Redhat Linux 6.0
This is pretty cool stuff. Redhat 6.0 is a marked improvement over previous versions. It's not perfect; there is still plenty to squawk about, but I could easily recommend this to any semi-technical user.
I'll say this, too: if not for the fact that I need constant access to SCO man pages, utilities, etc. I would make Redhat 6.0 Linux my personal desktop. It's that good. This is the very first version of Linux that has tempted me at all. If it gets much better (and of course it will), I'm going to start being very unhappy unless SCO catches up.
As always, you can install Redhat just about anyway you can imagine. My test machine had a bootable CDROM, so I just threw in the CD and rebooted. Well, actually there were a few things just before that..
Many potential Linux users will also want to keep Windows available to them. For this install, I also wanted that. My big test box is tied up with Unixware 7.1 (to be reviewed eventually), so that left only my Windows machine. I really only use it for SMB connectivity issues, but that comes up often enough that I didn't want to wipe out Windows; I wanted a dual install.
Unfortunately, Windows takes up the complete hard drive. That's a situation most Windows users will face, and reinstalling into a smaller partition is painful to contemplate. In my case, it wasn't even a matter of painful: this is a Compaq Presario, and the only way to reinstall Windows is by using its Quick Restore CDROM, which automatically wipes out all existing partitions and reclaims the entire disk for Windows.
There is a solution. Redhat provides the "fips" utility on its Windows mountable CDROM. You can copy the appropriate fips programs onto a floppy disk, defrag your system, reboot and use fips to resize your existing partition. That's the theory, anyway.
In practice, it didn't work out quite that smoothly for me. I defragged the disk and disabled virtual memory, which left me with almost 1.8 gig of free space. However, fips only offered to reclaim 419 meg. I could have squeezed Redhat into that, but I felt there had to be something wrong, so I went back into Windows and forced another defrag after deleting a few odd files. Unfortunately, perhaps because of having virtual memory disabled, Windows froze solid during the defrag. If I had been a typical Windows user hoping to save my data, I would have been very upset right about then.
But for this test machine, I really had nothing important installed anyway. Some scanner software I hardly ever use, maybe a few other things. Nothing important. So I did the quick restore, followed by disabling virtual memory, and ran fips again. This time it aggressively offered me all of the free space, and I took 1.2 gig of it.
Depending on what sort of a Linux install you plan on doing, the next step is to use fdisk to wipe out the new partition fips just created. This sounds weird, but it's necessary. Redhat offers three basic installation types: Server, Workstation, or Custom. "Server" wipes out all partitions and installs Linux with intelligent and reasonable filesystem layouts:
- 64 MB swap
- 16 MB /boot
- 256 MB as / and 256 MB as /var
- at least 512 MB for /usr and an equal amount for /home
Minimum required space is 1.6 gig; hardly ever a problem nowadays.
"Workstation" wipes any Linux partitions but leaves non-Linux partitions alone. It creates a 64 MB swap, a 16 MB /boot, and everything else ends up in one big "/" partition. If it sees a Windows partition, it automatically creates a dual boot LILO configuration.
The install itself is quick, but not unattended. You have to answer questions about NIC cards, mice, graphic cards and monitor frequencies. This install had trouble with my NIC: it's an NE2000 clone, but when I gave the correct IRQ and I/O address, it couldn't find it. Letting it autoprobe for an NE2000 seemed to satisfy it, but there is still something wrong, because it does not work. The "dmesg" listings show it being recognized, but no joy on the net. I haven't yet tracked this down, so the 6.0 machine is still alone in its own little world.
Graphics was easy; the card I have was listed. New with this release is an attempt to configure X before rebooting, so that the initial login screen can be graphical (your choice). That was successful, but they could allow a little more time to let you find your mouse (which you haven't needed up to this point) and click on the "Yes" answer to the "Can you see this" question.
I understand that some versions of Linux are now offering a vesa frame buffer driver similar to what SCO has been doing for a while now. I didn't happen to notice this, but if it is there, that could make video configuration much easier.
