have been a Linux dabbler since 1993, when I worked in Berlin, Germany
with a real programmer, Scott Maley. Our mission there was conversion of
the Tempelhof Terminal Radar system to serve as the regional Air Traffic
Control System for the former East Germany. Scott was a subscriber to Linux
Journal before the Linux Kernel reached version 1.0, and he would let
me look at his magazines, which I found to be interesting curiosities.
While I could look over his shoulder at his Linux system, I didn’t have
one of my own until 1996 when I installed Red Hat (4.0?) on a 486 I was
retiring from active Microsoft service. Amazingly, I succeeded at getting
that old 486 set up as our home file and print server, although it didn’t
seem the sort of thing that just anyone could do. I had to recompile the
kernel to get it to work with my bus mouse and obsolete Western Digital
network card. Recompiling the kernel, for me, required extensive reading
of kernel cookbook instructions, and resulted in having to start over from
initial installation more than once. It was the sort of thing that computer
hobbyists might enjoy.
I stayed with Red Hat through version 6.0, and would probably still
be using it but couldn’t get network services working on a Toshiba laptop.
While this may sound like a criticism of Red Hat, it isn’t, as many other
people were able to get a configuration similar to mine working, and they
were patiently helping me do the same when someone suggested I might like
to try Mandrake . The
Linux world is very remarkable in this respect – there are a lot of people
willing to help you and it is very inexpensive to try different distributions.
If you have access to a high-speed Internet connection and a CD burner
(and almost everyone does nowadays, right?), then you can try any
one of the hundreds of Linux distributions for the cost of your time and
the blank CDs. When I first tried Mandrake Version 6.0. I was very impressed
with how easily it installed on my laptop, recognizing all the hardware,
including the Ethernet PC-card. A creature of habit, I have been using
Mandrake ever since and have been quite happy with it.
Who should try Linux
Linux is most suited for those with a “sys admin” outlook, who enjoy
twiddling with configuration files. Web-site developer/maintainers and
software developers must give it a try it a try and see the incredible
capabilities available at little or no cost.
More and more, though, if you just want to surf the web, use e-mail,
and maybe compose your paper for school, Linux may be for you. Mandrake
Linux installs easier than Microsoft Windows (98, 2000 or XP), and is at
least as likely to recognize all your hardware and work on first boot up.
There is the possibility that you may be one of those able to free yourself
from the monolith before you get so locked in to applications that demand
the Windows operating system.
While most people I know who use Linux, including myself, have a dual
boot machine, (we want Linux on our best hardware), I think first-timers
are better off trying it on the machine they have just replaced. Right
now people are giving away old Pentium II’s, if you don’t have one of your
own sitting in a closet, and Linux will run just fine on them. The advantage
of this is that you don’t worry about messing up your Windows machine and
you have the freedom of knowing you can’t hurt anything. You should be
aware that if your computer is really old (say a P-133 with 8MB RAM) you
ought to get an older version of Linux. These older versions are still
available for download. Mandrake recommends you have at least 64 MB of
RAM for using version 8.1. You should also have at least 2GB of disk space
available, and 4GB is better. However, you can still obtain versions that
will even run on a 386 with 640kb of RAM from their Web site.
If you are not putting Linux on a stand-alone machine, you must make
some decisions. Mandrake provides an option of installing itself in your
Windows partition, and actually starting up from a windows command. I have
never tried this, and wouldn’t recommend it. I have heard that it runs
slower than native mode.
If you have room for a second drive that you can dedicate to Linux,
then this is a better option. You won’t have to repartition your current,
fully utilized Windows partition. If for some reason you have just lost
all your data and must reinstall Windows, then you have the perfect opportunity
to set aside a small portion of that big hard drive, create a Linux partition,
and enjoy a dual-boot machine. Before you do any of these things, be sure
to read the “install.htm” file in the top-level directory of the first
CD. This document tells you everything you need to know to boot from the
CD-ROM and install Mandrake Linux. It also shows you how to create a set
of boot floppies if your machine can’t boot from CD-ROM. Other informative
reading about Linux and Mandrake can be found at Mandrake’s
Mandrake’s installation is easy and straightforward. From my experience
and reading, Mandrake does the best job of recognizing the hardware on
your machine and configuring it appropriately of any Linux distribution
available. There isn’t space in this review for a step-by-step description
of all must do, but the installation instructions will be sufficient for
most users and systems. When you are finished you will have X-Windows and
the KDE environment all configured for you.
Mandrake 8.1 comes with Linux Kernel version 2.4.8, the KDE Desktop version 2.2.1 with the dramatically improved KOffice 1.1. Server features include:support for Journalized File Systems, a special version of SAMBA which allows Windows file sharing with NT-like access control lists, and the Apache web server.
Some of the 100’s of applications include:
Availability and pricing
Grio500: synchronize your desktop with the Rio 500 MP3 player
Mozilla 0.9.4: browse the Web and try the new communication module
XMMS 1.2.5: edit and manage MP3 files
GIMP 1.2.2: create and manipulate photos with this powerful graphics software
Gphoto2: manage all your digital photos
Grip 2.96: burn you favorite CDs
KOffice 1.1: perform all your office tasks
Galeon 0.12.1: try this unusual browser for a new kind of browsing experience
Gnomemeeting 0.11: Share good times with family and friends with this full-featured
video conferencing software
If downloading and making your own CD is not something you can or want
to do, you can order the 3-CD “Download” set from Mandrake for $25 plus
$5 shipping, or from Cheabytes
for $10.49 including shipping. You may also find bargains on Mandrake through
other inexpensive sources such as book and discount computer stores.
If you want to jump in with both feet, Mandrake Linux PowerPack Edition
8.1 features 7 CDs, 2 manuals, thousands of Open Source and commercial
applications and installation support. The price of $89 includes shipping
and a contribution to Mandrake’s Free Software developments. Other more
expensive and extensive options are also available.