Red Hat Shows a More Limber Linux

Red Hat limbers up Linux with its "Limbo" beta, which offers new desktop support and simpler configuration capabilities.

A new beta release of Red Hat Linux, code-named Limbo, hit FTP servers earlier this month, giving users a first look at what is likely to become Version 8.0 of Red Hat Inc.s most popular Linux distribution.

eWEEK Labs gave Limbo, also known as Red Hat Linux 7.3.92, a thorough run-through, and we were most struck by the strides the beta operating system is making in supporting desktop users. While Red Hat has long discounted the desktop Linux space, the maturation of key open-source projects—such as the GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) desktop, Mozilla Web browser and OpenOffice productivity suite—seems to have prompted Red Hat to hone its end-user efforts.

In addition to the latest versions of GNOME, Mozilla and OpenOffice, Limbo includes a nice set of new system administration tools, which significantly ease tasks such as X server, network and peripheral configuration.

As a beta release, Limbo is inappropriate for deployment in production settings, and this applies to server and desktop deployments. However, we recommend that sites running Red Hat Linux give Limbo a whirl, if only to get a peek at whats to come or to participate in the bug-collecting process.

New Compiler Version

One of the chief software updates in Limbo is Version 3.1 of GCC (GNU Compiler Collection), the inclusion of which is the main indicator that Limbo will become Red Hat Linux 8.0. The 2.96 version of GCC that began shipping in Red Hat Linux 7.0 was accompanied by certain binary compatibility issues, particularly with C++. GCC 3.1 has been shown to produce faster code compared with previous versions, but developers have reported longer compile times with GCC 3.1 compared with its predecessors.

Limbo also ships with Apache 2.0, which has shown itself in eWEEK Labs tests to be an attractive and beneficial upgrade over previous versions of Apache.

Limbo provides many system configuration utilities, which share an attractive new look, courtesy of the GTK2 (GIMP Toolkit Version 2) upon which GNOME 2 is based. In addition to this face lift, Red Hats network configuration utility now includes functionality for setting up wireless network connections, something weve yet to find in other Linux distributions.

New in Limbo are tools for adjusting display, mouse, keyboard and sound card settings, among others (see screen). These utilities closely resemble those found in Windows, which will make life a lot easier for users who would otherwise have to hand-edit scattered configuration files to change settings such as screen resolution and color depth.

Still missing, however, is a font installer program—a tool thats important for any operating system but particularly vital for an open-source one, since font-licensing issues restrict Linux vendors from shipping attractive fonts with their distributions. We like the way that Mandrake- Soft S.A.s Mandrake Linux handles this issue by providing for an easy installation of Microsoft Corp.s excellent, freely downloadable core fonts for the Web with a Wine-based installer utility.

While on the topic of fonts, make sure to manually select the XFree86 75- and 100-dot-per-inch font packages when installing Limbo. These fonts are required for various applications to display text usably but are left out in the default install paths.

LPRng print spooler software is among the software left out of Limbo or otherwise slated for removal from the next version of Red Hat Linux. LPRng has been scrapped in favor of CUPS (Common Unix Printing System). Weve had good experiences with CUPS, and the preference for this single printing system should resolve confusion for users previously presented with a choice between the two mutually exclusive packages.

Also left out of Limbo is the 4.x version of Netscape, which has been formally replaced by the now-complete Mozilla Web browser.

Red Hats package manager software, RPM, includes interesting new improvements as well, among them the capacity to verify digital signatures when reading packages during installation. RPM can now also suggest packages to satisfy unresolved dependencies when installing software.