Linux Mandrake 7

Here is Mandrake 7.0, an operating system based on the original Red Hat Linux distro. I tried to get this OS running previously last year after trying it in Vmware and Virtual Box – to no luck. Pcem, and 86Box did make some good progress but the PC I was running at the time wasn’t capable of emulating the Pentium CPU that was recommended to run, which resulted in a lot of speed dips.
Fast forward a year and a new PC, and I’d through we give this another try.
Also remember this is 90s Linux, which is a ghetto compared to modern Linux (which I barely understand how to use)

Running in 86Box

First attempt

DataExpert EXP8551 – Had a few failures with this one, the initial motherboard that was chosen had issues detecting the CD-ROM disc, or the drive itself.
As the motherboard lacked native CD-ROM booting, we had to use the included boot floppy disk which would load a basic kernel with a couple of CD-ROM drives. However non of these worked with the DataExpert EXP8551 motherboard, and so we had to change the board to another one, this time a Gigabyte GA-586IP which worked with the floppy boot disk

Second attempt:
Gigabyte GA-586IP – This one seemed to work fine, at least except for the keyboard when in safe mode. Not sure why since we are emulating a regular PS/2 keyboard.

Once we got the install up and running, it was possible to progress through the install as normal, selecting a typical install that would then install the required packages.

At some point, we are asked to provide some details regarding the hardware installed so that Mandrake can detect and install the correct drivers.
The X window system requires a supported video card that can provide some sort of graphics acceleration, here I used an S3 Trio PCI video card with 2MB of video ram, that is supported in 86Box. I had used other video cards which will bring up an error message that the X server cannot start due to the video card being unsupported.
When you make a selection you are advised to test the configuration, where you can select the screen resolution and refresh rate, the colour depth also.

You can do this, but I’m always paranoid the OS will crash if it does not correctly identify or load the correct driver for the video card, even worse on 86Box, where there might be an emulation or inaccuracy issue that causes the OS to crash. If needed you can leave the graphics settings as they are, then change them once we have an OS.

Mandrake will ask a few more questions, like if you have any further PCI devices, network cards, user accounts and admin password settings.
Once you are done, the OS will reboot. Remember to eject the floppy or CD when you are rebooting.

Once booted, you will be at the login screen, remember the username and password you set up earlier, you have to enter it manually here, there are no username icons to click like in Windows XP or Mac OS 9. From here you can choose the desktop environment, two common options are KDE and GNOME that you will recognize from modern Linux distros, but a few others exist also. I recommend KDE, as GNOME & Enlightment looks more like a mid-90s RTS game in this distro. Enlihtmetnt also shows up in GNOME.
First time logging in will be a bit slow as Mandrake tries to prepare the desktop, or workspace as Linux calls it.

OF you don’t see the login screen and only see some weird-looking command prompt screen, type startx to start the X window system, if that doesn’t work then you need to check the video card you installed is supported and installed correctly.

Kudzu

When you add hardware to Mandrake, this triggers the Kudzu utility to run, which detects the hardware and set’s up the correct driver, if Mandrake has one built-in, otherwise you will have to specify where to install the driver from, good luck with that….
The only problem here is the keyboard stops working when Kudzu is triggered, meaning I cannot select anything and Kudzu ends up timing out and then proceeded to boot Mandrake as normal.


I’m not sure if this is an issue with the motherboard or the super I/O controller that causes the issue with the PS/2 keyboard, this motherboard dates from around 1996 whilst this OS came out in 2000, so it should be more or less compatible.
Because of this, I’m not sure if any devices added are actually working, I added a PCI ethernet (AMD Pcnet_) but was unable to perform any sort of network activity.

Sound

On the subject of adding devices, I tried to get the sound to function, since I intended to play a few early Linux games like SimCity 3000 which had native Linux ports.
For this, I had to use a SoundBlaster 16 sound card, which was an ISA non-plug-play card that required
There is a utility that can be used to install the soundcard, but this requires that you know your soundcards IRQ and DMA channel parameters (You can get these from the 86Box settings, and even change them if there’s a conflict)
There’s an opportunity to test the sound by playing a short sound clip, which is Linus Torvalds telling you how he pronounces Linux
The sound did work somewhat, I could playback MIDI files but after the OS was active for a while the sound would start to crackle. I’m not sure how to fix this and am wondering if this is just a glitch with the emulator.

