Red Hat Linux 5.0

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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.
Glibc and Linux 2.0.31—A Line Drawn in the Sand

The biggest change in 5.0 is the switch to a different C library, Glibc. Linux 2.1.x kernel development is hopefully nearing the end of a long and exceptionally chaotic development cycle—the new dcache, finer grained SMP and a raft of new features and performance enhancements are causing trouble. This is nothing new for Linux, but it's been a long time since the last “stable” release of 2.1. On top of all the ongoing kernel changes is a new standard GNU C library, Glibc. Glibc has a clean threads implementation, transparent support for IPv4 and IPv6, improved linking and other incremental improvements that ultimately turn it into a whole new animal. The combination of new library plus new kernel code makes it harder to isolate bugs.

By biting the bullet now, choosing to bundle the new C library and stick with a proven release of the kernel, Red Hat is doing the world's Linux developers and ultimately its users a service. Threading is a standard feature of competing operating systems, such as NT and Solaris, and very important to Linux's new bleeding edge GUIs: KDE and Enlightenment. In the short term there will be a flurry of Red Hat 5.0 incompatible software which should be cleaned up by the time you read this article.

The Not So Graphical Desktop

The graphical on-line help system is still hopelessly crude. The tools (notably htdig) exist to make an excellent searchable archive of all the included html/text documentation, and it's too bad that the default help system is so slow and clunky. The Red Hat 5.0 network configurator now has support for configuring a PAP (password authentication protocol) PPP session, which saves some troublesome scripting.

Security, Patches and Upgrades

Red Hat 5.0 includes many security enhancements. Because of the change to Glibc, all of the applications had to be recompiled and relinked. As a result, it is hard to tell which programs have been upgraded or changed.

Yet, there are (as of this writing) 54 additional patches in http://www.redhat.com/support/docs/rhl/rh50-errata-general.html and 8 in Intel, including a critical kernel upgrade that blocks the Teardrop attack. The Teardrop Denial of Service attack immediately made the kernel (2.0.30) shipped with this release obsolete. Someone decided to hit me with Teardrop, crashing my servers every night for two weeks. The newest kernel (2.0.32) successfully detects, logs and blocks this attack.

You should immediately install a new kernel and many of the RPMs if you intend to use your 5.0 system on the Internet. On installing a new release, the first commands I run are:

mkdir /usr/local/rpms
cd /usr/local/rpms
ncftp -R -d 5 \
        ftp.redhat.com:/pub/linux/redhat-5.0/
rpm -i -upgrade *

Substitute your favorite mirror for the FTP address. The wget utility (available from the GNU archives) is slightly better for mirroring sites in this fashion, as it supports both FTP and HTTP, partial file/directory transfers, time-stamped updates and automatically uses PASV mode (necessary for FTP to work through a firewall).

The fact that patches for these problems are so readily available is a tribute to the flexibility of RPM and the hard working bunch of Linux folk who are countering the persistent cracking community.

Maximum RPMs

RPM's FTP and FTP proxy support are now documented on the man page, but to use RPM effectively to distribute your own software requires the book, Maximum RPMs, available from Red Hat.

The UNIX world needs a software installer of the caliber of the Windows 95/NT Installshield. RPM is a good, even great start, but Debian Linux's installer beats the RPM/GLINT combination for both interactivity and ease of use. An RPM/GLINT release combining the best features of RPM and Debian would be a good thing.

Linux Versus Microsoft NT

Commercial Features

The RedBaron web browser has been dropped—Netscape 4.04 is freely available and is a vastly superior product. You will have to download it from the Net, however, as it's not bundled on the CD—yet.

Metro-X boasts of a nice configuration screen, added card support and improved color depth, resolution and performance over the XFree86 release of the X server. In my case, Metro-X is of marginal utility—the XFree and S.u.S.E. drivers for my ET6000 and Mystique cards are as fast or faster and more reliable. You have to configure XFree in order to even try to configure Metro Link in many cases.

Metro Link has some excellent add-on libraries, notably OpenGL, which is experiencing enormous interest in light of the PC gaming phenomenon. If you intend to use OpenGL, the bundled Metro-X server saves you money against the purchase of the extra OpenGL libraries. Your other choice is the freely available OpenGL clone, MESA, which converts OpenGL calls into X code—which is, in theory, much slower.

The new backup program with the unwieldy name of BRU 2000-PE is straightforward enough for a single-user environment. In my environment, where I have to back up multiple machines to a single tape drive, through a firewall, the combination of cpio/dump and ssh works exceptionally well.

The newly bundled RealAudio 5.0 server and client are very sexy products. I've now hooked up my studio to my main Linux box so that I can broadcast live sessions to the Internet. The server operated flawlessly. The live encoder worked great once I had a working sound card and worked out the correct encoding rate. The 95/NT versions of the software have nicer interfaces, but I've already had months and months of uptime on my primary RealAudio server.

______________________

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Addicted

Anonymous's picture

I had a i486 SX with 8 MB of Ram at that time and installed Red Hat 5.0! It was my first Linux Distro and i loved it. Ok, recompiling emacs took hours, the X Window System was slow at all, but i enjoyed it very much.

Does REL 5.0 desktop supports FireFox browser (2.0/3.0/3.5)

Anonymous's picture

Sir,

We are using RHL v5.0 desktop, Can you please advice which version of FireFox is compatible with RHL v5.0

Thanks
sairam

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