Arguing that Linux is not a viable desktop candidate is no longer valid. With the 8.0 release of its self-named Linux adaptation, Red Hat has proven that all the Linux desktop needs now is adoption by business-applications developers.
Red Hat Linux 8.0 compares favourably to other desktop-focused Linux distributions, such as Mandrake 9. Further, it provides a more economical desktop choice, compared with Windows or Macintosh, although both of those are more mature and offer a wider array of applications.
But for basic day-to-day tasks, such as sending and receiving e-mail and creating and exchanging business documents, Red Hat Linux 8.0 is a desktop-worthy choice. This release includes an office productivity suite, OpenOffice, that is compatible with Microsoft Office formats as well as built-in Web-browsing, e-mail, calendar, and project management applications.
On the desktop, Red Hat Linux 8.0 is polished and does a good job of hiding complexities with which end users need not be concerned.
The company also does a good job of providing blended KDE and Gnome 2.0 support. A new desktop-switching tool allows users to choose which interface they prefer (although Gnome is still the default), whereas the newly added Bluecurve theme gives both KDE and Gnome a similar look and feel.
As do some competing OSes, Red Hat Linux 8.0 secures administrative tasks by requiring that the root (administrator) account be entered before the tasks can be performed. Authorised users can also click on a taskbar icon to maintain root privileges when they are granted. By securing desktop configurations in this manner, administrators can more easily support a common desktop image across the enterprise.
Acting as an end user, we tried out some of the newly included configuration tools, such as selecting a background image, examining the contents of a CD, and setting our menu preferences. These tasks were easy, but we found that the end-user help system was buried rather deeply. Default iconic access to the help system would be more convenient for end users.
On the administrative side, we tried both installing and upgrading some of our systems to Red Hat Linux 8.0. Fresh installations of Red Hat Linux 8.0 on all of our systems completed without a hitch. The installation routine automatically and correctly identified and configured all of the hardware on our desktops and laptops.
In this release, Red Hat has shaved roughly 10 minutes off the installation time. The average install or upgrade time per machine was approximately 20 minutes, which is much quicker than the time it takes to install rival desktop OSes. Next, we tried adding and removing applications from several of our installations. We were able to install VMWare Workstation so that we could host other OSes, such as Windows, to run some business applications. We also added several packages using the included Red Hat package manager. It worked well for our purposes, but it does not yet offer all the capabilities of the package manager, KPackage, which is part of KDE.
We had no trouble connecting our Red Hat Linux desktops to our custom-coded business applications, which enabled end users to access applications and update databases on other platforms, such as Solaris and AS400.
Overall, we found this Red Hat Linux release well prepared for basic end-user implementation in an enterprise setting. With costs that are sharply lower than those of competing desktop OSes, IT managers and desktop administrators should consider deploying Red Hat Linux 8.0.