The Good Excellent GNOME support; superb installation wizards; wealth of included applications; good font control; stable.
The Bad Setup remains daunting; manual partitioning necessary; OS doesn't recognize some video cards; weak configuration tool.
The Bottom Line Red Hat remains a solid Linux contender, but Windows switchers or dual-booters should stick with SuSE for easier installation.
Red Hat Linux 8.0 Professional
With its superb support for the GNOME environment and its wealth of included applications, Red Hat 8.0 continues its run at or near the top of the growing list of commercial Linux distributions. It has better font control than SuSE Linux 8.1 and comes with a superb e-mail client. But Red Hat 8.0 Professional, at about $150, costs nearly double the $75 SuSE Linux 8.1 Professional (though both Personal versions cost about the same), and it's tougher to install. Besides, Red Hat suffers more hardware-recognition quirks than SuSE. If you're looking for a Linux OS to put on your Windows desktop system, look to SuSE instead.With its superb support for the GNOME environment and its wealth of included applications, Red Hat 8.0 continues its run at or near the top of the growing list of commercial Linux distributions. It has better font control than SuSE Linux 8.1 and comes with a superb e-mail client. But Red Hat 8.0 Professional, at about $150, costs nearly double the $75 SuSE Linux 8.1 Professional (though both Personal versions cost about the same), and it's tougher to install. Besides, Red Hat suffers more hardware-recognition quirks than SuSE. If you're looking for a Linux OS to put on your Windows desktop system, look to SuSE instead.
Installation and setup
Red Hat 8.0 Professional's installation procedure hasn't changed a great deal from that of earlier versions. In other words, it's not as smooth as SuSE's, and it suffers from a greater number of interruptions and a less intuitive set of setup dialogs. Red Hat's extremely informative help panel offsets some of these difficulties, however, by walking you through choices such as how to partition the disk and which packages to install. Still, we greatly prefer SuSE's method, in which the OS automatically partitions your drive for you--no input necessary.
Unfortunately, on both of our test systems--a Compaq with a 1.1GHz Athlon and GeForce4 Ti 4200 card and an HP with a 500MHz Celeron and built-in video--the graphical user interface (GUI) failed to load on the first boot after installation. We've encountered this problem before with Linux distributions, and the glitch is almost always related to the PC's video card. In Red Hat's case, we had to boot twice on both machines before we could select the desired 1,280x1,024 resolution. Until then, we were trapped in 800x600 mode, where the fonts are truly unreadable (more on fonts later). SuSE 8.1, in contrast, handled both video cards without a hitch during setup.
Interface and ease of use
Where SuSE 8.1 offers the KDE 3.0.3 environment by default, Red Hat 8.0 opens with the leaner, more elegant GNOME desktop. GNOME's configuration tool offers fewer options than KDE's, but the options that it does provide, such as fairly simple display, audio, and networking choices, are very similar to those you'll find in Windows. Red Hat 8.0 hides the huge range of configuration options that Linux is known for, so it's much more palatable to anyone who's used to tweaking Windows, which also hides some details for the sake of usability. But Red Hat does let you set up the GNOME configuration tool to show more options, and you can switch to the KDE environment at boot-up time if you'd prefer to run KDE's more detailed configuration applet.
If you're used to Windows--especially if you use Microsoft's ClearType display--Linux fonts may appear appallingly thin and jagged. Red Hat, however, uses strong antialiasing to make desktop and application fonts look much smoother than in other Linux distributions, including SuSE Linux. Furthermore, Red Hat's Font Preference dialog lets you set the font rendering precisely as you wish and even offers a subpixel-smoothing option for LCDs. It's still no ClearType, but it's much closer than it was before. Fonts in Mozilla, however, still look as if they were written by someone shivering with cold.
Although KDE supports far more applications than GNOME, GNOME has some powerful programs. For example, Red Hat's default e-mailer, Ximian Evolution, includes a feature set that's comparable to that found in Microsoft Outlook and has no real equivalent in KDE. Nor did Ximian crash under Red Hat as it did in SuSE Linux 8.1.
Also, Red Hat 8.0 takes full advantage of GNOME's rich display and organizational capabilities--GNOME is known for its elegant, uncluttered display and easy-to-navigate menus--and it includes numerous graphics, audio, video, and other multimedia tools. In fact, like SuSE, Red Hat ships with a seemingly endless supply of powerful applications. Red Hat offers the increasingly popular OpenOffice 1.0.1 as its productivity suite, with KOffice 1.2 (SuSE's default) available for separate installation, as well. Beyond that, you'll find everything from strategy games to advanced server packages, as well as development tools and every conceivable type of utility bundled with the OS.
Service and support
As with most commercial Linux distributions, you'll get better support for Red Hat if you pay for it than if you download the free version. Red Hat backs the Personal version with 30 days of e-mail and online support for installation but no phone support. You'll also get 30 days of free access to the Red Hat Network, which automatic updates à la Windows, and a huge array of premium downloads. The Professional version gets you 60 days of unlimited phone support (9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday), e-mail and online support, and access to the Red Hat Network.
Ximian Evolution shows the Outlook-style interface, while the stylized buttons on the taskbar demonstrate Red Hat's new Bluecurve design.