Open Source

Red Hat 6.2: The big beta boogie, part 2

In part 1 of this two-part series, Jack Wallen, Jr. looked at the unofficial method of upgrading to Red Hat Linux 6.2. In this Daily Drill Down, Jack examines more conventional methods and digs deeper into the upgrade.


In “Red Hat 6.2: The big beta boogie, part 1,”I took a look at the unofficial method of putting together a “Frankenversion” of Red Hat Linux 6.2. This time, I'll show you how to install via more conventional methods and dig a bit deeper into the upgrade.

The official install
What I am calling the official install of Red Hat 6.2 is the standard installation via CD-ROM. This installation showed very little difference from the impressive 6.1 Anaconda GUI installation. According to the documentation, however, Red Hat did add a partitionless installation. The partitionless installation allows the user to install Red Hat 6.2 on an existing FAT filesystem without having to make Linux (ext2) partitions. This method is handled through disk druid and allows you to place the root directory (/) on a DOS-FAT style partition.

Within the partitionless system, the swap space acts like virtual memory and the default size swap is 32 MB. You can increase this to equal the size of RAM your machine has (and I would recommend you do so). There is no need to go beyond 256 MB for a swap space.
In order to access the partitionless installation, you MUST use a boot floppy disk.
Other new features
Some of the key new features in Red Hat 6.2 are:
  • Improved X Configuration—The improvements rest primarily in the database of known monitors and video cards (as well as the upgrade to the latest XFree86).
  • Atapi Zip drive recognition to use SCSI emulation.

Obviously, the primary advancements in 6.2 are in the area of installation. This becomes very apparent when you run the GUI installation and see that, on the surface, there is very little difference between this and 6.1. We will have to look deep and play longer to find out just what lies in the heart of Red Hat 6.2. And that's just what we're going to do!

What's new? What's improved?
I had already known about the major leaps forward that the desktop environment GNOME had made (I'm an avid follower), but what did take me by surprise was the version included on the CD. What installs onto the desktop is October GNOME (1.0.55), which still includes Enlightenment as its default window manager. Since October GNOME, things have made a few giant leaps forward. Thanks to the incredible Miguel di Icaza and Helix Code, GNOME has made some big changes. One of the more obvious changes is the default window manager. No more is GNOME relying on the resource-heavy Enlightenment—it now defaults to the tiny footprint of Sawfish (for more information on Sawfish, see the “Introducing the Sawfish window manager.”) This change makes for a much happier, sleeker desktop environment—which is one of the reasons I’m not sure why Red Hat didn't make this switch.

Note: If you want to make the switch to the newer helix-gnome 1.1.8 (aka March GNOME), open up a console window and su to root. Then, enter the following command:
lynx -source http://spidermonkey.helixcode.com/go-gnome |sh

At that point, just follow the directions.

This is one upgrade you will certainly want to make. Not only will you be getting the newer GNOME packages (including the most powerful Gnumeric spreadsheet), but you’ll also be gaining a much more efficient desktop arena—as well as a lighter jab to your system resources.

Of course, the improvements don't stop with GNOME. One of the biggest problems with the previous release (6.1) was the broken packages. Out of the box, printing and dial-up had major issues that required patching before they would work properly. Fortunately, this is not the case with 6.2. In fact, after a week of testing, 6.2 doesn't seem to have a single broken package.

