First Time Linux

This section deals with connecting Mandriva up to the internet for the first time and experimenting with the software.

Connecting to the Internet

After some struggling with compiling the drivers for the internal 56k modem, I gave up and opted for a cable internet connection instead. This had many advantages, apart from the speed increase over a dial-up connection - above all because the cable modem (supplied free with the connection contract) does all the low-level stuff, and doesn't really care what operating system it's talking to. So the chances of it working with the standard Linux tools should be fairly high. And no driver compilation required!

I got my connection through the Swiss company, who were offering a discount rate at the time for their 100 kbps service. It's obviously not fast (and even slower for upload), but it's a flat monthly fee and has no download limits. So I ordered it over their website (funny that the only way to order an internet connection is over the internet!) and the modem arrived just a few days later.

Apart from some initial confusion with the plugs and sockets, the connection was surprisingly painless. For two-hole cable sockets, the internet shares the radio hole, and contrary to the instructions the T-junction splitter goes with an 'arm' of the T into the wall, not with the 'trunk' of the T. So it looks like this:

 |                            ______
 |----- --- cable to modem - |      |----- phone
 |  |                        |      |
 |                           |      |----- PC network socket
 |  |                        |______|
 |  cable to radio

The instruction manual included dozens of pages of installation guide, with screenshots for various varieties of operating systems (except Linux) - but with Linux it all just worked . Mozilla was immediately able to browse the internet with no settings changes (it was already set by default to no proxy, direct connection to internet). Konqueror was also browsing straight away. Success!

Update: this setup also worked with an extension cable between the wall and the T-junction, and the T-junction feeding directly into the radio, but since they upgraded my cable sockets to 3-hole versions, this setup no longer worked and the modem now has to be connected to the third, internet-only socket.


Apart from www access, what else is on offer? Email, of course, with the account provided as part of the cablecom package. A simple setup of Mozilla Thunderbird, and everything worked fine - sending and receiving email via the pop3 server.

Free telephoning

Why pay for telephone calls when a bit of software can turn your internet-enabled PC into a Voice-over-IP terminal? Why indeed. So I installed Skype using the rpm from the download page at Then all I needed was a pair of headphones with a microphone built-in, and I was away.

I was expecting sound troubles, after reading the reports of ALSA/OSS conflicts and emulation layers and whatnots, but here it just worked straight away - I was able to call their test user echo123 which is an automatic service which plays back what you said, testing end-to-end connections with their server. This worked fine, and so far I've been able to make calls to several countries, even across the atlantic, with good sound quality and good reliability. True, it's closed source, and even a closed protocol, but it does work. And perhaps the best bit is being able to see who's online and just call or type if they're there, rather than telephoning on the off-chance and finding that they're not there.

Calls to other Skype users are free, no pre-payments required, but if you want to call regular landlines from your Skype program, that costs money. These calls currently cost 1.7 Euro cents per minute, which is still cheaper than the long-distance phone services, but I've not tried this service.

System update

This is something I'd not done since installing from DVD - getting the security fixes and bug fixes for the system software. Not quite so critical when the box never sees the internet, but here was a good opportunity to freshen things up. I just selected "System update" from the Control Centre and it came back with a looooooong list of things needing fixing or updating. In all this totalled over 800MB (!) of download, which with my slow internet connection took several hours. But it downloaded and installed without a hitch while I slept :)

The only visible effect of this update was the disappearance of Mozilla, but I was soon able to fix that (see the next step).

easy urpmi

Now to get the full benefit of the automated package-management system of Mandriva, and find out why Rob from is so wildly enthusiastic about it! I went to the easyurpmi link at and used that in conjuction with an excellent how-to guide from (now probably out of date, originally found from Rob's site).

And he's right, it really is simple and very powerful. I was quickly able to add new media for my system, and then from the normal GUI (System -> Configuration -> Packaging -> Install software) which was used to add extra software from the DVD, suddenly a whole plethora of extra software is available for installation. All dependencies are checked, so extra rpms are added to the list as necessary, and any local media (like the DVD) are given preference to the networked repositories. But it's all transparent, and things get fetched from wherever necessary with all the additional bits they need from wherever, and it's all installed. Very very neat.

The search tools work well too, making finding new gadgets a breeze! This is a real step forward in software management, it's something I'd heard about, particularly in reference to Debian and its apt-get system, but I was delighted to see this powerful feature being so easy to use in Mandriva too. This is something that certain other operating systems will surely envy!

The following page, urpmi goes into more detail about tricks you can use with urpmi, urpme and urpmq.