- by Robin "Roblimo" Miller -
I've tried all the commercial GNU/Linux distributions, and so far I rate Mandrake as the best one for non-technical users, with SuSE close behind. But what I'd really like is for the two companies to merge and combine their best features. What would we call their product? Susie Mandrake? It could have a hellaciously cute icon, that's for sure. But more important, SuSE-Mandrake could give Windows XP serious competition on the user desktop.Mandrake has the easiest install routine of any Linux distribution, bar none, marred only by slightly obscure networking and printer setups. SuSE's install routine is not quite as polished as Mandrake's, but SuSE has the best collection of printer drivers I have ever seen in Linux, and has the only truly usable GUI "abort print" function I have ever used in any operating system.
SuSE's software update system, tied to SuSE's own servers, works flawlessly for me; it is at least as easy to use as Debian's apt-get, and easier than Red Hat Network, which is apparently designed for large corporations rather than home or small office use anyway.
Mandrake's software update system, which is dependent on random mirrors not owned or controlled by Mandrake, is a hit-or-miss thing -- with a poor user interface, too.
(Back around version 7.1, Mandrake promised to make their update utility better, but they've been through 7.2 and 8.0 and it's still lousy.)
Mandrake's default menus for KDE are organized in a reasonably logical manner, while I find SuSE's screwy. I also like Mandrake's default hard drive partitioning scheme much better than I like SuSE's. Both distributions are KDE-centric (with Gnome/ and other window managers as options). That's fine; I like KDE. But Mandrake has a cute little "X-Kill" button that instantly whacks Netscape when it behaves badly, while SuSE doesn't have it -- not that it's hard to grab that feature off a Mandrake CD and add it to a SuSE installation.
Mandrake automatically installs RealPlayer and a .pdf reader as Netscape plugins by default. SuSE doesn't install RealPlayer, and neither distribution automatically installs Flash 5, which is sad; there is a lot of original Flash animation work being done these days, and I would like to look at some of it without having to go through an install from source, which is the only way to get Flash 5 from Macromedia.
SuSE has a larger collection of video drivers than Mandrake, but SuSE installs no laptop utilities by default. I am using a WaveLan wireless card right now with the driver Mandrake installed automatically after detecting the card, while SuSE didn't detect either of the two popular wireless cards I tried. But SuSE's latest network configuration utility is clear and easy to use, while the one in Mandrake 8.0 is a horror; it doesn't even load properly for me most of the time.
Mandrake and SuSE have both lost (a nicer word than "fired") CEOs within the last few months. Both have seriously curtailed U.S. operations and laid off significant numbers of employees. Mandrake is doing an interesting, rather small, IPO to raise operating funds. SuSE? We don't know, but presumably they're hunting cash one way or another.
Both companies have great people working for them, and have done excellent Linux development work. It would be a shame to lose either one of them.
Why SuSE-Mandrake would work
The United States has a well-deserved reputation in most of the world for cultural and economic imperialism. One of the most visible symbols of U.S. dominance is that little Windows "start" button in the lower left corner of a computer screen. An emotional appeal by a strong pan-European operating system vendor to anti-U.S. sentiments would be a powerful sales tool almost everywhere -- except the United States. Advertise the lack of a U.S. connection, plus the fact that a "SuSE-Mandrake" boxed set priced at 1/2 the cost of Windows XP's full version contains the equivalent of close to $1,000 (USD) worth of Windows-based commercial productivity software, and you'd have a sales pitch that would sweep the world.
Leave out the anti-U.S. rhetoric, and SuSE-Mandrake could become a bestseller in the United States, too.
Imagine SuSE and Mandrake developers working together to increase Linux usability instead of competing with each other. I suspect that, aided by both distributions' many loyal users, within a few months a combined SuSE-Mandrake would have a "layered" install and update system that would satisfy everyone from the newest of newbies to the most hardened, console-loving, "I started with kernel 1.1" hacker. Imagine default menus with "new user," "complete workstation," and "uber-hacker" options...
Linux desktop nirvana!