease and pleasure of use that I got out of Mandrake, it may well be enough for you to stop thinking about which system you are on and whether to change it and actually use your computer to get some work done.

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Page first created: November 2003. Page last updated: Jan 22 2004

Pages tested with but not specifically made for: lynx, konqueror, galeon, Opera, Mozilla, Firefox using, Bluefish and the Gimp on Mandrakelinux by aRTee
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