I installed Red Hat Linux 9 (Shrike) to see what has changed between it and the previous major version of Red Hat (8.0). The article features some installation screenshots and of course some post-install screenshots showing Bluecurve in Gnome and KDE (more shots here), user experience and discussion of whether you should upgrade or not.
The first thing you will note is that Red Hat has decided to move away from the x.x numbering of their products. Now they’ve moved directly from Red Hat 8.0 to Red Hat Linux 9 ending the 7.1,7.2,7.3,8.0 releases of times past, sure there was a 8.1 beta called Phoebe but that was all it was, a beta.
The CDs available for download are now 6 in total, up one from the last major release; however, most of us will get by with just downloading the first 3 CDs only, in order to install and setup Red Hat Linux 9 (the last three are source CDs).
For those of you who are impatient, I’ll answer two questions immediately. There is no native mp3 support included; you’ll have to fix that yourself if you want to play mp3s and for DVD lovers, the wonderful Xine is not included, you’ll have to download and install it yourself. I explain how to add both in Part III of this article.
The install went really well, with no hiccups. It was as clean and as straightforward as the Red Hat Linux 8.0 install, except now you have the option to ‘upgrade’ any previous version of Red Hat Linux installed on your computer. If you go this route, then make sure to read the Release-Notes for information about how it may impact your Linux installation. I chose to do a fresh install and wiped out the previous operating system altogether. The hardware that I used was a brand new Dell Latitude D600. The install worked great on this new hardware which was a big plus as Red Hat Linux 8.0 choked on the first reboot after installing on the same machine (the now ‘old’ default Red Hat Linux 8.0 kernel probably didn’t know how to deal with the chipset/ide controllers and did a hardware lockup after GRUB).
I had to manually configure X to tell it that my monitor was a Laptop Display Panel (why can’t Red Hat Linux detect LCD’s ?). After installing it booted up for the first time and all looked well. I noticed that CUPS was loaded by default on bootup (I have no printer) and some reference to 3 HSA cryptography keys also. The firstboot runs a short out of box experience (its called firstboot) which asks for the user to input some details and test sound etc. Once done you are presented with a nicer looking login screen than the one included with Red Hat Linux 8.0.
So what’s different about it? Well, for starters (pun intended) the start menu is now far better arranged than the clumsy bloated mess in Red Hat Linux 8.0. It’s now clearly laid out and there is even a handy ‘recent documents’ shortcut called ‘open recent’ on the menu. Nothing new to Windows users but it’s nice to finally see it in Red Hat Linux. Once again, Gnome is the default DE and Bluecurve is the default theme so overall it looks remarkably similar to Red Hat Linux 8.0. The release notes refer to Bluetooth support included (bluez libraries and utility programs) in this release but as I haven’t got Bluetooth on this machine I cannot test that functionality. Also in the release notes were mention of once again, no (current) 3D hardware drivers for NVIDIA users. That sucks because if you want to use your Red Hat Linux install for gaming, then you’ll have to configure and compile the NVIDIA source drivers for EACH kernel release for Red Hat Linux 9.0 starting with the one thats included. Oh, and by the way its 2.4.20-6.
What else is new? You’ll notice pretty quickly that the mouse cursor has had some code changes; in fact its called ‘Xcursor’and it has some groovy new antialiased, alpha blended (translucency) features included to make it look ‘cool’ while waiting for some RPM to install. Those of you that had issues with Red Hat Linux 8.0 not installing on your Intel i845,i852, i855 and i865 integrated video will be happy to note that this has been reworked so hopefully even with a 1mb bios limitation on your video card, you’ll get Red Hat Linux 9 Linux to install and have a graphical mode too. I inserted a blank CD-R in order to fire up xcdroast to burn these screenshots on this machine, and was pleasantly surprised to see that Gnome now has built in (limited) CD burning support in Nautilus. And it worked too! However, once I later installed Xcdroast i seem to have lost that ability. Oh well, it was only a test install anyway.
Mozilla version 1.2.1 is the default web browser and that’s good for us Mozilla lovers. You will notice that there are no plug-ins loaded in Mozilla so for RealAudio playback, Shockwave or Java you’ll have to get the plug-ins yourself and install them. OpenOffice is also included (version 1.0.2) but the nice, freely available Microsoft Fonts are not installed, sadly, so that’s another thing that you’ll have to configure yourself if you so desire.
