Red Hat covers all bases

cOpen-source solutions are well-suited to today’s market conditions because they are typically more economical than commercial software and because they incorporate technological advances and bug fixes faster than their commercial counterparts, thanks to an open and ongoing development process.

In particular, the newly released Red Hat Linux 7.1 by Red Hat Inc. is a solid alternative in enterprise settings, especially when reducing costs is as important as increasing functionality. A number of improvements in Version 7.1 make this release of Red Hat Linux more compelling than ever.

For starters, IT managers can deploy Red Hat Linux onto all three tiers of the enterprise. The release supports hardware ranging from 486-based systems to SMP (symmetrical multiprocessing) platforms, covering everything from laptops and desktops to middle-tier servers and back-end database systems. In addition to working on newly deployed systems, Red Hat Linux can be used with existing hardware, allowing you to preserve past investments.

Red Hat Linux 7.1 compares favourably to rival solutions such as Windows 9x and Me, Windows NT, and Windows 2000. Even after factoring in the cost of software licensing, training, support and administration, Red Hat Linux lowers the investment needed to maintain server and end-user systems.

This release improves the cost/benefit ratio in several respects. It’s easier to install and use than Version 7.0, provides better support for laptops, adds new support for USB devices, and works with larger memory sizes and multiprocessor systems.

New security features, including multiple security levels and firewall configuration during setup, also add to the product’s value. Furthermore, upgrades to major system components, including the GNU Compiler Collection, the Mozilla open-source Web browser, and the Gnome and KDE graphical user interfaces, are solid improvements over the 7.0 release.

To put Red Hat Linux 7.1’s new capabilities to the test, we implemented it on all three enterprise tiers in our lab. On end-user, middle-tier, and back-end systems alike, the OS proved highly capable, flexible, and easy to set up, manage, and use, earning our Deploy recommendation.

Report from the front

Our test environment included a variety of systems, ranging from Windows 98 and Windows 2000 to Solaris and AS/400 (iSeries). Starting on the end-user side of the equation, we loaded Red Hat Linux on several Sony Vaio and Dell Latitude laptops. In addition, we installed the 7.1 release on several IBM, Dell and Compaq desktop systems.

We tried installing the OS onto the end-user machines directly from CD-ROM as well as via the network. The installation process correctly detected our hardware setups, including the USB devices we had installed. The automated setup procedure is easier than ever, and within a short time all our end-user systems were running without incident.

With our end-user hats on, we graphically accessed and executed applications as easily as on rival platforms. We could send and receive e-mails, surf the Web, create Microsoft Office-compatible documents, and share files, printers, and other network resources with other platforms on our test network. Even end-users unfamiliar with Linux would easily become productive with this release.

On to the middle tier

Next we turned our attention to the middle tier, loading Red Hat 7.1 onto several single-and dual-processor server-class machines. Here again, the automated installation routine made setup a breeze. Within 30 minutes, we had installed and configured fully functional servers capable of Web, application, file and print serving, requiring only a single reboot at the end of the process.

New and seasoned server administrators both will like the tools and solutions included in this release. For example, a new graphical interface made it a simple affair to set up the included Apache Web servers. We also liked the newly included Tux Web server, which proved a peppy performer.

Other tools allow you to graphically configure DNS services as well as printers (support is included for more than 500 printers). We quickly and easily configured some of our servers to support shared Internet access. Configuring other servers to access file systems on our non-Linux platforms was also straightforward.

Finally, we donned our database administrator hats and loaded the OS onto several quad-processor machines to support database operations for an e-commerce application. As with our end-user and middle-tier tests, we had no trouble setting up Red Hat Linux on our back-end systems.

We paired our back-end servers with Oracle and IBM databases in two separate rounds of testing. We were impressed with how easily we could integrate our database servers with our Web servers, including those on non-Linux platforms.

InfoWorld (U.S.) contributing Editor Maggie Biggs has more than 15 years of business and IT experience in mixed platform enterprise settings. E-mail her at

Review box:

Red Hat Linux 7.1

Supplier: Red Hat Inc.

Price: US$40, standard edition; US$80, Deluxe Workstation; US$160, Professional Server

Platform: Intel hardware, Compaq Alpha

Pros: Economical; easy to set up; added security measures; improvements for laptops; new USB and device support; good interoperability

Cons: None that are significant