Mandrake Linux 9.2

December 18th, 2003 § 1 comment

About one year ago, MandrakeSoft, developer of the Linux distribution of the same name, announced that its financial position was critical. According the company, its financial needs were immediate, and unless something changed, the next planned version might not exist. The company had already filed for bankruptcy protection in the European courts.

Some days ago, however, the company announced a completely different panorama. Its financial troubles are, as far as can be seen, under control. After applying strong management policies to address its problems, its fiscal year was actually good, compared to the previous years. Although revenue decreased, gross margin increased and losses were reduced. New versions were released, with huge improvements over previous versions, and the company seems to be nicely positioned to take over Red Hat’s position in the Linux desktop market.

This development makes me happy about the status of the Linux market. Despite recent statements by Red Hat’s CEO, I think Linux is becoming more and more a good option for the common user’s desktop, as it has been for advanced users for a long time already. I say that because, three months ago, I finally completed my definitive switch to Linux as a primary computing platform. After a long time trying to complete it, mainly because the difficult of finding a modem that worked under Linux in a market monopolized by cheap devices, design to work under Windows only, I managed to buy a reasonable one to meet my connection needs at last. For the time being, while I’m still fighting the phone companies for broadband access at home, it is serving me well.

When I switched, Mandrake Linux current version was 9.1, with 9.2 in the works. Although it had some little problems here and there, it was showing itself to be a nice option for a desktop computer, especially those used for development. Unfortunately, at the time, I had some problems installing it on some machines, because of some problems with a specific Mandrake kernel, and I decided to try Red Hat 9, while I waited for a new Mandrake release.

Using Red Hat was not a pleasant experience. Even with its problems, Mandrake Linux is much more polished, whatever window manager you decide to use. As Red Hat is a server geared distribution, that was not entirely a surprise. Red Hat 9 is much better to user than its predecessors, but it still doesn’t quite make it. Mandrake Linux is geared to both publics, and does a much better job at it than Red Hat with its single focus. But as the release date for 9.2 was not far, I decide to stick with Red Hat until then, instead of trying to install 9.1 again.

Anyway, as soon as 9.2 was released, I downloaded it and installed in both the computers I use daily, at home and at work. And, although this new release hadn’t changed a lot externally, as it usually happens in Mandrake’s dot releases, the internal changes were impressive. In a few days, I noticed that it was much more stable and performed much better than the previous releases. Now, after some weeks of use, the impression is more than confirmed. Having experimented with a lot of distributions in my time as a Linux user, while I was still keeping Windows as a main system, I consider Mandrake Linux the best of them.

The current release is not without its share of problems. For example, it insists in not allowing me to remove driver icons from the desktop. It seems it doesn’t consider the link, but the actual device pointed by it. Some similar little problems appear in other areas of the system, but nothing sufficiently serious to prevent its use. Of course, as a programmer, I know to solve problems that would stop any common user. Even so, Mandrake has shown itself able to protect the users from the most esoteric aspects of the system, providing ways to configure its components in a simple and practical way. Most things can be done through wizards that deal with almost every configuration relevant to users.

A thing that surprised me, after I switch over to Linux, is how was wrong about my predictions of my eventual Windows needs. I thought I would need it much more, but the truth is that I almost didn’t need it right from the start.

I consider myself a rather common user. Except for programming needs, the tasks for which I need the computer are simple: some office things, some multimedia, connectivity and some gaming. Nothing complex. And Mandrake has proved itself perfectly able to meet almost all those needs.

As for the development of application, Linux is incontestably the winner. The sheer amount of applications, tools, services, and information available for developers is simply amazing. Considering my current work — PHP, MySQL, Python and wxPython — I wouldn’t be better served by any other platform. The only thing I miss is a good PHP mode for Emacs.

With regards to office applications, OpenOffice is proving itself a worth competitor to Microsoft office, solving virtually all my problems. Again, the only thing I miss is a good dictionary and thesaurus system to help me when I write. As an added bonus, I managed to run my Windows-based Portuguese dictionary and thesaurus under Wine, and I just need to buy an electronic English one for life to be complete. Even the problem with the TrueType fonts is nearly solved.

When it comes to video and sound, the options are almost limitless. From playing DVDs to ripping and editing CDs, everything is possible. And although GIMP still needs a lot of improvement, it’s quite usable now.

Internet access is the easiest part of all. FTP, Telnet, SSH, and similar protocols are all covered. Better yet, I can run my own DNS, e-mail, and proxy server all behind a good, out-of-the-box firewall. Even instant messaging is not a problem with Gaim. It doesn’t have all features of the other clients, but works nicely.

Only where gaming is involved the situation is not so good. The gaming market is tougher, and it needs much more users than Linux is perceived to have. So that’s where I need Windows the most, as much as I love the games that come with Linux. (Fact is, I install them all.) Anyway, things seem to be getting better. Bioware released Neverwinter Nights for Linux and other companies may yet follow suit.

All in all, my experience with Mandrake Linux as a desktop system has been excellent. It’s a distribution I’d recommend to anyone, both for desktop and server use. It’s basic edition, which can be downloaded from the Web, has so many applications that it’s hard to decide what to install, and the other editions offered just increase the number of application even more. With the recent announcement of a edition especially geared to unexperienced users, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mandrake Linux’s market share to grow. I only think it a pity that they only charge the MandrakeClub subscription anually. I think they would have a lot more subscriptions if they charged for it bimonthly or something like that. Maybe people in other countries would help more if it was so.

Anyway, as in my previous personal review of Mandrake Linux, I give it 9 out of 10, both on the server and on the desktop.

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