Here are some of the first-out-of-the-box packages tested (with the results):
  • X Windows System: The installation process was much smoother, and it detected hardware more completely and more intuitively. Although the installation process detected the video card and monitor, it eventually came up in the wrong resolution, so I had to rerun Xconfigurator to configure the monitor correctly. This is still a problem that plagues many Linux distributions. The configuration tools are very powerful (and when run rarely, fail to configure the hardware); however, the installation detection tools have a way to go.
  • Dial-up networking: It looks as if Red Hat finally got the rp3 utility right. Last time we looked at this package, we discovered that it was broken out of the 6.1 box. With 6.2, however, dial-up works just fine. The rp3 utility works as it was intended: simply and efficiently.
  • Samba: With the GNOME workstation installation, both the Samba server and Samba client were installed but not Samba itself. This is an anomaly because it renders Samba somewhat useless. However, once the Samba package was installed (taken directly from the 6.2 CD), Samba worked perfectly. (See networking below.)
  • DHCP: Out of the box, DHCP managed to connect and pick up an IP address from our LAN.
  • FTP: FTP functioned without fail. (See networking below.)
  • GNOME: All GNOME packages worked flawlessly.
  • Printing: Printing worked without fail.
  • Sound: Sound was configured perfectly.
  • Networking: Since the installation was a GNOME desktop installation, many of the networking tools were not installed. If you choose either a GNOME or a KDE workstation installation and you want to be able to use your machine as an FTP, HTTP, or Samba server, you will want to manually install those packages. After working with the GNOME workstation installation, a complete installation was tested that solved all of the above networking issues (for example, a lack of package installation).
  • Browsing: Netscape worked like a champ. Included with Red Hat 6.2 is Netscape 4.72-6, which has finally brought (with certain tweaks) Java-enabled browsing to Linux. This alone is a huge step forward for Linux browsing. Going to The Gaming Zone, I was able to play the games not requiring Windows 95 or better (which would be Linux, wouldn't it?).
  • Fonts: As much as it pains me to say, even with the newer X Font Server package, fonts remain one of Linux's biggest weaknesses. Although the quality of fonts is much improved, fonts still have a way to go.
  • Bash: Although a tiny feature addition (and one the user could easily have added with an edit of the .bashrc file), Bash has been ever-so-lightly updated to default to color listings in console (blue for directories, green for executables, and red for files) and more in-depth window titles (reflecting username, domain, and directory). Again, many of the Bash updates are very subtle and can be accomplished without the upgrade, but it is a nice touch. I will say that I was surprised that Red Hat did not decide to include Bash2 this time around. Bash is quickly becoming outdated as a shell and should have been replaced a while back. Looks like we’re going to have to wait until the larger upgrade to Red Hat 7.0.
  • Package updates: As usual, Red Hat has included nearly all of the major package updates, such as kernel 2.2.14, XFree86 3.3.6, Apache 1.3.11, Sendmail 8.9.3, KDE 1.1.2, Samba 2.0.6, and many others.
  • Core files: One of the big nasties of earlier incarnations (due primarily to the desktop environments) was the dropping of core files here and there. A core file is a file left behind when an application crashes. If an app crashes, run ls in either your user directory or the directory of the application. If you see a file named core, that is the remnant of the crashed app. (Note: If you see a stray core file lying around, you can run the command file core and you’ll see the name of the application that dumped the file). An out-of-the-box installation of Red Hat 6.2 withstood constant rebooting, as well as opening and closing various apps (with a history of leaving cores behind) without leaving a single core file behind. This is a big plus for Red Hat. What this means is with each release of the Red Hat Linux operating system, the code (as well as the code from all of the apps) is becoming cleaner, more stable, and more standardized than ever.
  • ISDN support: This is something very new to Red Hat Linux and very exciting. Within the Red Hat menu (found in the KDE main menu) under the system submenu you’ll find an entry called isdn-config, which invokes the ISDN configurator. This configuration tool is a very simple GUI that allows the user to enter the standard ISDN configuration protocols.
  • KDE: Red Hat 6.2 includes KDE 1.1.2, which is the same version that shipped with Red Hat 6.1. This fact is indicative of the speed at which KDE has progressed. After using GNOME since its inception (Red Hat 6.1 shipped with GNOME 1.0.35), I find KDE to be much slower than necessary. Where GNOME is responsive and agile with opening and closing standard (and nonstandard) windows, KDE falls sluggishly behind. I would have thought with the support the KDE team has and the history of its success that they would be further ahead of the game. Instead, it seems that the newer distributions are having to ship with old versions of the technology, thus making KDE seem outdated. I will say, in KDE's defense, that even from the early versions of the software, its desktop environment is rock solid and incredibly user-friendly. GNOME, on the other hand, had a shakier start and had to play a severe game of catch-up. With the release of Red Hat 6.2, GNOME has proven that it can play this game and win. Although the KDE release with 6.2 is a bit out of date, it is still one killer desktop environment. With the benefits of the improved Red Hat release, KDE, although based on its older packages, seems to only get better with age.
  • Linuxconf: Linuxconf is one of the best configuration tools in the computer industry. Unfortunately, the Linuxconf package that shipped with Red Hat 6.2 is 1.17r2-6, whereas, at the time of this writing, the latest stable release is 1.17r6-1. Although the numbers seem insignificant, there have been some major additions to the Linuxconf package since r2-6. Since then, however, Red Hat decided to ship an earlier package. (In Red Hat's defense, the r6-1 package had only just been released when the Red Hat code was frozen so it wouldn't have made any sense to include an unproven upgrade.) It would be unfair to mention just what those upgrades are, but I will say that you should certainly go to freshmeat and download the latest version as soon as possible. Even though the version shipped with 6.2 is a bit out of date, it's still a vast improvement from 6.1. Of note are the missing tk/tcl errors you received when opening Linuxconf in 6.1's GNOME.
  • Red Hat 6.2 has a number of general improvements over its last incarnation. Most notably is the lack of warning errors when you’re logging out of an X Session. Many times, under 6.1, error warnings would appear when logging out. These errors would range from missing files to I/O errors. This seems to have been resolved with the newest release. There is also a noticeable improvement with speed. The login/logout times are quicker, and the GUI seems more adept at keeping up with hardware. Outside of the GUI, the OS is as strong as ever.