Additional drives

This I also struggled with since Mandrake only detected one floppy drive (I had configured two 1.44MB floppy drives on both the emulator and the BIOS), and had added a ZIP drive. This was detected upon bootup but I’m not sure how to mount or access this from either GNOME or KDE.

Bootup

Another thing I noticed is that Mandrake will check drives for errors every once in a while, this happened because I left the date set at the motherboard default (1994), when I changed it to 2000 and booted it up it performed a check on all drives partitions.

GNOME

One of the desktop environments, this bares a lot in similarity to Microsoft Windows of the era, which isn’t a bad thing and can be customized once you are used to the mandrake interface. Here you have your standard taskbar with a set of icons, the first (Which looks like a foot) brings up a Start-like menu with a list of different applications installed


The second icon is your help button, with brings up the Gnome help browser, which looks similar to a standard HTML browser, not like the Windows 98 help.
The third icon is the GNOME configuration, which will host settings in relation to GNOME itself. Here you can change elements like the desktop background or the default window manager, which by default is Enlightenment. To a regular user, this might seem confusing as coming from Windows you are going to be familiar with the concept of Windows Explorer, which aces as the file explorer and window manager. But in Linux, this has been outsourced to various different components.
Whilst this is supposed to give a lot of flexibility, it is generally considered to be a lot more confusing, and in the end is just another component that could go wrong, what happens if a window manager isn’t fully compatible?
Lastly are the icons for the terminal (You’re gonna be using this a lot in Linux) and Netscape internet browser, and an icon for organizing multiple desktops.
You can hide the bottom bar by clicking either the left or right arrow buttons, which will slide the taskbar away. You can then unhide by clicking on the same button
Overall it’s quite a nice feature-packed environment, not ideal for the basic user but for those who have an advanced workflow, I can understand why some people would prefer this environment.

Enlightenment

Looks to be a standard window manager used with GNOME.
This isn’t much on an environment on its own, although you can select it from the login screen and it will just bring up the Enlightenment elements. This seems to tie in with GNOME, and when logging in with GNOME, Enlightenment will start
The pager acts as a way to manage multiple desktops and windows and lets you move between the different window environments, it will also create and display a snapshot thumbnail of the running application
There are menus that can be brought up, left-clicking opens the User Menu, which lets you open most KDE or GNOME applications. This has to be done on left-clicking on the desktop, without the cursor hovering over an icon. It’s a bit fiddly to access and isn’t much use when you have a full-screen application running.
Right-clicking will bring up the settings menu, which is just for Enlightenment. Here you can change the various elements and preferences, like setting the default theme to be used for Enlightenment or the desktop background.
As mentioned, several themes are available which can be changed, the default is BlueSteel which you can see above, others available are Apple Platnum which gives a Mac OS 8/9 feel, Aliens which is just creepy for an OS, Absolut_E, BeOS which is styled after the OS itself, Blue_OS which gives the OS a nice shade of blue, GTK+ and lastly minEguE which actually looks sleek and modern despite the name looking like someone had just mashed the keyboard.

Lastly, you can set animations and effects for when you open or move a window, like when you open an application, it can slide in quickly from the side, this will depend on how powerful your computer is and what effects are supported by the video card.

KDE

The default desktop environment that comes with Mandrake, you can log in to this by changing the desktop environment on the login screen.

A few default themes, including a MacOS knockoff, a BeOS knockoff & an Alien Xenomorph skin (Who asked for this nightmare theme?)

Applications

There’s a lot to cover here, although not all applications were functional. I’m not sure if it’s due to missing dependencies that didn’t get installed or if something went wrong when selecting the applications to install.

  • ENU emacs: Popular text editor with a few features added on
  • gEdit: Commonly used text editor, it’s like the Windows Notepad but has a few more features packed in for software development.
  • Gnumeric 0.46 : A spreadsheet application, not sure how well this deals with a regular Excel formatted spreadsheet. This was before the advent of OpenOffice, or LibreOffice.
  • GtimeTracker: This seemed to crash the entire system when used? I would guess this is some sort of timer or an alternative to Microsoft Project.
  • Gxedit: Another text editor, this seems more geared for HTML instead.

