||The fourth installment of our series of Mandrake 9.1 reviews is now available for your consumption. This time, Andrew D. Balsa focuses his attention on the recently released third beta, coming on three CDs. He notes the improvements in the installation routine, marvels at the new desktop features, tries out a few of his "geek hardware" and is pleasantly surprised by their excellent compatibility with the new Mandrake. Finally, he lists some of the best Mandrake-related resources on the Internet. As usual, a number of mouthwatering screenshots accompanies the story.
See also the previous installments:
Review: Mandrake Linux 9.1 Beta, Part 3
Review: Mandrake Linux 9.1 Beta, Part 2
Review: Mandrake Linux 9.1 Beta, Part 1
|A d v e r t i s e m e n t
From the Apple Web site, about their new PowerBooks:
Geektalk from the Mandrake Cooker mailing list:
- Less is more.
- More is more.
This is another WYSIMOLWYWG (what-you-see-is-more-or-less-what-you-will-get) article about the third Mandrake 9.1 Beta release. Compared with Mandrake 9.0, which had four Beta releases and three release candidates before final, spread out over a period of approximately four months, Mandrake 9.1 is still in the first half of its development cycle. What do we get, then, with Mandrake 9.1 Beta 3? This:
- Subject: Re: [Cooker] What happened to the program "more"?
- It was probably replaced with less, which is more or less more, but a bit more (a.f.a.i.k). Paul.
Screenshot 1: KDE 3.1 final, games, and a lot more.
|Three 650MB CD-ROMs|
The big news is that we are getting three 650MB CDs with Beta 3 (Beta 1 came on one CD, Beta 2 on two CDs)! That means we have many more goodies to play with - and yes, the KDE games are there! Here is a basic breakdown of the three CDs:
- CD1: Everything that is needed to actually install a not-so-minimal Mandrake distribution, and then some. The kernel, the main libraries, the console utilities, etc... This is the "can't live without" CD.
- CD2: Everything that could not fit in CD1 but is still essential. There are parts of KDE, and mc, mplayer, nasm, joe, etc...
- CD3: This is really the "Miscellaneous" CD, with totally diverse things thrown in: bonnie++, gcc-doc, PowerManga, a tftp server, whois, xearth, etc...
- Linux kernel source (by the way, Beta 3 uses the latest 2.4.21pre4);
- lmsensors support as found in Mdk 9.0 (found in Cooker, though);
- KGamma 1.0.1;
- KDevelop 3.0a3 (Gideon);
Screenshot 2: Little extras like KGamma add up to a more ergonomic computing environment.
Screenshot 3: KSensors uses lmsensors to monitor CPU parameters like temperature and voltage.
Screenshot 4: KSensors 0.7 is fully configurable.
I guess MandrakeSoft could come out with a fourth CD for Beta 4, if they wanted to. Other things I would like to see in CD4: the latest 2.5.x kernel source and a relatively harmless pre-compiled version, the new Vera fonts from Bitstream and (if their license allows it) some other free OpenType fonts, a selection of screensavers, backgrounds and other GUI components from KDE-Look.org, more games, and many more packages from the Cooker contrib directory. The idea here is: more is more, definitely.
|Download, Burn CDs, Backup, Install, Customize, Test, Report|
This is basically the cycle for beta-testing Mandrake 9.1. I have actually been booting straight into Beta 2 for the last 10 days; I haven't erased 9.0 yet, but I am just not in the mood to use it anymore. The focus of my testing of these Mandrake 9.1 Betas is on usability, compared to Mandrake 9.0. My point is that, for daily usage like surfing the Web, email, writing this article and system maintenance, 9.1 Beta 2 was proven more usable than 9.0.
The beta-testing cycle can get tedious after a while: downloading nearly 2 GB takes some time even with a fast Internet connection, and not everyone has a fast CD-burner (I usually burn my CDs on my 20X Ricoh CD-RW drive, but the machine that I use to download ISO images from the Web only has a painfully slow 2X CD-RW drive). Certainly that's one of the reasons most people end up buying the final distribution CDs or DVDs.
Backup was easy: I just copied the /etc and /home directories and a few more files to a backup partition. That takes just a few seconds, and believe me, it could save your day. And by the way, Beta 3 comes with K3b, one of the best programs to burn CDs:
Screenshot 5: K3b installation is a snap.
Screenshot 6: K3b provides an intuitive and good-looking interface.
I already reported that 9.1 Beta 3 would use the new 2.4.21pre kernel during installation. So I just left my hard disk drive connected to the on-board HPT-372 controller (note: I am not using the RAID functionality). And Mandrake 9.1 Beta 3 recognized the controller and installed flawlessly! Well done! Another installation bug got squashed since Beta 2: my "generic" USB wheel mouse (an inexpensive Logitech clone) was recognized and configured automatically. So far so good.
