Product Review - Red Hat

Red Hat is a powerful force in the Linux market. Its products are among the most popular commercial versions of Linux. In fact, many companies that distribute Linux simply repackage Red Hat Linux. Red Hat Linux 6.0 won our comparison with a final score of 8.45.

Version 6.0 of Red Hat Linux includes many new features and improvements, including the Linux 2.2 kernel (see sidebar) and the exciting new GNU Network Object Model Environment (GNOME) GUI.

Red Hat lets you choose your desktop environment from among most of the ones available for Linux, including GNOME, the K Development Environment (KDE) and the classic fvwm. There should be something for everyone in these choices.

GNOME offers an object-based GUI through the cool Enlightenment window manager, and we spent quite some time tweaking the look and feel of our desktop. KDE provides a robust window manager that emulates Windows, Macintosh or Unix desktops, thus making just about any user feel at home. Fvwm offers a solid, basic window manager for the comfort of Linux veterans.

Red Hat's installation isn't the sexiest one around (that would be Caldera's), but it worked as well as any we examined. The text-based interface walks the user through a straightforward process, and the auto-detection identifies most of the hardware.

Red Hat gives you the choice of a server, workstation or custom installation. The first two choices partition and format the hard disk automatically and then install selected software. The custom installation offers two methods for partitioning the hard disk: the more intuitive Disk Druid and fdisk.

Disk Druid offers an interface that lists partitions and enables you to create, delete or edit them. A typical user probably can configure a disk correctly using Disk Druid. If you want to know what installing Linux was like in the early days, spend some time playing with fdisk. Fdisk is completely command-line-driven and provides a primitive interface for doing the same tasks that Disk Druid performs. Unless you're familiar with fdisk, stick with Disk Druid.

Network configuration, which has always been a little tricky in Linux, also benefits from an auto-detection feature. But we threw a curveball at the Linux offerings in this comparison by installing a new 3Com Corp. OfficeConnect 100 megabits/sec Ethernet adapter in our PC. While Linux has drivers for an enormous amount of hardware, it sometimes takes a while before a driver is available for a new device. Red Hat, like all the other products in this comparison, failed to detect the new 3Com network interface card.

When we switched to a more common 3C905 NIC from 3Com, Red Hat detected and configured it successfully. The moral of the story: Check out hardware compatibility before you're halfway through the operating system installation.

It looks like the Linux community finally has its act together when it comes to video configuration. Red Hat properly identified our system's ATI Technologies Inc. Mach 64 video card. However, although Red Hat Linux 6.0 included settings for several CTX International Inc. monitors, it didn't include settings for our monitor. We had to configure it manually.

For Linux administration, you can't beat the combination of the GNOME GUI and linuxconf. Linuxconf, which is one of the most complete system administration tools found in any operating system, provides one-stop shopping for everything from basic network and disk configuration to settings for the Apache public domain Web server.

Red Hat's venerable RPM package manager has been given a GNOME makeover, providing a good environment for installing and removing software on the system.

Red Hat ships with two paper manuals: an installation guide, which is quite complete if not completely well-organized, and a new getting-started guide, which provides an introduction to GNOME as well as to Linux in general. With these two printed documents and plenty of online documentation, even a Unix novice could get up and running with Red Hat Linux.

We had no problem getting our installation questions answered using Red Hat's e-mail-based support. Replies were prompt, even though the official registration and support for Version 6.0 hadn't started when we did our tests. Red Hat offers telephone support for a fee.

Red Hat's combination of installation ease, GUI bliss and administrative wizardry earned this product the top score in this comparison. Red Hat Linux 6.0 is a great all-around choice for any number of enterprise problems.

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