My Experiences Installing Mandrake 9.2

It took one day and a few hassles but upgrading from Mandrake 9.1 to Mandrake 9.2 was worth all the effort. Better yet, the amount of effort required was much less then with either Windows (3.1, 95, 98, 2000) or other versions of Linux I have installed. Not only was I able to get access to the latest versions of Open Office, Mozilla & GnuCash but the new Mandrake 9.2 fonts are just outstanding. The increased clarity makes reading the screen pleasurable and by letting me keep my windows smaller it gives me extra screen real estate. It's like getting a new monitor.

A Summary of the Problems I Ran Into

I did, however, run into a number of minor but irritating problems while upgrading from Mandrake 9.1 to 9.2, all of which I was able to work around. Below is a summary of the problems I ran into. The remaining sections of the document go into the details of what caused the problems and how I worked around them.

  1. The install software doesn't handle encrypted swap partitions correctly

  2. The install updates from Internet functionality in the installer appears to have silently failed

  3. For some reason the boot loaded decided not to boot me into the X-Windows Graphical Login, instead it dumped me at a text window.

  4. My KDE menus were in bad shape after the install (but before installing the updates manually which fixed things)

  5. Any chance a 'select all' function could be added to the Update Drake?

  6. The #2 and #3 installation CDs do not have hdlist files on them which caused me a bunch of trouble

  7. The installer removed the KDE Terminal program for some reason

  8. For some reasons the installer turned my volume to 0

  9. I ran into endless problems trying to install various mirrors through the mandrakeclub site, I wish the site had a better description of which mirror types are available and a better mechanism for adding them and much, much better error messages for URPMI.

  10. The mechanism that RPMDRAKE uses to create the FTP URLs has a bug in it, it kept creating paths of the form "…/i586/.//i586/…".

  11. There were dependency problems with both Mozilla 1.5 and Open Office 1.1.12 that were beyond RPMDRAKE's ability to deal with. Even URPMI had troubles that required me to hand organize the install sequence.

Backing Up and Configuring the BIOS

The first half of my day long update process was spent on backing up my current system. I use a combination of tar/gzip/gpg/split to create a series of files that I then burn onto CDs. Once I completed the backup I started installing Mandrake 9.2.

After reboot but before the installer started I pressed 'del' to get to my BIOS and make sure that PnP Enabled OS was disabled. It was. I then enabled 'boot from CD' (I usually keep it off to prevent accidents). I had to be a little tricky here. I have a CD/DVD drive and a CD Burner Drive. For whatever reason the CDs I burn on my CD Burner do not read very well on my CD/DVD drive so I made sure only to enable my CD Burner Drive as a boot drive.

NOAPIC, Mice & Encrypted Swap

Long painful experience already taught me the first critical trick for installing Linux on my machine. This is to press F1 on the opening install screen and type in "linux noapic". Perhaps I don't need that trick anymore but I didn't try to find out.

I use the Microsoft Explorer mouse (e.g. the one with a wheel) so when I got to the mouse dialog I had to click through a couple of members of the tree to finally find it. But once found it, it configured without problem.

I encrypt two of my hard disk partitions, a data partition and the swap partition. This is relevant because at one point the installer demanded to know the password for my swap partition. There is only one little problem – I don't know that password. The reason is that Linux is smart about the swap partition. Every time the computer boots it generates a random password to use to encrypt the swap partition. Since there is no need to maintain the swap partition's contents across boots it's o.k. that the password is forgotten when the system shuts down. But this put me in a pickle – how can I provide a password I don't know?

I did a quick search on the Internet and turned up the obvious – you have to disable encryption of your swap partition before installing Mandrake 9.2. So I booted back into Mandrake 9.1 and edited my /etc/fstab file to remove encryption. I rebooted into the Mandrake 9.2 installer and for my troubles got a 'swapon' (the program that activates your swap capability) error. After some trial and error I figured out the problem, you have to reformat the swap partition after you remove encryption so that the swap partition will have the correct unencrypted format. If you are encrypting your swap partition (and if you aren't, why aren't you?) here is how to disable the encryption so you can do an install:

Step 1 – Go to Mandrake Control Center – Mount Points – DiskDrake – Click O.K. to the warning
Step 2 – Click on your swap partition
Step 3 – Toggle to Expert Mode
Step 4 – Select Options
Step 5 – Unselect Encrypted & Press OK
Step 6 – Select Format & Press Through the Warning
Step 7 – Press Done

Hopefully the next release of Mandrake will properly recognize encrypted swap partitions and do the right thing.

Changing Drives

The rest of the install went uneventfully, although it took well over an hour before the system finished going through all 3 CDs. Only one weird thing happened, when the system asked if I would like to download updates from the Internet I said 'yes', however it took less then a second for the system to move on. In other words, it didn't appear any updates downloaded, something that would have consequences later on.

Eventually the system booted itself into Mandrake 9.2 but instead of finding myself staring at the normal graphical login I found myself staring at a normal text boot prompt. I tried to alt-F7, alt-F8, etc. hoping to get switched into X but no such luck. Eventually I just logged in as a normal user and typed in startx to start X windows. Once in X I went to the Mandrake Control Center – Boot – DrakBoot and clicked on "Launch the graphical environment…".

I then turned encryption back on for my swap partition and re-formated it.

