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Linux Distro Test Drive
The Roundup recently enjoyed an annual rite: The testing of the distros. We picked a few of interest and took them out for a few days worth of play. This time around we dabbled with SUSE’s latest (9.1) and the latest Red Hat/Fedora release.
It’s an interesting time to look at Linux distributions because the push for the 2.6 kernel, and its attendant disruptions, is now in full effect. Our test drive offered a sense of how much better (or worse) the distributors are becoming at managing the complexities involved in releasing an operating system for general consumption.
The more interesting of the two was Fedora, which involved learning a little about the SELinux extensions the project is working to integrate. SELinux, as we’ve mentioned before, is a project underwritten by the National Security Agency to introduce “mandatory access control” (MAC) to Linux. MAC security allows for fine-grained, role-based security for files and users on a system.
Fedora’s role as a testbed for upcoming releases of the Red Hat Enterprise line is made pretty clear by this sort of functionality: It’s not the sort of thing the average desktop user or commodity server admin will be interested in, but its potential for enterprise users is great. Overall, Fedora had Red Hat’s trademark-smooth install and behaved pretty much how we’d expect “the next Red Hat after 9” to act.
We were left a little nonplused by SUSE’s latest, but we’re also awaiting the company’s enterprise desktop product, just to track the differences between the two. Despite all the talk about this being SUSE’s first “post-Novell-acquisition” release, we didn’t sense much of a change. More to the point, it’s clear we’ll have to wait a release or two to see what impact, if any, SUSE’s co-acquiree, Ximian, has on the distribution. Our initial impressions of the beta SUSE 9.1 were impacted by hardware autodetection that took us back to Windows 95-style behavior (wherein the frustrated user begs the operating system to acknowledge all his hardware while the operating system blithely offers to install things that clearly are not present in the box) and the bizarre tendency of a network browsing icon on the GNOME desktop to tell us it had “no associated protocol” when we clicked on it.
Overall, SUSE did a good job of enabling its distribution to handle the scut-work of configuring hardware and making the correct window pop up when the right thing is plugged into a USB port, but it also has moments of fussiness and a nagging sense that once the installation is over and you’ve picked a nice wallpaper, you’ve only just begun to fiddle.
It brought to mind a recent scuffle between uber-Mac-zealot John Gruber and uber-open-source-zealot Eric Raymond over the issue of Linux usability: Making this stuff “just work” for end users is hard work for designers and developers.
In both Fedora and SUSE’s case, we liked what we saw from the new kernel’s performance, but we’re also glad we aren’t about-to-be orphaned Red Hat 9 users shopping for a new distribution. Both of these replacement candidates still warrant a little shaking out.
For those curious about the new kernel but not quite ready to part with their tried-and-true 2.4-based distribution, there’s no law against building your own.
- SGI announced Advanced Linux Environment security update #19, which includes patches to wu-ftpd and XFree86.
- Kernel updates came in from EnGarde, Silicon Graphics, Mandrake, Debian, and
- HP reported two updates to its Apache distribution (1, 2) and a patch to a remote DOS vulnerability.
Tips of the Trade
For Red Hat 9 users, Friday is “End of Life Day” (AKA EOL Day) as the company pulls the plug on errata support for the last of its late, lamented Red Hat Linux line. The company has made clear its interest in driving customers over to its “advanced” line of enterprise products, but those are pretty pricey systems for the sort of commodity duty vanilla Red Hat have often pulled.
Red Hat’s termination of errata support doesn’t mean the end of the line for its products, though. The Fedora Legacy Project plans to cover EOLed Red Hat releases for at least 1.5 years after official termination. At the moment, there’s errata support for Red Hat 7.2, 7.3, and 8.0. Red Hat 9 will fall under
the group’s coverage on May 1. The project will send out announcements of errata updates via its mailing lists.
If the thought of a community-run effort makes you uneasy and you know you’ll sleep better for having spent some money on commercial support for your aging Red Hat installations, there’s always the Progeny Transition Service, which offers errata support on Red Hat 7.2-9 at the
rate of $5 per machine per month, or $2,500 for unlimited machines.
Both options provide a way to squeeze a little more out of those Red Hat 9 boxes chugging along that aren’t quite ready for outright replacement.