In this Daily Drill Down, we’ll look at some of the GUI configuration tools that arrived as of Mandrake Linux 8.0. The configuration tools included in this offering from MandrakeSoft have evolved significantly from older versions. We’ll highlight some of these new tools, and we’ll explain how they’re used, where they excel, and if and how they might be improved.

Most veteran Linux users are probably used to text-mode tools or older configuration tools, such as Linuxconf. But to be fair, some of the newer third-party GUI tools are becoming very impressive and are far easier to use than the older “legacy” configuration tools.

Mandrake Control Center
The central gateway to all of the other configuration tools, Mandrake Control Center, is an improved version of DrakConf, which was the central configuration tool in Linux-Mandrake 7.2. The big changes to DrakConf are the name and the look of the application (see Figure A below). The Mandrake Control Center (MCC) now resembles the KDE Control Center somewhat in that it provides some system information in the larger right-hand window and a tree list of major categories—Boot, Hardware, Network & Internet, Security, and System—in the left-hand window. Each entry has a clickable box beside it that will expand or shrink the trees.

Figure A
The MCC tool allows you to configure nearly every aspect of your Linux box in one place.

In the first section, Boot, there are two subcategories: Boot Disk and Boot Config. The Boot Disk section is basically the drakfloppy tool embedded within MCC. This allows you to create a boot disk based on any kernel currently installed on the system.

The Boot Config section allows you to configure your boot loader, either LILO or Grub. You can also select whether you want Aurora—a graphical replacement for the text init messages you see on your screen when it boots up—to run during boot. The Boot Config section allows you to select different “themes” or styles of Aurora, and you can also indicate whether you want X to start automatically at boot and whether you want to enable autologins.

Within the Hardware section, you can configure aspects such as display resolution and color depth, mouse type, printers, and keyboard layouts. You can also get more detailed hardware information by clicking on the Hardware subcategory, which will launch an embedded version of HardDrake. This hardware configuration tool has been in Mandrake for quite a while, but it now supports and identifies even more hardware than before.

Network & Internet
In the Network & Internet section, you will find two subcategories: Connection and Connection Sharing. The Connection setting allows you to configure your network connection by type of connection, the defined gateway, and the current status. Depending on your type of connection, you may be able to configure other options as well. The Connection setting also allows you to use profiles, which work well if you’re using a laptop. You can define a default profile to use a LAN connection, for example, with a defined “away” profile for dial-up connections.

The Connection Sharing section will allow you to configure your system as a gateway for other systems in your LAN. If you have previously not defined connection sharing, you can click the Configure button to launch the Internet Connection Sharing wizard, which will walk you through the configuration.

In the Security section (see Figure B below), you will find two subsections: Security Level and Firewalling. Security Level allows you to define the security setting for your system, from Welcome To Crackers to Paranoid. The recommended security settings are Medium for desktop systems and High for servers.

Figure B
In the Security section, you’ll notice that Mandrake hasn’t lost its sense of humor.

You can configure the firewall for your system in the Firewalling section, which uses the tinyfirewall program—a new addition to Mandrake Linux 8.0. The tinyfirewall is a front end for the Bastille suite of security programs, which will be used to define your firewall. Here, you will be asked questions like whether you are running a Web server, a DNS server, SSH server, telnet server, FTP server, e-mail server, or a POP or IMAP server. When you have finished configuring your firewall, you will need to go through the configuration again to determine what values are defined for every question. In future versions, I think it would be more useful to see a list of all the configured responses to each server type in the window instead of the current message Mandrake uses, which tells you that the firewall is configured and then makes you repeat the configuration steps to verify your changes. In fact, the entire firewall selection could be made into one screen with Help buttons beside each entry to provide more details on the service.

The System section (see Figure C below) provides the following subcategories: Menus, Services, Fonts, Date & Time, and Software Manager. The Menus section is the old menudrake embedded in MCC. It allows you to configure the menu entries for any defined user or for the systemwide menu.

Figure C
You can stop or start a certain service on your Mandrake box in the Services subcategory of the System section.

The Services section (Figure C) is basically a GUI front end to chkconfig, which allows you to start and stop services and to define whether a particular service will start at boot. This is an excellent way for you to quickly determine what services are running on your system and whether they were started at boot.

The Fonts section is drakfont embedded in MCC. It allows you to import Windows TrueType fonts, add other fonts, and remove fonts. It will also let you preview fonts in certain sizes and styles.

The Date & Time section allows you to set the current time and date of your system, and it displays a nice big analog clock. A beneficial addition to this section in a future version would be a button that would allow you to specify an NTP server and to synchronize with the NTP server using rdate.

Finally, the Software Manager launches rpmdrake, which has replaced MandrakeUpdate from previous versions. Rpmdrake is basically MandrakeUpdate on steroids; it can accomplish far more than MandrakeUpdate could. It looks much nicer as well, but the interface is a little strange and may take some getting used to.

Some details about the Software Manager
The Software Manager, aka rpmdrake, has been the source of some confusion for those new to Mandrake Linux 8.0, so I’ll share some tips that should make it a little easier to understand.

When you first launch the Software Manager, you will see three primary windows. The first window, the large one on the left, is the Package Listing window, and it shows a listing of package names sorted and grouped by category. You can select two views here: Tree View and Flat List. The Tree View is the default and the easiest to navigate; the Flat List displays all packages in alphabetical order with no other sorting. You can also select what types of packages to view: All, Updates Only, and Uninstalled only by selecting them from the scroll bar.

