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Mandrake 8.2 offers the easiest installation ever

Latest Mandrake puts to rest the notion 'Linux installation is too hard'

(LinuxWorld) -- One of my first heroes (and a nominee for my Dweeb Hall of Fame) was a guy I ran across on Bix years ago. His name is Roedy Green. To say that Roedy was sensitive to poorly designed software installation would be to say President Bush is sensitive to suggestions his administration should have known the 9/11 attacks were coming. Green wrote scathing criticisms of various products -- applications or operating systems, it made no difference to him -- where the installation had been given short shrift. He knew what he was talking about. Green had an absolute gift for breaking down the most complex or technical aspects of personal computing into chunks of words and images that anyone could understand.

Why do I mention Green now, 12 years later? Because in most of the columns I've written about Linux distributions over the years I have spent a lot of time on the installation process. That is thanks to the influence of Roedy Green's commentaries.

This installation of Mandrake 8.2 on my laptop was a 20 minute no-brainer. The first time, that is. It took about twice as long the second time, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I began with Sorcerer Linux on the laptop. After booting from the first Installation CD, I let Mandrake have its head and chose the Recommended installation path instead of the Expert path, which allows you to make all the configuration decisions yourself. I gave it the full drive to play with, and it sliced it up as follows: 64 megabytes of swap space, a 3.4 gigabyte /boot partition, and all the rest -- 14 gigabytes -- given the root directory. Both the /boot and / partitions were formatted as ext3 journaling filesystems.

I checked the Office, Game, Multimedia, Internet, Configuration, Console Tools, and Development packages and the KDE graphical environment to be installed, then sat back to wait. Every couple of minutes the install would pause and ask me for the next CD. Boring, boring, boring.

I had my Net Gear Model FA411 PCMCIA NIC installed but it was not connected to my cable modem during installation. Mandrake's install detected the NIC and gave me a chance to enter static IP data or select DHCP. DHCP is what I needed and that was the end of the dreaded "network configuration" phase.

The only part of the install that didn't go perfectly was in the detection of my LCD monitor. Mandrake suggested a standard SVGA capable of 1028/760 resolution. That probably would have worked fine, but I scrolled up the list of monitor choices to find the generic LCD of the same resolution and chose it. Mandrake suggested 800 by 600 resolution, but I overrode that default and chose 1028/760. End of story. It just worked.

It was then I noticed that had I been connected to the Internet, I could have automatically downloaded any applications or tools that had been updated since the installation CDs were burned. That's why I decided to install it again.

The second installation went just as smoothly as the first. The only difference being that I had the laptop connected to the cable modem. When I got to the same point the second time, I selected a site to download the updated apps from and clicked OK. After connecting to the site, I was presented a list of applications to choose from, with 20 or so "preselected" updates already checked. I accepted the default list and clicked OK again. About 20 minutes later (this could be much longer if you have a 56Kb dialup line instead of broadband Internet access) I had the latest security or bug enhanced versions of those applications.

Touring 8.2

In less than an hour I had Mandrake to go, ready to go. A completely equipped laptop with all the tools I need for work or play. Internet ready, to boot. I mentioned this is the Powerpack edition of Mandrake 8.2. That means two CDs of commercial offerings, most of which are demo versions. What's included on those CDs?

Let's click on the Commercial CD icon that the install left on the KDE desktop and find out. There are a number of graphics programs -- mostly demo versions -- including an AC3D, the Blender 3D suite, Camelo, and VariCAD. Need a development environment? Also included are BlackAdder (for Python), C++Test, Codewizard, Insure++, JDK, Jtest, KDE Studio Gold, and Revolution.

But wait, there's more! Need an accounting package? Try FreeGica (only of use to companies in France, Belgium, and Luxembourg at present), MyBooks and MyBooks Professional from APPGEN, Provenchoice, or Quasar for professional accounting solutions. Have to meet payroll demands? Try the WXpaye demo. Just need a personal finance manager? Give Kapital or Moneydance (also from APPGEN) a whirl.

How about an office suite? Many of those wanting to shrug off the chains of the malignant monopoly need a replacement office suite. Included are a time-limited version of Hancom Office 2.0 and a completely functional version of StarOffice 6.0. StarOffice 6.0 is being sold by Sun for $75.95 a copy, so its inclusion gives Mandrake's offering a real boost in value.

Not ready to cut the apron strings entirely? There are a couple of emulation aids to allow you to continue to run Windows apps on Linux. Win4Lin, for example. Codeweaver's CrossOver Plugin and wine for another.

I may have overlooked a package or two in those categories, and there are many other non-free programs included on the two commercial CDs. Just remember that most of these are time or feature limited demos, designed to make you want to buy the product.

One thing that's missing from Mandrake 8.2 (I believe it was in the previous release, but I'm not sure) is locate. Whether locate has been replaced with slocate, neither is to be found. What I did find courtesy of a Google search is mention of a site where Mandrake Club members can download the missing utility.

Mandrake 8.2's install process -- as do those of other modern Linux distributions -- removes problematic installs from the list of barriers to switching to Linux. It is as easy to install as Windows. The Windows installation advantage is simply that it doesn't have to be installed, it's that it is pre-installed. Is it perfect? Hardly. Witness the missing locate . There are bound to be hardware combinations that will bring even Mandrake's smooth installation process some grief. On my mainstream notebook, it couldn't have been much easier.

More Stories By Joe Barr

Joe Barr is a freelance journalist covering Linux, open source and network security. His 'Version Control' column has been a regular feature of Linux.SYS-CON.com since its inception. As far as we know, he is the only living journalist whose works have appeared both in phrack, the legendary underground zine, and IBM Personal Systems Magazine.

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