Multimedia

  • CD Player – Plays standard redbook CD audio, for 86Box make sure you mount a BIN/CUE file with its CUE file intact and it should work fine.
  • kmpg (Audio MPEG Player) – This one was unreliable, some files would playback albeit in a garbled form, sometimes it would playback just fine. Also occasionally throws an error message that your decoder has gone to nirvana, Kurt Kobain has my decoder?

I’m not sure how the MP3 codecs were implemented on early Linux distros, since MPEG Layer audio was a patented format that required royalties. Unless it’s using the SoundCard to decode, but I doubt the SoundBlaster 16 has any MPEG decoding capability, let alone MP3 support.

My guess is there is some sort of free reverse-engineered package that does the decoding, and the application simply taps into it to play back the MP3 codec file.

  • XMMS – The default audio player. This is hard to see since the user interface was too small and I couldn’t get it to play anything
  • kMP3 – Managed to get an MP3 player to playback in this application, but it was also unreliable. Some files would play a garbled sound at the start of the file, but would then play back normally, others would play back just fine. Perhaps it doesn’t play back well with Mp3 files that are encountered with a certain bitrate, or encoder?
  • AudioMixer (GMIX 3.0) – This allows you to change the different volume control settings for your soundcard, along with the MIDI, Microphone and CD audio output.
  • kModBox: Opened but then froze the entire system?

Games

  • AisleRiot: Some sort of card game, like the Windows Solitare
  • FreeCell: Another card game, also very similar to its Windows relation
  • gataxx: Did not work, the game would not start
  • Glines: Another game that refused to run
  • Gnibbles: it’s a snake clone, similar to the Nokia versions but has a few extra features like multiplayer (Local only, use different keys on the keyboard) and different levels. Different pills have can have certain effects, like the yellow ones increasing the length of your snake considerably, whilst the red one reduces it (some sort of diet pill?)
  • GnobotsII: An interesting game with bizarre movement controls, here you have to move in a certain direction to avoid the enemy robots from killing you. The controls are a pain here since they are mapped bizarrely on the keyboard, i.e Y is up and left, N is right and down, L moves you right. Help file loads in Netscape browser, and is written using size 8 font making it difficult to read
  • Gnome Chess: A regular chess simulation game, played from a 2D view.
  • Gnome Mines: Its just the Windows minesweeper
  • Gnome xBill: The infamous game where you have to prevent Bill gates from installing Windows on various systems, sadly this refused run
  • Gnome-Stones: Have no idea what this game does, and there is no help file or any listing or instructions
  • Gtali: Some sort of poker game? I had no idea how to play this one either
  • gTuring: What in the fucking fuck is this?
  • Iagno: Some sort of boardgame where you have to flip what looks like checker pieces.
  • Mahjongg: A typical Mahjong clone
  • Same Gnome: You can change the pattern of the objects to planets, marbles or stones
  • xsolider: Looks like a space invaders game, I couldn’t get this to start even under the KDE environment
  • xhextris: Not Tetris, HEXtris played with hexagon symbols using another weird keyboard layout, you have to use J to move left and L to move right, instead of using the keyboard arrow keys or WASD
  • Kpacman: a pretty good Pacman clone, looks almost like the arcade original
  • Ktron: My favorite game so far, probably because it’s the only one that isn’t a mindfuck to play. It’s Disney’s Tron
  • Smiletris: Some sort of Tetris with small 3-piece shapes?

Graphics

  • Electric Eyes: Some sort of image/photo viewer
  • gPhoto: Looks to be a photo editor, I tried to get it to open a GIF file but it ended up crashing. An application on Mandrake simply quits to the desktop, no error message, illegal operation or error reporting notification.
  • Gqview: Seems to be an image viewer, although this had issues reading from the CD-ROM. It does give shortcuts to popular image editing applications that are installed on the system for editing.
  • The GIMP: Popular and well-known Photoshop alternative
  • xPaint: Functions like MSPaint on Windows, a bit difficult to get used to, but once you get used to its interface its quite feature-packed.

Internet

  • Netscape: The popular web browser
  • KRN: Looks like a newsgroup browser/reader? Sadly without any network access were unable to test further
  • Kbiff: An email client

Do you see it Neo?

Shutting down Linux Mandrake

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