The second window, in the top right-hand corner, is called the Selected window and shows information on selected packages. The bottom right-hand window, called the Informational window, provides information on the currently highlighted package. It will display the group the package belongs in, how large it is, the license of the software it contains, who created it, the URL for the program’s home page, and a description of the software. Clicking on the Files List tab immediately above it will give you a list of every file included in the package.

You can also choose to view two types of packages: Installable and Installed. The Installable packages are those that can be installed on your system either because they do not already exist or because a new version of a currently installed package exists. The Installed packages are those already installed on your system.

For instance, if you wanted to remove an installed package on your system, you would find the package in the Installed packages list and click the empty box beside the package name. The package would then appear in the Selected window. At the top of screen, there are three large buttons: Install/Remove, Define Sources, and Reload Lists. To remove the selected packages, simply click Install/Remove. If removing a package breaks the dependency of another package, the Software Manager will let you know.

The most important task you need to accomplish within the Software Manager is to define your sources for packages. In fact, the first time you run it, it will ask you to define a source for security updates. When you define a new source, you must provide some information on the source so that the Software Manager knows where to go to retrieve the packages.

You will have to define the type of source that can be considered Removable (for CDs, Zip disks, etc.), Local (for a local directory), FTP, HTTP, Security Updates, or Cooker. If you select Security Updates, a list of trusted mirrors will be retrieved for you. (The same thing will happen if you select Cooker; keep in mind, however, that Cooker is the experimental next version of Mandrake Linux, and because it is in constant development, packages may not be stable.)

Define a unique name for this source and then, if you select Security Updates or Cooker, you will be asked to choose a mirror from a list. You can either enter the remote site manually or click the Update The List Of Mirrors button to retrieve a list so that you can simply scroll through a list and select a site. For remote updates, including FTP and HTTP, you can also define whether you need a login name and password other than anonymous.

If you select a Removable source, you will have to tell the Software Manager what kind of source it is by selecting the appropriate device name and choosing the corresponding mount point.

By default, you will already have sources defined for the number of CDs that came with your version of Mandrake. You will have up to a maximum of four predefined sources if you purchased the PowerPack or ProSuite, or a minimum of one source if you simply downloaded the first ISO.

Once you have done this, click the Reload Lists button, and you will probably see a number of security updates already available for updating. Simply select the packages by clicking on the empty box beside the package name, and once you’ve selected all the packages that interest you, click the Install/Remove button.

Finally, you can also search through Installed and Installable packages by using the Find field. You can enter a simple keyword or use standard regular expressions to search for packages. The results will be displayed in the Package List window for you.

Another very useful configuration tool developed by MandrakeSoft is Userdrake, which manages users on the system. It is not a part of the MCC, but it can be accessed by navigating your GNOME or KDE menus to Configuration |Other | Userdrake. When Userdrake starts, you will see a list of installed users that shows their login name, user ID number, group ID number, home directory, Comment (usually the user’s real name), their selected shell, and what additional groups they belong to.

You can configure Userdrake itself to show users or groups, so you can also obtain a listing of the groups configured on the system. You can use Userdrake to add new users, remove existing users, change settings for existing users, set the password for users, and change their face (what is shown in the GDM or KDM login managers). By default, the only users shown in Userdrake are those with a UID of 500 or higher, which is reserved for user accounts. You can change this as well so that you can edit system user accounts.

Adding a new user in Userdrake is simple. Click the Add button, and you will be asked for the user’s login name, UID, comment (again, usually the user’s real name), shell, and home directory. You will be prompted to enter his or her password twice. If you click the Groups tab, you can select what groups to which the user will be added.

After you have finished making changes, click the Save button.

Other configuration tools
Of course, Mandrake Linux also comes with other GUI tools that are present on some other distributions. Tools such as Linuxconf still exist, which allow you to configure a number of other settings for users, system services, networking, and so on. Beyond the standard user-based GNOME and KDE configuration tools, you can configure the GNOME Display Manager (GDM) (similar to the KDE Display Manager [KDM]), which is the default login manager loaded when you boot into GUI mode.

To configure Samba, you can use the SWAT configuration tool, a Web-based tool that you can reach at http://localhost:901 or by selecting the Samba Configuration menu item in the Configuration | Networking menu category.

You can even configure cron tasks using the Task Scheduler, which is located in the Configuration | Other menu category. This is the KCron program, which will allow you to define personal cron events for the user you are currently logged in as. If you’ve ever found editing crontabs daunting, using KCron will be very enjoyable because it is a full GUI configuration tool that allows you to select what months, days, hours, and minutes at which you want a job to run by simply clicking buttons and selecting check boxes.

There are many other configuration tools available, but the ones we’ve just discussed are the more important ones. You can find all of the GUI configuration tools in the Configuration menu. Of course, most of the text-based configuration tools are still available for those running Mandrake Linux as a server.

I’ve been using Linux for quite a while, so I am used to the console tools. Starting out on Red Hat 5.0, I’ve been using tools such as sndconfig or mouseconfig and the like to configure my sound cards or mice. Although it’s a habit for me to use those tools, as it may be for you, these tools are depreciated with the newer GUI tools that are available. For the time being, there is still a place for some of these tools, such as Linuxconf. Linuxconf has also gotten better with age and offers a lot of configuration possibilities still not possible with programs such as the MCC, regardless of how robust it has become in the last few months.

I must admit, however, that this was the first time I took a good look at the MCC, and I was pleasantly surprised with how it looked and worked. Having a nice clean central configuration utility is definitely appealing.

In the future, I expect to see more leaps and bounds as Mandrake continues to push the envelope of custom configuration tools. The tools that MandrakeSoft has developed within the last year have reached a level of professionalism and ease of use to make even the novice computer user comfortable with them.