By Kamal Gill
With greater than two-thirds of the Linux distribution market share, Red Hat Linux is arguably the de facto standard for the Linux software platform. Buffed up with a new kernel, vastly improved hardware detection, foolproof package management, and an Internet-based software management feature that's in a class by itself, version 7.1 is Red Hat's most significant upgrade yet. It delivers a flexible, reliable, rock-solid platform suited for home, small business, and enterprise users alike.
CNET and TechRepublic
This article first appeared on CNET's Enterprise Business site. TechRepublic is part of the CNET family of Web sites dedicated to educating and empowering people and businesses in the IT field.
Red Hat 7.1 includes the 2.4.2-2 kernel, which supports up to 64 GB of RAM, far more than the 4-GB limit in the 2.2 kernel series. While the 2.2.x kernel can't take full advantage of servers with more than four CPUs, the 2.4 series is much more scalable, with symmetric multiprocessor (SMP) support for machines with as many as eight CPUs. The 2.4 kernel also offers hot-pluggable support for a wide range of USB devices and vastly improved support for CD-R/RW drives.
Red Hat 7.1 offers an array of installation options that set it apart from typical Linux distributions. If you use an older version of Red Hat (as far back as version 3.0.3) and wish to keep your existing user files, you will find 7.1's upgrade procedure quick, painless, and efficient. In contrast, competing distributions such as SuSE Linux and Linux-Mandrake offer package updates that can be error-prone and take more time than performing a complete installation.
Prior versions of Red Hat have included automated server and workstation installation options. Version 7.1 adds a laptop installation option that enables support for a significant number of PCMCIA cards, touchpads, and LCDs. This version also offers improved support for hundreds of graphics cards and smoother font rendering, thanks to XFree86 4.0.3. If your system has a 3-D graphics accelerator, the installation process lets you select a 3-D accelerator card from an extensive list—a feature conspicuously absent from previous versions. Unfortunately, sound card detection and installation continue to be sore points. Red Hat still requires that you use the text-based sndconfig utility to detect and configure your sound card after the installation process is complete.
Version 7.1 lets you choose either KDE 2.1 or GNOME 1.2 as the default desktop and gives you the option to install both, either, or neither. However, we were surprised to discover that GNOME 1.4, which includes leading-edge apps such as Nautilus and Evolution, was excluded from this release, especially since Red Hat is a well-known supporter of GNOME.
The new Red Hat also offers beefed-up security options. The installation process helps you set up a firewall and disables notoriously insecure protocols such as FTP and Telnet by default. During installation, a firewall configuration screen lets you specify which ports and services are allowed to pass through your firewall.
Managing multiple user accounts and passwords can be a significant burden for a systems administrator. On the client side, Red Hat Linux lets you specify which NIS, LDAP, or Kerberos server you'd like for user authentication. Red Hat's support for client- and server-side centralized user authentication is an attractive option for organizations looking to minimize the number of passwords that users are required to remember.
New configuration tools
Version 7.1 includes apacheconf, a handy tool that lets you modify the basic configuration of Apache Web Server. (Version 1.3.19-5 is included with the distribution.) (See Figure A.) While it's not a complete replacement for editing your httpd.conf file manually, apacheconf does an adequate job of configuring Apache's most common settings, including the server name, the administrator's e-mail address, the maximum number of connections and requests per connection, and so on. Apacheconf's clean graphical interface can save a lot of hair pulling, particularly during the setup of Apache's virtual hosting, which lets you configure multiple Web sites on one physical server.
Also new to 7.1 is printconf, a long-awaited print configuration tool that lets you select a local printer from a list of more than 500 supported laser and inkjet printers. Printconf easily handles network printer selection and lets you configure and use any printer attached to a UNIX-based print server. It also provides access to Windows-based print servers via Samba.
Red Hat Network
The Web-based Red Hat Network service truly sets this distribution above the rest. Since its introduction with Red Hat 7, the Red Hat Network has undergone two significant upgrades, adding a bundle of new enterprise-worthy features that should help system administrators avoid a lot of headaches. (See Figure B.) With Red Hat Network, an administrator can configure and manage any number of servers and workstations securely and remotely from a central location via an SSL-enabled Web browser. When a server experiences difficulties or has been compromised, a system administrator's traditional response is to shut off the machine, isolate it from the network, and troubleshoot the problem. Too often, the only solution is to completely reformat the disk drive and reinstall the operating system, applications, and user files from scratch. Depending on the severity and the downed server's importance, this can put a significant dent in an organization's productivity. Red Hat Network helps prevent problems from occurring on servers and workstations with features such as:
- System health monitoring, which tracks CPU temperature, file system errors, disk space, process memory usage, and more, for each machine.
- Security analysis, which detects and reports vulnerabilities for specified machines.
- System profiles, which keep tabs on the packages installed on each machine and recommend updates as they become available.
Software security updates, feature enhancements, and bug fixes are delivered far more rapidly in the open source world than in the proprietary one. Red Hat Network's Software Manager lets you opt to download and install updates automatically, or you can choose to receive notification of package updates via e-mail and handpick your own upgrades.
With version 7.1, Red Hat Linux offers more than just an operating system. It's a complete Linux solution that incorporates system management and deployment features that will ease system administration for enterprise and small-business users. With a new kernel, versatile installation options, new configuration tools, and an excellent Web-based system management service, Red Hat 7.1 deserves serious consideration as a Linux server and desktop solution for your organization.
CNET originally published this document on May 29, 2001.
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