I downloaded the Red Hat beta, code named Severn, and gave it a quick run through. Here is my review which will follow the same general framework as my earlier Lindows 4.0 review.
So put on your red fedora and see how the latest version from Red Hat is shaping up.
The Luni Scoring System
A positive feature or strength will earn a plus (+1). A flaw or weakness will earn a minus (-1). A superior feature or severe weakness will earn a +2 or -2 respectively. At the end of the review I will sum the pluses and the minuses and provide the totals for each. I will then give the product an overall rating on a 1-100 scale.
Interaction With The Company
Since this is a beta, there was no interaction with Red Hat in any type of formal manner.
The installation process is nearly identical to a Red Hat 8 or 9 installation if you are familiar with those. It is a very easy to understand graphical installer with plenty of context help to walk you through.
The first screen you are presented with, even before the full GUI installer is one in which you are given a chance to check the CD for errors. This is a nice feature that others should emulate as it helps eliminate defective media as being the cause of installation errors. SCORE: +1
Then the full GUI started up. As I said earlier, it is nearly identical to earlier versions. The installer checked for previous versions of Red Hat and found my Red Hat 8 version running on /dev/hda7. So I chose upgrade my installation. Unfortunately, after clicking next I was presented with an error that /tmp was not a symbolic link and to correct this error before repeating the install. But I wasn’t given an opportunity to correct it. Acknowledging the error terminated the installation and made the system reboot. Hopefully this will be corrected in the release version, but for now it gets… SCORE: -2.
Upon my next attempt at the install I repeated everything but chose a clean install instead and let the installer automatically delete the old Linux partitions (but keep the Windows/NTFS ones). I chose all the defaults, selecting the Personal Desktop option. Everything went smoothly and all my hardware was detected. Including my sometimes troublesome USB mouse and also my previously always troublesome Orinoco Gold PCMCIA card in its PCI converter. I am so excited that everything was detected for the first time ever under any GNU/Linux distro that I would give it a +3 if I could, but I can’t. SCORE: +2
The total number of packages installed by choosing the Personal Desktop selection was 523 and installation took about 15-20 minutes. There are options to customize the package selection, but I simply did not choose to do so.
Running Red Hat 10
Upon reboot there is a major change for Red Hat. No longer will you see the GNU/Linux boot messages on the screen. (You see the first two or so, but then they go away). Instead there is a graphical overlay which says “Starting System Services” with a progress bar. This will be less intimidating to the average desktop user I believe and is a welcome addition. If you want to see the messages, I am sure there will be (or already is) a way to set the system not to show the graphical overlay, but I have not had it running long enough to explore how to do it. SCORE: +1.
Once the boot process is finished, you are presented with a large graphical screen that allows you to set some final settings like your sound card, date and time adjustments and adding a user (non-root) account. Walking through these is intuitive and well organized.
The defauilt environment, as in previous Red Hat versions, is GNOME. The selection of apps is good, including Evolution as the mail client, Mozilla 1.4 as the default browser, and OpenOffice.org 1.0.2. I also noticed some additions under the Office section of the main menu. Namely MrProject 0.9 and Dia Diagrams 0.9.1. I don’t recall these being there in my previous Red Hat installs and they are nice additions, if not the most mature apps around. The reason I say this is that these provide software that fills a general need for important categories (imo) of applications – namely charting/diagramming for the technical folks and project management for the managerial folks. I am giving a +1 for having recent, updated versions of all the major apps as well as another +1 for having added some new things that I think are welcome additions and push GNU/Linux a little closer to being an excellent desktop experience OOB. SCORE: +2.
Some final points on the installed system. The menus are still too cluttered. There are seperate menu groups for system settings, system tools and preferences. Consolidate them guys – this has been an issue/complaint of many people, including me, since RH 8 came out. SCORE: -1.
There is now an icon for “network servers” in the root of the menu which browses for SMB (Samba or Windows) file servers. For you Windows folk, think of it as Network Neighborhood. Nice addition. It recognized my Red Hat 8 based Samba server right away as well as my Windows XP laptop. SCORE: +1.
There is also an icon for switching the screen resolution very simply. I believe this is another new addition. SCORE: +1
My music is stored on the Samba server. When I tried to play one of them, I got an error saying that “X Multimedia System” can not play MP3s or Oggs over SMB shares. Not sure why, as I have used XMMS to play from there before. SCORE: -1.
Since it wouldn’t play music from the Samba server, it suggest I copy it locally. I copied a single MP3 and tried again. Nope, Red Hat still has no MP3 support. I understand their position on this, but they should include some instructions or a link on how to obtain MP3 support since they don’t include it. SCORE: -1.
There is now an icon to add the Red Hat Network alert icon to the panel. This is important as in the past when it would disappear for whatever reason you had to type a command (rhn-applet-gui I believe I had to use) to restore it to the panel. Now you just click that icon on the menus. Good job on addressing a weakness, even it may seem trivial to some. SCORE: +1.
As my last test, I logged off and back on as root. There are no warnings about the dangers of being logged in as root. Red Hat should either include a warning, or make the first time/default desktop wallpaper something similar to what SuSE does – the bright red with the bomb icons. SCORE: -1.
There aren’t many major changes, just a bunch of minor tweaks. Most of these are welcome additions though. The one gripe I have is that Red Hat doesn’t seem sure if they want to have this be a desktop for the average, not-very technical person (e.g., they hide the boot messages) or be one for the more advanced or technical user (e.g., Emacs is installed by default for a personal desktop). There are people who are confused or intimidated by the boot messages and there are people that use Emacs, but I am pretty sure that there are very few people who actually fall into both categories.
Overall though it makes a very good desktop. I have no problems recommending it as a choice to those who are looking for a GNU/Linux based desktop system. It should improve even more by the time of final release.
And so, our final score is:
Total Minuses: -5