Beta 3 installation proceeded smoothly, by selecting the defaults for most steps. Other improvements: the choice of boot loader (LILO or Grub) is back, and network configuration - I use DHCP - was 100% automated. I didn't even try to install my dual monitor Xinerama configuration, but I did install XFree86 for a single monitor and my Radeon 7000 card. As with Beta 1 and Beta 2, after the first boot I copied my previously heavily customized XF86Config-4 backup file to the /etc/X11/ directory.
I selected a complete desktop installation, but left the server packages unchecked. Package installation proceded unattended for around 15 minutes, and the entire 9.1 Beta 3 installation procedure lasted just over 30 minutes. There are still a few small bugs and aesthetic issues in the installation program, and I expect they will get fixed before 9.1 final, but all in all this new Mandrake 9.1 installation is a big step forward in relation to previous Mandrake releases. The Mandrake Control Center 9.1 is also improving by leaps and bounds in each Beta release; with Beta 3 it is already quite usable.
Screenshot 7: Perfect generic wheel mouse detection and configuration in Mandrake 9.1 Beta 3.
|A small mistake, very quickly resolved|
It's like a wart on somebody's nose, you can't fail to notice it. Yes, I am talking about the patched/forked kdm provided in Mandrake 9.1 Beta 3. The KDE 3.1 kdm login manager as found in Mandrake 9.1 Beta 1 and Beta 2 may not have been perfect, but it certainly was very usable and looked good enough to me. Anyways, by the time I got to writing this article enough noise had been made on the Cooker mailing list to convince the MandrakeSoft developers to restore the "normal" kdm. The solution for those that downloaded and burned the Beta 3 CDs: download the latest kdebase package RPMS in the Cooker directory, and just copy kdm from there over your installed kdm in /usr/bin.
Sometimes, more is less. Reminds me of this golden rule of programming: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". It also shows that Mandrake developers listen to users during the development cycle, and that is very good.
|The desktop - more goodies|
Beta 3 does not bring many improvements to the KDE 3.1 desktop, compared to Beta 2, and some old bugs (e.g. the Xmas 2002 splash screen for the Mandrake Control Center) are still there, even though KDE 3.1 final has replaced 3.1rc6. Freetype 2.1.4 is not out yet so the fonts do not have optimal rendering. The red transluscent cursors with shadows are gone, but you can get yourself a nice set of cursors here. The GUI components are the same as in Beta 2 - no new icons, no new wallpapers, no new screensavers... Hey, wait, there **are** a few more KDE packages in CD3, they just don't get installed by default. OK so, urpmi is your friend here:
This will get you a few more wallpapers and sounds and a whole lot of screensavers, including the mesmerizing GL screensavers.
Screenshot 8: KDE 3.1 includes a variety of OpenGL screensavers.
|The games, they have arrived!|
MandrakeSoft did not skimp on games in this Beta3, so not only are the KDE games included, but many more fun games get installed by default, and even more can be found in CD3.
Screenshot 9: Games...
Unfortunately, the XFree86 Radeon driver does not support Xinerama (two or more monitors) and DRI (hardware 3D/OpenGL) extensions simultaneously, so I am stuck with the "simple" games for now (that also applies to the GL screensavers, unfortunately). This has nothing to do with MandrakeSoft, it's simply that the DRI developers haven't got around to programming these features yet.
Screenshot 10: ...and more games.
I guess I have quite a few "geek gadgets" lying around, which I have accumulated over the years or tried out recently. So I checked out how Mandrake 9.1 Beta 3 would handle them:
USB 2.0 PCI Card with NEC chip. I have an EPOX 8K3A+ mainboard which is just perfect in terms of stability, but the VIA Southbridge chip is still the VT8233A device, which only supports USB 1.1. So I bought an inexpensive (around USD 12) USB 2.0 card with 4 external and 1 internal USB 2.0 ports, based on the newest NEC controller chip.
Screenshot 11: The NEC UPD720101 USB 2.0 controller chip
The NEC UPD720101 USB 2.0 controller chip, as well as its predecessor UPD720100A, are fully supported by the Linux 2.4.21pre4 kernel. No problems here.
Screenshot 12: NEC UPD720101 chip markings.
Connectix Color Quickcam. Now that's an old hardware, and surprisingly there is a kernel driver for it, which gives me a v4l /dev/video0 device, which is in turn supported by xsane, which provides a plug-in for Gimp. It works OK, but the image quality is really terrible. Alternatively, I downloaded and compiled cqcam. The frame rates in streaming mode hover around 3 fps.
Screenshot 13: My best friend.