For those of you who use KDE you’ll be pleased to note that its now version 3.1-4 and that allows you to use the included Keramik theme. Ok, now that we are done installing Red Hat 9, lets see what its like to use.
First time users of Linux should consider going for the full installation (Everything) to have access to a wealth of pre-installed software – it takes longer to install but then you get access to all the tools and software on the first three CDs. Going with the default choice in the install menu doesn’t give you everything (such as KDE and its associated applications and Red Hat’s server applications/administrative tools) but does still provide enough to get working/playing/experimenting. I’ll try and summarize some of what is included in the full install below, but I won’t list every application because there’s no point. You can always add or remove applications at a later stage in the package manager. Bear in mind, however, that the maximum install does not provide everything you’d expect to find as standard on a Windows XP machine. In fact, you’ll notice that multimedia is lacking and other features abounding which may or may not suit you.
Web Browsers included:
Mozilla 1.21 is the default browser in Red Hat Linux 9, and it’s a very nice browser by all standards, featuring tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking support among its features. Unfortunately, the included browser does not have plug-ins such as Java Virtual Machine/ShockWave/RealPlayer installed and that means that the end user will have to configure those plug-ins, easy to do in Windows but a pain in the neck in Linux.
The Konqueror (3.1-12) web browser is also included (KDE)
and it’s a nice browser by all accounts. I use Mozilla myself so I cannot really comment, but it too suffers from the lack of included plug-ins.
The Gnome-based Galeon is also included, and as above with Konqueror it’s got lots of nice features and has its own audience, In fact, I like the way it does the google search bars, very neat integration with the browser. The included version of Galeon for those that care is 1.2.7.
The three browsers included above should be just fine for the average and even the advanced user, and as Mozilla is the default browser, most users will end up using it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if the included version of Mozilla (1.21) is that stable or bug free (note the current version is 1.3) so my advice for people who intend to use Mozilla: please upgrade to the latest stable release and as a result you’ll find plug-ins are much easier to install.
Instant messaging clients are all the rage, and Red Hat Linux 9 supplies enough to satisfy, so no complaints here.
Choose from GAIM, which is compatible with MSN messenger as I describe below, (and many other protocols which I don’t) or LICQ.
OpenOffice is of course included as it was in Red Hat Linux 8.0, except this time it’s a later version and you’ll notice that it has an autocomplete icon which pops up, similar in a way to the ‘clippy’ icon so loved/hated in Microsoft Office.
An all-round package which is superb, lacking in TrueType Fonts but that’s easily fixable. It still doesn’t have an Outlook-type mail client equivalent, which is a shame for Windows to Linux switchers, however Evolution is a very good email application.
I don’t use Linux as my business operating system (the company I work for uses Microsoft Windows 2000), however Red Hat 9 as it currently stands would do just about all I need to do in terms of mail handling, creating documents, checking Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and viewing or creating presentations although not perhaps as easily or elegantly as the Microsoft Office equivalents that I am used to.
My only gripe with OpenOffice is it has an annoying delay while loading up a module even on a very fast and current computer. Opening Microsoft Word in Windows XP on the same system is instantaneous compared to OpenOffice Writer. I guess some more work needs to be done in that department as this was the same in Red Hat 8.0, so hopefully in time this can improve. Once it’s loaded, it’s fine, but if you are in a hurry to read something in OpenOffice, then the delay can be tiresome.
I ran this entire article more than once through OpenOffice Writer (which is the Microsoft Word Equivalent) and it handled this really well. The spell checker was put to the test too, so if you spot some errors you know where to blame them. (Editor’s note: this article was absolutely rife with spelling and punctuation errors when I received it, seriously)
This is the one area that I feel Red Hat 9 is lacking, in particular, playing or listening to MP3’s or viewing/playing DVD’s, video content via the web or locally, DIVx movies and more. I feel the lack of applications like xine and mplayer does not add anything to this install, and only complicates and frustrates users, especially users that are unfamiliar with compiling programs in the Linux environment. XMMS is included but its mp3 plug-in is not. This is unfortunate. All Windows-based systems can play mp3s in Windows Media Player out of the box; same goes for playing most standard AVIs. And as regards DVDs on a Windows machine, it’s so easy to install WinDVD or PowerDVD that its a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Red Hat Linux 9.
