Installing a Linux server has become noticeably quicker and easier for network administrators who use the Red Hat distribution. Several improvements to Red Hat 7.1 will make installing the system and various servers a fairly painless task.

In this article, we will examine:

  • The install process and a few notable changes.
  • New GUI tools and other improvements.
  • Server configuration tools.

Installation keeps getting better
Improvements in Red Hat 7.1 are evident in both the installation process and the functionality of a new kernel and interface. For starters, installation is quicker because the number of setup screens has been reduced, and the screens that remain are easier to read. The installation process also offers these enhancements:

  • Addition of a laptop installation class
  • LBA32 support for allowing booting from above cylinder 1024
  • Firewall configuration in a simplified form
  • Better detection of both video cards and memory
  • Graphical kickstart configuration for easier custom, unattended installations

Let’s run through some of the highlights of these installation improvements.

Specifying an install type
If you’re familiar with the Red Hat installer, you know that you’ll usually want to select the Custom Install option in order to choose which packages you install on the server you’re constructing. As you can see in Figure A, the Install Type window is similar to past versions of the installer, with the notable addition of a Laptop option.

Figure A
Install options

Partitioning options
After you’ve picked the install option for your server, you will come to the partitioning portion of the program. Little has changed here in a visual sense, but if you are using Disk Druid, you’ll discover some improvements behind the scenes. Disk Druid can now detect partition table inconsistencies. If it detects any, Disk Druid will refer you to partitioning with fdisk.

You may also want to use fdisk instead of Disk Druid if you have to boot from a partition that is partially or fully above cylinder 1024. Using fdisk, there is now an option for LBA32 support. However, the option is not offered by default because Red Hat has found it is not supported by all motherboards, even when the BIOS states that it is supported.

Basic security setup
The Network Configuration window has the standard Red Hat options, but the window that comes next is new. If you need firewall security on your server, you can easily configure basic protection during the installation process. The Firewall Configuration screen, shown in Figure B, offers options for high and medium security firewall setups. If you select the Use Default Firewall Rules check box, little effort is required to set up your basic security.

Figure B
Firewall configuration

However, if you are setting up a Web server that will be used in your DMZ and sensitive information will be flowing to your server, you will need to tweak the security settings on this page, including selecting SSH and allowing access through the secure port, 443. See Red Hat’s Customization Guide for more details on this.

Improved hardware detection
Another feature that speeds the install process is better hardware recognition, mostly due to the improvements in the 2.4 kernel. While older versions require you to probe your video card, the new installation does that for you and then presents you with an exhaustive list of cards to ensure that it has picked your video card correctly.

I installed Red Hat 7.1 on an older computer at home and on newer equipment in our test network at TechRepublic, and in both cases, the program successfully found the card and displayed the correct memory on board the card. (See Figure C.)

Figure C
Video function

Getting to this part of the installation probably takes longer to read about than to actually do—certainly, after the first time. It will be hard for Red Hat to make it much easier. The installation of the packages and creation of the boot disk complete the installation process. It is my impression that the program does this more quickly and efficiently than ever before.

New GUIs added along with other improvements
Once the installation process completes and you’ve restarted your new system, you will find a number of improvements in this release of Red Hat. Of course, the 2.4.x kernel is among the most important improvements. Among other things, the new kernel includes better support for symmetrical multiprocessing and can now use up to 64 GB of RAM.

Red Hat 7.1 includes the two most popular desktop environments: GNOME and KDE. It defaults to the latest version of GNOME. However, GNOME fans may prefer to upgrade to Ximian GNOME for a power-user’s desktop experience. Red Hat 7.1 also comes with KDE 2.1.1. I have always found KDE less sophisticated in appearance than GNOME, but this version is greatly enhanced, both in appearance and functionality.

Network administrators who are setting up an Apache Web server will appreciate another GUI enhancement: the new Apache configuration tool. Available within either of the X Windows desktop environments, the tool simplifies the process of getting your Web server up and running.

The Apache configuration tool includes these tabs:

  • Main—Set the server name, Webmaster e-mail address, and listening ports
  • Virtual Hosts—Add or edit the characteristics and addresses of your virtual hosts, detailing things like the document root directory and host information
  • Server—Set the server’s user and group, and file locations for the PID file, lock file, and core dump directory
  • Performance Tuning—Set timeouts, max requests per connection, and max number of connections

Other new configuration tools include:

  • BIND
  • Printing

Red Hat has also included a graphical firewall tool, which works in either desktop environment and allows you to set ipchains rules from the GUI.

All in all, Red Hat 7.1 makes it much simpler to install a server and provides some new tools that will make it easier for administrators to manage some of the more popular Linux services.

Check it out!

Have you taken a look at Red Hat 7.1? What do you think about it? Can you compare it to other distributions? Tell us what you think in the discussion below or send us a note.