No questions are asked about sound cards. Strangely, there is no mention of sound in the "linuxconf" or Control Panel configuration tools, either, and that brings me to the first problem I had with Redhat:
I found no entry for "sound" in the installation manual's index (it is in the Getting Started Guide, but I didn't look there until later). I turned to "apropos", but that came up empty, too (I later found that "makewhatis" hadn't been run. I'm used to systems that either have run it for you or tell you that it needs to be run when you first try "apropos". Linux does neither). So, I went back to the Desktop, and under "AnotherLevel menus->Administration" I found Helptool, which seemed to offer me what I wanted: the ability to search all over the place for help with "sound".
Actually, it did help me, but not without confusion. In the first place, it does not like to be interrupted. It had already found a whole stack of files related to my search, and I wanted to look at some of them, so I hit "Cancel" hoping that would just cancel the search. Not quite; it froze the window solid, and I had to start the search again and wait patiently until it finished.
Now I had a bunch of documents that purportedly contained "sound", and I clicked on one to view it. All I got was a black screen. I later found that this is an xterm color problem; the same thing happened when I called up an Xterm from the Gnome menus. More strangely, this was NOT a problem for ordinary user accounts I created later; this problem only existed for root!
Nevertheless, I did now have a list of places to look, and pretty soon I stumbled upon "sndconfig". That didn't have my exact model (an ES1887 Audio Drive), but it had some other Audio Drive models, and I was pleased to find that one of them worked quite well. I listened to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" during the rest of my initial testing.
The new GUI interface here is Gnome running on top of the Enlightenment window manager. Gnome gets a whole manual almost to itself- the Getting Started Guide. Gnome gets installed by default with the "Workstation" choice, but not with "Server" (which is potentially confusing for those who made this choice).
I did have a little trouble with Gnome- the menus became dead for no apparent reason. That is, you could navigate, and choose anything, but it wouldn't execute. Killing it off from another session and restarting cleared it up and it hasn't happened again.
I had similar problems with the file manager. It has the ability to integrate ftp sites into the same view it has of files. However, its lack of feedback is disconcerting, and it froze solid on me more than once. Potentially, this is a nice feature- it just seems to be not quite ready yet.
Unlike my experience with RH 5.2, Linuxconf succesfully configured PPP and allowed me to connect to my ISP. Administration and configuration is still very confusing, though, because the Control Panel pops up by default, and it has a Linixconf icon on it, which would make you think that you are supposed to use Control Panel for the things it lists and Linixconf for everything else. If that weren't confusing enough, there are also two other places on the Gnome menu that offer certain administration tasks, and they are both different!
Linuxconf itself is confusing and contradictory. I know the Linux crowd, or at least the Redhat Linux crowd, thinks it is the bee's knees, but it really is not all that wonderful. The multiple "Quit" buttons are terribly confusing, the "Activate Changes" often pops up when absolutely no changes have been made, and I've had it crash out of the very midst of certain functions for no apparent reason- upon re-entry the same function works flawlessly. An improvement over Control Panel, yes, but a long way from excellence. SCO's "scoadmin" on both OSR5 and Unixware, is a far better tool.
Help is similarly confused: two different places to call up Gnome Help, which includes access to man pages, and another Help Tool that searches man pages and other documents.
All this, of course, is due to the very essence of Linux- many spoons stirring the pot, and really it's remarkable that those spoons interfere with each other as little as they do.
I have yet to figure out what's wrong with my network card. That's another thing I didn't spot anywhere: reconfiguring the network card itself. It's not in Linuxconf proper. Sooner or later I'll stumble across it, but the whole area of hardware could be handled much better: Unixware's cryptic DCU is a joy in comparison.
Just yesterday, however, on another machine, I had a pleasant experience setting up a dual nic card Red Hat 6.0 system. Unfortunately, that machine had an awful time with video: I couldn't get it to work with the ATI Rage that the machine originally had. I finally changed it to a Diamond Stealth, and was able to proceed.
The first Intel PRO 100 was auto-recognized, though, and I found that I could get it to see the second card just adding an "eth1" line to /etc/conf.modules and rebooting. It's nice to have anonymous ftp already configured, and having tcp wrappers (see Security) in place is also immediately helpful.
I still do NOT like the install's assumptions about default gateways and DNS servers. That's just plain dumb, and probably leads many people down a frustrating path.
Do remember what I said at the beginning of this, though: warts
and all, this is a hell of a good desktop. Check it out.
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