By default, Red Hat 9 now has limited CD burning capability built-in (provided that you don’t install Xcdroast), its works fine and you’ll be pleasantly surprised (as I was) when inserting a Blank CD-R that it will open a new folder called ///burn where you can drag and drop files to be burnt to cd. Experienced users will however probably just install their favorite cd burning software and Xcdroast is included for those that want it.
Graphical Editing/Viewing Software
Nothing with the ease of use or functionality of Paint Shop Pro or Adobe Photoshop is included, but there are some applications. GIMP is included and I used it to capture many of the screenshots.
Digital Camera Software
You can plug in your USB-based camera and with a bit of fiddling get it to work in Red Hat 9, using the supplied Gtkam application. It worked for me using my Canon Powershot A20 but I found it cumbersome to setup and retrieve my photos. However, the capability is there (as long as your camera is supported) so that’s good news.
The networking GUIs of the operating system seem to have been upgraded and I’m unsure whether I’m convinced that it’s all for the better. The Wireless Internet configuration setup is much easier by default in Red Hat 9, but moving from one wireless access point to another (along with the change in WEP keys if appropriate and SSID’s) poses problems for the non-technical. In Red Hat 8.0 you could enable or disable eth1 (which is my wireless network card) easily but its seems to be more obscure to me in Red Hat 9.
There are no apparent icons for network strength or for that matter connectivity on the taskbar (as you would see on a windows taskbar), so I’m left with using an x-term logged in as ‘su’ to check my internet connection status via command line tools like ifup eth1, ping host and ifconfig, and as simple as that is to some, it’s not for everyone.
On a side note, (i do like to connect to my Windows boxes and remote admin them) I’m glad to note that rdesktop (http://www.rdesktop.org) has been updated and is now version 1.2.0, that is useful because the default rdesktop that was included with red hat 8.0 did not have a capability to use MSTSC (Microsoft Terminal Services client) non-standard ports, (anything other than the default 3389) so this version by is great for administrating your Microsoft Windows 2000/XP/.NET computers remotely especially if you have changed the default receiving port in the registry.
CUPS is now the default printing software and looks relatively simple and strikingly like the Windows Print Manager equivalent. I don’t have a working printer so I can’t really comment on it’s effectiveness.
Linux die-hards will of course enjoy the wealth of included server applications. You can set up your Red Hat 9 box to be a web-server/ftp-server with relative ease. I tried the included Apache and it was very easy to set up, as it was with Red Hat 8.0. I use Linux mainly on my portable computer so server applications are one area that I tend to steer clear of due to the lack of need. Apologies, but you’ll have to wait for someone else to go into proper depth for this area of Red Hat 9. There appears to be much better Samba support, but… you’ll have to update Samba to include the latest fixes from the recent security releases here.
Updating the Included Software.
Red Hat 9 comes complete with its own up2date functionality and that’s cool. Very similar to Windows Update except you have to register with Red Hat using a working Email address. This email address will also be polled regularly to see if it’s live. If not (if you don’t reply when requested), your ability to update that machine via this tool will be halted, but that can be fixed so its not the end of the world. I like the way Red Hat does its up2date features mostly, in that it does keep track of all your machines, however if you have many machines then the basice service may not be the best route for you. You’ll need to upgrade to Red Hat’s more expensive Red Hat Network services in that case.
Bear in mind that the up2date utility only updates programs that it deems are necessary due to security reasons. You can’t use it to update your version of OpenOffice for example.
Ok, that’s part of what’s included. As I said before, there is too much included software to mention here but now that we have an idea of what’s there, let’s start configuring it for our own needs.
Now that you have come this far, you probably want to add those features you consider missing in Shrike, either that or you just want to expand on its possibilities. Below, I give you some examples of what I did to get my system up and running the way that I wanted to. You, of course, are free to choose the way you set up your own installation but hopefully this will give you some ideas.
Configuring the Desktop.
Before I get into details, you probably should know that my preferred window manager in Red Hat is the default Gnome Bluecurve theme. I’ve always liked Gnome, and Red Hat’s implementation of it is nice and smooth in my opinion. So apologies to KDE lovers, this article really isn’t about KDE versus Gnome, its supposed to give you an idea of what Shrike is actually like.
The first thing I do after installing any new operating system is to configure the desktop for my personal tastes, and with Red Hat 9 it was relatively easy to do.
