It's not very often that we decide to review software on Dev Hardware. But since it's the operating system, we'll go ahead and make an exception. Today, Quantum Skyline takes a look at the newest Mandrake Linux distribution. The good: Ridiculously fast installer, lots of programs, and easy to use. The bad: Some packages are buggy. If you're new to Linux, this might be the distribution for you.
I have to admit that Linux distribution reviews are hard to do -- they are based on subjective opinions and are sometimes using unqualified opinions or cursory looks at the distribution. I read a Fedora Core 2 review that came out days after it was released, and thought "That can't be a thorough review". Others are extremely biased toward or against certain features present in the distribution. Hardware reviews aren't like that, and to a certain extent, reviews of versions of Windows aren't like that, because under the hood of the component that is being reviewed, there are usually major differences.
That is not necessarily the case with Linux distributions. Under the distribution is the same core software -- the Linux kernel, the compilers, the C libraries, XFree86 and a window manager -- so we can't test them on the same criteria as hardware. I can't really benchmark a distribution for speed, but I will try to benchmark it in terms of usability and stability, two hallmarks of Linux.
As a matter of background and to show my biases, I am not new to Linux, having run Red Hat 7.3, 8, and 9 for a few years, as well as Gentoo 1.4 and 2004.0. I have also played with Debian and didn't like it, and am looking forward to trying NetBSD on some older hardware. I am currently running Gentoo 2004.0 and Windows 2000 in a dual boot situation on my desktop, and my Thinkpad X31 runs Windows XP. I use Gentoo for almost everything, and Windows for gaming and some programs that don't exist on Linux. I prefer Gentoo -- but then again, I was the kid in math class who spent three pages solving a question when three lines would do. My first Linux distribution was Linux From Scratch 3.3. However, I am in the market for a binary distro (short for distribution), since reviewing hardware like motherboards usually makes me reinstall operating systems.
Having just emerged from bankruptcy protection, Mandrakesoft is one of the major players in boxed Linux distributions along with the leader Red Hat, and SuSE Linux. They have also reworked their offerings to include more specific packages designed for different purposes, similar to the route that Red Hat has taken. For example, Mandrakesoft now offers:
MandrakeMove -- a bootable Linux CD that can be used in a similar manner to the popular KNOPPIX,
Discovery 10 -- aimed at those who are new to Linux and 'lets you adopt Linux with the shortest learning curve',
PowerPack 10 -- a full fledged distribution that includes 6 CDs of software,
Corporate Server 2.1 -- to create a 'user-friendly' enterprise server solution,
Multi Network Firewall -- for creating high security networks
In addition, there are distributions for AMD64 and the PowerPC (PPC) platforms so that users of Athlon 64 and PowerPC chips can take advantage of software compiled for their processor. This allows Mandrakesoft to expand their userbase, and this can be especially appealing for users who do not want a source-based distribution tailored to their hardware.
Mandrake Linux 10.0 Community edition however, deviated from the traditional method of creating releases. Community edition was deliberately released as a 'beta' release, so bugs will be present and some features will be missing, and I intend to point the features out as things to look for in Mandrake Linux 10.0 Official if you're still using Community.
For years, Mandrake Linux has earned the reputation of having a user-friendly distribution and a larger reputation for being the distribution of choice for those who are new to Linux. It was well earned, but now that Mandrakesoft is trying to grow it may try to shake off a bit of its history.
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