Divide and Conquer
The installation program automatically partitions the available space on hard drives to install Red Hat Linux most efficiently. Novice users usually have trouble understanding partitioning on Linux, but Red Hat has made the concept much easier to grasp. I found the installation classes and groupings of open-source software packages well-thought-out and replete with useful descriptions.
At this step in the installation program, you can choose which features to install or you can select the custom grouping and install your own groups of packages.
Users typically install Red Hat Linux 9 from CD-ROM media, but the software also can be installed via FTP, HTTP and NFS (Network File System), more common methods for enterprise customers distributing the operating system to multiple machines. These latter methods let administrators roll in security fixes, software updates and local software packages during the installation. And advanced users can take advantage of Kickstart files, which provide answers to common questions and eliminate the need to stand in front of the computer for hours. Customized disk partitioning, logical volume and software RAID can be installed using the included Disk Druid disk-partition software.
Red Hat Linux 9 implements firewalls using kernel network filtering. Relying on host-based firewalls is a common way to prevent unauthorized access to the host machine while allowing all outgoing and requested incoming connections, such as software downloads, e-mail retrieval and Web browsing.
Red Hat uses the iptables firewall package and lets you choose from three security levels (high, medium and low), create a custom level or install the software without a firewall. I tested the security levels using penetration-testing software and all worked as advertised, allowing only the services listed for that level in the graphical installation interface.
After installation, the machine rebooted and configured post-installation options for me with the Red Hat Setup Agent. I created a local user account for myself, set the date and time, and registered the machine on the Red Hat Network, an Internet software update service that the company offers its customers. Red Hat uses its Bluecurve software to make desktop GUI packages, GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) and KDE (K Desktop Environment) look alike. Users accustomed to KDE will dislike the Bluecurve theme because Red Hat chose to make KDE look more GNOME-ish.
Users can access free demo accounts on the Red Hat Network for a limited time and have options for upgrading their support level to get faster, more reliable service. Demo accounts are given the lowest priority for updates; while using just the demo account, I found attempting upgrades during the day almost impossible. The Red Hat Network service can help you quickly find which patches need to be applied, and patches can be applied automatically via cron.
I tested some of version 9's feature-rich applications--OpenOffice Productivity Suite, Gimp, Ximian Evolution and Mozilla--and they worked like a charm. OpenOffice provides word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software, and is similar to Microsoft Office. In fact, it can open Microsoft Office documents and save its documents in a Microsoft Office format. Gimp, an image-manipulation tool, is similar to Adobe Photoshop. The Ximian Evolution e-mail client lets you read and send e-mail, manage and search various mailboxes, and filter or create different views. Mozilla, an open-source Web browser, is similar to Netscape and lets users surf the Web, access newsgroups, send
e-mail and create Web pages.
Rescue mode supports network connectivity and online manuals
Productivity software integrated into OS
Red Hat Network requires user registration and fees to update system with patches automatically
Not yet ready to crush the desktop market
Red Hat Linux 9, $39.95; Red Hat Linux 9 Professional, $149.95. Red Hat, (888) REDHAT-1. www.redhat.com
When Trouble Strikes
Red Hat has enhanced its rescue-mode software, a special operating system that runs off the first CD and helps you recover damaged Linux installs. Red Hat has added the ability to start network devices from rescue mode--a dramatic and needed improvement. The company also has included support to access tape devices and online manuals.
Red Hat sets the bar high with its documentation, which describes every one of the major subsystems and applications of Red Hat Linux 9. Novice Red Hat users and first-time Linux users will be able to build their own Linux desktops with ease. Advanced users can find documentation on customizing and tuning Red Hat Linux, information on Web server configuration, and how-to for mail server configuration.
Christopher T. Beers is a Unix Systems Engineer at Syracuse University. Write to him at email@example.com.
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