Is it worth updating?
Here’s the bottom line: You have 6.1 with all the patches and fixes up and running, and you're happy with your machine’s ability and stability. Do you upgrade to 6.2? Do you blow away all that time spent tweaking and configuring your desktop or your server when you can simply download all the updated packages (and in fact upgrade to even newer releases)? That depends. If you are like many hard-core users, you will become weary of the clutter that constant upgrading can bring (when it is not done properly), and you'll choose to take the plunge. If you are a Red Hat fan, you shouldn't go without this update. If you find yourself nitpicking every aspect of your computer’s filesystem (preening and pruning and matching packages), you will most certainly want to upgrade. If you want to exist within the boundaries of stability and usability, you will want to upgrade to 6.2. If, however, you like living on the cutting edge of software technology, you might consider a double whammy approach—upgrade to 6.2 and then upgrade the following packages:
  • The Linux kernel (to keep up with the Joneses)
  • Linuxconf
  • GNOME (make sure it's helix-gnome)
  • XFree86 (Although Red Hat 6.2 comes with the latest stable 3.3.6, XFree86 4.0 will be out soon and you will want to stay on top of this upgrade.)

The above small list will keep you on your toes. The XFree86 upgrade is enough for a day’s worth of upgrading alone.

The next question is: Do you pay for the package? Obviously, you can download the necessary packages and have a Red Hat Frankenlinux 6.2. But at what cost? I've found that the stability of the individually wrapped rpm package update is not nearly as stable as the purchased product. I also know (from hours of trolling the Red Hat mailing list) that there have been a number of issues from the ISO images. Because of these possible issues and from the lesser instabilities gained from piecing the upgrade together, it is my conclusion that purchasing the Red Hat 6.2 operating system is well worth the money. For $29.95, you not only get the OS, you also get 30 days of online priority access upgrades, 90 days of Web- or fax-based installation support, the installation guide, and the documentation CD. The upgrades alone are worth the $29.95, so it's certainly a good call!

Jack Wallen, Jr., editor in chief of Linux content, was thrown out of the "Window" back in 1995, when he grew tired of the "blue screen of death" and realized that "computing does not equal rebooting." Prior to Jack's headfirst dive into the computer industry, he was a professional actor, with film, TV, and Broadway credits (anyone see “The Great Gilly Hopkins”?). Now, Jack is determined to use his skills as a communicator to spread the word—Linux. Ladies and gentlemen, the poster boy for the Linux Generation!

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

About

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.

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