Red Hat Linux 8.0 Tops Desktop Class

 
 
By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2002-10-14
 
 
 

Red Hat Linux 8.0 Tops Desktop Class


After insisting for years that the open-source operating system was not yet ready for the corporate desktop, the biggest name in Linux has thrown its Red Hat into the desktop space.

eWeek Labs tests of Version 8.0 of Red Hat Inc.s eponymous Linux distribution, which shipped late last month, showed this operating system raises the bar for design polish among desktop Linux options without sacrificing Linuxs valuable flexibility.

Red Hat Linux 8.0 is the first Linux distribution weve tested that supports both KDE (K Desktop Environment) and GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) equally well. GNOME has long been, and still is, Red Hats default desktop environment, but configuration utilities and other interface niceties are just as well-integrated into KDE as they are in GNOME.

Red Hats new configuration utilities significantly ease tasks such as manipulating display settings and configuring network devices, filling many of the usability gaps we noted when we reviewed Red Hat 7.3 last spring.

Although Red Hat Linux runs on a wider range of hardware than either Windows or Mac OS, it isnt for everyone: The need for key Windows applications will likely keep desktop Linux deployments modest, at least in the near term. Red Hat Linuxs Mozilla Web browser, OpenOffice.org productivity suite, and Evolution e-mail and calendaring applications form a compelling software core, but IT administrators must gauge the individual software needs of users under their care before deploying Linux on the corporate desktop.

Sites with existing Red Hat deployments should note that this latest release ships with Version 3.2 of the GCC (GNU Compiler Collection), and IT administrators may discover incompatibilities with software compiled with earlier GCC releases.

Red Hat Linux 8.0 comes in $39.95 Personal and $149.95 Professional editions—Professional includes a system administrators CD, 60 days of Red Hat Network Basic Service, 60-day Web-based support and telephone support. As with its predecessors, Red Hat 8.0 can also be freely downloaded from Red Hat or one of its mirror sites.

Red Hats new interface theme, called Bluecurve, provides KDE and GNOME with a similar look and feel. Bluecurve has generated a lot of concern that it would stunt or cripple the individual charms of each environment, but we found no basis for these fears. We could return the look of KDE or GNOME to their vanilla states, and we found that the few deeper changes Red Hat has made, such as modifying KDEs Qt framework to use Xft for configuring fonts, yield significant benefits.

With Xft, we were able to add fonts by copying them to a font directory and running terminal command—still not as easy as font installation on Windows, but a significant improvement nonetheless. Fonts appeared consistent and anti-aliased across most applications, with the exception of Mozilla. (A build of Mozilla that uses Xft is available at Fontconfig.org.)

Red Hat 8.0 includes GNOME 2.0, a welcome upgrade over the 1.4 version that shipped with Red Hat 7.3. However, we still prefer the KDE 3.0.3 environment for its completeness and overall usability.

Configuration Utilities


Configuration Utilities

Red Hat 8.0 ships with 10 new configuration utilities, including user-oriented tools for configuring display settings, sound cards, keyboards and mice. Also new is a package management tool that makes it much easier to locate and install the applications that ship on Red Hats installation disks.

However, Red Hats package management tool is less full-featured than the KDE-native Kpackage application with which were most familiar and which is not included in Red Hat 8.0. KDEs Kpackage enabled us to set FTP sites as package sources and allowed us to browse the packages installed on a particular system. Wed like to see similar functionality make it into a future version of Red Hats package tool.

One of the trickiest challenges for any multiuser operating system is balancing safety and convenience when managing user rights. Tasks such as software installation require root or administrator permissions, but users are discouraged from using administrator-level accounts for day-to-day computing.

Most Linux distributions prompt users to enter their root password as needed when carrying out these tasks, which is what Red Hat 8.0 does. When we entered our root password, however, a key-ring icon appeared in our task bar to indicate that we were working with root privileges. By clicking on the icon, we could either "keep" or "forget" this authorization to carry out further administrative tasks without re-entering our password, or return to our normal user rights.

Also encouraging in this release is the extension of Red Hats very good network device tool for setting up wireless connections, a capability lacking in the Linux distributions weve previously tested.

Technical Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.

Executive Summary


: Red Hat Linux 8.0">

Executive Summary: Red Hat Linux 8.0

Usability Fair
Capability Good
Performance Good
Interoperability Good
Manageability Good
Scalability Good
Security Good

Red Hat Linux 8.0 marks Red Hats first release thats specifically designed for desktop users. With greater attention paid to fit and finish—in the GNOME and KDE desktop environments and the inclusion of several new, easy-to-use graphical configuration utilities—Red Hat makes a strong case for extending its leadership in the Linux community to the desktop.

COST ANALYSIS

Red Hat Linux 8.0 is available in $39.95 Personal and $149.95 Professional versions, with the differences between the two amounting to boosted support and documentation. Red Hat Linux is an open-source product, and it may be downloaded and distributed freely as well.

(+) New look and feel for GNOME and KDE improves usability while maintaining interface flexibility; configuration tools, such as those for display settings, make system maintenance much easier than in previous versions.

(-) Many vital, generally Windows-based, applications do not run on Linux; graphical package installer is easy to use but thin on functionality.

EVALUATION SHORT LIST

  • Microsoft Corp.s Windows XP Professional
  • Apple Computer Inc.s Mac OS X 10.2
  • SuSE Inc.s SuSE Linux 8.0
  • www.redhat.com

  • Rocket Fuel