posted by Adam S on Tue 6th Aug 2002 03:52 UTC
IconJust a few weeks after the beta release of the next version of their Linux based OS, Red Hat has released 7.3.93 of their software, once again, code-named Limbo. Those of you who read my first Limbo review know that I gave it a favorable review. After downloading and installing the second beta, I had to take a few days before writing this article.

I say this sincerely, and I know it will incite serious debate, but I say it remaining as intentional and deliberate as I can: I believe what you witness, as you install and use Limbo, is the "first draft," so to speak, of a true Windows killer.

Red Hat Limbo - Click for a larger view

What Limbo 2, as I've been calling it, offers is more than eye candy, although that's what some will call it. It's more than just Gnome2, although some will call it that too. It's a true, fully functional system that can be used as a server, a workstation, or even a plain vanilla desktop PC. It is functional enough for the coder, the administrator, and, just maybe, your grandmother.

The install process is as simple or as detailed as you choose. It's been drastically updated, new icons and new logos adorn Anaconda now, and you'll notice early on that it has surpassed even Limbo 1 in ease of use in the install. By passing "linux reiserfs" to the kernel at boot during the install, as more than one reader suggested to me after my last article, I was able to mount a volume using the ReiserFS with no problem at all. Another significant change to the install process is that on first boot, you are pushed into a Windows-like registration/configuration Wizard. Though perplexed at its appearance, I found it a good idea. You can skip the registration, but it's a good idea so that you can entitle your system for use of the Red Hat Network and up2date.

One simple yet profound change in Limbo 2 is the "theme manager." Completely broken in Limbo 1 (at least the GUI portion), in Limbo 2 retheming and changing the window style is a snap. Customizing your system, in my effortfully neutral opinion, more logical than customizing a Windows machine. To someone using a computer for the first time, I think you could argue that Gnome2, the way Red Hat has configured it, is easier than Windows.

Red Hat Limbo - Click for a larger view

Another point worthly of mention is that many of the menus have disposed of the arcane and cryptic application names, such as Xsane and even Evolution and Mozilla, and relabeled them a la Lycoris with sensible terms like Scanner, E-mail, and Web Browser. To be blunt, I understand the app authors named them and deserve credit, but long live the GPL. For a desktop Linux to survive, the distribution vendor must suck it up and get rid of all app names that aren't self-explanatory.

Of course, as a beta release, there were problems. Although I launched my favorite word processor, AbiWord, with no problem, within a minute it was broken and I haven't been able to fix it short of a reinstall. I found the GDM configurator crashed consistently when I tried to change the login panel, but this was promptly entered into Red Hat's Bugzilla database by a Red Hat employee. The bug that killed up2date in all Limbo 1 installs has been ironed out, and it runs now, although the up2date applet is not in the Gnome panel by default, which I liked. For the most part, this is a fully functional system.

Suggestions: I still think my chief complaint about Gnome and KDE is the lack of immediate mouse responsiveness. A reader suggested I renice my mouse, which I did on this go around, and I found that helped, but still didn't solve the problem. First off, the mouse should be properly niced on install - most users who use the X Windows System use a mouse and want perfect pointer device control. Changing the priority of a process should be something left to admins; I believe no desktop user should ever even learn the term "renice." Secondly, let me just once again voice my obnoxious opinion on one other issue. RPM = bad. APT = good. I don't know why Red Hat is so insistant upon RPM. Package management is the one thing that Linux has going against it in a major way. Debian, FreeBSD, and Gentoo have it right. Even Lindows has got a package management system that is simple. I, for one, continue to find software installation through Red Hat network to be sub-par.

Red Hat Limbo - Click for a larger view

That said, enjoy a few new screen grabs from Limbo 2. To Red Hat: Cheers, you've done an amazing job and blown all other major player desktop Linuxes out of the water. You're 99% of the way to knocking Windows completely off of my home network. To Mandrake, Lycoris, ELX, and Xandros: the challenge is on.

Red Hat Limbo beta 2 can be downloaded at ftp.redhat.com or at its mirrors.
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