I changed icons around, removed a lot of the default icons (such as OpenOffice and Evolution) in the Red Hat ‘taskbar’, so that i now have quick access to my frequently used icons, x-terminal, GAIM, xchat, gftp and battery monitor. Adding an icon to the taskbar is quite an easy process – click on the Red Hat icon (start menu) and (in this example we’ll add xchat) click ‘Internet’ followed by ‘more Internet applications’. Put your mouse cursor over xchat and drag it down to the taskbar where you want it and release. Thats it. Drag and Drop functionality works quite nicely in Red Hat 9.
What’s missing in Gnome Bluecurve? Oh yes, there’s still no icon for ‘show desktop’, I mean why can’t they include this in Gnome, since most Windows users are used to it being there and it’s a very useful icon, so why is it absent? You can actually duplicate the functionality of the missing button by pressing CTRL+ALT+D and voila! you can see your desktop. Press those keys again and all your applications are back where they were, I can’t understand why something as useful as this isn’t included by default in the taskbar. Well, it actually is included but its hidden away from view. You have to right click on the taskbar, choose ‘add to panel’ and then choose ‘show desktop button’. Please, Red Hat, can you ship the next OS with this button on the taskbar as default?
Configure GAIM to use Your MSN Messenger Account.
I use MSN Messenger on my Windows computers and my Red Hat Linux computers and it’s my primary Instant Messenger method to contact my friends and family. Having the ability to use this in both Windows and Red Hat Linux is great so I’ve included that information here for those of you that don’t already know.
To setup GAIM to work with your MSN Hotmail account, click on Red Hat start menu/Internet/instant messenger and GAIM will start. once it has started click on plug-ins, then click on the Load button. Choose the libmsn.so plug-in and click OK. Now click close and then accounts on the main gaim menu. choose ADD and select MSN as the protocol. Enter your Hotmail account details and thats it, instant messaging in Red Hat 9.
Configuring Wireless Networking.
Now that I have my desktop configured to my liking, I set about configuring my mini-pci wireless network card using the the built-in Internet Configuration Utility. To set it up, click on the Red Hat, choose ‘system tools’ in the menu and select ‘Internet Configuration Utility’.
I picked Wireless Connection, it identified my Dell True mobile Mini PCI wireless card as a Lucent Orinoco and Prism II-based Wireless, so that was cool, went with that, input my SSID and channel and typed in my WEP key in plain text.
This was a pleasant change: now this time I don’t have to input the WEP key in hexadecimal unless i want to. I now have a choice of hex or text, and this is good because in Red Hat 8.0 the WEP key field did not stipulate how you should enter the key and in what format, now its clearer and will help people avoid issues of WEP not working properly.
After i entered that info, it informed me that I’d probably have to restart the network service but I ignored that and tried networking anyway. I could ping my wireless access point but could not do DNS resolution so reading the info, I rebooted. After the reboot and logging in to Gnome, wireless networking was working fine so I was ready to go.
Adding MP3 functionality to XMMS.
The next thing I tried to do was to add MP3 playback functionality back to XMMS. In Red Hat 8.0 and now Red Hat 9 by default when you try to play an MP3 file in Xmms you get the following error:-
‘Due to patent licensing, and conflicts between such patent licenses and the licenses of application source code, MPEG-1/2 audio layer 3 (mp3) support has been removed from this application by Red Hat, Inc. We apologize for the inconvenience.‘
Once done, open an xterm and do as follows:
su – root [press enter]
rpm -ivh xmms-mp3-1.2.7-13.p.i386.rpm [press enter]
If all goes well and the rpm process looks like this:
Preparing…########################################### [100%] 1:xmms-mp3 ########################################### [100%]
Then all should be ok. Startup XMMS and now you can play mp3s.
Installing Xine to get DVD/avi/mpg playback/viewing functionality.
Getting Xine to work was more troublesome and I had help from a Linux guru (thanks Martin) to assist me with this. We need a few components so I’ll list and link them all here. Click on each link in turn, download the rpm’s and we’ll install them after you have the files.
