Mandrake Linux 9.2 'kills' some CD-ROM drives

The latest release of MandrakeSoft's operating system can permanently disable CD drives from a major manufacturer, the company has warned

MandrakeSoft is warning its users that the latest release of its operating system, released earlier this month, could permanently disable some CD-ROM drives.

The company said that CD-ROM drives based on hardware from South Korean electronics manufacturer LG become inoperable when used with Mandrake Linux 9.2. An instruction sent by the operating system core, or kernel, erases the drives' firmware, the code embedded in a device that interacts directly with hardware, MandrakeSoft said. Once disabled, the drives can only be restored by the manufacturer.

The problem originates with the drives, which do not comply with the ATAPI specification to which most mass storage devices on the market are built, MandrakeSoft said. The drives misread a command that is only intended for CD-RW and DVD-RW devices, the FLUSH_CACHE command, understanding it as the UPLOAD_FIRMWARE command, which overwrites the drive's firmware.

MandrakeSoft has released a new Linux kernel, version 2.4.22-21mdk, which fixes the problem, but CDs and downloadable installation software for Mandrake Linux 9.2 have not yet been updated with the new kernel. Until the problem is fixed, Mandrake advises users of affected LG drives to download updated firmware for the devices, if available, before installing the operating system.

HP, Compaq, Dell and IBM have all been selling PCs with affected drives, in some cases for months or years, although not all LG-based devices are affected, MandrakeSoft said. A list of drives known to be affected, along with updated software, is available on MandrakeSoft's Web site.

The glitch is an embarrassment for MandrakeSoft, which is struggling to emerge from bankruptcy protection. The company, based in Paris but with most of its sales in North America, faces competition not only from Microsoft and established Linux sellers such as SuSE and Red Hat, but also from a new generation of Linux companies including Lindows, NeTraverse and Lycoris.

In July the company issued an unusual advisory urging users of Mandrake Linux 9.1 not to install a security update to the kernel, due to a serious security bug in the update.

MandrakeSoft has released several new products to try to lure more customers. Besides its 9.2 version for Linux enthusiasts, released on 15 October, it sells a Corporate Server product, which like Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SuSE Linux Enterprise Server changes less frequently in an effort to ease interactions with corporations and software companies. Mandrake Linux software is available on several desktop computers from Hewlett-Packard.

CNET's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.