Mandrake 8.0

Mandrake 8.0 adds kernel 2.4.3, XFree86 4.0.3, KDE 2.1.1, GCC 2.96 and miscellaneous other upgrades to 7.2.
Performance

Subjective performance is very good. I attribute this largely to the move from the XFree86 3.x series of releases to 4.0.3. The move to KDE 2.1.1 may also contribute—most of the review is conducted under KDE except where noted. Performance on SMP systems should also be markedly improved due to improved SMP support in kernel 2.4. One issue that anyone intending to install Mandrake 8.0 should be aware of is that the default configuration (XFree86 4 and KDE 2) needs quite a bit of RAM. I would strongly recommend 128 or 256MB of RAM. I would also recommend installing a graphics card with good 2-D acceleration under Linux, such as a Matrox G200 or ATI RAGE PRO (note: these are two inexpensive cards I have personally found to work well, but there are many others out there), as this will improve the subjective performance of X applications greatly. Between the video card and RAM you should be able to get Mandrake running acceptably without much trouble.

Other Notes

Mandrake 8.0 has a few technology updates and niceties that made my life significantly easier. One is fairly good support for USB. While it still doesn't allow transparent hot-plugging of USB devices, Kudzu did detect my USB mouse at boot without problems, and even the scroll wheel—extremely useful to those of us who are on the Web a lot—worked without any user configuration. While hot-plugging still isn't supported (as noted above) and USB and PS/2 mice sporadically cannot operate simultaneously, support is good enough for a desktop system. I looked specifically at support for the 2.4 series of kernels, especially with respect to issues with building and installing modules. I had no issues save one involving the menu entry for the correct USB controller not appearing in menuconfig, and I believe that this is fixed in kernel 2.4.5. Overall, the move to 2.4 appears to be a good thing.

I also appreciated the inclusion of Galeon—one of the better browsers available for Linux—along with the usual Konqueror, Netscape Communicator and Mozilla. Overall Mandrake is becoming a complete system suitable for everyday desktop use.

There are, however, a few gotchas associated with the version upgrades. Be sure that your graphics card is well supported under XFree86 4 because this is potentially the cause of all manner of apparent application instability and general glitching. At one point I had problems getting my graphics card to switch to 1024 × 768, but manually editing my X config took care of this. I expect the X configuration issue to be fixed in an update to Mandrake Control Center. Another thing to be aware of is that the downloadable version of Mandrake 8.0 is not exactly the same as the retail version. There is the obvious difference that the download edition comes with two CDs rather than the four that the retail version includes (it omits the commercial packages), but I noticed that the download version did not have the graphical overlay to the kernel boot process enabled. While I didn't notice any other concerns, it is possible that there are more hidden differences lurking in the details of some package's configuration. Overall, though, I found no problems that make Mandrake 8.0 any less usable than the previous release.

Conclusion

Mandrake 8.0 is certainly worth consideration for workstation and desktop use, especially when deploying to users who are not already trained in using Linux systems. It may be a highly useful tool for migrating users to Linux from other popular platforms; version 8.0 appears geared toward minimizing retraining costs for migrating users. The real downside to Mandrake 8.0 is its resource usage; if you are already running a number of Linux workstations on low-end hardware—perhaps 233MHz machines with 64MB of RAM, a likely configuration for an older network—you will probably need hardware upgrades to get reasonable performance out of your machine. To put it shortly, Mandrake 8.0 is best as a desktop environment and is definitely a top candidate when a user-friendly interface is high on your list of priorities.

The Good/The Bad

Choong Ng is the product reviewer at Linux Journal and a teriyaki connoisseur.

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