Well, 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.
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.
Using Red Hat 8/Personal Edition/Personal Desktop
Having gotten through the installation, there are only a few relatively minor issues that face Joe & Jane. This is amazing really, considering the focus of Red Hat up until now. I should begin by saying that the default install of Personal Desktop of Personal Edition is Gnome only – there is no KDE whatsoever. Later, if you want to, you can easily install (even Joe & Jane can!) KDE and tons of KApps. But, this default install is simply beautiful for Joe & Jane. During the install, sort of like the way Windows highlights its features during its install, the main components you’ll be presented with are highlighted. And, those are; Gnome 2, Mozilla, Evolution, Nautilus and OpenOffice.org. When you are finally booted up and login, the Bluecurve desktop is a sight for sore eyes. It is a wonder of simplicity and is especially so for Joe & Jane. The only icons on the desktop are your Nautilus home folder, the trash can and a “Start Here” icon that takes you to a window where you can set up some of your basic settings. The Panel is as clean as a whistle. There is the Red Hat start icon and individual icons next to it for Web Browsing (Mozilla), Email (Evolution) and icons for the basic components of OpenOffice.org. At the far right is an icon for the Red Hat Network (in other words, an update icon). And that’s it. The icons on the desktop are pretty big, but I won’t go into that here as Eugenia and so many have posted and discussed fonts and other UI issues. Big icons for Joe & Jane are okay.
Starting with the Red Hat (Gnome) menu, the first of the relatively minor issues becomes apparent. It is what Eugenia spoke of in her review – the number of menus for settings and configuration are puzzling and, for Joe and Jane, could really cause problems. Even for the fairly experienced user, it doesn’t make much sense. To have leapfrogged to such a wonderful user experience, it is odd to see Red Hat have something like this. Getting back to Joe and Jane, it is especially a bad thing for them. Other than that, the Red Hat menu is well organized with applications in their proper categories. Very nice and would be obvious to Joe & Jane.
The Major Applications
Mozilla: It is one of the icons in the panel and it starts up very nicely and is no problem for an average user. For Joe & Jane, especially because Evolution is the default email application, Galeon might be a good choice as the default browser, but Mozilla is fine.
Evolution: If Joe & Jane happen to work in offices where they use Outlook, Evolution is a snap. If not, however, it does take some getting used to. Fortunately, Evolution does have a set up when you open it for the first time and it is very simple for getting your default email address set up. It takes some experimentation to get the feel of Evolution if you’ve never used it or Outlook before, but it is also not totally unintuitive. It may not be the ideal email/contact application for Joe & Jane but, on the other hand, it can also be their “one stop” application for all of this, once they get used to it.
OpenOffice.org: When started, it takes a few seconds to open (on a slower computer it would probably take a good chunk of time), but once open it runs well and any of its components can be used at the level an average user is current in. It may be Joe & Jane would only start off with the word processor and work their way into the other components. No problem there – this is the case even with an application like AppleWorks. Nobody knows how to do everything at first. The odd thing about OpenOffice.org is that, when you start it up for the first time, you get a registration window and a link to register on the internet (clicking the link opens Mozilla to the page). But, when you get there, you look around for somewhere to register and finally see that there is no registration, but you can sign up to be a developer. This would be a puzzlement to Joe & Jane, but one they would probably shrug their shoulders at and move on.
Nautilus: There has been good progress regarding Nautilus. I could not detect any of the bugginess so rampant in earlier versions. Your home folder on the desktop is, of course, actually Nautilus and, in using it both for that purpose and as the all encompassing file manager, I found it to be very stable and easy to use (so far ;-). I think Joe & Jane would get used to this pretty quickly.
There are other typical applications included in this Personal Desktop install such as The Gimp, ImageMagick, lots of games, audio programs, scanning and digital camera programs and tons (too many for Joe & Jane) of configuration utilities. Again, all of this is without any KDE. My goal being to try and see how Joe and Jane User would be able to deal with this distribution, I simply left it at that, rather than getting into different environments. I did test package installation. This is an outstanding feature for all, including Joe & Jane. You choose Packages in the Red Hat menu and get a box that asks if you want to download from the internet or from CD’s. I chose CD’s – getting into internet downloading would turn this already long article into a book :-). Looking over what is available on the CD’s is very easy to understand and very organized. To test things out, I decided to install two programs Joe & Jane might be interested in: Abiword and Galeon. I selected them and clicked the appropriate buttons and they installed from the CD beautifully. This, however, led to the last issue that would impact Joe & Jane. Newly installed applications do not get placed in the appropriate categories in the Red Hat menu, as is the case with Lindows and Lycoris. Instead, they are accessed by way of the “Extras” menu. Joe & Jane may not have any idea where to look for them, once they see they aren’t in, for example, the Internet and Office categories. They may think they didn’t actually get installed, unless they systematically go through the Red Hat menu and come across them in the Extras menu. But, if they do find them there, they will know where to look for future installed applications. This is another little issue that Red Hat could fix pretty easily.
To me, trying to see if Red Hat 8/Personal Edition/Personal Desktop Install would work for Joe & Jane User has been a jaw dropper. It is clean, very nice looking to the average user, has a look and feel of simplicity (except for all the settings menus) and runs fast. As a mid-level Linux user, I am very impressed with this distribution. I am aware of some of the more esoteric UI issues, etc., but am still bowled over. As for Joe & Jane User, they would run into a few problems, there is no doubt about that. Yet, what amazes me is how little Red Hat would have to do to get past these average user issues. If they made changes in the areas I noted, they would blow every Joe User Linux distro out of the water. And I admit, in a way, I don’t especially like to say that as I have grown fond of Lycoris in particular and have to acknowledge the strides that Lindows has made. But, considering Red Hat’s traditional focus and how close they have come to a distro for the average user in one fell swoop, it is, to me, nothing short of stunning.
About the author:
Jay is a Licensed Social Worker who enjoys writing databases for non-profit organizations. He is also a true OS junkie hobbyist.