January 18, 2003

Commentary: Why I would miss Mandrake

- By Dr. Paul Miller

Well, I am guilty as charged in the potential demise of Mandrake. You see, I am one of those leeches who likes to get something for nothing.
I burned the download version of Mandrake 9.0 and installed it on my old AMD
Athlon 800. No money paid to Mandrake. Thanks guys :) I can even get
access to their update servers for nowt, zilch, nada. They are most kind
and generous. They are nearly bankrupt.

Hmmm, something here just doesn't add up.

I did, before I am flamed inexorably, buy Mandrake 8.0 Powerpack last year.
Nice manuals, lots of stuff. Got it on my home computer but somehow,
someway, I just could not make it do all the things I wanted.

Now, this is partly me, I know. I am no hacker. I am a General
Practitioner (family doctor) in Glasgow in the UK, who grew up with ZX
Spectrums and Tandys and BBC Micros and fell in love with the potential of
the Information Age before I even knew what it was. I believe that
information wants to be free, and found the Free software movement to be a
natural fit with this ideology. So a few years back I murdered a 486 by
shoehorning Suse 6 point something (purchased with real money from PC World)
onto it. This was a steep learning curve. Disk partitioning was a mystery,
X was a beast, fonts were unreadable, dial up access an adventure , the
browser sucked and the word processor - well, I am not even sure I got that

But something clicked. For all the troubles there was a lot about it that
made sense. And it was another way of doing personal computing. And
anyway, just why should any one company control and dictate how I use my
computers? If stuff is to be free, information access ubiquitous, then the
tools to access it must be free. Why commit the Information Divide to habit
or statute?

So, that was 1998 or so, I think. And since then I have progressed through
various iterations of Gnu/Linux on various bits of hardware but never, on no
single occasion, have I been able to run and sustain a Gnu/Linux desktop for
day to day use at home. It has always fallen down somewhere along the line.
Simple stuff, really. Printing fails, cut and paste does not work, you
cannot access your Windows shares, the file system breaks and appears
unfixable without a PhD, mounting, Netscape 4.7 (ugh!), Star Office 5 (ugh,
ugh!), 3D acceleration, fonts, mouse wheels, USB, dependency hell, rpms,
abstract command lines, compile this, then that, then do ten more things,
but don't forget that or you will have to do it all again this way, with
that library, oh, and by the way - your kernel just does not support Lusers!

Until now, that is.

Mandrake 9.0 does it. Installation was un-challenging. KDE 3 is very
pretty and infinitely tweakable. I upgraded to Mozilla 1.2.1, sorted out
rights to my Windows XP share, played MP3s, ripped and encoded a Coldplay
CD, edited Word documents, studied for my medical informatics diploma,
e-mailed people and managed IMAP folders, cropped and resized some jpegs
with GIMP, downloaded some other stuff and used graphical tools to install
them. It is solid, nice to look at and an absolute pleasure to use. And I
have a scrolling mouse wheel, 3D acceleration, printing, anti-aliasing, USB
disk drives and above all, Tux Racer.

So, some of this I have achieved because I am moderately techy and not
afraid of a shell prompt. I have learned how to use chmod and less and ls
but, to be honest, not much more. I am a sad Luser really. I like GUI
stuff. I also have a busy, busy job, two children, a cat and far too many
other things to do. So I need stuff to work quickly and well, and if it
does not then I need to use something that does.

Mostly, however, my success with this desktop is down to you lot - the
ethereal "Open Source Community" and your intellect, inspiration and vision.
And of course, the very, very nice people at Mandrake, who packaged it all
up and made it free to download. Thank you!

You have just hit the place I need you to be - delivering a stable, usable,
personal desktop - and I am sure you can only get better. When my
(unexpectedly high) January tax bills are paid, and I have a little free
cash again, I will join the Mandrake Club, or buy 9.1. I promise. If you
are still around, that is. And if you are not I will be sad because, whilst
I know that the code is all Free, the philosophy, drive, and team spirit
that delivers the Mandrake distribution is not. And all that would be lost.

So, make no mistake, the demise of Linux Mandrake would be a very sad thing
for us users and for the Open Source Community as a whole.

I really like my Mandrake Gnu/Linux box. I like liberty, and I like using
my computer. So Mandrake, I would miss you. I wish you well.

And if you can hang on another three months or so, I'll even give you some
money again.

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