Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 Desktop, Red Hat’s latest desktop product, is a distribution making its bid for the enterprise corporate desktop. For systems administrators who need a corporate Linux desktop with 24/7 support this is a solid solution. However, the home user might feel a bit out of place. After all, a home user typically doesn’t need Red Hat Network (RHN) and its ability to quickly deploy updates to hundreds of machines. Also, a new home user may not be able to answer some of the questions that Red Hat’s installer might ask them.
All of this isn’t to say that Red Hat should be completely avoided if you are a home user. Red Hat Linux 5 Desktop provides a solid desktop experience and if you do require professional support, Red Hat is a great way to go. The desktop itself is reasonably simple and clean, and while the package manager does have some weak points, it also is easy to use. All in all, Red Hat will provide you with a solid average Linux desktop experience.
Price to Value (2 out of 5)
If you are a home user that insists on software support then Red Hat Linux 5 Desktop is a desktop that will certainly provide the excellent support you require so you don’t have to dig through wikis and online FAQs to find out how to set up your printer.
The cost of Red Hat Linux 5 Desktop seems pretty steep to get a home desktop that you could essentially get from Fedora for free. The extra registration and other anti-piracy hoops you have to jump through end up adding extra hassle that isn’t worth it if you don’t require official software support.
Package Management (2 out of 5)
Package management on Red Hat is done via the Red Hat Network, a service that makes it easy to see necessary updates and deploy them to large numbers of servers. For individual desktops however, updates and overall package management seem to go at a snail’s pace. The add/remove software program also has incredibly large categories that make it more difficult to drill down and see what specific applications are available without looking at every single package in an alphabetic list.
Installation & Setup (3 out of 5)
Red Hat Linux 5 Desktop installs smoothly. One thing about a Red Hat install is that the installer is consistent. If you have ever installed Red Hat in the past you should be well-equipped to complete this one.
Red Hat has had a similar installer for some time, and Red Hat Linux 5 Desktop is no exception. Like its cousin Fedora, this installer seems to expect the user to answer far more questions than seem necessary on other distributions. It certainly seems that they are aiming for the enterprise desktop, where systems administrators ultimately run through an install once, and then create images or kickstart configuration files for subsequent machines. It would be nice if you could have a better idea what ISOs you needed for the default desktop install in advance so you didn’t need to download them all.
User Interface (4 out of 5)
Red Hat Linux 5 Desktop sticks with the Gnome desktop environment, which automatically adds a certain simplicity and ease of use to the user interface. Red Hat also makes a point to name applications according to their function since you may not know that “Pidgin” is an instant messenger client but “Internet Messenger” reduces confusion.
The configuration menus can seem to get a bit cluttered. It might be nice to find a way to categorize them differently.
Security & Privacy (5 out of 5)
Red Hat Linux 5 Desktop by default includes SELinux, a NSA-created suite of software that greatly adds to a system’s security. In addition Red Hat includes a firewall that is on by default and makes it easy to add extra rules if necessary. Red Hat requires passwords (such as when new software is installed) but does so in an unobtrusive way. An applet on the taskbar will alert you whenever there are any security updates, and Red Hat also automatically sends email advisories to they email you registered with them so you can keep on top of any security alerts.
While SELinux does greatly increase a system’s security, sometimes the restrictions on a system can cause headaches, particularly to new users.
It’s difficult to recommend changes in features since one can see how well many of these design decisions fit in a corporate desktop. I think that the split of Red Hat and Fedora provides both the corporate and the home user an alternative that meets their needs.
While Red Hat Linux 5 Desktop is a very capable desktop aimed squarely at the enterprise, on the home desktop it seems to fall a bit flat. I would advise users who are interested in Red Hat to investigate Fedora first. Fedora provides much the same desktop experience for free, only with a number of more up-to-date improvements that would provide better overall experience for the home user. I can see why Red Hat ultimately made the decision to form the Fedora community to serve the needs of the home user as it gave them the freedom to maintain a more stable, clean desktop more suitable for corporate needs.