Red Hat Linux 9: A Step Closer, But Still With Some Annoyances

The up to now highly anticipated Red Hat Linux 9 is finally released. OSNews had its hands to the final version of Red Hat Linux 9 for over 3 weeks now and we were able to evaluate it in a number of ways. The final version is not too different than the Phoebe-3 beta for which we wrote a preview recently.I wouldn’t like to repeat myself, as most things apply as in Phoebe beta 3, so if you want more info on the product in a “review-mode” please read our article as linked above. Only new additions are the cursor theme for XFree86, a few cleanups on the system and some bug fixes. Also, a lot has been said in other reviews on the web about the installation and the feel of the OS. This mini-article will only focus on what’s missing, or what’s not there yet.

First, I will list a few things of what you can actually find in the new release: you will find a good choice of apps on Red Hat Linux 9, from office to fax apps, some entertaining games, a fully featured web suite and more. The NPTL library offers better responsivess of the system taking care of how the Linux kernel is dealing with threads, there is a cleaned up start menu, a bug fixed Nautilus (however it still has disabled the ability to edit Gnome’s menus), Mozilla’s good looking AA font rendering and more. KDE 3.1 and Gnome 2.2 are included, in addition to a number of servers like Apache, Postgresql, mysql etc.

So, now let’s see what — in my opinion — still missing from Red Hat (the below is indented just as constructive criticism btw).
Many users and admins will define this version as an “incremental” release rather than a full blown new featured version, despite the major version bump. The OS still lacks a number of GUI setting panels, like dealing with partitioning, boot manager, visual partition mounting (e.g. automatically show the partitions on the context menu under Gnome’s “Disks”), Internet connection sharing, Bluetooth support, a visual way to install fonts for both GTK+ 1.x apps and fontconfig, a way for a user to easily install applications in its own space without the need for a root password and without the almost always accompanied dependency hell, a way to add new services easily, a Gnome Gamma correction tool, energy saver tool, a better Camera app that is more integrated to an image viewer or an image manipulation tool.

Other Server config tools might be needed, like a client/server config tool for NIS/OpenLDAP, mail server config, and GUI mysql/postgresql database config tools. I would like to see GConf used more, and not just for Gnome stuff, but also for things like “enable/disable DMA” and other under the hood operations. The ability to mount NTFS partitions is also needed… And just a few minutes ago, I needed to change the MIME type of a nautilus script file, which won’t get recognized if it doesn’t get changed to text/x-sh. However, I found no easy way to do this simple change via the GUI (the “Open with an Application” gui panel just doesn’t do the trick here).

However, the biggest lacking I find on Red Hat Linux 9 today is the lack of multimedia and video tools. There isn’t a proper video player included that supports common codecs, and while normally that wouldn’t be a problem as on other OSes (you just download a package and double click it to install it), on Linux it’s more complicated than that. Most of the time, most users including myself will be able to go around these problems, but newbies might need the ability to download packages that are similar to the ones on Windows, BeOS and MacOSX, where no dependency problems occur. Things just work in these platforms (and no, I don’t see apt-get as the answer in this problem, it is not the cure to the root of the problem).

Unfortunately, most of the bugs I found on Phoebe3, are still on the final version of Red Hat Linux 9. KDE’s Bluecurve engine is nowhere near as cleaned up as Gnome’s (white non-transparent pixels are in place, while the taskbar font of an open app gets white sometimes making it difficult to read), mp3 will skip sometimes when loading a new web page with Mozilla (athlonXP 1600+ here), Samba via the command line or via Nautilus/Konqueror will still not connect to my XP PRO share (MacOSX, and even Lindows on the same machine don’t have a problem with this); *many* KDE apps will load under Gnome without a written titlebar, other KDE apps won’t load at all via Gnome while they do via KDE (KOffice does that some times), resizing any Metacity window is just painfully slow (I am able to see the redrawing!), while loading OOo takes more than 20 seconds. I was also able to hard crash this installation when running a configure script (crashed when dealing with libjpeg). This seems to be a rare condition for Linux in general, as I have also crashed SuSE on the same machine doing a configuration. These are just a few of the bugs I encountered on both Phoebe3 and the final version.

Personally, I like consistent workspaces with expected behaviors and, unfortunately, the Linux platform is not ready to offer me this yet. But it is getting better, with every release. Another thing that annoys me is GTK+ itself, which seems slow. Right clicking on apps like Galeon 1.3.x I will see the popup window coming up for a split second and *then* populating it with the menu options. This is mostly visible on Galeon as its background is a complex HTML page, but if you look closely to the desktop or other context menu items on *all* GTK+ apps, you will see the same behavior too (most people will have to look hard to see this behavior, but if you switch systems and OSes frequently, it is more easily distinguishable). It is not really a problem, but it just kind of annoying when you are used to instantaneous UI responsiveness.

Despite all the above, I consider Red Hat Linux 9 still to be the most polished and professional Linux distro out there, while Mandrake has closed a big gap recently with their 9.1 release, but SuSE is staying mostly on the same level as they were on 8.1 a few months ago. If Mandrake makes one more such leap in 6 months and Red Hat hasn’t, Mandrake can surpass Red Hat, but I don’t believe that this will be the case. I believe that Red Hat 10 will be as much evolutionary as revolutionary. But for this specific release, sorry, but I am not as enthusiastic as I was for Psyche. It’s good, more polished, but not without some serious bugs that get in my way when things don’t work as they are supposed to.

Installation: 9.5/10
Hardware Support: 7.5/10
Ease of use: 7/10
Features: 7/10
Credibility: 7/10 (stability, bugs, security)
Speed: 8/10 (UI responsiveness, latency, throughput)

Overall: 7.66 / 10


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