- By Dave Madeley -
I was quite excited when my copy of Red Hat 7.2 arrived, just the standard AUD$30 edition. Even the packaging was impressive, I couldn't wait to install it. The machine I chose to install it on was a Pentium III (Katami) with 128MB of RAM. On my 20GB Seagate Barracuda III I had already installed a 5GB partition for Windows (cough) 2000; after all, Half-Life is a very important game. I then proceeded to install Red Hat 7.2. The CD booted without a hitch, and choosing the standard installation I got the usual flying lines of text. In addition I also got frame buffer support (with a Tux at the top). X automatically detected my Microsoft (cough again) PS/2 Optical Mouse, my nVida Riva TNT2 video card and my Compaq 151FS Monitor, and chose the best resolution available.
The installer proper started, using English as my language. There were some new options for keyboards, such as the 105 key keyboard. This was the default, with the help saying to use this for the keyboards with windows meta keys.
Opting for custom installation, to select exactly what I wanted from two CDs of applications. I was asked how I wanted to partition my hard drive. There were the usual options of RedHat's disk druid and good old fdisk, but now there is also an automatic option. Going with disk druid because I didn't want it to accidently delete my W2K partition I'd spent so long preparing, I noticed that the way disk druid presents its data had been changed dramatically. I thought it was quite clever how it now identifies the file systems. My /boot partition, although marked as Linux ext2, was actually formatted FAT32, and disk druid knew this. I created three more partitions and continued.
My Network card was detected and I was questioned as to how I wanted it set up. I actually mistyped my hostname. (This proved to be no problem later on in the new network configuration, unlike the way it was with linuxconf). There were also options for various kinds of remote authentication, including SMB servers.
In the first part of package selection there were a few new items. There was not only X Windows (XFree86-4) but classic X Windows (version 3), plus now options to set up a router/gateway. Using the select individual packages option I was able to customize my installation. A very intuitive set of firewall options were given to me, allowing me to customize what devices to trust implicitly, and what to block.
X detected my videocard and monitor so I didn't have to search through the list (which is now in a much neater hireachy) for exactly the right one. I opted for the best resolution possible and a graphical login.
After much installing I was asked to reboot. The CD was ejected (don't we all just love that feature?) and my machine made that series of common whirrs and beeps. The new boot loader, GRUB, had options for both Red Hat and Windows 2000, and they both worked perfectly fine. I booted Red Hat 7.2 for the first time. Unfortunately there is no frame buffer bootup with the default kernel but the thought of using the new ext3 filesystem made up for that. I logged in and went exploring. Red Hat had detected my Creative Vibra 128 and installed the modules, something it never used to do. It also detected my FlyVideo '98 TV Card and attempted to put in modules for that. Unfortunately, my TV card does not autodetect well, so after looking up my scribble about the settings I modified my modules.conf. Because Red Hat 7.2 comes with the 2.4.7 kernel I didn't have to build a new kernel in order to make my TV work.
Although xawtv was an available package, none of the other TV packages come with Red Hat 7.2 -- things such as gRadio and AleVT (for teletext) -- nor is there a package for LIRC, the daemon used to make the remote controls that come with many TV cards perform their magic.
Nautilus is excellent, especially the way it thumbnails text files and the way it integrates most of the new configuration druids. This would have cut the amount of time if takes for me to configure a new system by three fourths. An annoying part is that the HP Deskjet drivers (which ARE written by HP), although free, cannot be packaged with Red Hat 7.2 for licensing reasons.
Gnome 1.4 is excellent and allowed me to compile Ximian Evolution without any hassle. I only had to build two sets of packages instead of nine. XFree4 is also very impressive. The config file is much simpler without those modelines, yet one can still be added for the TV card. X did not, however, map my Windows meta keys and there was not a suitable profile for the extra function keys on my keyboard. I didn't mind as it allowed me to use my function keys finally (I'd assumed them to be unusable in Linux) with just a few modifications to the X configuration files.
The last two complaints are really fairly minimal, and I'm sure the answers are quite obvious. One, probably due to something I've missed: you have some trouble compiling a new kernel. The internal feedback loop won't activate. This has prevented me from compiling 2.4.14 with the ext3 patch. Two, the system suspend command (apm -s) can only be run as root, and I can't seem to get PAM.d to let me use the program as a superuser.
Overall, I think Red Hat has done a very good job in 7.2. With its new features and improvements on the old ones, it makes a very powerful operating system which is highly customizable and very flexible. It certainly impressed me. I've been impressed with every version of Red Hat I've seen so far. It keeps getting better, so things definitely look good for the future. I say "Well done" to the Red Hat team.