- ✓excellent GNOME support
- ✓superb installation wizards
- ✓good font control
- ✓wealth of included applications.
- ✕Setup remains daunting
- ✕OS doesn't recognise some video cards
- ✕weak configuration tool
- ✕manual partitioning necessary.
With superb support for the GNOME environment and a wealth of included applications, Red Hat 8.0 continues its run at or near the top of the growing list of commercial Linux distributions. It has better font control than SuSE Linux 8.1 and comes with a superb email client. But Red Hat 8.0 Professional, at £136 (inc. VAT), costs more than double the £59 (inc. VAT) SuSE Linux 8.1 Professional, although both Personal versions cost about the same. It's also tougher to install. Besides, Red Hat suffers more hardware-recognition quirks than SuSE. If you're looking for a Linux distribution to put on your Windows desktop system, look to SuSE instead.
Installation and setup
Red Hat 8.0 Professional's installation procedure hasn't changed a great deal from that of earlier versions. In other words, it's not as smooth as SuSE's, and it suffers from a greater number of interruptions and a less intuitive set of setup dialogue boxes. Red Hat's extremely informative help panel offsets some of these difficulties, however, by walking you through choices such as how to partition the disk and which packages to install. Still, we greatly prefer SuSE's method, in which the OS automatically partitions your drive for you -- no input necessary. Unfortunately, on both of our test systems -- a Compaq with a 1.1GHz Athlon and GeForce4 Ti 4200 card and an HP with a 500MHz Celeron and built-in video -- the graphical user interface (GUI) failed to load on the first boot after installation. We've encountered this problem before with Linux distributions, and the glitch is almost always related to the PC's video card. In Red Hat's case, we had to boot twice on both systems before we could select the desired 1,280 by 1,024 resolution. Until then, we were trapped in 800 by 600 mode, where the fonts are truly unreadable (more on fonts later). SuSE 8.1, in contrast, handled both video cards without a hitch during setup.
Interface and ease of use
Where SuSE 8.1 offers the KDE 3.0.3 environment by default, Red Hat 8.0 opens with the leaner and more elegant GNOME desktop. GNOME's configuration tool offers fewer options than KDE's, but the options that it does provide -- such as fairly simple display, audio, and networking choices -- are very similar to those you'll find in Windows. Red Hat 8.0 hides the huge range of configuration options that Linux is known for, so it's much more palatable to anyone who's used to tweaking Windows, which also hides some details for the sake of usability. But Red Hat does let you set up the GNOME configuration tool to show more options, and you can switch to the KDE environment at boot-up time if you'd prefer to run KDE's more detailed configuration applet. If you're used to Windows, especially if you use Microsoft's ClearType display, Linux fonts may appear appallingly thin and jagged. Red Hat, however, uses strong anti-aliasing to make desktop and application fonts look much smoother than in other Linux distributions, including SuSE Linux. Furthermore, Red Hat's Font Preference dialogue lets you set the font rendering precisely as you wish and even offers a sub-pixel-smoothing option for LCDs. It's still no ClearType, but it's much closer than it was before. Fonts in Mozilla, however, still look as if they were written by someone suffering from hypothermia.
Although KDE supports far more applications than GNOME, GNOME has some powerful programs. For example, Red Hat's default emailer, Ximian Evolution, includes a feature set that's comparable to Microsoft Outlook’s, and has no real equivalent in KDE. Nor did Ximian crash under Red Hat, as it did in SuSE Linux 8.1. Also, Red Hat 8.0 takes full advantage of GNOME's rich display and organisational capabilities -- GNOME is known for its elegant, uncluttered display and easy-to-navigate menus -- and it includes numerous graphics, audio, video and other multimedia tools. In fact, like SuSE, Red Hat ships with a seemingly endless supply of powerful applications. Red Hat offers the increasingly popular OpenOffice 1.0.1 as its productivity suite, with KOffice 1.2 (SuSE's default) available for separate installation as well. Beyond that, you'll find everything from strategy games to advanced server packages, along with development tools and every conceivable type of utility bundled with the OS.
Service and support
As with most commercial Linux distributions, you'll get better support for Red Hat if you pay for it than if you download the free version. Red Hat backs the Personal version with 30 days of email and online support for installation but no phone support. You'll also get 30 days of free access to the Red Hat Network, which provides automatic updates à la Windows plus a huge array of premium downloads. The Professional version gets you 60 days of unlimited phone support, email and online support, as well as access to the Red Hat Network.