Red Hat 8.0 Coming Monday

By Jacqueline Emigh

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Red Hat 8.0 is scheduled to be formally released on Sept. 30 and many in the Linux user community are watching the development of the new "Bluecurve" desktop design very closely.

In the retail edition of Red Hat that's coming out this Monday, the Linux vendor is replacing the traditional GNOME interface with Bluecurve, a Red Hat-created GUI theme combining elements of both GNOME and KDE, the major rival to GNOME (see Figures 1 and 2).

Bluecurve, the controversial new GUI in Red Hat 8.0, looks likely to appear in Red Hat Advanced Server, too, possibly with a few tweaks by Red Hat, but only if it scores points with users of Red Hat 8.0.

Depending on user reaction to 8.0, Red Hat will also consider rolling Bluecurve into the next edition of Advanced Server, set for release some time between May and November of next year, said Erik Troan, Red Hat's director of product marketing.

Red Hat won't need to look too far for user feedback. "The Linux community is vocal," Troan noted. Ultimately, though, 8.0 will face user surveys and focus groups. "We're waiting to see whether customers give [Bluecurve] a 'thumbs up,' or a 'thumbs down.' We'll include a new user interface in Advanced Server whenever it's ready for the enterprise," according to Troan.

Refuting industry speculation that Red Hat is trying to move into the desktop mass market, Troan said he doesn't expect 8.0 to make much of a dent in the overall Windows space, despite its new GUI. According to statistics from IDC, Red Hat's share of the retail pie climbed about 50 percent from 2000 to 2001.

Still, Red Hat's share remains "miniscule" compared to Microsoft's, Troan admitted. The 8.0 edition "won't be for your typical Microsoft Office/AOL user." Red Hat does hope to gain more ground, though, among technical users and other "single users" from both the Unix and Windows sides of the fence. "Single users" of 8.0 might range all the way from call center managers and Lotus Notes administrators to Wall Street analysts and photo editors, he illustrated. "Linux has some really cool photo editing apps."

Red Hat's current research shows that about 34 percent of its retail customers use Red Hat at home, 13 percent use Red Hat at work, and 50 percent use the product in both places.

"So 85 percent are using Red Hat at home, to some degree," Troan pointed out. From that information, the company concludes that many customers are "training themselves on Linux" outside of the work setting.

"We're not trying to create a 'third user interface,'" Troan added, again denying some industry buzz. Instead, 8.0 is aimed at "a consistent look and feel [which is] 'polished' and more '3D.'"

"We didn't want to use just GNOME and get KDE users upset. We didn't want to use just KDE and get GNOME users upset. Instead, we combined the two, and got everyone upset," he quipped.

Red Hat has created a "KDE-like theme for GNOME, and a GNOME-like theme for KDE," said Brian Stevens, Red Hat's senior director of engineering. Users can install either GNOME, KDE, or both GUIs.

With the KDE default configuration, customers will get "mainly KDE apps." With the GNOME default configuration, they'll get "mainly GNOME apps." Customers installing both KDE and GNOME, though, will be able to pick and choose from among all apps included in the package, Stevens said.

"We've also worked on things like the menus and toolbars in GNOME and KDE, to make them more uniform," according to Stevens.Red Hat isn't the only company to be taking a new look at the Linux desktop lately. Sun has also been talking about a Linux desktop strategy, both at LinuxWorld last month and at the SunNetwork conference last week.

Sun's Linux OS though, is merely a "Sun-ification" of Red Hat's 7.x distributions, according to Troan. Furthermore, Red Hat has not been involved with the development of Sun's distribution to any degree, Troan said.

"We've been curious as to what Sun might come up with--to see if there might be something compelling that we've overlooked--but there really hasn't been anything new from Sun," according to Troan.

"Sun is trying to use Linux to save its hardware business," he charged. "They make a big deal out of bundling Linux software free of charge with their hardware. I'm not at all sure, though, that people are going to be willing to pay for Sun's hardware, just to get free software."

Meanwhile, Red Hat has produced a product known as Advanced Workstation, which is being sold exclusively with IA-64 hardware from HP, a long-time Sun competitor.

Red Hat is currently developing a IA-32 version of Advanced Workstation, Troan acknowledged. "We'll probably open up the IA-32 edition to other hardware makers, too," he predicted.

Red Hat 8.0 is available in both personal and professional editions. In both editions, Red Hat is providing the 8.0 OS on a five-CD set. Professional Edition includes two extra CDs plus additional documentation. One of the extra CDs contains OpenOffice and other apps. The other CD is for systems administration tools.

The OpenOffice suite includes document, presentation, and spreadsheet apps. Red Hat is also offering a wide gamut of mail clients. Aside from updated editions of the Sendmail and Samba clients, choices include Konqueror; Kmail; Galeon; Ximian Evolution, a mail client application with an integrated contact manager and scheduler; and Mozilla, an Internet browser packaged with a mail client, address book, and HTML authoring environment.

In GNOME's default configuration, Red Hat uses Mozilla instead of Galeon. In KDE's default configuration, Mozilla appears in place of Konqueror, and Evolution in place of Kmail.

Built into 8.0, as well, is Ximian Connector, for accessing Microsoft Exchange tools from Linux desktops.

Red Hat has updated the core components of its OS to gcc3.2 and kernel 2.4.18. Other components of the new release include Apache 2.0 Web server, plus updates to the Sendmail and Samba servers; NFS; FTP; DNS; BIND; and the Squid Web proxy server.

Administrators are getting tools for configuring peripherals, personal firewalls, small networks, and servers such as Apache and Samba.

MSRP is $39.95 for the Personal Edition of Red Hat 8.0 and $149.95 for the Professional Edition.