Continuing with our review series of distributions for AMD64 processors, the
next product we tested was the 64-bit edition of
. Unlike the previous three distributions (see Debian on AMD64
, Fedora Core 3 on AMD64
and Gentoo Linux on AMD64
Mandrakelinux 10.1 for X86-64 is not readily available for download, and
even the Silver-level members of Mandrakeclub were only given access to the
ISO images some 6 weeks after the official release on November 10th, 2004.
That said, we noticed that, just before Christmas, the x86_64 directory on
Mandrakelinux mirrors was populated with RPM packages together with a small
installation ISO image, so rather than asking Mandrakesoft for a review
copy, we opted for a network install instead. As always, the boxed edition
of Mandrakelinux 10.1 for X86-64 is available from Mandrakestore
First, the system specifications: AMD64 3500+ processor (2.2GHz), K8N Neo2
(Socket939) mainboard from Micro-Star International, 2 GB of DDR SDRAM, 2 x
120 GB Maxtor hard disks, Plextor PX-712A DVD/CD rewritable drive, and
NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4600 graphics card. The monitor was a standard 19 inch
LCD from Mozo International.
We downloaded the 4.5 MB install.iso image from a mirror site. Although
the ISO was in the /official/10.1/x86_64/ directory, it turned out to be
just a generic installation image with no built-in specifications that
would indicate its architectural affinity. After detecting and loading the
correct network card module and confirming that DHCP should indeed be
activated (other options included static IP and ADSL), the installer asked
to specify the installation method (FTP, HTTP, NFS or hard disk). It
continued with a request to type in a preferred FTP/HTTP server and a
correct path to the install directory. Since the installer itself does not
include a list of available mirrors, you need to look up the information
before starting the installation. After the usual partitioning and package
selection screens, the installer was ready to begin downloading and
installing the new operating system.
From this point on, the installation proceeded without much human
interaction. As with previous three distributions, we chose a complete
workstation with GNOME and KDE, as well as a handful of server
applications. The local mirror delivered the packages at the maximum
available connection speed which meant that the installation completed in
less than two hours. After a few more screens helping to configure the boot
loader, X server, security settings, adding users and specifying the root
password, we were presented with an option to update the system with
security and bug fix updates.
And this is were we spotted the first bugs, or more precisely, some amusing
geographical anomalies. This time, the installer did supply a list of
available update servers, neatly arranged by countries in which the servers
were located. However, only a dozen or so countries were on the list, while
the remaining update servers, be they in Brazil, Hungary or Japan, were all
listed under "United States"! The next geographical mishap happened on the
survey page, where we decided to let Mandrakesoft have our hardware data.
But when we got to the drop-down list from which to select our country of
residence, we noticed that a number of big populous countries, such as
China or Japan, were not listed at all, while Antarctica or Pitcairn (a
tiny Pacific Ocean island of less than 50 inhabitants) did appear on the
list. Since our country of residence wasn't listed, we pretended to be
descendants of those famous mutineers on HMS Bounty and registered Pitcairn
as our country of residence.
Of course, these are no showstopper bugs, just something for the
Mandrakelinux developers to polish before 10.2. However, worse was to come.
The first surprise came after logging into KDE, which greeted us with a
desktop background that proudly proclaimed "Mandrakelinux 10.1 Community".
Community!? But we had pointed the installation sources at the "Official"
directory, so how come we ended up with the Community edition? We rushed to
check the "mandrakelinux-release" RPM file, which confirmed that what we
installed was indeed the "Community" edition, despite it having been placed
in the "Official" directory (the same RPM package in the official/i586
directory correctly indicated the "Official" status of the i586 branch). A
quick question on the expert mailing list brought dead silence - a marked
difference from our earlier experiences with the Debian mailing lists and
Gentoo forums, where questions were answered and problems solved with much
After coming to grips with the fact that nobody really knew what edition of
Mandrakelinux we had installed, the next logical step was getting product
updates. Based on experiences with Fedora, SUSE and other distributions, we
expected to find a "Update" icon somewhere in the KDE system tray and we
weren't disappointed; there it was - the "Mandrakelinux Updates Applet". A
double-click brought up a dialog, which... well, before turning this
experience into a long story, let's just say that, after having made the
effort to configure the applet and register for an update account, we still
weren't able to get any updates - that's because this is a paid service,
only available to Silver-level members of Mandrakeclub. It would have been
nice if the applet had informed us about this fact beforehand, but it
wasn't the case.
Surely, there is another way to get updates - through the good old Update
module of the Mandrakelinux Control Center. Unfortunately, this turned out
to be another frustrating experience - no matter how many times we tried to
configure the update sources, the application kept displaying an error
message claiming that it could not find any available mirrors, most likely,
it said, because our installed architecture was not supported by
Mandrakelinux updates. But upon examining several mirrors, the update
directory for x86_64 was available and populated with RPM packages, so why
the misleading message?
And this is what we thought was possibly the biggest problem with today's
Mandrakelinux - because of the distribution's increasingly commercial
nature, we were often unable to determine whether a particular feature was
disabled in order to make the user join a premium service, or whether it
was deliberately crippled so that the user doesn't easily find a way around
the club membership net. Either way, the experience was not pleasant. Of
course, there is always a possibility that these were just bugs. But if
that were the case, there were already too many of them, even before
starting to use the distribution proper.
Eventually we found a way to configure the application to get updates - by
resorting to the command line and using the "urpmi.addmedia" command.
Unfortunately, by that time we started having serious doubts about the
quality of this distribution, where lack of attention to detail and various
"joined the club" tricks seemed to be the order of the day. In a way,
Mandrakelinux 10.1 started to resemble LindowsOS 4, which installed a bunch
of flashing and rotating icons of various other Lindows products into the
system tray, all screaming "buy, buy, buy". Not quite as bad, but close
enough for discomfort.
In all fairness, once we got through these early troubles, the
distribution turned out to be a pleasant product. The hardware
autodetection was flawless, the applications we tested behaved as expected,
and Mandrakelinux Control Center is a friendly utility for most general
configuration tasks. Like in Fedora Core, many 32-bit applications and
libraries were installed on the system alongside the 64-bit ones - the
32-bit libraries (referred to as lib*) are in /lib, while the 64-bit
libraries (referred to as lib64*) are in /lib64. On the download server,
the two branches are stored in two separate directories - main and main32;
the main directory lists a total of 3,875 packages, while the main32
directory lists 573 packages, including OpenOffice.org and MPlayer.
Interestingly, the popular PLF site
hosting third-party Mandrakelinux packages now has an x86_64 directory with
over 100 RPM packages, including many multimedia applications and codecs
which cannot be legally shipped with Mandrakelinux.
Is Mandrakelinux 10.1 (X86-64) worth €119? As we did not test the
commercial edition of the product, we cannot really answer the question,
but the FTP edition has given us enough warning signs to put any
recommendations on hold. Frankly, it is hard to see how Mandrakelinux will
compete with other 64-bit distributions on the market, especially with the
likes of Fedora, but also Debian or Gentoo, which are free of cost and
available for download immediately after release (or continuously updated).
Additionally, all three of them have more up-to-date packages
(Mandrakelinux 10.1 ships with GNOME 2.6 and KDE 3.2.3), fewer bugs
(especially when compared to Fedora Core 3), and more responsive mailing
lists and user forums, actively monitored by the distributions' developers.
Mandrakelinux 10.1 X86-64 is not a bad product, but it is marred by lack of
polish and some unnecessary commercial tricks.
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