First Look: Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5

Two years in the making, RHEL 5 is finally ready. The result? With Xen, SELinux, the Red Hat Global File System, and more, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 raises the bar for commercial Linux. We break down the new features and walk you through creating your first virtual machine.

A Tale of Two Distros

Up until 2003 and culminating with the release of Red Hat 9 Linux, Red Hat’s Linux distribution attempted to be all things to all people. The same software would power an enterprise server and serve as a toy for a Linux hobbyist. Obviously, those two customers have different expectations and requirements, so subsequent releases of Red Hat’s Linux were bifurcated: Red Hat Enterprise Linux was suited for corporate users, and (the on- and off-again endorsed) Fedora Linux was tailored to hobbyists and single desktops. Organizations that wanted to deploy Linux on desktops could buy such a version, but only in packages of five or more licenses.

With the launch of RHEL5, you will be able to buy a single RHEL5 client desktop if you wish. Nick Carr, a Red Hat Marketing Manager, noted that Red Hat is seeing steady growth of Linux on the desktop as various companies find that Linux is good enough for and the cost savings are hard to beat.

There are three key differences between the server and desktop versions of RHEL5:

  1. The server version supports a greater range of CPUs;

  2. The client version is less expensive; and

  3. The client version does not include a number of server applications. For example, the client version of RHEL5 does not include (nor does Red Hat support) an anonymous FTP service.

Even if the client version is watered down, the RHEL5 client distro is far more secure than the Microsoft options and can tie seamlessly into the Red Hat Global File System and a virtualized server farm. Red Hat estimates that one Linux administrator can support 500 to 1,000 Linux desktops; other desktop solutions require one person for each 125 to 150 desktop computers.

Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!

So, what does RHEL5 feel like? Let’s find out.

The minimum system requirements for RHEL5 are similar to those for its predecessor, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4: an Intel Pentium III or faster processor, 256 MB RAM, and 4 GB of free disk space. The recommended system requirements are Pentium IV or better, 512 MB of RAM or more, and at least 6 GB of free disk space. Of course, full virtualization depends on the capabilities of your processor. Only the more recent Pentium IV and AMD equivalent CPUs support full virtualization.

If you are upgrading a machine to RHEL 5, it’s wise to take the standard precautions: backup all files of any value, and verify the contents of the backup before you proceed. By default, RHEL5 deletes and overwrites any other Linux install it finds on your machine, so better be safe than sorry.

The install of RHEL5 is very straightforward. The graphical install program Anaconda is sufficient to perform a basic install. When the installer begins, it prompts for your language, your keyboard preference, and your Red Hat Installation Number. The latter is supplied with the software. Continuing, supply a root password, and then partition the hard drive. By default, the installer creates only a root partition and a swap partition, which is asking for trouble. Fortunately, the defaults can easily be overridden — just follow the instructions on screen to organize the disk to your liking.

Next, either assign an IP number or choose DHCP to acquire an IP number. Typically, servers are assigned IP numbers manually, while clients usually depend on DHCP. The last step is to set your timezone — from here, Anaconda does its job. How long this takes depends on the speed of your machine. On a slow machine, you may want to enjoy a long lunch. After the basic install completes, you can elect the services to run on the computer, select an SELinux policy, and set up at least one user account for tasks that don’t require root access.

After installation, RHEL5 readily detects new hardware on reboot and automatically configures almost anything you add on. Generally helpful, you may still have to make manual changes. For instance, RHEL5 detected a second network interface card after it was installed; however, the second card was configured identically to the first.

Next: Creating a Virtual Machine

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