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DistributionWatch Review: Red Hat Linux 6.1 - page 5

Red Hat Linux: A Mainstream Linux

  • December 6, 1999
  • By Kevin Reichard

Once you've booted a Red Hat Linux box, you run either a graphical GTK+-based or text-based installation process. First, the Red Hat Linux installation program attempts to analyze your system if you've decided to install from CD-ROM (as will the vast majority of new users), looking first for an ATAPI CD-ROM and then for a SCSI drive. In our case, it had no problem detecting a rather generic Mitsumi drive.

The graphical installation program is one of the bright spots, clearly laying out all the configuration options available. Red Hat also does a nice job of upgrading an existing installation, an area where other Linux distributions are sometimes lacking.

With this package, the assumption is that a new user will feel comfortable using and configuring LILO. Even though Red Hat does a nice job of putting a pretty graphical interface in front of LILO configuration, we're not altogether convinced that LILO is the best tool for new users; we'd rather see the creation of a boot disk or the usage of LOADLIN stressed--or at least covered in some depth. (Indeed, Red Hat is downright disparaging about LOADLIN, not even including it in the Red Hat Linux distribution and discouraging its use in the documentation.) This could be written off as a personal quirk on my part, but giving users--especially new users--a number of easy-to-understand boot choices would be the most useful approach, and it would also recognize the reality that many Linux users will also have Windows or DOS installed on their PCs.

Selecting packages is a matter of running down the list of possible package groups. Anyone familiar with Linux will also be familiar with this process; those unfamiliar with packages will want to use the default packages and install everything. There are several nice twists to the installation process. First, it lists the dependencies associated with specific packages. That is, if you're installing an X application, you're informed that the X application is dependent on X being installed. You can choose to install packages any time during the installation procedure to satisfy such dependencies. Then, it displays how much you've chosen to install, how much is currently installed and how long it will take to finish the installation.

We also experienced no problems when configuring X. The AutoProbe information returned by the system was accurate, even though the Gateway PC used for this test uses an underdocumented ATI graphics card (a card that isn't even supported by Windows NT; Gateway provides custom drivers for high-resolution graphics).

The thing is, Red Hat Linux handles installation and configuration as well as most other distributions (although Corel Linux outperforms Red Hat in this regard). Red Hat Software, however, makes a point of marketing to new Linux users, and the installation documentation simply isn't up to the needs of the target audience. This is one of the package's biggest shortcomings.

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