February 11, 2005

My workstation OS: Mandrakelinux

Author: Gary Maxwell

For almost three years I have used Mandrakelinux and compared it with several other desktop distros. For ease of use, excellent support, and up-to-date packaging, Mandrake is the best desktop going.

For ease of use, Mandrake can't beat. The Mandrake Control Center is cleanly laid out and is probably the most intuitive on the market. Setting up one's box is a snap. Mandrake's hardware recognition is simply superb. And I have never had Mandrake choke on my machines. It has always recognized and set up my hardware with little input needed from me. Mandrakelinux just keeps getting better with every release.

From Mandrake Move and the Discovery Edition to Powerpack Plus and the Corporate Server, Mandrake has always offered top-notch support for its products. The company answers inquiries in a timely fashion. And there's also a whole army of folks just waiting to be of assistance in the various forums and newsgroups.

No distribution is without its bugs. In the interest of improving quality, Mandrake has added a step to its development model: the Community Edition, an early release designed to allow users to work with cutting-edge applications at the earliest possible time. This additional step has greatly improved the Mandrake distribution and has positioned it as one of the most stable distros around.

Another great thing about Mandrake Linux is the interaction between the user community and the developers facilitated through Mandrake Cooker. Through Mandrake Cooker, users can report bugs and offer suggestions as to how to improve the packages. In fact, a user can anonymously upload a fix for the Mandrake developers to consider. All in all, it's a great way to interact with users, get specific bug reports, and improve the Mandrake distribution as a whole.

Mandrake has always supported open source and the open source philosophy. For instance, it still provides a free download edition to the community. In fact, I recently switched to the download edition to use as my everyday desktop, because I use only about five apps on a consistent basis, and another two or three for multimedia. Those apps include the Firefox Web browser, Evolution email and contact manager program, GnuCash financial application, OpenOffice.org office suite, and XMMS MP3 and streaming media player. Beyond these apps, I may use only two or three others as needed, such as K3B for CD burning and KCalc for simple calculator functions. However, it's nice to know that there are plenty of other apps available in the download edition. You can just imagine how many more apps you get with the boxed sets, along with Mandrake's excellent support offerings.

Mandrake has always had a knack for stabilizing a system and providing the most recent packages. In other distros, stability sometimes comes at the hands of antiquity.

Mandrake uses the RPM package manager, which is a convenient way to package apps and deliver them to the Linux platform. Yes, there is sometimes "dependency hell," but that is largely a thing of the past thanks to Mandrake's urpmi tool, Mandrake's equivalent to Debian's apt-get package system. Urpmi can find packages and resolves dependencies, making it an easy way to acquire Linux apps.

The Mandrake Control Center is the best and easiest way to configure your Mandrake box. With the Mandrake Control Center you can set up a LAN, specify security settings, activate a firewall (provided with every Mandrake distribution), set up and automate backups, update the system, and more. The Mandrake Control Center allows new users to set up their systems easily through a simple interface.

Mandrake earns its keep from its boxed sales and support offerings. In the fall of 2001, Mandrake introduced the Mandrakeclub as an additional stream of revenue for the company. Mandrakeclub members gets some special benefits, with the scope of the benefits increasing at each succeedingly more expensive level: Standard, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. As a user of Mandrake's Download Edition, the only way I have to support the company is to join at the Standard level of $66 per year. I would like to see Mandrake include a "Donation" option in its Mandrakestore. That way, users of the Download Edition could contribute at a level of their choosing, while others might be encouraged to simply drop a few dimes in the hat.

But for a distribution that offers so much to so many, this is a rather minor concern. Mandrake really has a lot going for it. While other distributions may exceed Mandrake in one area, the total package that Mandrake offers is far superior to that of other distributions.

I have heard others say that Mandrake is fine for newbies (and, indeed, it is) but that they have moved on to some other distribution that requires a lot more knowledge to configure. I'm all for learning more about Linux, and I can understand how some prefer the highly configurable, more esoteric distributions. But under the hood, Linux is Linux, and you can always delve into the inner workings of Linux on any distro. Why not use a distro that sets up everything for you and gives you a stable, secure, and customizable desktop to learn on?

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