First Time Linux

Installing Mandrake

Once the partitions had been sorted out in advance, the installation of Mandrake was ready to go. I had downloaded three iso files from the download section of (via the local mirror of course) and burnt them onto 3 CDs. Of course it's recommended to check the Md5 sums of the downloaded files before burning, to make sure they haven't been accidentally corrupted on the way - I used the same technique as for Knoppix using the md5 checker jar. After that, the installation was then just a matter of booting from the first of the CDs.

Somewhat confusingly, I didn't get the nice graphical installer program that I was expecting (and the screenshots of which I had seen on the web), but instead got quite a basic, text-based installer with lots of <tab>bing and <space>ing to select the options. This was a bit of disappointment as this ease of install was a major selling point for the Mandrake distribution. I've since been told that the reason I didn't get the graphical installer was probably because it had had trouble recognising the graphics systems on this laptop, and had then resorted to the backup, text-based install program. This 'difficult' graphics system on the 510m could also explain the warning message which Knoppix gives on bootup advising that an "undefined screen mode parameter has been given".

In any case, this text-based installer didn't ask too many questions, the only tricky ones being how to split up and format the free space on the hard drive. For this I guessed, really, specifying 10GB for /, 2GB for swap and 17GB for the home partition.

Somewhat disconcertingly, it gave very little choice on which software to install, giving only a very basic choice of whether the machine was a server, or workstation, or games station. It seems that by default a lot of the software on the 3 CDs isn't installed, and has to be later added manually (if you know to). The extra options to specify what to install don't seem to be present on the text-based installer, as I'm told they are with the graphical one.

As for selecting the hardware, it seemed to be doing a good job so I let it detect everything, although I did say my screen was 1280x1024 just to be on the safe side (rather than try the 'proper' resolution of 1400x1050).

First Time Mandrake

So after churning through the install from each of the CDs, it says that it has finished the install successfully, and it's now ready to reboot. The suspense is barely bearable. Has it worked? Reboot and see what we see...

first boot of mandrake

This is the view after the first boot of Mandrake. Not too impressive, and to be honest a little disappointing.

Fortunately, having played a little with Knoppix I knew that the magic key sequence Ctrl-Alt-F1 brings up a console login, where I could actually read the screen. Phew. And I even found the file /etc/X11/XF86Config to see if anything looked really wrong in there, but nothing obvious. So I then used the magic key sequence Ctrl-Alt-F7 to go back to the X screen, and magically it had sorted itself out to a readable login screen! Odd. Then the screen behaved itself until the next logout (or reboot) when it did the same screen-mangling again. I never did find a fix, so every boot and every login required the Ctrl-Alt-F1   Ctrl-Alt-F7 charade every time. (Or actually Ctrl-Alt-F6   Ctrl-Alt-F7 as it was easier).

Running Mandrake

So having surmounted the first teething problems, Mandrake is now running, with KDE looking fairly similar to Knoppix. There are some small differences with Konqueror (double clicks instead of single clicks, no left-hand panel), but these are just settings. The 'K' menu looks very different, and rather more confusing due to its deeply-nested levels. Oddly, although clicking the menu (now a star, not a 'K') opens the menu in the bottom left of the screen as expected, pressing the menu key on the keyboard opens the same menu but now in the middle of the screen. Irritating, especially as the deeply-nested menu levels result in the menus wrapping off the right-hand side of the screen.

So what applications are there? Well, as expected, several of the Knoppix ones, for example OpenOffice, Gimp, Konqueror, Kate, Amarok, Xine, K3b and many more. Surprisngly, there were lots of Knoppix applications which were not available in Mandrake, for example Java, Kstars, Xaos, GpsDrive, KHexEdit, and even Mozilla. Later it turned out that some of these applications were actually on the CDs, but the installer had never asked whether it should install them or not.

In the console, minicom was missing and so was a C++ compiler. There was also an annoying problem with man, or rather with the search option man -k. In short, man -k didn't work, even man -k man gave no results. Searching the CDs for uninstalled man packages didn't come up with anything either, so I had to put up with very limited man functionality (or use Knoppix). This was only later solved with the buildwhatis command.