EagleTec 32MB USB Flash Disk. This is a neat device if you need to carry a few documents around. I paid around USD 15 for it last week. It weighs around 10 grams, and its dimensions - 63.5mm(L) x 17mm(W) x 8mm(H) - make it easy to carry in your pocket. It's a USB 1.1 device, so you can plug it into basically any USB port. The linux kernel recognizes it and the hotplug mechanism automatically loads the appropriate drivers, so inserting it translates into getting a new sda or sdb device. A nano-HOWTO on using a USB flash disk with Mandrake 9.1:
- Create a mount point: mkdir /mnt/usbdisk.
- Add a line to /etc/fstab to simplify mounting and unmounting. I added the following line:
/dev/sda1 /mnt/usbdisk auto nouser,iocharset=ISO8859-1,sync,codepage=850,noauto,noatime,umask=0,exec 0 0
The sync and noatime options are adequate for USB Flash devices, and the nouser option prevents normal users from mounting/unmounting the USB flash disk; only root is allowed.
The EagleTec Flash Disk comes formatted as a FAT 16 partition, but I recommend repartitioning it as a single FAT32 partition (type 0xc). Read transfer rates are around 700KB/s, while writes are quite slower: around 200KB/s. Still, this gadget beats floppy disks for usability, performance and "geek factor" any time.
- Now to mount (unmount) the device, just use mount | umount /mnt/usbdisk.
Screenshot 4: USB flash disks are more convenient than a pile of floppy disks.
I even managed to install Grub on it and boot from the USB flash disk (I set the BIOS to boot from the USB HDD). Checking the Web, I found there are already two projects to put small GNU/Linux distributions on USB flash disks, SPB-Linux 2.0 and RUNT. These devices make floppy disks and all GNU/Linux floppy based mini-distributions and rescue disks obsolete.
No doubt in this case, less is more.
|My precioussss: KDevelop 2.1.5 and 3.0alpha3|
I have been using KDevelop 2.1.3 for a few months now with Mandrake 9.0 and I believe it is an exceptional tool for developing KDE applications. Development of KDevelop 2.1.x has ceased and in fact 2.1.5 is the final maintenance/update release of the KDevelop2.1.x series, updated expressly for KDE 3.1. The next version of KDevelop will be 3.0 and an alpha release has been available for some time now. KDevelop 2.1.5 is now included in this Beta 3 (it doesn't get installed by default, though), and 3.0 alpha 3 can be downloaded from any KDE mirror or directly from the KDevelop Web site.
Screenshot 15: KDevelop is the ultimate KDE development tool.
KDevelop 2.1.5 installed easily using urpmi (note: also install the kdev-htdig package before starting KDevelop setup), and as the screenshots show it looks great in Mandrake 9.1 Beta 3. It works great too, as far as I could test. Installing KDevelop 3.0a3 is proving a little more time-consuming than I would have liked, so I'll leave the snapshots for my next article.
|Conclusion: a "swiss knife" distribution with 123 different functions|
The various Mandrake releases have always distinguished themselves from the rest with their general-purpose nature. The Mandrake 8.2 release pushed this concept forward by providing exceptional stability and a full range of server tools and at the same time a highly usable workstation setup. Apparently 9.1 is destined to continue the trend, so for my next review of Mandrake 9.1 Beta 4, I'll concentrate more on server functionality, including the security aspects, and I'll also test 9.1 Beta 4 on my Dell Inspiron laptop.
Using Mandrake 9.1 Beta 2 and now Beta 3, I realize how daunting these distributions have become, even for more seasoned Linux users. An excellent website that provides quality tutorials on a variety of Mandrake-related questions is Phil Lavigna's Website. I also liked the tips and mini-HOWTOs for Mandrake Linux that can be found at www.desktop-linux.net. Check them out!
List of useful links for future Mandrake 9.1 users and Beta testers
- PCLinuxOnline has various discussions on interesting topics for the GNU/Linux community and particularly for Mandrake users.
- KDE-Look.org is the site for KDE UI enhancements.
- If you are interested in setting up a USB camera, check the Video for Linux resources website first.
- Searchable mailing list archives, including the Mandrake Cooker list, can be found here.
- For Linux USB information, check the Linux USB Project website, and for device compatibility information, check the Linux USB Device Overview database.
|Copyright (C) 2003 Andrew D. Balsa|
Verbatim copying and distribution of this article is permitted in any medium, provided this copyright notice is preserved.
|Please visit this forum on PCLinuxOnline if you wish to discuss the review.||
|10 February 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 3|
|31 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 3.1
• Mozilla 1.3alpha
• Perl 5.8.0
• Python 2.2.2
• Samba 2.2.7a
• XFree86 184.108.40.206
• Xmms 1.2.7