December 2, 2003

Moving from Red Hat to Mandrake

Author: Joe Barr

For the first time in a good while, I'm not running Red Hat. This article is the first to be written on my new Mandrake 9.2 installation. While I feel no anger nor resentment towards Red Hat for its recent announcement that it is dropping its consumer desktop product, I do feel some angst. Red Hat has every right to pursue greater profits. They are choosing profits today from the server/enterprise market over participation in what will be the fastest growth market for Linux in the future: The consumer desktop. The reason for my angst, of course, is that the Red Hat announcement meant I would have to move my desktop to a new distribution.

Faced with a long holiday weekend and no travel requirements, I decided to make the most of my free time by making a move of my own. I had not been contemplating a desktop move prior to Red Hat's announcement, so the first thing I had to decide was which direction to jump. My short list included SuSE, Debian, and Mandrake. I scratched SuSE off the list because I think it is about to undergo some major changes after being purchased by Novell. Debian has all the appeal of the purity of free software and of being community driven, but it seems to me to lag a bit in accepting new apps. I need a desktop where new apps are comfortable from day one. And it just so happened I had a complimentary copy of Mandrake Discovery 9.2 sitting unopened nearby. I chose Mandrake.

The installation

My desktop system is cobbled together with three hard drives and a CD-R/W drive. One drive is partitioned for /backups, one is for my /home partition, and the third for /. When I started the Mandrake 9.2 installation I told it to use the existing partitions but to format only the / partition. The installation was off and running in no time.

The Mandrake Linux Discovery 9.2 edition is geared towards newcomers. It contains only 2 CDs instead of Mandrake's usual 3. The English language version of this edition may not be ready yet. In the copy I received, all the accompanying manuals were in French, and the box itself was as well. The installation default was US English, however, so that didn't slow me down. I suppose it's a sign of how far Linux installation has come in general that I didn't even notice the manuals weren't in English until after the install was complete.

I noticed a single commercial ad during the install. After all the uproar on Slashdot and elsewhere when the ad policy was announced earlier this year, it was highly anti-climactic. One small thing that bothered me during the initial detection phase was that my GE optical rodent was identified as a USB wheel. I left it that way and it works fine, but I still worry about it.

The thing that bothered me most about the relatively quick install was that the update phase seems to have run without having updated anything at all. This is a critical phase, when security fixes which have become available since the CDs were burned are applied. Nonetheless, about 20 minutes after starting the installation, I rebooted from the recently installed Mandrake Linux system.

Tweaking the installation

The installation worked perfectly from a hardware point of view. My printer (HP Deskjet 842C) was correctly identified and configured. My misidentified mouse worked. Same for my NIC and the network configuration. I was pretty much good to go. Except for the software environment.

I hadn't been offered any choices during the installation, and I ended up running a KDE 3.1 desktop, with no sign of Evolution, Mozilla, or even Galeon. Instead I was provided with KMail and Konqueror. Nothing against those fine programs, you understand, but I want to keep my mail history intact and Evo is my choice of mail clients. Ditto Mozilla as my browser. Worse, the KDE desktop seemed to suffer some hangover from previously done KDE installations under Red Hat. There were no icons on the bottom panel, which made even the simplest of tasks a little more challenging that they needed to be.

The cure was to use the Mandrake Control Center to start RpmDrake and start changing things. When I am cut off from my email, I am cut off from the world. Evolution was the first thing I had to install. Trying to install it with RpmDrake didn't work, however. It failed because of a library dependency. No problem. I simply installed Gnome using RpmDrake, then Evolution. Everything was there. I began to feel connected again. Of course, if I had known about urpmi from the beginning, I could have saved myself from that small case of the RPM dependency blues.

Mandrake uses urpmi to resolve the notorious tangled dependencies that plague those using RPMs. It does the same thing that apt-get, up2date, and Ximian Red Carpet all do: Determines what is needed by the package it has been requested to install, and provides the missing pieces.

Join the club!

I joined MandrakeClub for the same reason I had joined the Red Hat Network: Quick and easy access to the latest security updates. There are other benefits, too, but in my book that's what makes these offerings worthwhile. There are three levels of MandrakeClub membership: Standard, Silver, and Gold. Silver is the recommended level. The standard level is recommended for students and other "low resource" folk. That's the one I signed up for at $60.00 a year.

The first thing I found when I logged into MandrakeClub was a list of sources to use with urpmi to do security and bug fixes and updates. Since nothing seemed to be updated during installation, I was curious to try the security update right away. When I ran it, four updates were downloaded and applied.

I don't know if I did something wrong during installation -- possibly failing to configure something correctly -- or if Mandrake Discovery 9.2 just has a bug right out of the box that prevents security updates from being applied as part of the install, but I'd like to know which is the case. New install or not, the latest security fixes should always be applied.

I thought I had another issue after the install, but I didn't. I wasn't getting any sound from my SBLive card. It was puzzling me because the installation had seemed to find and configure the card without a hitch. Then I looked at the Gnome Volume control applet. Amazing what increasing the Line volume from zero to about sixty percent did for me.

Burp me urpmi

I still have an update problem, however. Whenever I try to update the waiting bugfixes, the download process just hangs up about 3/4 of the way through and never completes. Most annoying. I'll be working on that gotcha until I get it resolved.

As far as installation of new packages goes with urpmi and the MandrakeClub-supplied sources, no problem. I've added K3b, tvtime, and a few of my other favorite apps with no more effort than typing "urpmi (appname)" from the command line.


The Thanksgiving weekend is over and I'm riding a new Linux horse. The major difference between my new steed and the old one is that MandrakeLinux has not given up on the Linux desktop, while Red Hat apparently has.

I've had a few minor bumps thus far in the migration from Red Hat to MandrakeLinux, but no more than might be expected. It will take me a little bit of time and effort to become as familiar with urpmi and the Mandrake configuration tools as I've become with the Red Hat counterparts, but all the signs point to no loss at all in functionality, security, or ease of use.

On Monday, I had to copy a document in order to fax it before the close of business. Unfortunately, I hadn't realized that my HP 5200C scanner was not hooked up when I installed Mandrake 9.2. I discovered that when I tried to run Xsane and the only image source I had was from the TV card. I plugged in the USB connection and rebooted, thinking I might have to do a lot of scrambling to get it working. Wrong. The only thing I had to do was to choose the source: the scanner or the TV card. It just worked. I think I'm going to like Mandrake just fine.


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