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.