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Red Hat 8.0: Past the Hype and Under the Hood

Evaluating Red Hat Beyond Uncle Ralph and Aunt Faye

November 4, 2002

Reviewers like to evaulate Linux distros for the mythical Uncle Ralph and Aunt Faye, the prototypical clueless technophobes. Can Aunty and Uncle, who still rub sticks together to make fire, install and run Linux? Let's get real. Computers are complex machines for performing complex tasks. There is always a learning curve. No one sits down to any PC--not Mac, not Windows, none of them--starting from zero knowledge, and is instantly productive.

Ease of use is a good thing, a worthy goal. Even more important is having robust tools to do work. The whole point of purchasing all that nice hardware and putting an operating system on it is to run applications. Let's dig into this shiny new offering from Red Hat and see if a person can do any actual productive work with it. I tested it on two home-built machines: a Celeron 333, and a Duron 800. Both have 256 megs of RAM and the usual assortment of peripherals: CD, CDRW, printers, scanners, tape drive, IDE hard disks.

At this point, there would normally be the obigatory passages devoted to how the installation went. Let's face it, Linux installation is no longer such a big deal, certainly not for Red Hat. Installation here is easy, just insert the disk and go. I do prefer a clean installation, rather than upgrading over an existing install, which was the method I used here.

And, there were some new, noteworthy installation features, such as:

  • Volume management, with Kickstart support
  • Configure the boot order of multiple drives
  • Run a network installation after booting from CD

So much for the installation mythos. How does Red Hat 8 work?

The default desktop, whether KDE or GNOME, has panel icons for OpenOffice.org, Mozilla, and Evolution. Out of the box, this is a perfectly serviceable basic office desktop. OpenOffice.org is wonderful, as are Mozilla and Evolution. But I don't care for making KDE and GNOME look so much alike. They are fundamentally different, and should look that way.

I wish that icons for a terminal and a text editor were not buried so deeply, those are basic Linux tools. But those are minor, fixable details.

Font management is still troublesome, though improved. Anti-aliasing, to my eye, looked better in KDE than GNOME, and better on both than no AA.

Other nice productivity apps include Dia, for building flow charts, circuit diagrams, floor plans, org charts, and such, as well as a nice assortment of graphic apps and utilities.

Of course the Gimp, is in this bundle, who ever heard of a Linux without the Gimp? Screenshot utilities, image viewer/thumbnail/slideshow, paint program, and icon editor are just some of this program's capabilities. xfig is a dandy CAD program, and MrProject does proper Gantt charts for project management. There are also the usual instant messenger, IRC, FTP, and newsgroup programs. Several CD burners are also to be found, though the author of Xcdroast, my personal fave, warns that the version that ships with Red Hat 8 is defective, and not to use it. Download a current version instead.

There is good USB support, as I got my scanner and digital camera connected and working with little hassle, and good Palm Pilot/Handspring sync as well.

That's a roundup of some of the more useful apps in Red Hat 8.0; now, let's examine some of the real-world glitches and successes in this distro.

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