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September 30, 2002

Red Hat 8.0 Arrives

Posted by Mike on September 30, 2002 2:14 PM

Red Hat 8's release is already making the ever-vocal fringe unhappy as it courts the desktop crowd.

Red Hat 8.0 came out today:

Common thread:

The desktop fixation isn't going to abate any time soon. Red Hat's more modest than its fans in this case, saying its newest release will make a great "single user workstation" (as opposed to a widespread corporate desktop for 'normal users'), with Eric Troan of RHAT weakly noting that "Linux has really cool photoediting tools," which I think we're supposed to read as the GIMP.

In fact, the reviewers seem more interested in pushing it as a desktop solution than Red Hat, with OS News pulling the interesting stunt of not only asking if it's a "Windows killer" (an evil slur reviewers in the cheap seats have been pushing since Caldera slapped Tetris in its installer) despite Red Hat's perfectly reasonable demurrals, but then going on to tear it up because it isn't while spending a 'graf saying "Oh, yeah... it might make a good server." OS News wouldn't know, of course, because that's out of the reviewer's league.

This release is also the subject of much anger among many because of the unification of GNOME and KDE under a common theme and menu structure, plus the subordination of a few KDE apps (such as kMail and konqueror) to GNOME or non-KDE apps like Evolution and Mozilla.

It's also an unpleasant reminder that "Linux people" aren't what they used to be: complaining over system defaults from self-styled power users indicates a certain thinning of the blood. Don't like them? Change them to suit you. Unless Red Hat's figured out a way to keep you from getting root on your own machine, you're the boss. Don't you have bigger fish to fry than spending a month crying all over message boards about something it takes five minutes to correct?

The answer to that, unfortunately, is "no."

People who remember the period during which Linux and "Open Source" software began to truly explode into public awareness also remember a lot of claims made by the most feckless Linux advocates:

Microsoft was "in a death spiral," KDE and GNOME were going to crush Windows, Mozilla was going to drive Internet Explorer from the Web, and the public would wake from the long nightmare of Microsoft dominance to embrace The Revolution.

And at that time, the loudest, most motivated zealots began the process of examining each release of every distribution or major application not as a question of how good it was on its own merits, or how much it advanced the state of the art, but how well it served the purpose of crushing Microsoft once and for all. Linux stopped being a thing unto itself... a kernel and predictable software inventory, and became instead an agent for computing salvation: there is but one OS, and the distributions are its prophets. To the extent one of those prophets fails in its mission to destroy Windows, it is flawed and despised.

Red Hat, of course, will never win with these people: it's popular and successful (which provokes a lot of tortured reasoning about its likelihood to become "the next Microsoft"), it backed GNOME when the Qt licensing holy war was raging, and while it is happy to peddle eyecandy to the desktop set, it will likely never move past anemic assertions about its own worth as a "single user workstation" because its executives don't want to be jeered as starry-eyed fanatics by the very large and skeptical mass of people who have listened to the Linux-on-the-desktop pitch, perhaps even tried it out, and rejected it. There's nothing a zealot hates worse than a prophet who isn't sufficiently zealous.