To distinguish themselves from other versions of Linux, each distribution adds some extra features. Because many power features included in most Linux distributions come from established open source projects (such as Apache, Samba, KDE, and so on), often enhancements for a particular distribution exist to make it easier to install, configure, and use Linux. Also, because there are different software packages available to do the same jobs (such as window managers or a particular server type), a distribution can distinguish itself by which packages it chooses to include and feature.
Red Hat Linux traditionally has set itself apart from other Linux distributions with these features:
Software packaging — Red Hat, Inc. created the Red Hat Package Management (RPM) method of packaging Linux. RPMs allow less technically savvy users to easily install Linux software. With RPM tools, you can install from CD, hard disk, over your LAN, or over the Internet. It's easy to track which packages are installed or to look at the contents of a package. Because RPM is available to the Linux community, it has become one of the de facto standards for packaging Linux software.
Chapter 5 describes how to install RPM packages.
Easy installation — The Red Hat Linux installation process (called anaconda) provides easy steps for installing Linux. During installation, Red Hat also helps you take the first few steps toward configuring Linux. You can choose which packages to install and how to partition your hard disk. You can even get your desktop GUI ready to go by configuring your video card, user accounts, and even your network.
Chapter 2 covers Red Hat Linux installation.
UNIX System V–style run-level scripts — To have your system services (daemon processes) start up and shut down in an organized way, Red Hat Linux uses the UNIX System V mechanism for starting and stopping services. Shell scripts (that are easy to read and change) are contained in subdirectories of /etc. When the run level changes, such as when the system boots up or you change to single-user mode, messages tell you whether each service started correctly or failed to execute properly. Chapter 12 describes how to use run-level scripts.
Desktop environments (GNOME and KDE) — To make it easier to use Linux, Red Hat Linux comes packaged with GNOME and KDE desktop environments. GNOME is installed by default and offers some nice features that include drag-and-drop protocols and tools for configuring the desktop look and feel. KDE is another popular desktop manager that includes a wide range of tools tailored for the KDE environment, such as the KDE Control Center for configuring the desktop.
Desktop look-and-feel — With the latest Red Hat Linux distributions, whether you use KDE or GNOME as your desktop environment, you can expect to see many of the same icons and menus to help standardize how you use your Red Hat Linux system. Tools you can launch from those environments help you configure your network, set up servers, watch log files, and manage system services.
GUI Administration tools — There are some helpful Red Hat configuration tools for setting up some of the trickier tasks in Linux. Several different GUI tools provide a graphical, form-driven interface for configuring networking, users, file systems, and initialization services. Instead of creating obtuse command lines or having to create tricky configuration files, these graphical tools can set up those files automatically.
There are advantages and disadvantages of using a GUI-based program to manipulate text-based configuration files. GUI-based configuration tools can lead you through a setup procedure and error-check the information you enter. However, some features can't be accessed through the GUI, and if something goes wrong, it can be trickier to debug. With Linux, you have the command-line options available as well as the GUI administration tools.
Testing — The exact configuration that you get on a Red Hat Linux distribution has been thoroughly tested by experts around the world. The simple fact that a software package is included in the Red Hat Linux distribution is an indication that Red Hat believes it has achieved a certain level of quality. Although Fedora Core will transition to a community-based approach to testing, at least for the first release Fedora Core was put through the same basic testing process as previous versions of Red Hat Linux.
Automatic updates — The software packages that make up Red Hat Linux are constantly being fixed in various ways. To provide a mechanism for the automatic selection, download, and installation of updated software packages, Red Hat created the Red Hat Network. Using the Red Hat Network Web site or the up2date command, you can receive critical security fixes and patches very simply over the Internet. Fedora Core still allows automatic updates through Red Hat Network for the time being.