||In the first part of this series, Andrew D. Balsa looked at Mandrake Linux 9.1 and its initial beta release. Despite quite a few critical bugs, he was impressed with the progress and most charmed by the new KDE 3.1. When Mandrake released the second beta, he rushed to do another installation and these are his experiences.
The review of Mandrake 9.1 beta 1 went online a few days ago, and a few hours later MandrakeSoft was releasing beta 2. So here we go again! What's changed? What's fixed? What's added?|
The first good news is that this beta 2 comes on two CDs, so there is a lot more stuff to be tested. I have also received some feedback on the review of beta 1 which had some shortcomings, and hopefully I can do better this time. Among other things I am going to provide some advice for those that want to try beta 2 on their own Linux box.
However, I would like to stick to some guidelines I have chosen for the first review: I am not going to compare this beta to any other distribution (RedHat or SuSE or Gentoo or Debian or whatever...), and I am going to concentrate on "the desktop experience". And by the way, this beta 2 includes KSnapshot, so I was able to add some more eye-candy. Enjoy!
Screenshot 1: Mandrake 9.1 beta 2 includes KSnapshot.
|Installing beta 2|
Installation of beta 2 is not too difficult if you already have an existing Linux installation and some means of burning your own CDs:
• Prepare an empty partition on your hard disk (minimum of 2GB, preferably 4GB).
• Download the two ISO images from the nearest mirror (a list of mirrors can be found here).
• Check that the images are correctly downloaded by running the md5sum checksum program and comparing the checksums to those in the file md5sums.9.1beta2.asc which can also be found on the mirrors.
• This beta 2 requires two blank 650MB CD-Rs or CD-RWs. I am using CD-RWs which are re-usable, since I don't want to keep wasting CD-Rs as I follow Mandrake's development cycle for 9.1. I noticed that Mandrake has switched from the 700MB CDs that they used in 9.0 and 9.1 beta 1 to 650MB CDs. That's a good thing, IMHO, because many users complained about not being able or having problems to burn 700MB CDs. MandrakeSoft is listening to its user community, apparently.
• After burning the two CDs, there is just one more step before beginning the install: make a boot disk with your favorite bootloader (LILO or Grub - IMHO Grub is more flexible). Unfortunately beta 2, just like beta 1, overwrites your previous boot configuration. You have been warned...
• Now insert CD1 in your CD-ROM drive, configure your BIOS to boot from the CD, and restart. If you are still with me at this point you should have the familiar Mandrake Boot screen on your monitor.
|The Installation Program|
The installation program has improved from beta 1 and looks (and works) better now, but there are still some bugs as I found them in the previous beta: the USB wheel mouse configuration problem is still there (keyboard blinks, mouse freezes and the computer has to be reset), there is no indication of what stage of the installation is going on, and individual package selection is disabled. Also clicking on the "Previous" button at any point during the installation does not work, and there is no choice of bootloader or even to disable LILO installation.
Other than that, XFdrake now generates a correct XFree86Config-4 file (I am still using my customized 9.0 XFree86 configuration file, though). Also information and links to various MandrakeSoft URLs are displayed on the screen during package installation, and the program asks for the second CD when it's finished installing the packages on the first CD.
I assume that with one or two more betas the MandrakeSoft development team should have the installation program relatively bug-free, but we are not there yet. This is entirely normal as we are still in the early beta stages of the development cycle.
Screenshot 2: Mozilla 1.3a in all its beauty. Even though it is
alpha-status, it works quite well in Mandrake 9.1 beta 2.
|New and still missing packages|
After the installation (which took longer this time, about 18 minutes) and a reboot, I found that beta 2 had installed both KOffice 1.2.1 and OpenOffice 1.0.2, as well as many packages that were missing in beta 1. Grip is there, and so are most graphics and sound packages.
There is also a considerable change in the number of included packages in the "Networking" menu, among other things Galeon and Quanta Plus. And at this stage I got my first crash in this beta 2: opening Quanta Plus caused the machine to thrash for a moment and then I found myself at the KDM login again. Thanks to KWord's autosave I could immediately resume my work. It's good to see that this feature is enabled by default.
Screenshot 3: Gimp2.jpg: GTK+ apps like Grip and Gimp work well with KDE 3.1.
So what is still missing?
• Strangely enough mcserv-4.5.55 is on CD2 but mc-4.5.55 (Midnight Commander) is nowhere to be found.
• Most games are still missing, although Mandrake has included a few games and toy apps in this beta 2. KDE games are notably absent.
• KDevelop isn't there. I would like to see both 2.1.4 and 3.0 alpha 3 included with 9.1.
• Also the kernel 2.4.21.pre3 source package is missing. Now I can do without the games, but the kernel source is quite essential, specially for beta testing.
• Lmsensors related packages are also missing, including the initscripts.
