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Mandrake 9.0 speeds into the installation lead

Part 4 in our comparison of the installation speed of Windows & Linux

(LinuxWorld) — Last week, we took an "unofficial" look at the Xandros 1.0 installation. This week, we are back on the straight-and-narrow — the "official" install comparo — with Mandrake 9.0 stepping into the spotlight. Can the Mandrake installation compare favorably to that of W2K and Windows XP and dethrone our defending champion, Red Hat 8.0? Let's find out.

As always, the Sony Vaio laptop had all partitions removed from its hard drive before beginning the installation. It was equipped with the same Netgear PCMCIA Ethernet card and IBM USB PC camera that were in place for the previous installs.

The Mandrake PowerPack Edition 9.0 contains seven CDs: two installation discs, one documentation disc, two commercial-applications discs, one supplementary applications disc and one source disc. The sheer size of it had me worried that it might be the slowest installation of all. Perhaps if I had chosen to install everything it might have been, but as is de rigeur in the official series, I took the default path whenever possible.

Getting started

Shortly after power on, a Mandrake Linux window appeared on the screen offering me the choice of pressing F1 for more options or simply hitting Enter to install or upgrade my system. I hit Enter, and a scroll bar at the bottom of the window moved rapidly across the screen. The screen went blank, and scrolling text typical of any Linux boot appeared, then disappeared. A window popped up, saying "PLEASE WAIT ENABLING PCMCIA EXTENSION CARDS." It was followed shortly by another advising that it was probing serial ports.

About a minute into the install, the Mandrake graphical installation screen appeared. This screen remained during almost the entire process. Down the left side of the screen, like Christmas-tree staging lights on a drag strip, were the 16 steps to be completed during the installation process. They ranged from choosing the language to configuring the networking to installing system updates. The Mandrake install is not a difficult one, but the screen itself is a not-so-subtle reminder that an OS installation — no matter how well-hidden from a user — is a complex and far-from-trivial undertaking.

The center of the screen, probably 75 percent of the available real estate, is reserved for dialog windows during the install. Along the center bottom of the screen is a scrollable text area where additional information for the user appears in context during the install.

After I accepted the default language choice (U.S. English), the licensing agreement for Mandrake Linux was presented. The user is cautioned at this point to "PLEASE READ THIS DOCUMENT CAREFULLY. THIS DOCUMENT IS A LICENSE AGREEMENT BETWEEN YOU AND MANDRAKE." The main thrust of the agreement is that not all the software is covered by the GPL.

Tell me more, Mr. Wizard

Next came the type of installation: recommended or expert. I chose the (default) recommended path, and then was advised to "PLEASE WAIT CONFIGURING PCMCIA CARDS." That advisory was followed shortly by another advisory, this one from the Partition Wizard. The wizard said I could use the free space it had found or do a custom-partitioning job.

The Wizard didn't show how much free space is available. It would be good to know so users don't begin an install with less space available than they want or need. I knew the entire disk was free, so I confidently took the default free-space selection. That started the filesystem-creation and -formatting process. I was advised that it was formatting partition hda1, but I wasn't told the type of filesystem or how the partition was being divided.

Now everything was ready to actually start copying data from the CDs to the hard drive. The installer prompted me to select the package group I wanted: workstation or server. The defaults were workstation with office, Internet, KDE 3 and GNOME 2 selected. Copying of the selected packages began at approximately six minutes into the installation.


Like Xandros and Red Hat, the Mandrake install included a series of infomercials to help pass the time while copying. Soon, the installer asked for the second install CD and continued on its way. Next came the documentation CD.

When the third CD ejected, a warning/advisory appeared. It said "PLEASE READ CAREFULLY THE TERMS BELOW. IF YOU DISAGREE WITH ANY PORTION YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO INSTALL THE NEXT CD MEDIA. PRESS REFUSE TO CONTINUE THE INSTALLATION WITHOUT USING THIS MEDIA." I accepted rather than refused, and I was asked to insert the first commercial-application CD. However, I was not informed which applications were installed that had proprietary, commercial licensing.

Finally, about 22 minutes into the installation, everything had been copied. I was asked to "PLEASE WAIT FOR POST-INSTALL CONFIGURATION." Then I was asked for a root password. I then added two users, one for Susan and one for myself. Next came a question about whether I wanted a default single user/environment to appear at boot time. I said yes and chose Susan/KDE for the default.

The installer gave me the opportunity to opt out of auto-detection before configuring the network connection. I declined, and it soon presented me with the option of using a LAN/ETHERNET CARD for my connection. I accepted this option, and it configured the card as eth0. Next came an IP Configuration window. I chose the automatic IP for boot/DHCP and left the host name blank.

A summary screen appeared showing that I had a PS/2 mouse, a U.S. keyboard and that the time zone was set to American/New York. I promptly changed it to Chicago in order to get into the Central Time Zone. Each time I do this, I wonder which distribution is going to be the first to include "Austin, Texas" as a selection.

Next came X. The Mandrake installer selected a flat-panel, 1024 x 768 monitor for me, and I accepted. It also correctly identified the laptop's 8-megabyte S3 Savage video card. A test of the configuration passed with flying colors. Less than half an hour into the installation process, everything seemed to have been installed and configured correctly.

Checking for software


I said yes, and it asked me to wait as it brought up the network. Then it asked me to select a mirror from a list of sites it provided. I chose the one at psu.edu, which was the default. In no time at all I was told there were 65 updates to be applied totaling 3.655 megabytes of download. Three or four minutes later, they had been downloaded and configured.

 Windows 2000Windows XPRed Hat 7.3Red Hat 8.0Mandrake 9.0
Basic Installation0:421:030:521:030:31
Office Suite0:03 0:000:000.00
Total Time2:052:201:351:460:36
CD swaps82344

Then it was time to shut it down and boot into the new installation. I had three choices to choose from when I rebooted: Linux, Linux-nonfb (non-framebuffer?) and fail-safe. I chose the normal Linux. The Mandrake First Time Wizard appeared and promised to configure "the basic setup" of my desktop.

I took the default desktop look and skipped entering privacy info and mail-client data. The Wizard then automatically took me to the Mandrake Expert/Profile site, here I could sign up for additional services if desired. Once I finished there, it was soup. The Netgear card was obviously working because I had accessed the Internet for updates and registration. An Xawtv icon was right there on the desktop. I double-clicked it, and it started up with a live view from the USB camera. Very nicely done.

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.

A new champ

Despite all that impressed me about Mandrake's installation process, I have three small nits to pick:

  1. It would be nice to know how much free space the wizard has found. This would make sure that not only is there enough space for the install, but also enough space for future needs.
  2. It would also be nice to know exactly which commercial applications are installed so that their licensing can be examined. This way, you could find out what you can and cannot legally do with the software.
  3. Last, the only way I found to escape from the Mandrake Expert/Profile dialog was to go all the way through it to completion. There doesn't seem to be an exit along the way.

The pluses for Mandrake install are its speed and the absolute ease of obtaining and applying updates. It completely obliterates the Windows contenders in both the update category and the installation of attached devices. Although the speed of the Mandrake update is much more a factor of the download size, it is also easier to perform than the Red Hat update process.

Furthermore, the default installation included not one but two graphical environments, and both seem to work exactly as intended. On the issue of Office Suites, the Mandrake 9.0 PowerPack install left me with both Open Office 1.0 and Star Office 6.0. On the basis of those pluses, and the sheer speed of the process, Mandrake 9.0 nudges Red Hat 8.0 out of first place in the derby.

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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