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Red Hat 7 Review

By John Facey

Well here it is, the long awaited Red Hat 7 release. Though not everyone is happy with this release of Red Hat, it does contain some useful upgrades from the earlier 6.2 version. The world has been spinning while Red Hat fiddled with the code, but we can report on a number of significant changes, some pertinent warnings, and a few items that are not quite ready-for-prime-time.

Installation:

Same as the 6.x series. In fact, the only truly noticeable difference was the advertisement for the Red Hat Network. The downside is it appears that mounting vfat partitions during the install might cause the installer (anaconda) to crash. There is also an advertisement for the Red Hat Network during the install (which is talked about later in this review)

Packages:

RH7 ships with Gnome 1.2, they appear to be on par with Helix-Gnome. However, there is not a helix upgrade for RH7 version to date. Typical user programs such as Gaim and Gnomeicu were not included on the first CD. The KDE2 preview release is also located on the 2nd CD; but, not mentioned unless a custom installation is performed.

More Changes:

A few more changes have been added such as inetd has been replaced by xinetd and the move to RPM4, which may set a new standard for all RPMS distributions. Finally, Red Hat supports USB, or more importantly, it now ships with the Linux kernel that supports USB.

Compiling:

Well here is the big news about Gnu C Compiler (GCC) 2.96. For starters there is not a 2.96 version because this version is a “hacked up” CVS version that Red Hat decided to use. This version makes compatibility across the different rpm based platforms a little tricky if statically compiled. Most users have resorted to using kgcc(egcs) or moving back to GCC 2.95 version. Speaking of compiling; it also seems that many users are having trouble getting their 2.2.17 kernel to compile. This is because even though RH7 shipped with a 2.2.16 kernel, it’s kernel headers shipped are for 2.4 kernel (binary image located on 2nd CD). Red Hat justifies using this new 2.96 version since Red Hat believes the 2.95 version that has been around for a while to be obsolete.

3D Support:

RH7 also promises 3D support out of the box, though many have found that a few frames per second (this was on a Tnt2 card) are a bit insufficient. A quick hop to irc (not a common task for some) to get the full version of RH7 Nvidia drivers and I was playing UT in no time. (The release candidate 2 located on the Nvidia site didn’t seem to work for me.) Most other 3D-card drivers should install OK using there own built rpms. Currently, Red Hat 7 is the only distribution to default to XF4.0.1 not counting Caldera’s LTP.

Comparison:

In comparison to other current Linux variations (non-beta), Red Hat ranks fairly well. Red Hat ships all the latest versions of its packages. The RPM4 outweighs the other RPM based distribution. Though not as user/newbie friendly as Mandrake, Red Hat 7 makes a nice workstation. The install on Caldera eDesktop 2.4 and Corel 1.2 are much more suited for newcomers. Caldera seems to target in the same direction as Red Hat making a good workstation though using KDE rather than GNOME. Red Hat is also one of the few distributers that defaults to GNOME. The Red Hat Network is a very versatile offering; though some Debian has been doing the same service for years in a less costly manner. For the first time, Red Hat can finally compete having USB support.

RH Network:

This is a new service offered to RH7 users (should be available for RH6.2 as well). Based off their site, it appears to be a service which can keep RH users informed of security fixes and even downloads, manages and organizes upgrades/fixes for companies where keeping everyone current is a demanding task. RH7 comes with a Red Hat Network Daemon which checks RH Network every half hour.

Signing up for the Red Hat Network can be accomplished by going to the web site and registering or running the rh_register program shipped along with RH7 installations.After signing up for the Red Hat Network you will be asked to download a digital certificate( XML format) used in profiling your system. The file location for this certificate will be /etc/sysconfig/rhn/systemid. Then all that is left to do is to start the Red Hat Network Daemon by entering in a console “enter /sbin/service rhnsd restart; enter /sbin/chkconfig –level 345 rhnsd on”.

The Red Hat Network package will make it easier to manage systems, distribute software and gathers information quickly to you. It can be tailored to the information that is relevant to your systems and preferences. In the long run, Red Hat sees this feature will leading to lower maintenance costs.

Bugs:

Currently, there are many non-critical (this depends on your definition of critical) bugs. First of all, Red Hat still lacks disk re-partitioning tools used in many other variations of Linux. As mentioned earlier, the Anaconda (installer) mounting the vfat partitions is one of many annoying bugs if you happen to have vfat partitions. Along with those bugs, there also is an update to glibc (I think this one counts as critical). Some errors from this have been causing programs like xmms to seg fault when closing. Another semi-critical issue for the security conscious user is OpenSSH (files weren’t being placed correctly). Also, a few other updates worthy of mention R-Base, Rhnsd, sysstat, portsentry, and MySQL. One of the most annoying bugs recently discovered deals with the Red Hat Network Daemon. In a default workstation, this Daemon is running unnecessarily. The Daemon has a flaw where it is losing file descriptors. Once a systems runs out file descriptors; it will be rendered useless. The approximate time for this on a default install, is three weeks.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, RH7 is how some would have expected many of the packages upgraded; but not a lot of significant improvement for some users. As a workstation, it is very functional and stable and the RH network will work wonders for many business uses. Shipping XF4.0.1 as default (lets face it XF3.x.x series was ready for retirement a long time ago) was surely a plus; but, shipping GCC 2.96 may hinder development for some time and the 2.4 kernel headers with 2.2.16 may also cause issues for those unwary kernel compiling users. To view the current bugs we mentioned, such as the Anaconda?s vfat issues, head to bugzilla.Red Hat.com

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