Red Hat Linux 6.0
Manufacturer: Red Hat Software, Inc.
Reviewer: Jason Kroll
Red Hat Linux 6.0 is Red Hat's latest distribution, and it has improved noticeably since the days of version 5. In keeping with the high standards of modern distributions, Red Hat Linux 6.0 is relatively easy to install, preconfigured, aesthetic and functional. It comes with the standard Linux applications (including Netscape) and also includes a special applications CD, with over 50 various commercial applications (most of which are demo versions which expire or are disabled). GNOME (running by default with the Enlightenment window manager), Red Hat's desktop environment, is well-configured and attractive. In addition to aesthetic improvements, Red Hat made some significant technical changes in its newest distribution, including the complete adoption of the EGCS (Experimental GNU Compiler System). Still, many things will be familiar to users of previous Red Hat releases.
Red Hat Linux 6.0 comes with three CDs (and a floppy, just in case), the first being an auto-booting installer which looks rather like previous Red Hat installers. It presents three installation options: Workstation-class, Server-class and Custom. The 400+ page installation guide contains very little information regarding the installation options, but having tested them, I really recommend a custom install.
Before proceeding with any kind of installation, however, the installer offers a choice of eleven languages which are mostly implemented (though some need more work than others). These are mainly just for the installation process, although GNOME does support a few languages; so if you install in another language for the fun of it, your system could end up running in it. After language selection, the installer offers a choice between installation and upgrade.
Upgrading is a rather quick process; a large part of the convenience aspect of Red Hat is the ability to upgrade, whether one is dealing with individual packages (via RPM/GnoRPM) or a complete system. Upgrading is rather automated compared to installation, which presents various options.
The workstation-class installation is quite functional and easy to use but is not as complete or fun as a custom installation; KDE, among other things, is noticeably missing. The server-class installation is meant for servers and will be of little interest except to network enthusiasts. It is not exactly up-to-date, and still runs FVWM2 (AnotherLevel) instead of the newer desktop environments; it is reminiscent of Red Hat releases from quite a while ago. The custom installation is probably what most users would want, and is simple enough to make if one knows what hardware is inside the machine.
Custom installation allows the user to choose packages either categorically or one by one; in the latter case, the installer keeps track of dependencies between packages. The user is also given the choice of which programs to be launched automatically at startup, and is required to partition his own drives. A choice of either Disk Druid or fdisk is given for partitioning the drives. Disk Druid is menu-driven and simple enough, as long as one is familiar with partitioning; the time-tested fdisk is just as adequate. Although both partitioning programs perform the same task in basically the same way (selecting partitions, sizes and mount points), using a menuing system seems to be easier for most people.
Video configuration can be a bit problematic. Curiously, although the lists of available monitors and video cards are quite long, the installer cannot probe for the video card. Probing for a card instead of querying the user should not be very difficult to implement, since X can probe successfully. The video mode tests failed even though my card and monitor were listed, but after installation, X worked fine. Also, if one could test various preconfigured monitor frequencies against the standard X test pattern, a better picture could be had. Since you will presumably have this Linux system for a while before reinstalling, it would be worth the effort to have an optimally configured display. Too bad this option is not available.
If you do not know your hardware, installation can be a hang-up. The only thing the installer could successfully detect was my mouse; everything else had to be entered manually. Again, this is fine if you know your hardware, and it is probably even safer than probing. However, new Linux users to whom Red Hat is often recommended and people who do not know what is inside their computers might prefer the computer to figure out for itself what hardware is present. Certain other installers probe successfully, so accurate probing is possible. Since ease of use has long been one of Red Hat's main attractions, it seems the installer could stand to be brought up to a level on a par with the overall quality of the distribution.
Despite the need to enter hardware information manually, installation is not exactly difficult and an experienced user could reasonably expect to complete an installation in approximately thirty minutes. Once the installation process is at an end, the option is presented to have X start up by default at boot time. If you answer yes, reboot and log in, you will be greeted by a mysterious footprint on the desktop, shaped oddly enough like a G with toes.
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