Red Hat 9

Red Hat 9, code-named Shrike, was released on April 7, 2003. It took everyone by surprise, including this reviewer, who was expecting an 8.1 release. As a matter of fact, starting with this release, the offering from Red Hat has changed, clearly splitting into two lines with different purposes and targets.

Product Lines

The Enterprise line is designed for professional use on mission-critical servers or corporate workstations with powerful hardware and the need for the highest possible stability. This product line will have release cycles of 12–18 months and five years of support for every version, which is great for all those companies that have to develop and maintain products for several years. The top product is the Advanced Server for up to eight CPUs and 16GB of main memory. The ES server is basically the same thing but optimized and scaled down for systems with no more than two CPUs and 4GB of RAM. The Enterprise Workstation is the version for the corporate desktop. The first and last products also are available for the Itanium 2 processor.

Standard Red Hat Linux is defined by Red Hat itself as a “community product for SOHO users, independent professionals, students and hobbyists with minimal support needs”. It also has a professional edition ($149.95 US), with an extra multimedia CD, manuals and phone support for 60 days. This line marks the beginning of a different numbering scheme. Patches and updates will be released, of course, but for periods shorter than the Enterprise Line (Red Hat says “at least until April 30, 2004”), and the next version will be 10, not 9.1. This review covers Red Hat Linux 9.

Base System

The kernel shipped with the CDs is 2.4.20. Everything has been compiled with GCC 3.2.1 and with GNU libc 2.3.2. Both the kernel and the libraries already have been updated on Red Hat's web site, so be sure to grab the latest versions from https://rhn.redhat.com/errata/rh9-errata.html after you install. The Web server installed is Apache httpd 2.0.

Installation didn't really differ from previous releases, except for more refined Red Hat commercials, but produced better end results. This is the first Red Hat on my computer that allowed me to use my UMAX Astra 610S scanner without manual tweaking.

In user space, all the most popular applications are provided. The shipped versions often are a bit behind those provided, for example, by Mandrake 9.1, but unless one really wants the bleeding edge, this is not a big deal. The versions of some of the most popular programs are reported in Table 1.

Table 1. Popular Programs Included in Red Hat 9

Emacs21.2
Evolution1.2.2
Gaim0.59.8
Galeon1.2.7
GIMP1.2.3
GnuPG1.2.1
Kdebase3.1
KOffice1.2.1
Mozilla1.2.1
Mutt1.4
OpenOffice.org1.0.2
OpenSSH3.5p1
Perl5.8.0
Quanta3.1

Some applications may have benefited from a more modular packaging. OpenOffice.org, for example, requires two extra RPMs, openoffice-libs and openoffice-i18n. The files to manage all conceivable languages are placed on disk, no matter what you choose at install time. The end result is that on Shrike, OpenOffice takes almost 200MB of space.

System-wide support for UTF-8 is great, in spite of one issue, which doesn't depend on Red Hat. There is no clean, unique solution to guarantee that all, possibly old, Perl scripts will continue to process all, possibly old, text files as expected. As serious as it is, this problem comes from the simple fact that text files are plain and cannot specify how their content is encoded, unlike e-mail messages and XML documents. The script must then be helped from the outside by setting environment variables to work properly.

This release is the first Red Hat to support the Native POSIX Thread Library (NPTL). This should increase performance if an application has been coded or modified to use it. On the other hand, it may interfere with some old applications or with ones operating at a very low level, such as WINE. If this is the case on your system, NPTL can be turned off at the user level by adding the following to the cshrc or bashrc files, where kernel-version is 2.4.1 or 2.2.5:

export LD_ASSUME_KERNEL=kernel-version

______________________

Articles about Digital Rights and more at http://stop.zona-m.net CV, talks and bio at http://mfioretti.com

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