Adding packages

Slowly realising that a lot of the downloaded software was still hidden on the CDs rather than being installed, I set about finding the missing pieces. It turned out that Mozilla was there, minicom, usbview, gcc and lots of other useful stuff, the problem was just knowing what to look for and what it was called. Then it's simply added with a very convenient package installer. Dependencies between packages are handled by the installer so in theory the installation, removal and upgrading of such packages should be painfree.

Of course, it would have been even easier if the Mandrake installer had given some prompts. Apparently these prompts are given but only if you get the graphical installer program (rather than the text-based one), and then only if you choose the 'Advanced' option at the right point.

Installing additional software


Java didn't come with the Mandrake CDs, which was a little disappointing as it did come on the single Knoppix CD. This is due to Mandrake's insistence that the 3 CD set only contains 'free' software, which the JDK isn't. So this has to be downloaded separately, which fortunately is an easy process. Because I knew I wanted the Java3d SDK, which is only available from rather than from Sun, I chose to get the JDK from Blackdown as well to maximise the chances of compatibility.

The Java JDK 1.4.2 was a whopping 33MB download from (the i386 fcs gcc2.95 version). This comes down as a .bin file which installs very painlessly, albeit with a license to accept. Next up was the Java3d SDK, from the same mirror site, although a much more reasonable 5MB download. This also goes without a murmur and everything compiles and runs. The javadoc documentation for the JDK comes as an extra 33MB zipped HTML package from which can be simply expanded.

java -version now gives:
java version "1.4.2"
Java(TM) 2 Runtime Environment, Standard Edition (build Blackdown-1.4.2)
Java HotSpot(TM) Client VM (build Blackdown-1.4.2-fcs, mixed mode)


So having tested all the peripherals with Knoppix on the desktop, and then Knoppix on the laptop, we can now do the same again with Mandrake. The hard drives are no problem, of course, reading all the drives and writing to all except the NTFS Windows partition. The USB thumb drive is also no problem, at least from the console, although there's a conflict with Konqueror which we'll come back to. The mouse is also no problem, being instantly recognised on the USB port. The camera is no problem, again with gphoto2 and also with a great app called Digikam which does a great job of flattening the camera's file system and presenting the thumbnails for speedy selection. It even selects the 'new' photos too!

With minicom (installed extra from the CD) I can see the GPS again, although as neither GpsDrive nor garble are available, the full functions aren't there. Fortunately, having also installed gcc I can compile the garble source and can download waypoints and tracks as before.

The tricks which worked with Knoppix to get the parallel port card reader working, however, do not work with Mandrake. This is doubtless due to Mandrake's 2.6 linux kernel, as it fails the same way Knoppix does with its 2.6 kernel. Sadly, the camera's USB interface doesn't support writing, so without the card reader I've now got no way to write to the camera's cards.


Obviously the 855 trick is still required for Mandrake, in order to use the native 1400x1050 resolution. By putting the call to 855resolution (/path/to/855resolution 3c 1400 1050) into the file /etc/rc.d/rc.local it gets called automatically at boot time. The stupid Ctrl-Alt-F6   Ctrl-Alt-F7 charade is still necessary, of course, but the BIOS patch then takes effect and I get full sharp 1400x1050 display on the screen.

Update - this call shouldn't actually be in the rc.local file - as I found out later with the Mandriva upgrade. Although it didn't make any difference here with 10.1.


Perhaps predictably, there were a few gripes with the first ever install. Apart from the missing applications, which were relatively easily added, one main gripe was the behaviour of the screen at login and the F6 F7 faff to kick it into action. Although this isn't a show-stopper, it is annoying and glaringly obvious.

