posted by Jay Sabol on Fri 4th Oct 2002 00:49 UTC
IconWell, here on OSNews, there has been plenty of discussion about Red Hat 8, what it is, what it isn't, the Bluecurve look and many other features and issues. I ordered Red Hat 8 Personal Edition and decided to see how close Red Hat 8 may be to a distribution that Joe and Jane User could install and use.

I found some rough spots but, having had a very successful install and seeing what Red Hat has done in this new version, I can state that, if they wanted to, Red Hat could, with a few tweaks, blow away every Joe User Linux distribution. For me, that is saying something as I have been a champion of distributions such as Lycoris and have also seen the improvements in Lindows 2.0. I'm writing this as sort of an offshoot of Eugenia's overall review of Red Hat 8. Here, I'm attempting to view it from Joe & Jane User's point of view. I'll try to avoid repetition of Eugenia's review, except where it is unavoidable and important.

Installation

Those of us who read and post here at OSNews have become somewhat tired of reviews where the reviewer focuses almost exclusively on installation rather than usability. I will try to make the installation description as short as I can. However, from Joe and Jane's point of view, there are areas in installation that could confuse them, so I have to speak to those, at least to some degree. My computer for this "experiment" is, yes, a Wal-Mart/Microtel PC with an Athalon 1800+ XP processor, 1 GB of DDR RAM, a 17" Phillips monitor and my old HP LaserJet L5 printer. This computer comes with a VIA motherboard. Joe & Jane would probably not have made changes as I have, but I did find that this would not have made any real difference. My changes: an Ensoniq 5880 AudioPCI sound card and a 64 MB Raedon 7500 graphics card.

I should also say I'm on a home LAN with cable modem, router and DHCP. That is not exactly Joe & Jane User, but many new and average users have been going to the various forms of broadband available now. Also, Red Hat 8 has an Internet Connection Wizard, much as you would see on Windows and Macs.

Red Hat 8 Personal Edition comes with three Install CD's, one Applications CD, two Source CD's and an excellent Documentation CD. Trying to do things as Joe and Jane might do them, I looked over the one included manual pretty carefully. I had to try and remember what it was like to know almost nothing and read a manual like this. For any of us, it is an excellent manual - clear and concise regarding various ways of partitioning, describing the installation process and troubleshooting. I think Joe & Jane's eyes might glaze over but, in reality, it is very clear, it just doesn't speak Joe and Jane's language. If Red Hat decided to make a distro especially for new/average users, they could easily take the information in this manual and make it more palpable for Joe and Jane. Objectively speaking though, it is an excellent manual.

So, I booted up from Install Disk One and, for me, the entire install was flawless. Red Hat's Anaconda installer was outstanding and detected all of my hardware, even to the point of detecting both my AudioPCI sound card and the VIA built in sound. To my Joe & Jane delight, it gave me the option of a Personal Desktop install, Workstation install and Server install. Obviously, for my purpose, I chose the Personal Desktop. For Joe & Jane, here are the possible problem areas I found:

1) After the type of install one chooses, the user is presented with choices for what level of security is desired. This is an excellent feature and, if you are reading the manual and looking at the "Details" feature of each level, it is very clear and understandable. In Joe & Jane's case though, I believe they could easily become confused. The reason for this is that, in the descriptions, an average user could easily become confused due to the fact that they may think some of the options are intended for simple usage. For example, one is presented with whether or not one wants ftp, http, etc. to be blocked or let through the firewall. I know that what is being asked is referring to server use, not regular user usage. But, I don't think Joe & Jane would catch this or understand it and may end up compromising their firewall, thinking they must leave everything open if they want to receive email and surf the net. Again, this is something Red Hat could easily fix.

2) It is the end of the installation where real confusion comes into play. Joe & Jane have already set up the root password and user account. But now, at the end, a user login and password are to be created in order to use the Red Hat Network. Then, having done that, they want you to create a name for their Red Hat Network Profile. Then, you choose a "Channel". Well, you only are given one choice, so it's easy to do, but I was having trouble understanding what this was. I did realize the Channel indicates to the Redhat Network what version you're using (Personal Edition, in my case). Knowing that, it then knows how to update your system. At this point, you click to update the system. Because the distribution was just released, there were no updates yet. Well, the upshot of all this is that, for Joe & Jane, the end of the installation could easily throw them into total confusion. Again, a company like Red Hat can easily make what's going on during this part of the installation much easier to understand for an average user.

As a side note to this, Eugenia and several posters discussed the Red Hat Network and whether you pay for it or if it's free and whether or not it's just for server people, etc. As a couple of posters said, I too have had no problems logging into the Network with my user name and password. There are no updates yet, but I get right in. I'm still confused about this whole aspect of the distro (I should mention again, this is a boxed version I paid for). For Joe & Jane, I don't know how this affects them because I'm still unclear if they have to pay for this or if there are different tiers of pay and non pay. Could the "Channel" I spoke of also indicate that, this being the Personal Edition I purchased, I don't have to pay? I am not sure right now. Even after visiting the Channel page at Red Hat's website, I'm still not sure.

Table of contents
  1. "Intro, Installation"
  2. "Desktop Usage, Apps, Conclusion"
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