Red Hat 6.1: It's all in the install: Page 2

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Looking through my options, I was quite pleased to see the addition of GnuPG to the U.S. version of the distribution. GnuPG, an open source alternative to Pretty Good Privacy, allows users to encrypt files on their computer or send and receive encrypted e-mail. Another convenient feature is the inclusion of Netscape Navigator with 128 bit encryption. This saves the end user the hassle of downloading it later.

If you've selected any individual packages, you will be prompted to install the packages they depend on before you can continue. This sanity check prevents users from installing packages in an unusable state.

Configuring X
Following the selection of packages, you are presented with the X server configuration. My video card was correctly detected but there was no native accelerated X server included, so the installer chose the SVGA generic package. If you have a Voodoo3 card like me, don't fret. There is a beta X server for this card available for free from www.3dfx.com. You can install this later for a more closely matched hardware/software setup. You can test your X window configuration by clicking on, not surprisingly, "Test this configuration."

If all is well, congratulations! If not, as the text on the left frame of the installer states, you will be presented with a selection of video cards to choose from. You can also select a graphical login now so that when you restart your machine, a nice colorful login screen will greet you. I prefer to have a text login in the event that I want to do some quick configuring without X, but it is nice to have the choice.

Select the "Customize X Configuration" button to choose video modes and color depth. There isn't much to mess up here because you can test your selections against your hardware with the click of a button. I suggest you do.

Once you're done with your X server settings, you are ready to begin the install. Behind the scenes, Red Hat is formatting your drives and using the RPM to install your selections. This may take a good long while, depending on the size of your disk, so now is a good time to peruse the included manuals for snafus and pointers. This version's install manual has me pretty satisfied. Users get introduced to a lot of the installable packages and possible uses toward the back.

Post-install eval

Red Hat has included an interactive startup option to allow you to "yea" or "nay" nearly any aspect of the system initialization. I recall several times when an improper DNS, NFS, or Sendmail setting hung my system for a long time. I sure wish I'd had this feature back then. I'm a hands-on kind of guy so I decided to go over all of the configuration settings that the installer determined I would want.

Security hazard
My first stop is to /etc, where all the mistakes get made. I see that the filesystem permissions and unnecessary daemons are configured basically as I would have configured them myself.
A useful feature of the next installer would be a dialog asking users how secure they want their systems.
However, I am a little disturbed at some of the services left open in /etc/inetd.conf.

A useful feature of the next installer would be a dialog asking users how secure they want their systems. First-time users won't know that they are susceptible to attack or even know where to turn services off. Because I have DSL, I always have to be on the lookout for holes in my computers since they are constantly open to attack.

X Windows
Can you say beautiful? Enlightenment is just that. Clean, useful, and pretty - just the way a window manager should be. I could spend all day choosing a screensaver. With Enlightenment's backgrounds, themes, key shortcuts, window behavior, and special effects, there is no end how your computer can look and feel.

You can even switch between Enlightenment, KDE, twm, and Afterstep without restarting the machine, killing apps, or losing your X windows session info. The help balloons will be quite useful to users new to X windows, and the ability to create desktop shortcuts to frequently used URLs and applications makes using Enlightenment on GNOME (the GNU configurable desktop environment) a dream to do real work. I rate the windowing aspect of Red Hat 6.1 a perfect 10.

Ok, so this isn't a feature of Red Hat's distro, but it came in the box and I'm in a reviewing kind of mood. I would have preferred the optional Java runtime environment to be included on the installation CD for StarOffice 5.1, but it was a snap to download from www.blackdown.org. (Due to Sun's Java licensing restrictions, Red Hat cannot redistribute its Java products.)

To test the compatibility of the MS Word filters I opened a Word 97 document. After playing around with this feature, I am really tempted to replace Windows with Linux on my PC at work. I'm actually typing up the finishing touches on this review in StarOffice and can hardly notice the difference from Word. This product will contribute much toward the widespread acceptance of Linux by home and corporate users as a desktop operating system.

Verdict and recommendations

Although there are some security issues to address, Red Hat has done a superb job on this release. The installer coupled with StarOffice 5.1 and the ability to perform automated installs with kickstart make this distribution a realistic replacement for Windows for corporate users and technically savvy consumers.

The release's integration of RAID in the installer promises significant progress in targeting the professional workstation and server market. This is one of the last frontiers for Linux in the competition with the big Unix vendors. The gap should close even further when Linux logical volume support à la Veritas is finalized.

The addition of VMware from www.vmware.com would nicely round out the functionality of this Linux system by adding support for native Windows-based software. VMware uses virtual machines to accomplish its magic, which means there is a real version of Windows running side by side with your Linux installation. It's a simple way of running applications that haven't been ported to Linux yet.

Now if only there were more games for Linux ...ø (The penguin went to Tustin)

Related resources

1. VMware for Linux: A preview. An open source IT review of this virtual machine program, pre-release.
2. Using RPM. Get a basic overview of the Red Hat Package Manager.
3. Enlightenment.org Ground zero for information on the window manager included in 6.1.

Michael Heller is lead systems engineer at EarthWeb, parent of open source IT. When he's not nose deep in networking books, he's nose deep in networking books.

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