Another good one was the freezing of the system when the USB drive was plugged in. If Konqeror was already open then it was more or less happy, but if you plugged in the drive and then tried to start Konqueror (or some other applications) then it just spun and hung. Very poor, because starting Konqueror is exactly what you might want to do after plugging in the drive. Even if the system didn't complain, there was still a background thread swallowing up CPU time and making other apps chug and become unresponsive. In the output of ps -aux it showed a task called kdeinit:kded which was taking all the processor time, and this had to be killed every time the drive was used. Very flaky. This problem has apparently been known about for a long time, and counts as a "known bug" (although months later the 10.1 release still contains it). Only solution is update/upgrade.

The odd start menu was another gripe for a while, in that it appeared in the centre of the screen when launched from a keypress (rather than a mouse click). Oddly, when the keyboard layout manager was switched on (to handle multiple language keyboards), this problem went away, and the menu appeared in the bottom left again as expected.

I'm still not sure if this is deliberate Linux humour or not, but if so it's brilliant. Every now and again, like maybe every fourth boot or so (completely unpredictably), it would pause in the middle of the boot sequence at the line:
Press 'I' to enter interactive startup
And then it would just wait. I would wait. It would wait. I would press 'n', because I didn't want interactive startup, I just wanted it to start. It continued to wait. I pressed enter, I pressed space, I pressed almost every key on the keyboard. It continued to wait. Exasperated, I would press 'i'. Aha, then the boot continues its merry way.
Entering non-interactive startup
it would announce, in a cheerful, businesslike manner. Now is that humour, or is that humour? What kind of mind does it take to program something like that? Genius. We'd play that little game quite often.

Having discovered that I no longer had the Xaos application with Mandrake (although it was included with Knoppix), and because I found it such a cool demonstration of the great free software that comes with Linux, I tried to get a copy of it for Mandrake. From the pages, I noted that they recommend you build from source rather than install an rpm, so I duly downloaded the tar file and set about compiling it. Even after having found the gcc compiler tucked away on the Mandrake CDs, it still wouldn't compile properly, giving an amusing variety of incomprehensible error messages. Hmmm. So out of interest I booted up Knoppix and tried the same compilation - worked first time, beautifully. And then (thanks to Knoppix) I could now run the application (on Mandrake) which was already provided with Knoppix. Not only does Mandrake not include these cool programs, it can't even compile them without help from Knoppix!
Update - I've been told that I should use urpmi to install software like this, and then once it's configured it's a single command to find, download and install the relevant rpm file without having to compile. This is good advice, but this laptop isn't connected up to the internet so I haven't had chance to use urpmi yet. The point here is that Knoppix works beautifully out of the box, not just meeting expectations but exceeding them. And compilation is something that I expected Mandrake to be able to do.


I had some numbered images in a directory, and browsed the directory with Konqueror, so it showed me a thumbnail view of the images. Then I deleted some of the pictures, and renamed the others so that they were back in contiguous sequence. Except that Konqueror didn't notice that the images had changed, and kept the cached thumbnails which it had previously generated - even though clicking on the thumbnail brought up the correct image, the thumbnail was wrong and refused to be updated.

Eventually the cached thumbnails were tracked down to the directory ~/.thumbnails/normal where they gather undisturbed. They don't get refreshed, don't get deleted when the files to which they refer get deleted, and apparently have no housekeeping. And they don't get checked with any kind of file timestamp or checksum to see if they need to be refreshed. As well as allowing out of date thumbnails to persist, it uses up ever increasing amounts of hard drive space to store worthless thumbnails. Clearly a Konqueror / KDE bug. In the meantime, clear out this directory occasionally by hand, and then any thumbnails which are really required can be regenerated on request. Use View -> Show Hidden Files in Konqueror to get to this directory, or just type it into the location bar and it will autocomplete. Or use the tab completion in the console.

The missing man pages was another puzzler, as it looked like I had all the man pages. I could type for example man man and it would give me the appropriate pages. But when I typed man -k man it could find "nothing appropriate". Why not? Well it turned out that I wasn't missing packages after all, (not like the other packages I was missing!) but it was just that the index of the pages hadn't been built. Fortunately I stumbled across the command buildwhatis which seemed to generate the index and then the man -k function started to work.