Review, part 3: RHEL 4 delivers basics, no thrills

Kenneth Milberg checks out RHEL 4 on Firefox in the third part of his review. Then, he muses over the shortcomings of the new release.

Of course, Firefox rocked when I tried it on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 (RHEL 4). Here's what happened, along with

a look at some other applications. Then, I sum up my experiences with RHEL 4.

Firefox

Mozilla Firefox (version 1) is the browser that comes installed as standard on this distribution. I can't begin to describe how beautiful it was to work on the Internet without being invaded by spyware, adware and other annoying things that always happen with other frequently hijacked Web browsers (even with Netscape running on Windows, rather than Internet Explorer, which I try to never use).

I tested Firefox on a PC running side-by-side against a Windows PC. When I clicked on a Google search, the Linux browser always outperformed Internet Explorer.

More applications

RHEL 4's e-mail client, Novell Evolution, did not come over on my install. Some text-based version came across, called Mutt, which I could do without.

Even Yahoo Instant Messenger (YIM) worked very well on this release. I was very impressed when the Yahoo site I was downloading YIM from knew that I had a version of Linux running. When I was trying to get the download, it asked me which version of Red Hat I was running. I'm not sure if this was something that Firefox alerted YIM about, but it was still pretty cool when it happened. The RPM (rh9.ymessenger01.04-1.i386.rpm) installed easily, and I had it running on my desktop in 10 minutes, along with all my YIM buds.

I was pleased to see some multimedia applications installed with this version. On the Red Hat start menu, under sound and video, one will see Real Player 10 loaded, in addition to a generic CD player. Adobe Acrobat and a photo tool were also two nice add-ons that were a part of the graphics section of the install. I had no problems playing MP3 files or streaming video. Macromedia Flash was also part of the default list of installed applications.

The Red Hat Network alert notification tool allows users to check the system for available updates. It can be found in the upper right corner of the GNOME screen. I was curious about it, so I ran the update. It did run for a few moments, but did not find any updates, though the check mark replaced the exclamation mark. The alert seemed to work, but I could not configure the Red Hat Network online, as it came up with a hardware system error.

Citrix was also installed as part of the default installation and appears on the Application/Internet area. Citrix is a great remote access system, though I'm not exactly sure what functionality this particular version provides. I tried to run the ICA client version, but in my review copy there was only some software agreement section that started up, and nothing appeared to run.

Setting up a printer was very easy. RHEL 4 found my hardware device nicely in the hardware browser section. That's not an easy task; I have a five-year-old Brother printer. Even so, I was able to configure and test a page as easy as I could in Windows. Though Linux certainly is Unix-like, try getting a non-Unix administrator to configure printing in Unix 15 minutes. Trust me, that won't happen.

The SELinux (Security-Enhanced Linux) add-on shows the commitment that Red Hat has to add controls to their operating system, outside of normal Linux/Unix security offerings. During the installation, there are three options for SELinux: turn it off, run it permissively and fully enable it. I chose the option to let it run in permissive mode, to ensure that the heightened security would not impact the applications from functioning properly. I will say that, as promised, it hasn't prevented any application from working properly. I'm looking forward to working more with this product and comparing some of its functionality to products such as eTrust Access Control from Computer Associates. I ran some commands (ls –Z), just to prove that it was working, and it was.

RHEL 4 offer Grub (version 9.5), a multi-boot loader that enables users to choose which partition to boot up. At the time, I was uncertain whether or not I wanted this installed because I was already paying for the Partition Manager product, Boot Magic. After completing my installation, the Grub message scared me into thinking I would not be able to boot into Linux unless I enabled Grub, so I turned it on. Though I would be curious to see how it works with only Boot Magic, I liked the Grub feel, where you can pick and choose the operating system that you want to boot up in. It worked flawlessly.

Conclusions

What's disappointing about RHEL 4 is that I don't see anything particularly earth-shattering here. I really wanted this release to knock my socks off, and it didn't. Sure, the basic tools that any Linux administrator would need are here. And this is a strong product that will play pretty well against SuSE 9. But after such a long wait, it seems that Red Hat could have done better. It would be a more exciting product if Red Hat:

  • Improved on Disk Druid and installed a product that had the functionality of Partition Magic, recognizing that many clients would run on dual partitioned systems. I remember Mandrake included Partition Magic on some Linux distro approximately four years ago. What is Red Hat waiting for?
  • Provided a system administration type menu, similar to SMIT on IBM's Unix, which could help system administrators configure new technologies such as LVM.
  • Cut pricing dramatically, in an effort to increase user market share, with an eye toward the future. I don't believe there are any plans to change pricing with this new release.
  • Integrated a calendering suite as part of the product, which would help user productivity.
  • Ensured that the install process was as painless as possible. If users think they are installing an application, they really should be installing that application.
  • Came up with some new innovations that might really excite the community, which were just not there.
  • Not only provided for Samba, but also had it preconfigured to sense Windows PCs on a network -- to allow for Red Hat to become a file server, literally out of the box. Can you imagine what Microsoft would say to that!
  • Established partnerships with companies and open source projects that may be able to develop products specific to RHEL. I would like to see Picasa on RHEL 4, or even some version of Gmail, tailored specifically for Red Hat.

About the author: Kenneth Milberg is president of Unix Solutions, an IT consulting firm, and Unix-to-Linux migration expert for SearchEnterpriseLinux.com.

Go back to part one of this review.

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