Linux in Government: Linux Desktop Reviews, Part 3 - Red Hat Enterprise Linux
Prior to using Red Hat's Enterprise Linux desktop, I gave Sun's Java Desktop System my highest rating for look and feel, ease of use and administration. As of this writing, Red Hat has pulled ahead as the "best of class" desktop. One example of why RHEL took the lead can be seen in Figure 2; here, you can see that Red Hat greatly simplified its launch menu and improved its desktop rendering. Even compared with Fedora's design and the last RH public version, RH 9, the menu system has become easier to use and the graphical presentation has improved.
Additionally, the default desktop install reduces the number of unnecessary applications and options often found in less professionally designed distributions. When a customer buys a RHEL desktop, Red Hat's deployment team configures it to the specifications the buyer wants. Thus, the functionality can become even tighter.
Red Hat has integrated the Red Hat Network (RHN) into its RHEL desktop products. For those who used RHN in the past, you may find the new functionality surprising. For example, you now can utilize RHN's Web services to provide a number of tightly controlled management functions. Figure 3 allows you to see a portion of the management section of the RHN Web site. Although this view provides only a small section of the tools available, you can see that administrators remotely can manage individual desktops or groups of desktops.
Depending on the service offering an enterprise customer selects, one can utilize the RHN from Red Hat's facilities or bring the support infrastructure in house. Red Hat also offers hosting services for desktops.
As show in Figure 4, I used RHN to install a graphical secure copy tool to the desktop. Red Hat provided an application called gftp in the packages available for the desktop. This version of gftp provides for visual secure shell access (SSH). I found it useful for moving files between two computers.
Interestingly, I logged in from a separate computer to manage my RHEL desktop. I could install software, change system preferences, schedule updates and perform a variety of other tasks. The management functions allow one to administer a large number of desktops from a single desktop, without having to visit each workstation physically.
Obviously, the services Red Hat provides for deployment and administration of enterprise desktops do not come free. Consider the infrastructure required, number of trained professionals involved and continuous monitoring and testing of applications needed. For large desktop infrastructures, Red Hat removes a significant amount of overhead from the enterprise and provides an extra layer of security, reliability and continuity.
Enterprises have started embracing the notion that they have overbought IT functionality in the past. Most organizations utilize 10% of the available features they purchase. This realization has allowed enterprises to shuffle resources and reduce overhead dramatically.
Red Hat has provided enterprises with the ability to maintain the 10% of usable functionality while reducing unused and redundant functionality. The Red Had desktop provides several ways to interoperate with Microsoft desktops, servers and applications.
Let's first discuss how Red Hat's desktop can work with Active Directories. Gerry Riveros, Product Marketing Manager - Client Solutions, explained the process to me as follows:
Red Hat has made it easy to plug a Red Hat Desktop into an Active Directory environment. It's a one-time setup that a system administrator would perform. After that, the user would be able to log in to his system and automatically authenticate with Active Directory.
The system administrator uses a Red Hat tool called Authconfig. Authconfig is used to configure winbindd. Next, the administrator creates user home directories and restarts the GNOME display manager. Now, Active Directory authentication works. To add Kerberos authentication for single sign-on to network services, the administrator uses Authconfig again and modifies a config file setting.
Red Hat provided us with a detailed process for setting up Active Directory configuration. Unfortunately, we do not have the space in this week's column to provide that information. Suffice it to say, enterprises wanting desktop interoperability with Microsoft can have it.