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Linux vs. Windows installation comparo, Part 3

Next at bat is Red Hat 8.0. Can Linux take a 3-0 Installation World Series lead over Windows?

(LinuxWorld) — Prior to Susan starting her first Linux installation, I had prepared the Sony Vaio laptop so that it was in the same state it had been for her installation of Windows XP. All partitions on the hard drive were removed, the Netgear PCMCIA NIC was installed, and the USB IBM PC Camera was attached. Just as I did for XP, I placed the installation CD in the drive and powered the unit down. All she needed to do to start the installation was power it on.

I need to point out that Susan, who is smart but is not a computer-system administrator, was not installing a retail version of the newest Red Hat. Version 8.0 had not yet appeared on local store shelves when we conducted the test, so I downloaded the three ISO images from a site in Ireland. I tried to download them from Red Hat first, but even after subscribing to Red Hat Network, the speed was too slow. I guess that is just the way it is after a new release. Everyone and her brother wants the free version... and right now, thank you very much.

Susan powered it up and the laptop began to boot from the CD. Advisory windows appeared, informing her that USB drivers were being loaded and PCMCIA devices were being initialized.

Defaults rule & avoid 'the look'

The rules for the installation were the same as before: defaults rule. If a choice was offered and a default given, the default was taken. If a choice is offered, there is no default and Susan doesn't know what to do, she can ask me for guidance. The only exception to the above would be a case in which she knew that the default is wrong without asking.

The next screen to appear asked if she would like to test the installation CDs before proceeding. Not only was that choice the default action, it is a good idea. In a solo run I made the day before, it detected that one of the CDs I had burned was bad.

One at a time, each of the three CDs was tested. The process of checking them took about 5 minutes each. During this period, Susan commented that the Red Hat installation was "not as pretty as Windows XP." She noted that the block letters and text windows made it look very much like something you would see in DOS.

As the check completed for each CD, the screen went blank for about 15 seconds without any indication of what was happening. Not good. Not as bad (or nearly as long) as similar periods during the XP installation, but still a point of concern.

At the 16-minute mark, all three CDs had been checked, and Susan dutifully placed the first CD back in the drive. The next few minutes kept her busier than she had been in the XP installation.

Anaconda started up to determine what sort of hardware on which Red Hat Linux would be installed. Then the Red Hat installation screen appeared. I told Susan to just hit Enter to proceed. She gave me "the look" and reminded me that I was not supposed to be guiding her through the process. She also suggested that I sit quietly and take notes, but not to speak unless spoken to. I'm not the brightest bulb on the tree, but I know enough to follow all directions given immediately after "the look."

Susan then clicked on Next about nine times in a row, accepting the defaults for Language Selection, Keyboard, mouse, Installation Type, disk partitioning, boot loader, network configuration, security and additional language-support. The suggested Installation Type was a new one for Red Hat called "Personal Desktop." One choice from the past — for laptop installations — was no longer there.

Next, she was asked to enter a root password and add a user. She has shared laptops with me in the past, so the concept of different users on the same computer was not new to her. Then she was asked to accept the default list of applications for the Personal Desktop installation. That list included the GNOME environment, Open Office, the Mozilla Web browser, the Evolution mail client, instant messaging, sound and video players and games. She voted a straight-ticket and accepted all the defaults.

The actual installation of the selected packages began 22 minutes into the installation. There wasn't much to do as packages were being loaded except read the infomercials that appear and watch the estimated time of completion change. The estimated time, by the way, is not reliable until the last few minutes. It begins with an estimated completion only ten minutes away. But the longer the installation runs the further you have to go, peaking at an estimate of over 20 minutes to go. Then it begins to drop until the estimated and actual come into sync.

Susan was prompted for CD No. 2 (we never needed CD No. 3) and placed it in the drive. Finally, 57 minutes into the installation, she completed the package installations. Susan was then prompted to create a boot disk, but since the laptop does not have a floppy drive, she was forced to bypass that step.

