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Mandrake 9.1: Can installation get any easier?

Joe Barr had to work to make installing Mandrake 9.1 a challenge

(LinuxWorld) — I received a review copy of Mandrake Linux PowerPack 9.1 last week. I was happy to see it, but as I noted in the story about my frugal Red Hat 9 upgrade a couple of weeks ago, I'm a little hardware-challenged at the moment. Did I let that stop me? Of course not! When the going gets tough, I did what I usually do, I begged my long-suffering girlfriend, Susan, for help. Sure enough, she allowed me to use the well-traveled Sony laptop in her possession to replace the Red Hat 8 installation with Mandrake 9.1. Her only requirement was that I not lose any of her data. She wanted her e-mail, browser settings, and pictures intact. With warning bells ringing in my head, I assured her that her files were absolutely safe with me, and no possible harm could come to them.

Despite this outrageous fib, I avoided a Divine lightning strike and set to work. Last time I tried a distro transplant I used cp to back up my personal data files on another machine. However, that method created problems with file permissions and ownership. A clever reader advised I try rsync instead. First, I checked to see if I created a separate partition for /home in the current installation. Alas, I had not. A separate partition makes using rsync for back up and restoration easier.

Using rsync turned out to be very easy. Naturally, however, it took me several tries to get it right. Every time I entered the command rsync -av /home/directory-name [email protected]:/home it shut down with an error message saying the connection had been refused. I stopped iptables on the desktop machine and tried again. No joy.

It was time for drastic measures. I decided to temporarily forego my manliness and ask for directions. I entered the Unix version of an SOS by typing man rsync. This is strange, I thought, as I noted that rsync could use either rsh or ssh as the transport. I read further and learned that rsync uses rsh by default, but that you can specify an alternative like ssh in the command line. I tried the rsync command again, this time including -e ssh as an option. It ran just fine. Wonderful stuff, documentation.

Installation No. 1

The PowerPack 9.1 distribution consists of seven CDs. My installation required but three. I booted the laptop from the first CD, accepted the licensing terms, selected standard security, and told the installer that it could erase and use the entire disk. The whole process took about 40 minutes, though a few of those minutes were due to me being elsewhere while the installer patiently waited for me to load the next CD.

I selected the Office Workstation, Games, Multimedia, Internet, Network Computer, and GNOME desktop packages. As they loaded, the installer asked for CD No. 2, and a few minutes later it wanted the International CD.

I accepted the default master boot record (MBR) location for the bootloader. I noticed in the Configuration Summary screen that X was not yet configured. It took less than a minute to set the resolution, select the video card, and select XFree 4.3. I ran the video test just to be safe, and all was well. The software update went by in less than a minute. I don't believe there were any fixes to apply, but it happened so quickly I'm not certain. After rebooting, I selected the Ocean Dream theme for desktop appearance. I skipped mail configuration since Evolution was already configured on the backup. Except for restoring Susan's home directory from backup, I was done.

Restoring data the hard way

I ran into a minor problem of my own making when I attempted to use rsync to move the data from its backup position on my desktop back onto the laptop. I couldn't get rsync to work. It took me a few minutes to figure out the problem: sshd had not been installed. That gave me the opportunity to use RpmDrake, the software component of the Mandrake Control Center. It was easy to use. I just entered sshd in the text window and it told me which CD to insert. Nothing to it.

After doing the reverse rsync, I logged in Susan's account to see what would happen. It's a good thing I did. My plan worked, but not perfectly. Several of the icons along the bottom on the screen were defaulted to the GNOME footprint that's used when the specific icon for an item isn't found. The good news is that it only took a minute to add the missing applications. In short order I had GQView, Galeon, Evolution, Gaim, Gnumeric, and a GNOME terminal on the panel. I noticed that the Mandrake Control Center wasn't there, so I added it.

The first moment of truth came when I clicked on Galeon. It came up and went to the Accuweather Web site, just as it was supposed to. Next, I checked Evolution to make sure that Susan's mail had not been lost. It was there, too. Finally I clicked GQView. Pictures of her pets appeared. I was out of the woods and home free. Everything was present and accounted for and there was not a hair out of place. Or so I thought.

