Red Hat Linux 6.0

In keeping with the high standards of modern distributions, Red Hat Linux 6.0 is relatively easy to install, preconfigured, aesthetic and functional.

Red Hat has taken an active role in supporting the production of GNOME, a high-quality desktop environment based entirely on free software. Red Hat Linux 6.0 installs GNOME on workstation and custom installations. GNOME is not actually a window manager in itself—it is a desktop environment which allows you to use the compatible window manager of your choice (Enlightenment, by default).

One of the particularly nice characteristics of modern distributions is that their desktop environments come thoroughly configured. This means you can bring up menus, point and click, drag and drop, etc. without having to configure the menus, and the menu options actually correspond to the programs on your system. On Red Hat Linux 6.0, GNOME is better configured than KDE or AnotherLevel (FVWM2), both of which menus are incorporated into GNOME's menuing system. GNOME also has the remarkable program GnoRPM, which is a Red Hat Package Manager for GNOME. This graphical program offers a simple point-and-click system for installing, upgrading, uninstalling, querying, verifying and searching through RPM packages. In conjunction with LinuxConf and various control panels, this makes for easy point-and-click administration and configuration.

Technical Changes

A large part of the improvement Red Hat made from 5.2 to 6.0 comes from the technical changes in the various programs which make up the distribution. The core of the improvement is the 2.2 kernel (2.2.5-15 to be exact), which supports more hardware and file systems and is even better at networking than previous Linux kernels. It also has better SMP support and countless other improvements in areas ranging from networking to frame buffers, and is even more modular and easier to reconfigure and recompile. Recompilation is less necessary due to the new modular approach. Developers will likely appreciate that Red Hat has moved completely to the Experimental GNU Compiler System (EGCS), which offers advanced platform optimizations, integrated FORTRAN and a significantly improved C++ compiler. These days, as innovative hardware solutions push past the limits of conventional desktop processor speed and storage space, SMP and RAID support are increasingly valuable and, thanks to the new Linux kernel, available. In conjunction with Glibc 2.1.1 and the latest stable versions of various libraries and programs at the time of its release, Red Hat Linux 6.0 is up to date.

Security is an ever-present problem with network computers, and in this distribution, root access via TELNET has been removed and the X screen automatically locks when the screen saver comes on. Also, passwords are shadowed and, optionally, use MD5 encryption (as opposed to DES). For convenience, console users do have access to peripherals and can reboot, although this can be changed. Security risks are always a hazard, so it is a good idea to check periodically for recent patches. In fact, a few small potential security problems shipped with 6.0; the fixes (via RPM) are on Red Hat's web site, along with a list of rather minor errata.

Application CD

Included in Red Hat Linux 6.0 and Red Hat EXTRA is an application CD with over 50 Linux applications, ranging from developmental software to productivity software, specialized commercial applications and more. According to the box, the CD is valued at over $1,000, and perhaps if it were full of commercial software instead of disabled and expiring demo versions, it would be worth that much. Nevertheless, the disc is an amazing testament to the proliferation of applications available for Linux, and some software packages are mostly or even fully functional while some don't work at all. The CD should be looked at as a bonus, because you could just download most of the software over the Net, if you knew it existed in the first place. The inclusion of commercial demos with Linux distributions is a good idea, and software vendors might want to pursue other distributors as well.

Support and Manuals

In the past, the majority of complaints about Red Hat seem to have involved the issue of support; perhaps this implies that the distribution itself leaves little to complain about. This time, Red Hat stepped up the efforts to provide support to registered users of Official Red Hat Linux 6.0. This may partially explain the rather high price of $79.95 for a collection of mostly free software.

Included with the Red Hat package is a large bright yellow slip of paper stating, “For Installation Support Go To:”, from which one might surmise the source for installation support. In order to receive support, one must first register via Red Hat's web site. The registration program seems to work, and once registered, a user is entitled to 30 days of installation support via telephone and 90 days of installation support by way of e-mail. I would certainly expect that after 90 days, someone would have his system installed. Actually, support goes a bit further than initial installation; Red Hat is willing to help in the configuration of printers, sound cards and other hardware such as floppy and CD-ROM drives. There was no mention of Ethernet help, though this is usually easier than dealing with sound cards, so I hope Red Hat intends to help with this too.

Installation will take much longer than thirty minutes if you take the time to read the 400+ page “Installation Guide” and the 300-page “Getting Started Guide”. The Installation Guide is a comprehensive walk-through of the installation process, with a significant space dealing with system configuration and administration. The Installation Guide is rather thorough and contains enough information to turn a neophyte into a competent administrator of his own system. The Getting Started Guide is smaller, simpler and a bit friendlier. It covers many aspects of Enlightenment and GNOME, X, shell usage, administration, configuration and the like. Red Hat calls it “easy-to-read”--that is a fair assessment, to say the least.

In the event that someone finds 30 days of phone support, 90 days of e-mail support and 700 pages of textual support inadequate, Red Hat offers various commercial support packages ranging in price from $2,995 to $60,000. Obviously, these cover more than basic installation.