Mandrake 7.2 (Odyssey) is available as a two CD download. There is a installation and a extension CD. The installation CD is fine for most people but the second CD carries a lot of useful applications.
Make your machine bootable from the CD drive, insert the first CD and you are ready to roll. The installation process is amazingly easy with emphasis on flexibility and choice.
Having got that under way, we explored the various install options. Pressing F1 gives you info on available options. Just pressing enter starts the default graphical install.
Mandrake offers you the widest choice of installs currently available on any Linux distro. Apart from the usual expert and text based install you have:
* 'vgalo', for low resolution graphic installation, Good if you're having trouble with the detection of your video card.
* 'lnx4win' for standard graphic installation using Linux for windows. This will create two files on your Windows partition which will carry the Linux installation and swap. Great if you don't want to get into some messy partitioning.
* 'all' for a complete choice of available installs, including a choice of install media, turning off auto hardware detection, etc.
You can also pass specific kernel options, such as specifying the amount of available RAM in case the kernel did not detect it correctly.
We went for the standard install and minutes later got a install screen with a difference. The left side of the screen has all the install steps, listed down. An orange star by the side shows the step you are currently in. You can jump back to any point at any given time by just clicking on the star. Sure beats pressing the back button! However, we found no way to abandon an install once you began, short of booting the machine.
We got the regular choice of Recommended, Customized or Expert.
'Recommended' is the easiest. It offers you a choice of minimum 300MB, recommended 900MB and complete 1200 MB and gets going immediately without any further ado.
'Customized' offered us a choice of type of application: workstation, server or development and an opportunity to select which programs to install. These have been divided into 18 groups adding to a total of over 2000 MB. You can select packages individually but there are over a 1000 packages here so you might want to stick with what's selected. You can also select what percentage of each group to install in case space is a constraint. In this case only the most important packages are installed.
'Expert' gives more flexibility but asks you a few more questions about your hardware. We selected Expert. Mandrake asked us whether we were sure. "Yes" we said and committed ourselves.
The next few steps were routine. We just said yes to Mandrake's detection of our mouse, keyboard and selected the languages to be installed. Mandrake gives you over 60 languages! The next window that popped up did confuse us a bit. Mandrake brought up a license agreement! We were a bit too eager to sit and view this so we just clicked on accept. Maybe we'll check back on this sometime. The expert install then asks you a few miscellaneous questions like Hard drive optimization (using hdparm), precise size of RAM, whether to enable num lock at start (very useful) and the security level.
Hardware detection was smooth. In fact, we hardly had to make any selections. Hard disk partitioning was even better. Diskdrake again gives you a wide choice of partitioning including a choice of file systems. The great feature that sets this tool apart from other partitioning tools like Disk Druid is the fact that this does a great job of re-sizing your partitions. Previously, you would have had to use something like Partition Magic to do the same.
In case you have no previous partitions, Mandrake will install to free space in the Windows partition. You can do this manually or let Diskdrake do the job. The next screen showed the existing partitions/space on the machine. We clicked on the free space and selected Auto Allocate.
Diskdrake made 3 partitions: a root, a swap and a home partition with ext2 filesystem as default. We wanted to try out Reiser FS so we deleted the home partition and created it again, this time as a home partition with ReiserFS type of filesystem. All this was just with a few clicks of the mouse! Incidentally, Mandrake supports over 100 types of filesystems!
ReiserFS is a new journal filesystem for Linux. Journal filesystems differ from regular filesystems like ext2 in the they use the transaction concept that modern databases use. All filesystem operations are logged and in case of any errors, the operation is rolled back without any changes being made to the filesystem. This also allows faster recovery from a system crash or if your system goes down unexpectedly. No lengthy fsck checks at boot. Other features that are flaunted are a maximum file size of 4GB vs the 2GB for ext2. The criticism against ReiserFS have been that it's not as mature as ext2. We've used this for several months on a few machines - root, usr, var, everything - and we've never had any problems. We don't guarantee 100% safety of your data. It worked for us. Your mileage may vary. If unsure then stick with ext2.
With all selections over, the install began. It took over 2 hours and both the CD's to install all the packages. The first time we tried it, it crashed with 10 minutes to go. We then tried to update it, which resulted in another 30 minutes and a very buggy install. So we tried it again! This time it seemed to go off smoothly but took almost 3 hours for a complete install. This problem replicated across several machines. Maybe it was a bad ISO that we used or maybe there is a major problem with the installation. Either way, we'd like some feedback on this one.
If you are on a network, you need to fill in the details, or else you can go on to install the modem. You can specify type of modem, ISP details and even test your connection at this point. The new Kppp gives you the option of either PAP, Terminal or script based login. You can also enter multiple telephone numbers for the same ISP.
Time zone: Select your country or nearest timezone.
Printers: Specify whether direct printer connection or through a network
Adding root and users: Mandrake has added more choices to this routine step. You can specify which user to start up at default with a choice of GUI's. But the most amazing part was that it actually gives you a chance to avoid a password for root. We don't recommend this because this is not the way Linux should be run.
Boot disk preparation: For safety you should create one but the bootable CD should do in most cases.
Install Grub or Lilo: Mandrake offers you a choice of both Grub or Lilo to boot your system. Both are very good but GRUB is the better option and we feel this should be adopted by more distributions.
You can also specify the user login and their GUI preferences. Speaking of GUI's, Mandrake offers a wide choice: KDE2, Gnome, Afterstep, Blackbox, Sawfish, TWM, Icewm and Windowmaker. Did we forget some there? KDE2 final is available. It has a very good layout and flashy new features, however it was quite slow. It has also begun to resemble Windows 98 increasingly. Our favorite was Blackbox which is a simple, fast (very), and light window manager.
Configuring X: Our monitor was auto detected. However as we were in expert install, we were given a choice of types, resolutions and number of colors.
Auto install floppy: Mandrake gives you an option to create a Auto Install floppy - useful for network administrators who want to make identical installs on more than one machineCongratulations! You have just installed Mandrake successfully. Remove your install CD and reboot the machine. We would definitely recommend Mandrake 7.2 for new users, given the level of ease in install and usage.