I've been an avid Linux user for a long, long time. I was there when everything was configured via text editor and the X Windows system relied on xf86config. During these “dark ages,” server configuration was a nightmare and the desktop was a choice between fvwm2, Blackbox, or text mode. Fortunately, Linux has come a long way and Red Hat version 8.0 illustrates just how far it's traveled. In this article, I will show you some of the best features of this new Linux version.
The first thing to impress me about the new OS was that Red Hat instinctively recognized hardware that I would have previously had to manually configure. For example, upon installation there was automatically an entry located in the /etc/fstab that would allow me to mount my USB flash card reader with the simple command mount /mnt/flash. Red Hat 7.3 wouldn't even support that particular reader (which was just a generic USB reader/writer for flash cards).
There were also a few changes made to the installation process. One such change was the network configuration. In an attempt to make the configuration simpler, Red Hat 8.0 tries to configure networking for you—primarily by selecting DHCP and trying to get an IP address for you. When that fails, you are asked to enter the basic information in a graphical configuration tool. If you get this information incorrect, and go to use either netconf or linuxconf after the installation is complete, you'll be in for a big surprise since neither tool is there. Instead you'll find a much more robust network configuration tool.
Riding the curve
The new look and feel of Red Hat 8.0 took the Linux community by storm. The new desktop is called BlueCurve and is a compilation of the best of what else is out there. The good people of Red Hat decided it was time to clean up the Linux desktop and started with GNOME. It wasn't so much a rewriting of the code, as it was a total change of the look and feel. By adding some elements of KDE, some elements of Windows XP, and some elements of GNOME, Red Hat has come up with a highly intuitive desktop.
This intuitiveness has come at the expense of ”Windows-ifying” the Linux desktop. Not only is the GNOME panel altered to look more like the Windows task bar, but the icons now have a Windows XP feel as well. Take a look at Figure A below. As you can see, the basic, untouched desktop looks very similar to that of a Windows desktop—right down to the Internet Configuration Wizard.
|The unconfigured Red Hat 8.0 desktop looks and acts very similarly to Windows 2000 or XP.|
BlueCurve makes much better sense of the start menu breakdown. Before BlueCurve, the Linux start menu seemed to be a haphazard attempt at making sense of where submenus and entries should fall. Now applications are bunched together in a logical order. For example: OpenOffice was once given its own menu that often cluttered up the start menu. Now OpenOffice is located in the Office submenu. At one point the Internet (or the Networking) menu housed so many networking tools it was impossible for the common user to make sense out of each entry. Now only Internet tools (browser, chat, e-mail, video conferencing) are placed in the Internet menu. Figure A also illustrates the various entries in the start menu.
The meat of the OS
Every sys-admin knows that the desktop is far from the meat of the operating system. Sure, the desktop is where the user will feel most at home, and unlike earlier entries from Red Hat, the 8.0 machine will be primarily configured from within the desktop. Because of this, the Linux GUI configuration tools have all been given makeovers. Many of these tools—the X Windows Configuration tool, the Internet Connection Wizard, the Apache Configuration tool, and the various network configuration tools (DNS, NFS, and Services)—are simple-to-use versions of earlier network configuration tools. Thanks to these newer GUI configurators, setting up Red Hat Linux for any given service is as simple as Point, Click, and Apply.
The Red Hat Internet Connection Wizard is as simple to use as any networking configuration tool. As you can see from Figure B, the new network device configuration is a simplified version of a number of previous tools.
|Even wireless networking can be configured from the Internet Connection Wizard.|
Once you select the desired device, the Wizard walks you through the steps. In all cases these steps are very user-friendly. Let’s take a look at setting up a DSL connection via the Wizard. Figure C shows selecting the xDSL (the x stands for either A [asymmetric] or S [symmetric] DSL) connection type.
|When selecting the xDSL connection, the Wizard offers up a description of what you are about to configure.|
Click Next to move on to the basic configuration of the connection. Figure D highlights the information necessary to complete this step.
|Only four configuration items are needed to complete this phase of the DSL configuration.|
Once the basic information is entered, you only have to Apply the configuration (as shown in Figure E), at which point you will find yourself in the Network Device Control tool (as shown in Figure F).
|Click Apply and the connection is configured.|
|Here is where all network devices are controlled and further configured.|
Once you land in the Network Device Controller it is possible to get much deeper into the configuration of the desired network device. As you can see in Figure G, there are numerous configuration options available. With DSL, you will want to have your connection restart should the connection die. The Advanced tab allows you to do just this by selecting Restart If Connection Dies. Of course, there are many other helpful options available within the configuration tool. From within the Route tab you can configure Static Network Routes. The Hardware Device tab allows you to select which network interface to use for the xDSL connection. The Provider tab allows you to change the Name, Login Name, and Password for the connection.
With Red Hat 8.0 the configuration of your HTTP server no longer has to be a chore. With the Apache Configuration tool (shown in Figure H) it is possible to configure Virtual Hosts, Server, and even tune the performance of your server—all with one handy tool.
Never before has Apache been so simple to configure, and this tool really helps bring Red Hat Linux to the enterprise level like no other release has before. Take a look at Figure I, where you will see the Virtual Host tab from the Apache Configuration tool. In this tab you can easily configure every option necessary to set up a virtual site on your HTTP server. Before this tool, configuring virtual sites required either Webmin to be installed or the editing of the httpd.conf file. Although Webmin was a simple alternative, it doesn't hold a candle to this newer tool.
|Within this tool, every possible virtual host option can be configured.|
To completely cover an entire release of Red Hat Linux would require an enormous amount of articles. Of course, I’m up to the task and will be continuing to share as much as I can about this unbelievable new release. Nonetheless, it would be to your benefit to quickly jump on this Red Hat bandwagon. Never before has the installation, configuration, and use of Linux been so simple and enjoyable. I've been running this release, without fail, for over three months now, and I have to say that it is by far the best Linux yet.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.