While mainly used as a mission critical server distribution of Linux, Red Hat also offers a Desktop Workstation version. Here is a quick review of the latest Red Hat 6.1 Workstation release!
Why run RHEL Workstation for a Desktop Linux choice?
If you are a small or large business, you may wish to have uniform Red Hat Desktops for your employees. The main benefit from an admin standpoint is the sweet web-based management console (rhn.redhat.com) where you can fully manage 50, 100, 200, or more desktops with the click of a mouse. Also Red Hat is known for being extremely stable, reliable, and rock solid for mission critical tasks. You know your desktops will be extremely reliable and supported on a long release cycle (7+ years!).
The other added benefit and perhaps what makes Red Hat shine as a company are their many support options, including 365/24/7 phone support if needed. For many non-Linux or non-technical bosses or supervisors, this (a company who offers a 1-800 number for support) is often the main selling point and reasoning for your company to go with Red Hat vs. community supported distributions. Even if the community version would work fine, the fact that there is no ‘company’ behind that often loses the pitch to non-technical supervisors.
Explaining what ‘Ubuntu’ is to a C-level committee is sometimes difficult vs. pitching Red Hat Enterprise Linux which some non-technical decision makers are more likely to accept either by name recognition or based on the effective use of the buzz word ‘Enterprise’.
Possible downsides to running vanilla Red Hat on the desktop for a company include:
– Limited non-free software. (No Adobe flash, mp3 playback, nvidia/AMD proprietary 3D drivers, mpeg4/aac playback, no skype, no ‘standard’ Microsoft fonts such as Times New Roman for documents, no DVD playback, nor other codecs for watching popular video formats.) It is of course possible to use third party repositories and sources to gain these but note that Red Hat does not distribute nor support your added third party software.
– Slightly older Firefox vs current mozilla.com offerings.
– Limited support for recent laptop chipsets and wireless network cards, if your company uses laptops.
– Limited number of total packages and software available from official Red Hat sources (1118 packages for Red Hat Workstation) vs. say, Debian or Ubuntu which has 20,000+.
Of course it is entirely possible to customize your company’s install or perhaps host your own local repository to easily update/push out software to your desktops though note that this is extra work than just running say, Ubuntu or Linux Mint.
Ok enough of that, let’s check out Red Hat’s latest 6.1 Workstation release!
Highlights for desktop users include:
– Kernel 2.6.32
– Gnome 2.28.4
– Firefox 3.6.17
– Evolution 2.28.3 (mapi extension installed by default)
– Pidgin 2.7.9
– samba 3.5.6
– ekiga 3.2.6
– Brasero 2.28.3
– Rhythmbox 0.12.8
With your redhat.com login, you can browse and download DVD .iso images of releases available to you. Download speeds from redhat.com are approximately 600-700 Kb/s for me on my home 18/2 cable modem connection.
(Note it is possible of course to do various network installs with Red Hat, but in this example I’m just grabbing the large DVD iso.)
Screenshots of install:
When you first arrive at the desktop, notice that Red Hat is now using optional ‘Entitlement Certificates’ for your system as of 6.1. This is somewhat of a pain from the usual rhn_register command. At this point you can still do the rhn_register command to register your system for updates and the Entitlement Certificates are not required.
Below are screenshots of the default Workstation software menus for an idea of what software is available by default:
Some things that may need altering include the default browsing mode of Nautilus. Red Hat has left Nautilus with the Mac OS 9 style browser mode. Each folder you open opens in a new window. You might find yourself with tons of open windows to close after a few minutes if you are not aware of the flow. This is easy to change, but note that this is the default which you may want to be aware of for your end users.
Firefox 3.6 is included as the default web browser, which thankfully has a lot of the HTML5 compatibility built-in. It is not quite as savvy or fast as Firefox 4.x, though it should be fine for most all web browsing.
In Firefox, I wanted to see if Red Hat has built-in the automatic Flash installation that all of the other distributions have. I went to youtube to search for a funny cat video which of course you should never do at work… right?
