Red Hat Linux 5.0
Manufacturer: Red Hat Software, Inc.
Price: $49.95 US
Platforms Reviewed: Intel and Alpha
Reviewers: Michael Taht and Retro
Red Hat 4.2—with its associated 30+ patches and upgrades—has been my standard operating system for all my clients since its release. Its ease of use, reliability, simplified install, corporate support and TheNextLevel X Window System interface have made it my preferred Linux. However, I was beginning to feel that 4.2 was getting exceptionally long in the tooth, over 6 months old—two Internet years. Therefore, I was overjoyed when 5.0 was released on December 1, 1997 and delighted when Red Hat started to ship Netscape 4.04 as standard in late January.
This review details my experiences with 5.0 in the two months since its release. I maintain 17 Linux machines, 5 of which are now running 5.0.
Red Hat 5.0 can be installed via CD-ROM, hard disk, NFS or FTP. Red Hat 4.2's SMB install option has been dropped. It's a simple matter to drop an FTP server onto a Windows 95 or NT box, so I can live without SMB support for installation.
I installed the commercial release of the Intel version from CD, and Retro installed the freeware release of the DEC Alpha version via FTP. Most of my computers support booting from CD-ROM, but the CD-ROM only booted on two of my most recently built machines.
The NFS and FTP installation options are best used on a file server on your internal network. Installing via FTP over a T1 line or less is painfully slow, so you are better off pulling down a mirror of the release overnight and installing from a local machine. If you have multiple machines to install or upgrade, NFS and FTP are convenient, allowing you to update or install new versions of Red Hat on several machines at the same time. (You should copy the distribution to the hard disk, as CD-ROMs don't handle concurrent access very well.)
Performing the base upgrade is simple, but getting everything working again is not so easy. The CD-ROM release with prebuilt installation floppies arrived in my mailbox. I inserted disk one into my first computer, but it wasn't needed—Red Hat booted from the CD-ROM. I selected automatic install, then upgrade. Red Hat then prompted me to override or add additional packages. Because I was unfamiliar with the packages already installed in this machine I decided to just take the defaults and go with the flow. I regretted this later. The remainder of the automated upgrade procedure took about 15 minutes on a 24x CD-ROM, then prompted me for X Window System and network information.
Rebooting was slow and fraught with errors. When the machine finally came up, it turned out the network interface was incorrectly recognized. No problem, I said, I'll just recompile the kernel with the correct options.
make xconfig; make clean; make dep; make zlilo make modules; make modules_install shutdown -r now
Here's where I have a beef with Red Hat—their penchant for “pristine sources” means that by default both /etc/lilo.conf and the /usr/src/linux/Makefile need to be modified for a new kernel to boot correctly—a very confusing thing for first timers. I recompiled and rebooted again: sendmail hung, AMD broke, httpd broke, Samba hung, Povray broke. The list of broken programs was quite long, and although fixing each problem took only a few minutes, it was days before I had a completely functioning system again. Now that the installation process is over, the boxes I have are very usable and stable, but I really don't want to have to go through that again for all my production machines.
Red Hat 5.0 features an automated scripting utility that allows you to upgrade or install on a number of machines. Unless I had a large number of very similar machines (like the rendering farm of Alphas used for the Titanic movie), I'd be leery of using an entirely automated installation script. I'd rather have problems upgrading a few machines at a time than have every one of my computers in an undefined state and the phone ringing off the hook.
With “New VERSION 5.0” written in friendly large blue letters on the cover and a rewritten installation section, the manual has grown significantly since the 4.2 release. Release notes and upgrades are available on the Red Hat web site, as well as on the CD-ROM. Just as I wouldn't recommend seriously using NT or Windows 95 without the associated resource kit, I recommend a companion book like Running Linux or the Linux Network Administrator's Guide from O'Reilly and Associates.
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