Note: New URL for the libraries above: ftp://ftp.freshrpms.net/pub/freshrpms/redhat/9/
Once you have download all of these rpms, open an x-terminal and cd to where they are.
su – root [press enter]
rpm -ivh alsa-lib-0.9.2-fr1.i386.rpm
rpm -ivh aalib-1.4rc5-fr1.i386.rpm
rpm -ivh libfame-0.9.0-fr1.i386.rpm
rpm -ivh flac-1.1.0-fr1.i386.rpm
rpm -ivh xvidcore-0.9.0-fr3.i386.rpm
rpm -ivh xine-lib-1.0.0-fr0.beta8.2.i386.rpm
rpm -ivh xine-0.9.19-fr1.i386.rpm
Once done, click on the Red Hat start button, click ‘Run Program…’, type ‘xine’ and then click ‘Run’. If you want to have a nice Xine icon added to your gnome menu then get this and as su (superuser) do
rpm -ivh gxine-0.3.1-fr1.i386.rpm
Configuring Mozilla 1.2.1
This was my most frustrating area in Red Hat 9 as browsing the Internet is so important and such an everyday task. I attempted to install the Sun JVM plug-in (as root) and while it did install just fine, when i logged in locally, there was no mention in ‘plug-ins’ of my recently installed plug-in even though it was listed very clearly in Mozilla whilst logged in as root. I had the same experience with installing the Shockwave Flash plug-in and along with that, I found it (Mozilla 1.2.1) hanging on a fresh install when just viewing the preferences. Not good.
After a few nights of frustration trying to fix it (and I’m no Linux guru by any means) I gave up and installed Mozilla 1.31.
Once I had installed the latest version of Mozilla, all my plug-in woes immediately disappeared and things were running smoothly, so to be brief, if you are struggling with Mozilla 1.2.1 then don’t bother, just upgrade to the latest version and installing plug-ins for it will work just as easily as it did with the Red Hat 8 release.
This, of course, is the question on many people’s minds and the answer is not easy. All I can recommend is if you already have a solid working installation of Red Hat 8.0 on your computer then there probably isn’t any compelling reason to upgrade. All the features in that release are more or less present in this one. Red Hat 9 is more polished, especially in the start menu (and that’s a definite plus) and supporting applications, however, it still lacks significant punch to separate itself from previous releases the way that Red Hat 8.0 separated itself from, say, Red Hat 7.3. Where are the killer power management features? You know what I mean…
However, if you are buying new hardware even within the last few months (especially notebook-based hardware) and want to install a really nice, clean, fairly simple to use distribution of Linux then I would have no problem recommending Red Hat 9. In fact I can say it right now: upgrade to Red Hat 9, it’s worth it.
It has support for most of those Intel on-board video chipsets that Red Hat 8.0 struggled with (1mb bios limitations requiring you to fix XFree86 and more…) so thats a big bonus. Also, there is additional hardware and chipset support in this release so it’s fairly safe to say that this install will run on your computer if it’s a new Intel-based laptop (hint: Centrinos). I can’t vouch for the included wireless options on those newer laptops but I’m hopeful and fairly confident that drivers will arrive soon for any new wireless a/b/g cards that are not currently supported.
Nvidia gamers may be disappointed in this release of Red Hat, however, they were disappointed with the last, until the 3D accelerated drivers came out from nVidia, so i guess its a waiting game.
The decision to upgrade to Red Hat 9 is up to you. You could, like me, just try it out on a blank test system and see if it fits your needs, and I reckon that you will get a kick out of it. However, if you are coming directly from the Red Hat 8.0 camp, then you may be disappointed in the lack of obvious apparent differentiation between the two products.
You have to dig a bit to see the differences but overall it’s worth it. I did upgrade two boxes from Red Hat 8.0 to Red Hat 9 to see what it was like, and it did work ok on both machines but it also broke some of what I had installed on those systems, for example, Synaptic now no longer works, and Wine seems to have taken a nose dive also. However, on the boxes I upgraded, Xine and XMMS did not need to be reconfigured so that was cool, but, and this is a big but, Mozilla was upgraded (yes,I used Mozilla 1.0 – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it) to 1.2.1 and that erased all my previously installed plug-ins. Fluxbox users will be glad to note that if you have Fluxbox installed on a Red Hat 8.0 install, that upgrading that machine using the upgrade option will not affect Fluxbox and you’ll still have access to it in the session manager on the login screen.
Based on what I found with my testing on a blank system (one I could play with to my heart’s content) I have already moved my two Linux based machines (both Dual boot Windows XP/Red Hat) from 8.0 to 9 and I’m glad I did.
The choice, as they say, is yours.
By Niall C. Brady http://anyweb.kicks-ass.net