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Red Hat 9 Offers Continuity, Transparency for Users
One Distro, Many Users
April 1, 2003
Let's be honest--when Red Hat releases a new version of its distribution, no one really expects it to fail miserably. Reviews of such releases, while not exactly pro forma, have begun to take on an air of "oooh, look at the all the cool new features," with the occasional smattering of "this feature did not work quite right."
Every once in a while, you get a review from someone who has got a bone to pick with Red Hat (or any other distro) and they take the developers to task for some real flaw that may or may not be important in the grand scheme.
Red Hat 9 could be just another distro out of North Carolina that rakes in these kinds of reviews, and I could be one of the reviewers that does it. But as I have worked with Red Hat 9 over the last few days, my initial impressions are that it might be a disservice on my part to just toss out another such review. Because as I use it to perform the multitude of tasks needed to run LinuxPlanet and Linux Today, I find myself thinking that this version of Red Hat has actually managed to almost become exactly what Linux distributions should be.
It would be useful to explain how I approached this review to understand this conclusion. For the past year, I have been using Red Hat 7.2 pretty much exclusively during my work hours, with brief excursions with Yellow Dog 2.3 when I take this show on the road. Before that, I flip-flopped between Red Hat and SuSE distributions. Getting to the point where I can use Linux exclusively for 100% of my work was not something that just happened overnight. Getting the browsers just so, and all the tools working in the text editor, beating back the spam with the mail client (a 50-50 battle at best)--this was a gradual evolution of time and tweaking, of getting everything just right. This is not something that is indicative of Linux, but of all operating systems.
But one thing that has been unique to Linux, at least in my experience, is that upgrading Linux from one version to another can be one of the biggest pains in the neck.
Maybe I've been unlucky, but there have been some real humdingers of upgrading nightmares in my experience--usually unresolved dependencies that make old dependable applications into cranky, contenious little programs that usually need reinstalled at the end of the day.
There is, of course, the other path to take--dump everything and install a new version clean on a freshly formatted hard drive. But although data can be saved and moved from install to install, configuration settings for applications can't always be so easily duplicated. Not to mention that some applications have to be downloaded and installed anew.
All adding up to one big pain in the neck.
All of this hassle in my past experience is a big part of why when Red Hat 8.0 came out, I declined to install it on my machine. I had, at that time, just gotten everything working nicely with 7.2 and I was unwilling to erase my comforting little environment just for the sake of progress.
But when Red Hat 9 came out, I decided to forego my sense of comfort and get with the times.
From the very beginning, I had decided I was going to believe the documentation and install via the upgrade path, so I would not have to upset my delicate status quo. I approached this with a natural suspicion borne of being burned by other Linux upgrades in the past.
Red Hat 9 upgraded almost perfectly.
There were some glitches along the way--for some reason, Anaconda, the installation application, locked up in the install path choice-point screen, but on the next hard start, Anaconda breezed right by this step without incident.
I'm not going to harp on the install too much, because I really think we're past worrying about such things any more. With each new version, installs have become more and more stable and robust and no longer the Challange of the Ages to perform.
This version of Red Hat is actually my first hands-on experience with Bluecurve, the unified theme that Red Hat uses for its default theme for both the GNOME and KDE environments. I had seen dozens of screenshots, but nothing prepares you for the real thing of actually doing a double-take when you try to figure out which environment you're in. You simply cannot tell the difference between the two environments anymore with just a cursory examination.
The integrated presence of OpenOffice.org into both environments is most definitely welcome. Each of the office suite's applications is already in place on the panel, affording easy access for new and veteran users. For the e-mail client, the now-ubiquitous Evolution is in place on the panel as well.
Bluecurve, OpenOffice.org, and Evolution are all pieces of a large picture that the Red Hat Linux desktop is displaying these days: a picture of transparency.
In case you're wondering, I am not trying to be cryptic about this. But the ease of use factors than have been built into Red Hat 9 are signs that the Linux desktop is rapidly approaching the state it needs to be for widespread adoption in the enterprise and the home.
For instance, never has it been simpler for me to connect to my printer across the network. An HP OfficeJet g85, this has often proved to be a cantakerous beast for Linux (and Windows, to be honest) to handle. Drivers for this printer have historically been a big problem for users of all platforms but Red Hat 9's drivers are handling the printer with atypical aplomb.
Another welcome addition for me coming up from 7.2 was the presence of an on-the-fly screen resolution tool. Now I can just set my resolution as needed in the desktop environment without resorting to command-line edits or just using the X keyboard presets I created during the installation.