Red Hat recently released version 7 of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), the latest release of the most used Linux enterprise desktop. Since the release of RHEL 6 in 2010, Linux in general and Fedora (RHEL’s testing ground) specifically have changed a lot.
Some notable changes of Fedora include GNOME 3 and the new Anaconda installer. Both of these items were controversial when first introduced. Many users stated that GNOME 3 and its search-oriented Activities View was too different from what enterprise users would expect, and the Anaconda installer was too confusing for just about anyone to use. Both of these items are included in RHEL 7.
So it’s worth asking: is RHEL as usable as it’s always been? Are the improvements worth the upgrade? Let’s take a look.
What’s Red Hat Enterprise Linux?
For those who don’t know, RHEL is the enterprise desktop and server that is Red Hat’s bread and butter. It’s based off of releases of Fedora – the community-maintained, Red Hat-backed distribution that’s free for everyone.
RHEL places a high importance on stability, since it’s meant to be used on mission-critical systems. The stability and support that Red Hat offers has made it be the top choice for an enterprise Linux operating system.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, you can download an evaluation copy of RHEL 7 for yourself once the operating system has been released as stable – it’s free, sort of. You can use this copy as long as you want, but you won’t be receiving any updates, nor will you have a full selection of software.
If it’s still at the release candidate (RC) stage when you read this, then you’ll want to go to Red Hat’s FTP servers to download it. The same limitations apply to the RC, so this won’t enable anything extra.
When you search through their FTP server, click on the Client, Server, or Workstation folders, choose your computer’s architecture (which is 64-bit only for client and workstation), and then choose the iso folder. You’ll want the *-dvd.iso file — in other words, the biggest one in the list.
Recent Fedora releases include changes to Anaconda, the longtime go-to Linux installer for Red Hat and related distros. Users weren’t thrilled with the changes, and it crashed a lot. Fedora users will find the layout familar, for good and ill. The “Continue” button, for example, is on the top left corner rather than the bottom right – ignoring convention.
Honestly, besides some Red Hat-specific graphics, it’s about the same visually as Fedora’s controversial installer. It seems stable – improvements seem to be under the hood. Recent Fedora releases saw a lot of bugs that caused installations to fail or make the installer generally slow, but I didn’t see any of that during my tests with RHEL 7.
Worried about Gnome 3? Don’t be.
Although RHEL 7 comes with GNOME 3, it’s actually a very usable experience. This is because the distribution uses GNOME’s Classic Desktop mode rather than the normally-default GNOME Shell interface. The interface is reminiscent of the old GNOME 2 desktop, with Applications and Places menus in the top-left corner.
You can still access the Activities view introduced in Gnome 3 from Classic Desktop mode, but it’s not the only option.
Red Hat also made some slight modifications to make the desktop more usable by enterprise users. For example: GNOME 3 only has one button on all windows, the close button. All others were taken away, because the developers felt that they were not really needed. Red Hat added those buttons back, which in my opinion is the right thing to do with corporate users in mind.
Of course, like any new major release of a distribution (especially RHEL), there’s a boatload of vastly newer software included. For example, it now includes kernel 3.10 rather than 2.6.32, LibreOffice 22.214.171.124 rather than OpenOffice, and MariaDB instead of MySQL. Long story short, it’s worth the upgrade for the newer software alone, because they all include plenty of new features and hardware support.
The software repositories probably won’t be much larger than they’ve historically been – Red Hat usually takes Fedora’s repositories and takes out all of the packages that Red Hat thinks won’t be useful or relevant to enterprise users.
Besides all of these improvements (most of which we mentioned are visible), there are a lot of other additions behind the scenes.
For example, hard drives are now formatted with the XFS filesystem by default rather than ext4 to enable support for volumes up to 500TB, SAMBA 4.1 for improved Microsoft interoperability, support for 40Gb Ethernet, improved subsystem management through OpenLMI, and the ability to migrate virtual machines from RHEL 6 to RHEL 7 real-time.
It’s a lot of features regular users absolutely will not need, but it can make life easier for large corporate setups.
So is RHEL 7 still as good as previous RHEL releases? Absolutely. Despite that changes found in GNOME 3 and Anaconda, they’re still very usable by enterprise users and shouldn’t deter anyone from considering getting RHEL 7.
Do you have any systems on RHEL? How do you see CentOS, the former RHEL clone, evolving with the next release of RHEL? Let us know in the comments!