- Superb installation help text
- partition-free installation option
- GNOME and KDE interfaces
- large number of bundled applications
- robust and full-featured Linux 2.4 kernel.
- Installation difficult if complex partitioning is needed
- modem setup remains difficult.
Red Hat is the most visible Linux packager and a prominent Windows competitor, thanks to its policy of releasing high-quality products with lots of extra features and plenty of professional sheen. This strategy clearly informs the company's Linux 7.1 line, available in a Deluxe workstation edition (£70.18) and a Professional server edition (£175.59). The packages include the same version of the operating system, with the differences lying in the bundled software and support services.
The Deluxe Edition ships with nine CDs of applications and games (full and demo versions), 60 days of free phone and Web support, and a 60-day subscription (for up to five systems) to the Red Hat Network Software Manager, which automatically notifies users of upgrades and new applications. The server version includes five CDs worth of applications and utilities and 90 days' support for 10 systems.
All 7.1 versions are built on the Linux 2.4 kernel, which provides better multi-processor support and improves handling of virtual memory, physical RAM, and networking over previous versions. Red Hat Linux 7.1 supports USB devices, provides both the GNOME 1.2 and KDE 2.1 graphical desktop environments (you can switch from one to the other), and increases security in a number of ways. The Deluxe Edition includes full versions of StarOffice 5.2, the Mimer SQL 8.2 database manager, GlueCode's InSight Portal Server 1.0 for developing Web portals, a strong list of trial and demo versions of applications, and hordes of utilities in its PowerTools collection. You get a lot for your money, although most of the packages are free for the download off the Web.
For Windows users, installation is perhaps the major concern, and here the Deluxe Edition excels. The installation procedure remains difficult for beginners and even mid-level Windows users, but Red Hat helps considerably by including well-written and highly informative explanations in the on-screen windows during the many steps of the installation wizard. You get explanations of disk partitioning that actually help, although they still do not dispense with any residual fear you may have about the process. You are also told what to do when confronted with choices such as how to install LILO, Linux's standard boot manager. Red Hat Linux 7.1 explains these choices better than any Linux distribution we've seen.
You can even opt for a partition-less install, which lets you run Linux from within a Windows (FAT) partition. Linux runs slower this way, and without the security features of Linux's ext2 file system. However, partition-less installations let you discover Linux without the pain of working with your hard drive's partitions. If you want, you can also let Red Hat Linux 7.1 take care of the partitions automatically. The option is nice, but experienced installers will likely want to retain partitioning control.
Once installed, Red Hat Linux 7.1 Deluxe Edition functions very well as a working desktop system, and even better -- as pretty much all Linux distributions do -- as a server system. As always, professional applications and specialist software such as games lag behind their Windows counterparts, but that's become an accepted consequence of working with Linux. If you want to get started with Linux, or to develop a small professional network of Linux clients, Red Hat Linux 7.1 Deluxe Edition is very much the way to go. Linux has rarely had it so good.