- Fast setup
- automatic configuration of most hardware options
- wireless support
- choice of GUI
- good documentation and support
- The sheer volume of functionality and applications can be daunting for newcomers
Here’s a few things you don’t often hear in relation to a Linux package, but in the case of Mandrakelinux 10.1 they’re absolutely true. This new release is a refreshingly easy package to install with a choice of graphical interfaces, management tools and add-on applications that make it as easy to configure and use as Microsoft's Windows, both for desktop and server deployment.
Integration into existing Windows and Unix/Linux networks is straightforward, the accompanying documentation is comprehensive and easy to read, and access to a range of support services is included as part of the package. If all that isn’t enough, it’s possible to run Mandrakelinux on any 32-bit x86 system (Pentium or above) and there’s support for both SMP and HyperThreading technology. There’s even a 64-bit version if you want.
A paltry 32MB of memory is all that’s required to get started (64MB for all the graphical features) and 1GB of hard disk space is recommended. But that disk can be ATA, SATA or SCSI, with RAID controller support also provided together with drivers for all the leading CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives, CD/DVD writers, USB, PCMCIA and FireWire storage devices.
Not that any of this really matters, as the automated install routine works out what you’ve got and configures just about everything itself. Similarly it can handle most leading graphics cards, including those with 3D acceleration, most TV and sound cards, and just about any network card, including wireless adapters. It will also work out how you connect to the Internet and, again, set up the software to match. Added to which this latest version is enhanced for notebook deployment with improved power management capabilities and drivers for both Intel Centrino wireless and Bluetooth connectivity.
We tried it on several PCs, including a couple of notebooks, and it loaded faultlessly each time. The only slight niggle was the need to feed in up to 8CDs in the PowerPack+ version we tried, although you can install from a single DVD when the necessary reader is available.
The PowerPack+ implementation (around £140 ex. VAT) is aimed at experts and includes groupware and advanced server applications as well as the Apache Web server, Samba 3.0 SMB file server and MySQL database included in the standard PowerPack package (£56 ex. VAT). Novices, meanwhile, can start with the 3CD Discovery pack, costing just over £30 (ex. VAT) or nothing at all -- other than time and bandwidth -- if you choose to download it.
All of these packages are based on a 2.6 Linux kernel with a KDE desktop and, in the PowerPack versions GNOME 2.6 should you prefer it. OpenOffice.org, the Microsoft Office-compatible suite, is another standard inclusion with each version, together with a choice of browsers, multimedia and other productivity tools. A barrage of other applications can also be added -- there are over 1,600 utilities in the Discovery package alone, and lots more besides in the PowerPack boxes.
It’s all very impressive and great way to get started with Linux. At the same time it has plenty of serious uses, and for corporate users the support and online update services are a major advantage.
Other Linux distributions may match it for functionality and performance, and you won’t find the Mandrakesoft package pre-loaded by many hardware vendors. But for sheer ease of use and enjoyment, Mandrakelinux is hard to beat.