Preview: Limbo Time

Seeing a Red Hat Beta so soon after the release of Red Hat Linux 7.3 is both surprising and exciting – I’ve used many flavors of Linux and always come back to Red Hat on the desktop. First off, the installation program is second only to Caldera’s Lizard. Secondly, the GUI is usually responsive in most cases. Thirdly, the software is easy to find. Lastly, Red Hat seems to set the standard for Linux – until distributions are more compatible, I am content with Red Hat. Limbo is a major upgrade to Red Hat Linux from a user standpoint, so I’d like to discuss the pros and cons of this specific distribution as a comparison to other Red Hat distributions; this is not a “Why You Should Use Red Hat” article.Click for a larger version Limbo, the code-name for the newest Red Hat BETA release, is labeled Red Hat Linux 7.3.92. It is evident, after only a few days of use, that this is likely a BETA release of Red Hat 8.0, as it changes the Red Hat Linux experience considerably. The first noticeable change, as you boot from CD, is that the entire installation program, Anaconda, has a newer more modern feel to it. It’s been said that Anaconda has simply been ported to GTK2, but this is underrepresenting the truth – it is much more friendly and has been organized slightly more logically. It’s hard not to feel as though this has surpassed Mandrake’s install in ease, and it’s certainly much more professional looking. You are still limited to ext2, ext3, RAID, swap, and VFAT when creating partitions, but it appears likely that SGI will update their Red Hat XFS install CD at some point when this becomes a final release if you prefer something more POSIX friendly. I had some trouble killing the install process, after I made my bootdisk and tested X – which I got to work better with my obscure CTX flat panel than ever before, I couldn’t quit Anaconda. Because it notified me that it was complete anyway, I simply cold-booted the machine.

Click for a larger version The biggest change to Red Hat as a distribution is the inclusion of Gnome2. Having tried to upgrade to Gnome2 on three other distributions with varying success, it was a shock to see it fully configured. Not only is it gorgeous, but it works! Changing the look and feel of the desktop is a snap, and it runs noticeably faster than previous versions of Gnome. One complaint I have it that the changing the appearance of the window manager, which is now Metacity by default (not Sawfish), is very difficult. Although applying one of four themes is easy enough, adding them is like pulling teeth and changing to HeliX or Crux was completely unsuccessful. I ended up finding a theme on the Internet and performing a long CLI command chain before I finally got it to work. I’m going to give Red Hat the benefit of the doubt and assume this is a product of a BETA edition, not a poor product. After all, everything was operational. It was even zippy enough on my PIII 500 to continue to let Nautilus draw my desktop. I did not test KDE for this review – as it is not a major change from the last Red Hat release, Valhalla.

Some things have changed, if only in appearance. The terminal looks a lot more like the BeOS terminal by default – big, black-on-white, and legible. The clock applet has become much easier to use. Other things have changed significantly: for one, I found that the default office apps in Gnome are no longer AbiWord and Gnumeric, but rather Writer and Calc. Including the suite in the distribution is a great move if Red Hat is trying to appeal to a wider audience. Another neat feature akin to the BeOS is the ease of panel control. It can be dragged very easily to the left, right, top, and bottom of the screen without so much as a blink.

Click for a larger version My experience with Limbo was not trouble free, however. It’s hard not to be impressed with the eye candy, yes, but soon little quirks jump out at you. You can no longer drag items from the foot panel to the desktop to make shortcuts. The install I performed (which was “Custom”) left me needing so many libraries I can’t even run RPM on half of the items I downloaded. And worst of all, I’m missing so many pieces I couldn’t install apt4rpm – which really hurts, since RPM is what I believe holds back Linux more than anything else. Lastly, and this is a gripe about Gnome2 more than anything else – the mouse sometimes feels a little “loose.” I feel more confident right clicking desktop items and choosing “Open” than double clicking. This is an uncomfortable feeling I never have with the Windows 2000 UI.

For the most part, though, what Red Hat brings to the table is a Linux based OS that can truly compete on the desktop. Make no mistake about it – Linux is not for the average user, but it is getting closer. You still need the command line for true system performance, but almost everything can be performed from within the GUI once you learn where the controls reside. Is Limbo a Windows killer, then? For some, it may be. For some of the more experienced, it may appear to be no more than a hack target. But for the middle ground users, those who are UNIX-capable, but not experts, who are just searching for a robust, flexible but powerful, alternative desktop OS, I wouldn’t hesitate to say “Hey, let’s do the Limbo rock!”

About the Author
Adam Scheinberg is a Systems Administrator for the US Naval Sea Systems Command. He uses Windows XP, Red Hat Linux, and the BeOS at home, and Windows NT/2000 and Novell NetWare 5.1 at work. Adam can be reached on


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