Next came the video configuration. Red Hat identified the video as an 8-megabyte S3 Savage/MX card and Susan hit Enter to accept. Next came the monitor. Red Hat said it is unprobed and suggested 31.5-48.5 KHz for horizontal, and 50-70 Hz for vertical. Who were we to argue? Susan hit Enter again. Ditto for the 16-color at 1024x768 resolution.

One hour and three minutes after beginning, Susan clicks on Exit and the installation completes with its first and only reboot. When Red Hat appears again it is at a welcome screen. Susan checks to make sure the date and time were correct. They are. She then tests the sound configuration. It works fine.

I asked Susan to try the browser to make sure that she was connected to the Internet. She was. Then I have her start xawtv to make sure the USB camera was working. It worked just fine.

Using my new Red Hat Network subscription, Susan logged in and created an entitlement for the laptop. There were no updates available for Red Hat 8.0. Since it wouldn't be fair to make a comparison of update times against a brand new OS release versus one that has been on the market awhile, we used the Red Hat 7.3 update time rather than that for 8.0 for purposes of comparison.

The boxscore

Elapsed time is the easiest comparison to make. Red Hat easily wins in this category with a time of 106 minutes versus 160 minutes. That's amazing since it includes a 15-minute penalty (the time required to verify the downloaded ISOs were good). And a complete office suite as well. While the Windows XP installation didn't even include a word processor (note: the W2K installation did), Red Hat 8.0 installed Open Office 1.0, which includes a spreadsheet, word processor, presentation tool, drawing program and project-management tool.

Susan gave Windows the nod for being "prettier." Ease of installation? She thought that was almost a toss-up. Installing the OS itself was a little easier for XP since she didn't have to stop and answer nearly as many questions as she did during the Red Hat installation. Yes, in almost every case she simply took the default, but still it added a bit of stress and reduced the "ease" of installation when she accepted something without understanding what it was.

 Windows 2000Windows XPRed Hat 7.3Red Hat 8.0
Basic Installation0:421:030:521:03
Office Suite0:03 0:000:00
Total Time2:052:201:351:46
CD swaps8234
* We show the same update time for Red Hat 8.0 as we did for Red Hat 7.3 because there were no updates for 8.0 at the time we did the installation.

The klunky update process under Windows XP and the fact that extra work was still required to get the NIC and the camera working were what tilted the results in Red Hat's favor. She had to ask her sysadmin for help with those parts of the XP installation. With Red Hat, the NIC was configured and the system was Internet ready. Ditto with the USB IBM PC camera. No action at all on her part was required to get either working. Red Hat sensed and installed both devices.

A disclaimer: Linux and Red Hat installations do not always go so easily, and they can be a real pain when devices are not recognized correctly. My point is a Red Hat 8.0 installation might be quite different on your system. On the other hand, the same can be said of Windows installations.

When I bought the PCMCIA card for the Vaio, I made sure it was supported on Linux before I purchased it. That's always a good idea regardless of the platform. The USB camera is a different story. Susan saw it marked down to $10 at Wal-Mart and we got it without knowing whether it would work with Linux.

The bottom line? Another win for Red Hat Linux. It is the smoothest and easiest Red Hat installation I've seen yet. Not perfect by any means, but definitely better. Chalk this victory up to a big advantage in time and a narrow margin for ease of installation. If Microsoft had a better mechanism for applying updates, it could have been a different story.

Next up in this round-robin shootout is Mandrake 9.0. The question then will be who will take the Linux (and the overall) crown for best installation.

More Stories By Joe Barr

Joe Barr is a freelance journalist covering Linux, open source and network security. His 'Version Control' column has been a regular feature of Linux.SYS-CON.com since its inception. As far as we know, he is the only living journalist whose works have appeared both in phrack, the legendary underground zine, and IBM Personal Systems Magazine.

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