I looked around KDE and found out I had problems. First, several of my menu entries no longer worked, specifically the entry for the KDE Terminal program. The Gnome terminal program did still work so I went in through there to do some editing. I then went to Mandrake Update (Mandrake Control Center-Software Management-Mandrake Update). It went on the net, got a monster list of updates (over 61 different selections) and I then got to hand click through all of them (how about a select all functionality?). I then pressed Install and ran smack into a painful problem.

Install wanted my first Mandrake CD and decided to demand it be put into /mnt/cdrom. The only problem is that /mnt/cdrom is my cd/dvd drive, you remember, the one that can't read CDs burned in my CD burner very well? Sure enough, the drive absolutely refused to read my Mandrake #1 9.2 CD. I eventually quit out of Update and switched to the Software Media Manager (Mandrake Control Center- Software Management-Software Media Manager). I selected Installation CD 1 and pressed Edit and changed cdrom to cdrom2 (which points at my CD Burner Drive). This worked well. I then tried the same trick with Installation CD 2 only to get an error and have the system disable access to Installation CD 2. I tried the same 'change cdrom to cdrom2' trick with the International CD and had the same problem. What the heck was going on?

Well it turns out that to enable access to Installation CD 2, Mandrake needs to know what's on that CD. It gets that information by looking for the file "../../Mandrake/base/" (you can see it listed in the edit dialog). Well guess what, that file is not on Installation CD 2, it's on Installation CD 1. The solution is simple but massively non-obvious, what you have to do is insert Installation CD 1 in the /mnt/cdrom2 drive when you update the entries for Installation CD 2 and International CD. Both of the hdlist files will be found and everything will work just fine. I have no idea why the Mandrake folks don't just put the hdlist files on CD 2 and the International CD but for some reason they don't.

I then went back to the update and successfully updated my system and then rebooted. The reboot showed that the encrypted swap system was now running fine and I was properly presented with the graphical login environment. I also found that part of the updates was a fix for my previous mentioned menu problems. My menus cleaned themselves up nicely so the dead links were gone. However the KDE terminal program was also gone but that was easy enough to fix by just going to RPMDrake (in Software Management in the Mandrake Control Center) and installing it.

Turning Up the Volume & Updating My Mirrors

I noticed during bootup that I didn't have any sound. I had this problem in the past and the fix was to go to the KDE config dialog and turn on 'Start aRts Sound Server on KDE Startup' but in this case it was already activated. By complete chance I happened to have read through the Mandrake Discovery guide and found out about an application I hadn't seen before – aumix (start-multimedia-sound-aumix). It turned out that for some odd reason during the installation the volume setting for my system had been turned to 0.

Not having had enough pain for the day I decided to go to (I'm a member) and go to mirrors-list. I'm still not 100% sure what the different mirror types are. For example, how am I supposed to know what the 'Penguin Liberation Front' is? Why isn't there a simple explanation on the page of what each choice is? Better yet, when I boot up my machine after installation why doesn't it ask me if I'm a club member, if I am, to enter my name and password and then present me with are pretty dialog that explains each of the mirror types, lets me select the types I want, helps me choose which mirrors to use and then automatically configures my system to use those mirrors? The current experience is that you manually select each mirror type (make sure to select 9.2 in step 1), pick a mirror and then hand copy the URPMI command. Yuck! To make matters worse in many cases the URPMI command doesn't even work. I will see a bunch of 'examining synthesis file' entries followed by an 'unable to update medium' error. Very frustrating.

Updating My Software

I decided that I wanted to run the latest versions of Java, Real, Flash, Mozilla and OpenOffice (I already had the latest version of Phoenix). I thought that I would do this by using RPMDrake. I selected the latest version of Mozilla 1.5, for example, and its dependencies, pressed install and got an error. I don't remember the exact error but it was the informational equivalent of "something went wrong". However the dialog was nice enough to list for me all the FTP paths for the RPMs it had tried to download. That was when I noticed that the paths were screwed up. In the middle of the FTP path was something like "i586/.//i585/". It looked to me like this was an attempt to create a fully qualified FTP path from a base path and a relative path and something, somewhere, went wrong.

Not knowing when to give up I decided to go into a Root terminal and type in "urpmi [insert FTP path here]". I fixed up the i586 hiccup in the path. The paths are quite long and copy and paste wouldn't work. Thankfully I'm a touch typist. In any case this worked, sorta. I ran into a ton of dependency problems. I had thought that RPM was supposed to fix this, but apparently not. I got to spend the next hour or so walking through the dependencies and hand installing the problem RPMs. E.g. I would try to install RPM X and be told I needed RPM Y and Z. I would then try to install RPM Y only to have it say it needed RPM Z. So finally I would install file Z, then Y and then X. It all worked, eventually. At some point I also realized that I couldn't install Mozilla 1.5 without un-installing Mozilla 1.4, same with the new version of Open Office and Java. After much typing I finally got everything installed properly.


As scary as this sounds, this was probably the smoothest OS install experience I've ever had. My experience with Windows, for example, is so horrific that I absolutely refuse to ever do an in-place upgrade. The results are just too awful. With Windows I would have formated my drive and started all over. I've never managed, for example, to do a W2K upgrade in less than two days. But I took a chance with Mandrake 9.2 and was rewarded. Sure, there are things to be fixed, especially around fit and finish, but over all I had a great experience and am very happy running Mandrake 9.2.

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