Linux-Mandrake user-friendly

W e have long been a fan of open-source software in general and Linux in particular. Until recently, however, we felt that the difficulty of getting Linux up and running on a typical PC would prevent the typical non-Unix user from enjoying the benefits of Linux. With the current crop of Linux releases, however, that has changed. MandrakeSoft SA's Linux-Mandrake 6.0 PowerPack Edition is a fine example of a powerful Linux release in a friendly bundle that even a novice can get up and running on many systems.

We installed Mandrake on a 300 MHz Intel Corp. Celeron machine with ATI Technologies Inc.'s Rage Pro graphics adapter and 3Com Corp.'s 3C905 Ethernet card. Mandrake's Red Hat Software Inc.-based installer made it through the installation and configuration process without a snag.

The Red Hat installation that Linux-Mandrake uses is not the prettiest out there - that honor goes to the Caldera Inc. distribution - but it is a mature, stable and highly effective installation program that auto-detects and supports a great deal more hardware than Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT 4.0 installation does.

Linux-Mandrake ships with a brief but thorough installation guide that walks you through the installer screen by screen. Linux-Mandrake even does a good job of partitioning your disk, the step that generally is the biggest threat to a successful installation of Linux.

It is possible to install Linux on a drive so that it coexists with other operating systems, such as Windows, but it is not the easiest process in the world. If that is your preference, you will definitely want to look into a commercial partitioning product such as PowerQuest Corp.'s Partition Magic. Linux-Mandrake does, however, include a simple partition tool, fips, that will help you with basic configurations where Linux will share a disk drive with Windows. The easiest way to get Linux installed on a system is to put it on its own disk. With the price of disk drives these days, that should not be hard.

Network configuration was easy, as was X Windows configuration. X Windows configuration used to be a sure stumbling block in the Linux installation process, but not any more. We simply accepted the defaults, defined the monitor, and X was up and running.

We could even configure a remote printer attached to a Windows NT server during the installation process. As soon as the Linux-Mandrake system came up, we could print from the command line as well as from applications such as Netscape Communications Corp.'s browser with no problem.

The installation includes a couple of steps crucial to ensuring the security of your configured system. Those include the addition of a "user besides" root, which forces folks to have at least one account on the system that cannot trash everything if improperly used.

Also, the installation process enables the user to configure which services are automatically started at boot time. This step includes a brief description of each process accessed by pressing the F1 key - a handy feature for Linux newcomers. By not starting processes you don't need, you're less likely to open an unnecessary security hole in your system.

We configured the system with the default K Development Environment graphical user interface. KDE is an excellent environment that offers several different modes that provide the look and feel of a number of desktop environments, including Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh, Microsoft's Windows, and Unix.

That should help users make the transition to Linux with a minimum amount of pain. In addition to KDE, Linux-Mandrake ships with the newer GNU Network Object Model Environment (GNOME), a highly customizable GUI that holds a great deal of promise for making Linux more viable as a desktop operating system.

All the Fixin's

Mandrake's PowerPack Edition is loaded with goodies. The installation CD includes everything you would expect from a Linux release, including the 2.2.9 Linux kernel and the KDE and GNOME GUI environments for X Windows. Lots of additional software ships on the installation CD, including the Apache World Wide Web server, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, and all the other goodies you need to run a modern IT infrastructure.

In addition, the distribution includes source code, additional freeware software and demo and evaluation versions of dozens of commercial Linux software packages. If you have not checked out what Linux can do for your organization, you owe it to yourself to see what you have been missing. Linux-Mandrake is a distribution that will help you do this with a minimal amount of effort.

Hammond is a Denver-based free-lance writer.



Price and AvailabilityAvailable on the open market for $50. For a complete list of resellers, please visit

RemarksLinux-Mandrake 6.0 PowerPack Edition is a rock-solid Linux distribution packed with goodies. Even a novice Unix user should be able to get up and running with it.


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