Red Hat 7.1 beta reviewed

Red Hat has updated its highly publicised version 7.0 release with a public beta of version 7.1, codenamed "Fisher". In addition to the x86 release, the 7.1 beta is also available for the IA64 architecture.

Fisher offers much in terms of software updates and improved configuration utilities. This beta is the first to have the latest major Linux kernel series release, 2.4. That in itself adds more functionality and additional device drivers. Along with including many programs that missed the 7.0 release, version 7.1 will also aim to counter much of the criticism Red Hat received over including a development snapshot of GCC (GNU Compiler Collection).

Installation

Installing Fisher is similar to installing previous releases, however, there are a few notable changes.

In addition to the standard workstation and server options, you can perform a "laptop" installation class which has PCMCIA support enabled by default. For improved security there is a firewall configuration utility within the installer. You can either select from three set levels of security (high, medium or none) or customise your firewall to restrict incoming access for protocols like FTP and telnet, which are less secure.

Other changes include the ability to choose which languages are installed and ISO images are required for installations from hard disks which saves having to download a directory tree. Also, the X configuration test now displays which video mode is being tested.

Red Hat claims improvements in large disk support and the partitioning tool Disk Druid. However, Disk Druid still lacks the functionality of non-destructive partition resizing.

Updates galore

With the release of Linux kernel 2.4 at the beginning of the year, Red Hat (and other distributions) will want to incorporate it into their operating systems as soon as possible. Fisher contains kernel 2.4.0-ac10; however, at the time of writing the latest stable version was 2.4.1, so a further update is imminent for the final release.

With the kernel 2.4.x series comes much improved driver support. These include a new Adaptec aic7xxxx SCSI driver, a FireWire subsystem, IPv6 (next generation Internet Protocol) and Maestro3 sound support. USB support has also been improved due to the new kernel. A major USB enhancement is support for peripheral storage devices.

Other software updates include: XFree86 4.0.2, glibc 2.2.1, GIMP 1.2.1 and KDE 2.1 (beta). Interestingly, GCC 2.96-RH - which is included in the version 7.0 release - has been retained, and Red Hat claims many fixes. This is a developmental branch of GCC 3.0 and is not guaranteed to be compatible with future releases.

A major change for the version 7.0 release was the inclusion of a second CD with many additional applications. This has been strengthened with the 7.1 beta to include programs such as AMANDA, a network backup tool, and the utilities required to create and repair ReiserFS file systems. More programs are set to be added for the final release.

Notable absences from the bundled software are the five-month old Netscape 6.0 (4.76 is included) and the graphical file manager Nautilus. Eazel, the parent company of Nautilus, recently formed an agreement with Red Hat for it to be included in the 7.1 release. Moreover, Nautilus is set to replace gmc for GNOME 1.4.

Better configuration tools

A number of new configuration tools included in Fisher are designed to simplify administrative tasks, specifically, apacheconf, bindconf and printconf. The last-mentioned is a successor to printtool and has a new browser-like graphical interface. Previous printtool systems will be upgraded to Printconf.

A new program for connecting to the Internet is also included with this release. Internet Config ties together the three connection methods of dial-up modem, ADSL and ISDN into one graphical interface.

Users of the new Red Hat Network (an online update and configuration service) will be pleased to know that the update agent has been fully enabled for the Fisher release. Improvements to this include full support of command-line operation and the ability to query the database for package dependencies.

Overall, the stability of the 7.1 beta was quite good, which is a large step above that of the version 7.0 beta. With the promising range of software updates and configuration utilities, Red Hat 7.1 looks like being a vast improvement over previous releases.

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Rodney Gedda

PC World
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