Firefox prompted me to Install Missing Plugins. Ok, this is good…
But alas, no suitable plugins were found!
Attempting to follow the in-page Flash link to get Adobe Flash leads me to the Flash page with an available ‘YUM’ version, though it did not detect that I was using 64bit, but just gave me a regular Linux page. End users may be a bit puzzled on how to proceed here or may not even know what ‘yum’ or such is referring to.
Next I went to apple.com/trailers to see if any of the gstreamer plugins would kick in as is standard in other desktop Linux distributions.
Unfortunately all I was presented with was a generic Quicktime / iTunes download page for Windows. Apparently the totem-mozilla browser plugins are not present by default in Red Hat Workstation though this has been standard across all other major distros.
Red Hat Workstation 6.1 features OpenOffice.org 3.2.1 which is a great milestone version, though for a business or company the lack of widely used fonts may be a downside. It is of course able to open and work with documents created in other fonts but note that it substitutes its own font library to replace these when viewing the document.
The Add/Remove Software app seems to work ok for what software is available, though again I am not sure how often an employee or user of your company would be poking around to install software.
As with missing Flash (and/or an easy ability to install Flash), mp3 playback support, and such there is of course a lack of proprietary 3D drivers. Attempting to click on ‘Desktop Effects’ will again remind you of this.
I completely understand that Red Hat cannot legally distribute nvidia and AMD proprietary video card drivers, though Red Hat should automate or help make the connection for end users to easily obtain and install these.
Scientific workstations often use advanced GPU work with Nvidia CAD-type workstation graphics cards which are wonderfully supported in Linux by Nvidia. However, you are on your own to get the driver installed either by manual install or using third party community repositories.
Default Firewall Configuration
Red Hat Workstation 6.1 has the firewall enabled by default (yay!), allowing ssh as the only open service port. The included GUI for iptables is quite nice and easy to use.
Default running services
There are a ton of default running services and startup applications. It is odd to perhaps have bluetooth, raid, and others running if the machine doesn’t even have bluetooth or use raid. If this is mainly designed as a desktop workstation, I do not know of any desktop PCs that have bluetooth. Red Hat should not have this service running at all for this product.
Screenshots are below, though check out this list of default running services:
bluetooth (really, red hat?)
rhnsd (red hat network daemon)
rhsmcertd (red het entitlement certificates)
One other aspect to be aware of that is different from most other desktop distros is the default behavior of NetworkManager. At boot, the network is available but not connected. You must go to the network settings and check ‘connect automatically’ for your wired connection.
Other downsides: the 2.6.32 kernel does not have trim support for SSDs. Trim came present in the 2.6.33 kernel for the ext4 file system. Bummer. Also, support for ‘turbo boost’ mode of the popular i3/i5/i7 computers was introduced in the 2.6.33 kernel. That’s another bummer for desktop users.
Note that the lack of proprietary codecs and goodies are purely from a licensing and distribution standpoint. To provide a completely GPL product, Red Hat cannot ship with all of the desktop goodies. However, it is possible to provide an easy way for end users to install these items such as Ubuntu and other desktop Linux distros have done for the past 4-5 years. For example, Firefox should be able to self-install flash. The totem player should have a way to install needed codecs with user agreement. 3D drivers should be easy to install again with user agreement to terms and license. I am aware of the many community supported repos that offer all of this and more, though more direction or some kind of automated assistance from the Red Hat desktop to address this would change this from a good desktop Linux distro to a great desktop distro.
Ok that is it! Again, Red Hat’s most impressive features for running as a desktop distro for your company are the Red Hat Network web management interface and the wonderfully long support cycle. Imagine using the same standard desktop in your company for a 7 year support cycle.
Red Hat Workstation makes sense if your company uses mainly Firefox compatible web applications, general office and emailing, as well perhaps an in-house app or two. If you are willing to take time to customize the needed non-free components either with your own company repository or community provided repositories, Red Hat Enterprise Linux is a solid, secure, and reliable choice on the desktop.