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RedHat 8.0 Personal Review - Part 3
LinuxLinks Review
By Dave Edwards

Candyfloss ?

Gnome is installed by default so we'll concentrate on that desktop. Here we'll look at what a typical user will see once X has been started and what they are likely to do. By default RedHat have enabled anti-aliased fonts (unlike Windows XP) and this makes things look pretty but does impact on performance. In fact on anything less than say a 1Ghz Duron with a fairly new graphics cards things appear sluggish. On low spec machines the icons on the menu bars seems to take a while to load in - they appear not to be bulked loaded at startup - this further leads to the impression that the desktop is sluggish. Even with a relatively modern e.g. the Athlon XP PR1800 the initial load times for the start menus was annoying.

The left-hand screenshot shows what you see once you've successfully logged on for the first time. What is striking is the relative sparseness of the desktop. In contrast to other distros there is little clutter, the icons are large and there are plenty of high color graphics. Unless you specifically specify otherwise GHOME 2 is your desktop - this is fine now that GNOME no longer crashes as it did in the early days. There are fewer apps for Gnome and they tend to lack functionality, for example the CD player under GNOME is not as comprehensive as that under KDE. Notice also on the taskbar there is space for only Mozilla (which is the default browser), the Ximian Email Application and the Office 1.0 Applications.

The desktop features a "Start Here" icon which when clicked on opens up a window containing application icons reminiscent of the Windows 3.1 Program Manager (see the right-hand screenshot). We're not sure that this is a step forward and it might be better to keep everything on the menu bar as in Windows XP. This is part of the Nautilus desktop under GNOME and functions as a file manager as well. It takes a little while to find out how to start a console under RedHat 8.0 because there isn't an icon on the menu bar and it's buried in the menus - right click on the background. This leads to the overall impression that RedHat are trying to move away from the command-line towards a much more graphical interface. There is still considerable improvement needed in the "bluecurve" interface though. The system configuration and controls are split and appear disorganised on the menu bars. Much better would be a single configuration menu entry and application, however we are still some way off from that. 1.0 is at the heart of the RedHat interface. Here the left hand screenshot shows two office applications: writer which is a word processor and calc which is a spreadsheet. The other OpenOffice tools are Draw and Impress. The former gives you the tools to communicate with graphics and diagrams, while the latter can be used to create multimedia presentations. These applications derive from Sun's commercial office suite StarOffice. They all have extensive functionality although the interface to these programs doesn't interface that well with Gnome - they aren't built with the GTK. This leads too a large start up time for each application whilst it presumably loads in its graphics libraries. It is difficult to complain too much however as Linux has seldom seen such depth to functionality and has been sorely missing a decent office suite for many years. By bundling this sort of functionality out of the box, RedHat have set the standard for others to follow. Microsoft must also be casting a wary eye on this development: now a business need only buy RedHat 8.0 and get the majority of the software it needs out of the box.

Sun decided to remove the browser and email parts of the StarOffice suite when they created the OpenOffice project. The right-hand shot shows the browser and email application RedHat sets up instead. The browser is Mozilla 1.0.1 and Ximian Evolution is the email client. Again, Mozilla rivals Microsoft Internet Explorer in functionality, but it also has a long start up time for similar reasons to Office. Evolution offers functionality comparable to Microsoft Outlook. If you use this sort of functionality, and many businesses do, then it's a welcome addition.

RedHat have made some strides to add some graphical configuration utilities. Linuxconf no longer provides this functionality and what replaces it still isn't perfect. There needs to be better integration with more uniformity. Really it is RedHats job to do this as the distributor because the software is likely to be highly specific to RedHat's distro. The left hand shot shows some of the utilities that have been added - there is still the text setup utility to fall back on if X isn't installed. There isn't any device configuration though - its a big task and one that needs doing. A welcome addition is the new Package Configuration utility - a boon for the beginner it installs groups of packages rather than individual RPMs. Nautilus also lets you install individial RPMs from the file manager. GnoRPM has been removed. RedHat does lack the ability to auto-install dependencies of individual RPMS, something that both Mandrake and SuSe do provide.

And where is KDE ? KDE is one of the suite of RPMs that can be installed from the new Package Manager and this option does exist at install time if you choose to include it. And there's the source of all the hoo-hah with RedHat 8.0 - if you do a standard install you get GNOME - full stop. It looks like RedHat are moving away from KDE - we'll talk about this later. If you do install KDE and you select to make it you default desktop then you get something that looks pretty similar to the GNOME desktop - again RedHat have customised KDE to make support issues easy. The right-hand shot shows KDE with Konqueror (the KDE web browser) and KMail launched. It is not particularly easy to find Konqueror with RedHat's customisation which no doubt annoyed the KDE developers (so much so that one walked out of RedHat). Its a shame as Konqueror is a fast and decent browser.

All these pretty graphics and in-depth functionality takes it toll on performance - the laptop review machine felt distinctly sluggish with RedHat 8.0 - more so than Windows XP - this is because of the relatively slow disk and mediocre graphics card. If you want to go back to basics then opt for the failsafe session at login - fire up twm and return to the good old days . You can even launch Emacs and see how things used to be. Emacs is installed by default with a Personal Desktop Install and we're not decided if that's a good thing. Come friendly flame throwers ...

Next we'll look at the new packages RedHat install in greater depth.

What's New

Read ahead

1. Introduction
2. Installation
3. Candyfloss ?
4. What's New
5. Discussion
6. Conclusion

Last Updated Saturday, November 02 2002 @ 05:59 AM EST

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