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DistributionWatch Review: Red Hat Linux 6.1 - page 4

Red Hat Linux: A Mainstream Linux

  • December 6, 1999
  • By Kevin Reichard

We installed Red Hat Linux 6.1 on a Pentium II-based Gateway PC with 128MB of RAM, an ATI graphics card, a 4-gigabyte hard disk and a PCI-based 3Com networking card. As hardware configurations go, this one is rather generic, purchased from Gateway's server division for use as a Web server in both Internet and intranet situations. In this case, however, we're using it as a networked workstation.

At the outset, you'll need to decide if you want to install Red Hat Linux as a workstation, a server, or as a customized installation. For many users, this decision is at best confusing and at worst a complete waste of time. In theory, a workstation installation is streamlined, involves fewer decisions as to what's installed, and is designed for new Linux users.

In both cases, Red Hat Linux makes it difficult to have multiple Linux distributions installed on the same system. If you perform a workstation installation, Red Hat Linux removes all existing Linux partitions on all hard drives on your system. (Say goodbye to Slackware Linux or OpenLinux.) Similarly, a server installation automatically removes all existing partitions on all installed hard drives, unless you choose to manually partition your hard drives and override Red Hat Linux's seek-and-destroy mission. The assumption in Red Hat Linux is that it should be the only operating system on a computer, forcing users to override this assumption if they want a dual-boot system.

In this workstation/server dichotomy, a strong argument could be made that Red Hat has it backwards. Desktop users want the power to pick and choose from among applications and bundles; instead of giving these users a wide range of installation options, Red Hat Linux gives them relatively few. On the flip side, most server installations are identical, apart from about 10 percent of the software that might differ from server to server. Server administrators don't really need a wide range of choices of operating system features, but they're offered the most options under the Red Hat way.

We ended up installing Red Hat Linux in two different ways: as a workstation and through a customized installation. What Red Hat Linux calls a custom installation is really the way almost every other Linux is installed and configured: create and format partitions, choose a boot method (either a boot disk, a network installation, or a bootable CD-ROM), select and install packages, and then configure a boot method. For the most part, these steps are poorly documented: when covering the creation and formatting of partitions (which is surely one of the most anxiety-filled parts of installation for new Linux users) the installation guide refers you to an appendix in the Reference Guide that, quite bluntly, is rather worthless when advising new users on how to partition their hard disk. A step-by-step explanation of fdisk or Disk Druid in the Installation Guide (as opposed to buried elsewhere in the documentation) would have been much more useful.

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