Red Hat Linux Desktop

<font color="CC0000">|GCN Lab</font> Reviewer's Choice|

Pros: Highly secure across the enterprise

Cons: Can only be purchased in lots of 10 or 50; requires dedicated administration

Price: $2,500 for Proxy Server Pack with 10 licenses, $13,500 for Satellite Starter Pack with 50 licenses

Features: A

Value: B

Security: A

Ease of use: B+

If Windows is a family sedan and basic Linux is an armored car, then Red Hat Linux Desktop is a mainline battle tank.

Using the Security-Enhanced Linux subsystem, this version of Linux looks at security on a program-to-program basis and not a user-to-user one. This means that an admin can set the security levels and permissions of an individual program on the network regardless of who the user is. A word processor, for example, may be able to do basic functions and save and load files to a local disk, but be restricted from accessing network drives or running macros. And default settings can be configured so that if a virus should arrive, it will find itself restricted and unable to do anything outside the security protocols, such as replicating itself throughout the network.

This does mean that if an individual user wants to do something special with a program on a Red Hat Linux Desktop, the administrator is probably going to have to specifically allow it. Thankfully, this does not require a visit to the desktop.

All control over the Linux enterprise network is given to the administrator, who can run almost everything from a central command system. Once the OS is installed on a local machine, users will probably rarely see the administrator again.

And all these management features the administrator is controlling work with a Web-based interface. The admin can manage and troubleshoot an individual desktop from this interface or a group of desktops, or every desktop on the network running the enterprise OS. Those of you familiar with Linux will know that this managing console can be launched from Red Hat's own servers to simplify the process, so you don't need to set up a local management server. But since most government agencies will want to have everything in-house, you can set it up yourself, which we did for our review.

From the user point of view, the desktop is enough like Windows that they probably won't take too long to get up to speed. For instance, there is an Applications button you press that opens up a window of installed programs, a la the Windows Start menu.

The main problem we encountered was using peripherals. In a test with a fairly standard printer, a key drive and an external CD-ROM drive, only the printer went completely smoothly in a Windows plug-and-play way. The OS could recognize the key drive but could not install it, which required us to go to the vendor's Web page and find a proper Linux driver.

We were out of luck with the CD-ROM drive'the OS had no idea what to do with it and no drivers could be found. We tried using generic drivers but were never able to get it working. It would be a good idea to take inventory of not only system components but also any peripherals your users need to ensure they work with Linux Desktop.

Connecting to a Windows network was not too difficult, although it's best left to an administrator. Done properly, which requires a little bit of work on both the Linux and the Windows side, it gives users the look and feel of the Windows Network Neighborhood. Once the proper permissions are configured, users can transfer files back and forth between the Linux desktop and shared folders on Windows network systems. The OS also supports Windows Terminal Services and, should you need it, Citrix server for remote user access.

The pricing structure is a little bit odd, since the minimum you can purchase is 10 copies at a time. Because this is enterprise software it makes sense that you need an enterprise environment, but there are workgroups out there smaller than 10 users. Still, if your paramount concern is security and you don't mind having to retrain your users a bit, this is your best choice.

Red Hat Corp., Raleigh, N.C., (919) 754-3700,


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