New computer, new OS

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I got fed up with my ancient computer (parts of it were about 6 years old), and it's terrible slowness. It was taking 20 sec to start Konqueror, and about 15 sec for just about any KDE app (e.g. kdialog). (Comparing to what other Linux users, I think something was wrong with my hardware setup to get such poor performance). But anyway, I got me a brand new computer – only the monitor, graphics card and the floppy drive from my old one were borrowed.

The new system is wonderfully fast. Most applications start pretty much instantly, logging in to KDE takes 10 - 15 seconds. It's also nice to be able to play DVDs (my old computer never managed that), and now make the most of my new broadband connection with multimedia apps that are up to it.

I also decided to switch from Debian to Mandrake. Here's why, and why I'm not regretting the move:

  • Debian is reputed for it's great package management. However, that is only true if you are using its 'stable' branch. If you are using 'testing' or 'unstable', then the often quoted 'apt-get update && apt-get upgrade' solution to security falls down – updates to the testing branch are much less reliable, and also include non-security fixes – so you end up doing a lot of downloads (a totally unfeasible amount if you are only on dialup). Given that 'stable' releases only come out about every 2-3 three years, this means either being a long way behind the times, or doing a lot of manual system maintenance.

    If we compare 'apt' and the Debian repositories to Mandrake:

    • Mandrake distinguishes between 'security', 'bug fixes' and 'normal' updates – much better.

    • Mandrake's 'urpmi' comares favourably with Debian's 'apt' – it can do things like accept rpms on the commandline and then resolve dependencies using the repositories, which apt cannot do.

    • The Mandrake repositories are huge – I've yet to find an app it doesn't have. I've no idea which is bigger, but Mandrake's are ample.

  • User friendliness: It is nice being able to point and click for some system things. At the same time, Mandrake seems to be pretty hot on security (it includes things like automated system checks every day which will e-mail you if anything is wrong etc), and provides command line tools for when you want to do it that way.

  • Drakconf – the Mandrake system configuration tool is great, with all the common system config things in one place.

  • KDE integration: Mandrake complements KDE very well, but it is basically an out-of-the-box KDE – the control center and menus seem to have been rearranged a bit, but that's all I can find that's different. I don't like distributions that massively customise or even rebrand things (like Linspire and probably others) – you don't know whether they will get things right, or mess them up. My desktop now looks pretty much the same as it did under Debian, as I just copied all my settings across – and I like that.

  • I have a lodger. While I have no problem doing any learning necessay to get things working (e.g. having to add users to certain groups to allow access to the sound card, setting up which application should handle certain file types etc.), for someone else it's nice if things just work. Debian sometimes lacked polish in this area, and Mandrake seems to be better.

I'm not abandoning Debian altogether though – my old box will still run (once I've put a graphics card in it – it refuses to boot otherwise.. grrr). In fact I'll be using it to run some legacy apps, especially Windows 98 via Win4Lin (which requires a patched kernel), displaying them on this machine (this works seamlessly using the X Window System), and I'll probably use it to create debs of any software I produce.

I am grateful to Debian for helping me to learn a lot about my system, but it's time to say goodbye for now.

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