• The choice of screensavers and backgrounds is still limited at this point.
OK, I can already hear some people saying: "But you can get all those missing packages in the Cooker directory on any of the Mandrake mirrors!" I know that, and it's not the point. Actually I could get all the sources from the author's websites and compile them myself if I really wanted to be on the "bleeding edge". The point is to check how complete this beta 2 is, and not how I can improve it by mixing packages from the beta 2 and the Cooker directories.
Some people will also say: "These are all available on KDE-Look.org!". Sure enough, and I can assure you that I regularly check KDE-Look.org. However, it would be nice if Mandrake could include a better choice of icons, sound themes, color themes, splash screens, screensavers and screen backgrounds than their present default ones, and combine all these aesthetic elements in a distinctive theme.
Screenshot 4: Tabs are a nifty new feature in Konqueror in KDE 3.1.
|Miscellaneous and odd things|
Fonts and font handling
Mandrake has included a few fonts with quite strange names in this beta 2 (I am not quite familiar with "Estrangelo Nisibin" or "East Syriac Adiabene"). And one can still see some problems with font hinting (the spacing between characters) in general. These issues can be fixed by surfing on the Web and downloading the appropriate packages.
As noted previously, fonts are handled much better in these 9.1 beta x releases compared to 9.0 final (what a difference KGhostView with antialiased fonts makes!), but it would be nice if Mandrake could come up with a better default font setup before 9.1 final.
Screenshot 5: KWord (word processor) and KGhostView (a PS and PDF viewer) both make use of anti-aliased fonts.
CD-RW drive detection
One thing I found was great with 9.0 is that it could properly detect and configure my kernel to use my CD-Read/Write ATA drive. Sure enough, 9.1 beta 1 and beta 2 can do the same, but unfortunately both insist on also configuring my CD-ROM drive with SCSI emulation (/dev/scd1), while at the same time the fstab file refers to its ATA designation (/dev/hdd). That's a small but annoying setup bug.
UDMA interface configuration
Mandrake 9.1 beta 2 correctly configured all my drives for UDMA operation. Perfect score on that one.
A semi-transparent cursor with shadow was enabled by default in 9.1 beta 1 and 2, but I find this feature slightly distracting.
KCalc still missing
This one is weird: why is the GNOME Calculator included, but KCalc still missing?
So, is this beta 2 a significant improvement in relation to beta 1? My answer is yes, without any doubt. This beta 2 is still not for Linux beginners, it still has a few annoying bugs (but no show-stoppers) and quirks, and some essential packages are still missing (where is my kernel source?). But if MandrakeSoft can keep up with this rate of development, by beta 3 or 4 they could start concentrating on the eye-candy and their final 9.1 release would then be terrific.
I am still reluctant to erase my Mandrake 9.0 configuration and switch over, but my fingers are getting twitchy...
|9.1 beta 2 compared to beta 1 - pros and cons|
• Comes on two 650MB CDs
• Improved installation (no more real show-stopper bugs)
• Many more packages included
• Latest stable versions of KOffice (1.2.1) and OpenOffice (1.0.2) are very usable
• None compared to beta 1
Wishlist for beta 3:
• CD3 with the packages that are still missing (don't forget that kernel source, please)
• More fixes to the installation routine
• Choice of Grub in the installation routine, and an option to keep the previous Grub configuration file
|Copyright (C) 2003 Andrew D. Balsa|
Verbatim copying and distribution of this article is permitted in any medium, provided this copyright notice is preserved.
|21 January 2003|
|Andrew D. Balsa|
|About the Author|
|Andrew D. Balsa is a Linux software developer and I.T. consultant based in Hong Kong. He is also the author of the Linux Benchmarking HOWTO.|
|AMD Athlon 1600|
|ATI Radeon 7000 with dual VGA output|
|DDR 333 256MB single stick Samsung|
|IBM 40GB DTLA-305040|
|ASUS IDE 32X CD-ROM|
Ricoh IDE MP7200A CD-RW
|2x Sony 15" Trinitron, obsolete|
|Generic CMedia 8738 PCI|
|9.1 Beta 2|
|18 January 2003|
• i586 processor|
• 64MB RAM recommended, 32MB RAM for text install
• 800MB recommended, minimum 500MB hard disk space
• CD-ROM or floppy drive
|Pentium and compatible processors, AMD processorss|
• Mandrake Control Center|
• 100% Free Software
• Apache 1.3.27|
• GCC 3.2.1
• Gimp 1.2.3
• glibc 2.3.1
• GNOME 2.2beta
• GTK+ 2.2.0
• KDE 3.1rc6
• Mozilla 1.3alpha
• Perl 5.8.0
• Python 2.2.2
• Samba 2.2.7a
• XFree86 126.96.36.199
• Xmms 1.2.7