Version six of Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux (RHEL), comprising Desktop, Server and Workstation versions, was launched in November. It is the Linux vendor's attempt to break Microsoft's stranglehold on the enterprise desktop operating system (OS) market.
We downloaded both 32- and 64-bit versions of RHEL 6 Workstation, and installed them on Computing Labs' 64-bit test system, a SuperMicro SuperServer 7044A, and a 32-bit Dell GX280 desktop.
The Linux installer Anaconda [v13.21.82] took us through the fairly standard install. The tricky part, and one which could easily trip users up, is how to partition the hard disk correctly to install RHEL 6.
We chose to just replace the RHEL 6 release candidate we had been looking at. But there are five other options. The most complex allows Linux experts to generate a custom layout, in which users can create and edit specific partitions to give the correct disk size and file format for their Linux install.
Enterprises rolling out RHEL6 desktops will likely have worked on their own image, so won't have to go through partitioning storage, and will know they need to have device drivers certified for all the onboard desktop hardware.
Anaconda asks you what type of desktop install you want: standard desktop, minimal desktop, a web development workstation or a software development workstation, and installs software packages accordingly.
Install time for both the 32-bit Dell system and the 64-bit SuperMicro system was around 28 minutes.
Features and applications
The RHEL 6 feature set is based on the Fedora 12 operating system, the Linux distribution Red Hat uses for pushing advanced features out to users. The RHEL 6 is based on the 2.6.32-7 Linux kernel.
RHEL 6 has all the core applications required by office workers. There’s Firefox version 3.6.9, office productivity suite OpenOffice.org 3.2, and the Evolution mail and calendaring package.
Other useful tools and programs include Cheese Webcam Booth, Ekiga IP comms and web conferencing suite, and the Pidgin 2.6.6-5 instant messaging client.
It was simple to set up a Wi-Fi connection using the new NetworkManager desktop tool. All we had to do was put in the SSID and security passphrase, and our Dell Precision M50 Workstation test laptop with RHEL 6 Workstation installed connected automatically.
RHEL 6 also has a new security sandbox feature. A set of security enhanced Linux (SELinux) policies enables system administrators to run any application and test how untrusted content is processed without damaging the system. IPv6 support has also been added.
Although it might appear that RHEL 6 looks light on some applications when users just install the default desktop, the option to customise it with other packages gives access to a lot more functionality.
For example, users can also configure the system to dip into the Extra Packages for Enterprise Linux (EPEL) repository to dig out specific applications they might want to install.
EPEL is a volunteer-based community effort from the Fedora project to create a repository of high-quality add-on packages for RHEL. When we visited the site the EPEL repository for RHEL 6 was still in beta – not surprising since RHEL 6 has only just been released.
By default the standard Gnome desktop is installed by default, but RHEL 6 provides KDE 4.3 as an alternative, which features the new Plasma Desktop Workspace, and Plasma Widgets for more desktop customisation options.
One feature that should appeal to IT managers thinking of rolling out RHEL 6 is the memory footprint. On our Dell GX280 desktop, the default RHEL 6 desktop was only using around 175MB of system memory, which is maybe a third of Windows 7 installs.
One problem is support for Microsoft’s New Technology File System (NTFS) file format. Red Hat’s development desktop OS Fedora does support this format in that RHEL 6 can see the storage, but it can’t mount it.
Red Hat told us that RHEL cannot mount NTFS because Microsoft holds the patent for NTFS.
For firms with heterogeneous Linux and Windows environments, this might cause minor problems. To solve the problem users can easily create a shared storage area with other file formats, such as FAT or FAT32, which can be read by both OSes.
Dual booting with Windows?
Windows software never did get on well with Linux software – and it still doesn't. Installing Windows over the top of a Linux install resulted in a direct boot to Windows and no acknowledgement that there was another operating system installed on the hard drive.
It is best to install Windows first, then let the Linux install sort out booting to Windows. Earlier Linux distributions would offer users the option of booting to Linux or Windows, now it just offers to boot to ‘Other’.
If you decide to have a dual boot option, it's probably best to define a shared storage area in FAT32 to make sure data can go from Windows to Linux.
Can RHEL 6 Desktop and Workstation rollouts succeed where other distributions have failed? Well, Red Hat will have a tough task on its hands getting new customers, especially as the pressure for firms to move from Windows XP to Windows 7 desktops is already intense. However, current Red Hat customers should be pleased by the improvements and usability in RHEL 6.