I shut the laptop off and began writing a less eventful version of this story on my main computer. After awhile, I needed to check some facts on the Sony laptop and powered it back up. It booted alright, but then it placed me in an X jail cell that I couldn't break out of. Something about a GNOME Session Manager, but GNOME never started, it just sat there. The LinuxWorld editor opined that maybe my mucking had made KDM try to start with GDM configuration files, or vice-versa, but we'll never know.

My first attempt at recovery was simple. I rebooted and chose the "failsafe" option from the bootloader menu. That gave me a single-user session in a console, which given my recent confinement in X, was just fine with me. Obviously, my backup scheme was flawed. I had copied over all the GNOME 2.2 configuration files installed by Mandrake with the BlueCurve GNOME settings from Red Hat 8. I thought the fix would be to simply delete the user and then add a new one to get back in sync with Mandrake. But that didn't work, so I did a brute-force recovery by reinstalling Mandrake from scratch. As Susan recently told me after seeing the movie "A Mighty Wind," we only have one brain between us. I haven't seen the movie, but I am pretty sure she wasn't counting mine.

At this point, some of you may be howling at my reinstalling Mandrake when it is apparent the problem was my misconfiguring X Window System. In my view, however, reinstallation took 40 minutes, and my diagnosing the X configuration files could have taken hours.

Installation No. 2

For the second installation, I selected three items I hadn't chosen the first time around: the Configuration Center, Console tools, and Firewall/router packages. Everything else remained as before, and the second installation went as smoothly as the first. The image below shows the Mandrake 9.1 desktop with the Ocean Dream theme just as it looked after Installation No. 1. The Mandrake installation process was good in previous versions, but I believe the Mandrake wizards streamlined and improved it in version 9.1.

Taking a more finely grained approach to recovering Susan's data the second time, my first chore was to recover her e-mail. I did this by using rsync again. As before, I had to tell it to use ssh for the transport, but this time I didn't have to install ssh. It took just a second to bring the complete contents of the evolution directory across the LAN. I started Evolution and it was all there.

Next came the .galeon directory. It looked to me as if everything belonging to .galeon was copied, but after starting the browser for the first time, instead of going to Susan's normal homepage, it displayed a Mandrake information/help screen on the hard drive. Other bookmarks and her browser history appeared to be intact, so I am not sure what caused this. I changed the homepage manually and proceeded.

I needed to add GQView, but Gaim, the Swiss Army knife of instant message clients, was already in place. Then I grabbed the .gaim, .gaimrc, .gqview configuration files and all the pictures from the backup directory. When I added the programs to the panel, it looked like you see it below. As far as I can tell, everything on the laptop is complete and correct again. Of course, the real test won't occur until Susan gives it a whirl.

Mandrake 9.1 GNOME with Ocean Dream theme
Editor's note: The above image is reduced in size and color palette to allow it to load quickly. Click on this image to see the original.

Before I returned the laptop to Susan, I looked around a bit to see what was new in this release. At the risk of sounding blasé, Mandrake 9.1 is a pretty standard distribution, and consists of the latest KDE, GNOME, OpenOffice.org, Xine, Apache, MySQL, PHP, and PostgreSQL. The PowerPack version comes with 60-days of support via e-mail. The higher-priced ProSuite version of Mandrake comes with 60 days of telephone support and some additional server software.

One thing I hadn't noticed before was the icon on the far right hand side of the panel. It's called the "Show Desktop Button." Clicking it makes all active windows on your system disappear. You see nothing but the desktop. Clicking it again makes them reappear. It reminds me of something called the "boss key" back in the early days of Windows.

More interesting than that, however, was the fact that the software was written by Havoc Pennington and copyrighted by Red Hat. I don't see it anywhere on my Red Hat 9 desktop, but here it is by default on the latest Mandrake release. That got me thinking a bit more about what I had just accomplished. True, because of my own flawed plan I had had to install Mandrake twice, but in addition to doing an upgrade, I had also moved from one major Linux distribution to another without missing a beat. I think it is pretty cool that you can do that. Wait a minute. Maybe I better go shut the laptop off and then power on again, just to make sure.

More Stories By Joe Barr

Joe Barr is a freelance journalist covering Linux, open source and network security. His 'Version Control' column has been a regular feature of Linux.SYS-CON.com since its inception. As far as we know, he is the only living journalist whose works have appeared both in phrack, the legendary underground zine, and IBM Personal Systems Magazine.

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