the mandrake speaks
On a different tack: I have years of experience with Microsoft’s Windows products, and I have been a Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE) since 1998. I’m attending the official Irish launch of Microsoft Windows Server 2003 (in Ireland) on this week. I still run Windows XP on this notebook, and most of my work involves Windows NT or Windows 2000 Servers on customer sites. Anyone reading this without knowing me would assume, at this point, that Bill Gates has both hands in my pockets, one on my wallet, the other… use your imagination.
Yet: I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years working and playing with Linux. I have an official work-related excuse in the form of Vmware ESX which, unlike the other Vmware flavours, is built using a modified Red Hat Linux core. This has opened the door to some formal training, on Vmware and on Linux in general. Besides my regular “office” PC, running Windows 2000, I have a second very old PC under my desk. It’s a Pentium 133, of about 1996 vintage, too old to run any Windows NT version with acceptable performance. Yet it runs Mandrake Linux 9 quite happily, though it still chugs if I do anything intensive.
Now Mandrake has invaded my home too: last night I switched my home desktop PC to Linux permanently. The operation was complicated by my second hard disk drive, with 44GB of various project stuff, that was formatted in NTFS – which Linux can’t handle properly. (No reason why it should, it’s a Microsoft proprietary format.) I had to take it to work, back it up, reformat to FAT32, and restore the data. Of course, FAT32 isn’t normally allowed on drives that big, you’re expected to carve it up, but I’ve done that before and it’s a pain in the neck. But the restriction is quite arbitrary, and PowerQuest Partition Magic just creates the required partition, which then works without fuss under Windows and Linux. Apart from that, the installation was painless, and I’m using Samba to let my notebook in, so I can back it up.
Since I’m happy that Linux can take care of the fundamentals, my next focus will be on applications: how well I can work with OpenOffice, play DVDs, games, etc. When non-geeks talk about Linux, they usually mean Red Hat, but I find myself preferring Mandrake for some reason. Maybe it’s because it’s French – it does seem a little more stylish. While Red Hat pushed the Gnome window manager (graphical desktop), Mandrake leans towards KDE, which seems more functional and less gimmicky to a Windows veteran. (Both Linux versions ship with both, anyway.)
If you have a system that may or may not be Linux-compatible, there’s a fairly easy way to safely test Linux on it: get a Knoppix CD. Knoppix is a self-contained Linux that boots directly from CD and runs in memory, without touching the contents of your hard drives. You can explicitly unlock them, for your own use, but Knoppix still won’t make changes of its own. It has come in handy on several occasions, especially when I wasn’t sure about the video hardware (long a sore point with Linux).
Mandrake had a little financial trouble earlier this year, but they seem to have pulled through, and I think I’m helping by paying for a DVD copy of new version (9.1). Free software is a great idea, but people need to be paid, or else they’ll just stop creating it…