France's MandrakeSoft on Wednesday released the latest edition of its Linux operating system distribution. The software extends the company's long-standing focus on desktop users -- a position that other Linux distributors, including Red Hat, have also begun to adopt.
The software is ready immediately for free download, with boxed retail versions available for pre-order to ship in late October. The Standard edition costs 30 euros (£19), PowerPack costs 65 euros and ProSuite costs 165 euros.
Some of the most significant tweaks to Mandrake Linux 9.0 are improvements to the desktop experience. MandrakeSoft has customised all of the various graphical user environments to have a consistent look and feel, a concept it calls "more homogeneity, less futility". This means, for example, that no matter what environment users are in, they have a similar set of menus for finding and running applications.
Red Hat is taking a similar approach to desktop consistency in its own upcoming distribution, scheduled for next week. A new feature called "Bluewave" gives a distinctive look and feel to both KDE and Gnome, although this has proven controversial for some KDE and Gnome developers.
When programs are installed or uninstalled, their icons automatically appear and disappear in the application menus of all of the interfaces. Besides the dominant KDE 3.0.3 and Gnome 2.0.1, Mandrake 9 includes WindowMaker 0.8, Enlightenment 0.16.5 and BlackBox 0.62.
Other processes are also automated in a way that will be familiar to users of consumer desktop operating systems such as Windows and Mac OS. When USB hardware devices are connected or disconnected, an icon appears or disappears on the desktop automatically. A feature called "supermount" applies the same principle to removable storage media such as CD-ROMs, floppy disks and the like.
The new versions of KDE and Gnome add such modern touches as translucent menus and instant previews of multimedia files.
The software supports new protocols such as USB 2.0, which is being built into some newer PCs and peripherals, and MandrakeSoft says it is the first Linux distribution to natively support NTFS disk drive partitions and the WebDAV protocol for remotely managing Web server files. NTFS support allows Linux to access Windows disk drives.
For corporate users, Mandrake Linux 9 integrates intrusion detection tools and utilities, encrypted file systems and secured authentication. Support for encrypted communications means that users can send and receive encrypted email with standard clients.
The company said it is aiming Mandrake 9 at corporates, government agencies and educational institutions, which are best-placed to save money by using Linux as both desktop and server.
The new distribution is certified for the Linux Standards Base 1.2. The LSB is designed to ensure that applications can run seamlessly on any version of Linux.