RHEL 5 Beta 1: Look but Dont Touch

Review: features sound great, but tests show omissions

With the release of the first beta of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, hWEEK Labs was looking forward to getting an early look at the progress Red Hat has made with the platform since RHEL 4. Unfortunately, Beta 1 of Version 5 is too flaky for even testing purposes.

The biggest problem we encountered was RHEL 5s thoroughly broken software management system. In RHEL 5, Red Hat is moving from up2date—the software installation and update front end to RPM (Red Hat Package Manager)—to yum, the software tool thats fronted the past few Red Hat Fedora Core releases. Red Hat is also moving RHEL to the same graphical package installer, Pirut, and graphical package updater, Pup, that have graced recent Fedora releases.

We have not been particularly impressed with Pirut or Pup in the past—we much prefer the set of graphical package management tools, anchored by the excellent Synaptic, that ship with Ubuntu Linux—but yum has always worked well for us from the command line. However, when we tested RHEL 5, back-end troubles with Red Hats repositories nearly prevented yum from working at all. (The update and install commands we issued worked for us about 10 percent of the time.)

Along similar lines, RHEL 5 includes some interesting-looking new tools for creating and managing Xen virtual machines, such as a new panel applet for handling these tasks, but the tool didnt work for us. It appears that the Virtualization Manager application (virt-manager.et.redhat.com) that the applet is meant to call on is missing from the distribution at this point.

Also apparently absent from RHEL 5 so far is an implementation of Red Hat Directory Server, technology that Red Hat purchased from AOL and subsequently released as open-source software. We hope to see Red Hat address this gap with a well-integrated directory server implementation by the time that RHEL 5 ships.

The final straw for this round of testing was when we saw—happily, at first—a menu entry for the Sabayon user profile editor for GNOME, an important piece of management framework and one whose progress weve been tracking through recent GNOME releases. We began to configure a sample user profile, but the operation locked up our X session, along with some unsaved edits in this very story.

Fortunately, we could enable from a separate machine on our network the autosave option for the Gedit text editor wed been using—a trick made possible by the same GNOME Gconf settings framework on which the Sabayon profile editor depends.

On a brighter note, Red Hats SELinux (Security-Enhanced Linux) implementation remains a solid competitive advantage for the distribution. SELinux in RHEL 5 has continued to grow in scope, with a lengthened list of services over which the framework can, at administrator discretion, enforce lockdown.

—Advanced Technologies Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.