Mandrake 8.2: 85% Icky Poo (that's Bad), IMHO
Last updated: 6/30/2002; 5:27:50 PM
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Mandrake 8.2: 85% Icky Poo (that's Bad), IMHO

NOTE: There is no way that this doesn't come off as negative.  I so didn't want that.  I've always heard good things about Mandrake and shelled out $39.95 in the hopes that it would really work.  Sigh.  Hopefully someone at Mandrake will see this and use it constructively.  Making these things public sometimes helps.

People I really respect have always told me good things about Mandrake.  So in my current quest for an operating system that will support my ThinkPad since Windows 2K does not (see here), I picked up a copy of Mandrake 8.2.  Rarely, if ever, has a Unix variant been so disappointing.  I've now installed it 4 times and I can feel a 5th time coming on later today.  My specific issues:

  1. PCMCIA Support is Interesting.  If it can't recognize a PCMCIA device at install time, it doesn't load the PCMCIA support code so you end up having to recompile to get it going.  Silly.

  2. No drivers for WiFi.  Understandable.  Annoying but understandable.  I downloaded them and will try and install them later when my pain threshold is higher.

  3. Do Not Do a Custom Install.  Accept the defaults!  I went through and customized down to the individual package level.  It worked – sort of.  I ended up with a deceptively working system.  Yes it started up fine and seemed ok.  But when I tried to address the PCMCIA problem in #1, I found out that I was missing cpp0 - a software tool you need to install pretty much ANYTHING.  After messing around a bit, I came to the rapid conclusion that it was easier to just plain re-install.

  4. Install Ximian Desktop. I highly recommend installing the desktop over the top of Mandrake 8.2.  I felt that I had a much better system after that (although some of this is because I am not fond over KDE).  This gives you, among other things, Evolution the closest thing to Outlook under Linux.

  5. Expect Network Updating to Fail.  At the end of the install, Mandrake 8.2 offers to update itself over the net with the latest and greatest.  Very cool – but it doesn't work, at least not for me.  I ended up being unable to even get back to a prompt or even telnet into the system to restart it.  Nothing quite as frightening as turning off a running Unix box.  Thankfully an automatic fsck cleared up any problems – but I did hold my breath.

  6. The 1st Time User Wizard is Buggy.  When you first log on, they walk you through initial configuration steps and prompt you to sign up for the MandrakeExpert website.  They even spawn a browser window to enable this.  It would be so much better if the browser window allowed you to click into the fields in the web page and enter data – you literally can't.  That's usually better although maybe it's just me.

  7. DVD Playback is Interesting.  Xine did not work for playing back DVDs although I was able to see still images and hear the DVD, actual video was missing.  But, as with the dancing bear, it's not how well he dances but that he dances at all.  Given all the issues in this area, that's very cool.  NOTE:  I just discovered that this is actually correct – you have to download something else called the D4D plugin to get DVDs to play back.  This is the whole DECSS thing smacking me in the head.  Sigh.

  8. Standard Things Seem to Be Missing.  For example locate isn't installed by default so you have to use find which is slower and there is no .xinitrc file so I can't, for the life of me, figure out how it knows where the Window Manager is.

  9. The C Compiler Don't Work.  Even after multiple installs and choosing the development tools option every time, I just found out that the C compiler doesn't work.  For a *nix box this is a huge deal as a lot of things require this. 

  10. Don't Expect the Website to Work.  After #6 I figured – well I can use Internet Explorer to register so I can get support.  Yeah right.  When I went here:, I got this:

Warning : Can't connect to MySQL server on 'tiburon' (111) in /var/www/include/phplib/php/ on line 75

Database error: pconnect(tiburon, cremeuser, $Password) failed.
MySQL Error : ()
Session halted.

10 1/2 hours later – I tried it again (just as I typed the above section), by going to: and filling out the options.  I again got the exact same error.  Hello!  Systems Monitoring!  Hello!   You know it's really sad when small open source projects like do a far better job of keeping things running than these larger efforts.

Positive Things

I made a lot of negative points.  Let me comment on one other thing – it's about 90% certain that this is what will run my laptop for at least the next month.  Once you are past the initial "hit head against wall" problems, it's not so bad.  So while I may not love it, I am using it and have even started installing software and adding my own data (a sure sign that I'm going to stay with it unless it blows up really, really bad).  Once I added Ximian Desktop over the top of Mandrake 8.2, it just plain "felt better".  And that isn't to say that I'm in love with Ximian either.  For example – there is no apparent way to change the Window Manager over to Enlightenment, nor can I find even a clue how to change my overall Gnome theme. 

Other nice things – A built in AIM compatible instant messaging program, GAIM, Yahoo Messenger works ok once you get past the seg faults on install (tip: do not have it install itself into the menus and you are ok), it's so wonderful to once again have virtual desktops that I can't even describe it, Galeon, a new Mozilla Gecko based browser, is actually really good.  It's a lot faster than Mozilla and even integrates a built in Google search box. 

Closing Thoughts

Unlike which I looked at last weekend (a sign of an alpha geek:  installs Linux distributions on a Friday night and then critiques them over the weekend), Mandrake is a "name brand" distribution.  This means that software is much more readily available for it.  Lycoris is based on the Caldera distribution which has fallen a bit out of favor so less software is available for it.  And I know that there shouldn't be different software builds since it's all still Linux – tell that to ISVs like Yahoo who have 4 different build of Yahoo Instant Messenger or Ximian which has 3 builds of Ximian Desktop.  It may be icky but it's the current reality.

Bottom Line?  If you really, really want desktop *nix?  Buy a Mac running OS X.
I'm still not sure if it's for me but that's my recommendation.

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