Mandrakesoft Inc.s Mandrakelinux Corporate Server 3.0 is a solid Linux 2.6-based operating system that ships with the software and tools required to deliver a comprehensive set of network servicesparticularly in departmental and small-office scenarios, where this distributions easy-to-use configuration tools can lower administration barriers. MCS 3.0, which began shipping in January, doesnt share the same breadth of enterprise hardware and software support certifications of rival corporate-targeted distributions from Red Hat Inc. and Novell Inc. However, it does offer the extended product support that is a hallmark of RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) and Novells SLES (SuSE Linux Enterprise Server). Mandrakesoft pledges to provide updates for MCS 3.0 for at least five years.Mandrakesofts Linux distributions are popular as desktop operating systems. Sites that are already running Mandrakelinux in that capacity and that have developed a familiarity with Mandrakelinuxs conventionssuch as use of the Mandrakelinux-specific URPM (User RedHat Package Manager) software management toolwill find MCS 3.0 a credible fit for providing key network services such as groupware, file and print, and client management.Click here to read Labs review of Mandrakelinux 10. However, the price for MCS 3.0$370 to $830 per system per year, depending on the support options you choosemaps so closely to RHEL and SLES pricing that companies that dont have a pre-existing affinity for Mandrake wont find much to recommend this Linux distribution over its higher-profile rivals. MCS 3.0s configuration tools are friendlier and better integrated than those that ship with RHEL but are no more approachable or well-meshed than those in SLES. MCS 3.0 supports x86 platforms, as well as 64-bit processors from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Intel Corp.a slimmer range of hardware support than is offered by Red Hat and SuSE, each of which also supports IBMs PowerPC and mainframe platforms. This Mandrakelinux release ships with Version 2.6.3 of the Linux kernel, which delivers, among other benefits, improved scalability on multiprocessor and hyperthreading machines and support for SATA (Serial ATA) controllersalthough only in non-RAID configurations. (RHEL 4 does support SATA controllers in RAID configurations.) The prime strength of MCS 3.0 is its set of graphical configuration tools, which can make life easier for administrators unfamiliar with Linux and the open-source services that typically accompany it. We were impressed with the way MCS 3.0 struck a balance (in certain spots, at least) between the GUI and the command line. For instance, we appreciated the way MCS 3.0s software update tool helped us manage conflicts between configuration files already installed on our test system and those that came with package updates. As with other RPM-based distributions weve tested, MCS 3.0 left our existing configuration file unchanged and installed the copy that came with our package update with a .rpmnew extension. What we havent seen in other distros, however, was a dialog displaying both files, the changes between them, and buttons for either removing the new configuration file or swapping it in as the new file. Along similar lines, we liked MCS 3.0s Draksec and Drakperm security configuration utilities. These utilities let us adjust security-related settingssuch as whether to allow remote log-insthat wed otherwise have to modify by visiting text configuration files. Rather than assign every setting individually, MCS 3.0 prompted us to select a general security level (low, standard, high and so on). We could then tweak the defaults to our liking. One problem with this security-levels interface was that it didnt show what the default setting was for a given level. Rather, the combo boxes with which we could select custom security options simply read "default" without indicating what the default was. Another MCS 3.0 tool that caught our eye was park-rpmdrake, an application for configuring and updating software packages on a group of hosts. However, MCS 3.0s documentation makes no mention of this tool, and we found almost nothing about the utility on Mandrakesofts Web site. Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.