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For example, while GNOME 2.30 was released earlier this year, it's not part of the default RHEL 6 installation. RHEL 6 is based around Gnome 2.28. While RHEL isn't technically based on any single version of its free cousin Fedora, its desktop installation most closely resembles Fedora 12)

Likewise, common Gnome applications lag somewhat behind the current shipping versions - Firefox is stuck at 3.5, OpenOffice is at 3.1 and Evolution is at 2.28.

Red Hat has also gone the conservative route with a number of other GNOME packages, for example, opting for Pidgin over the less mature, but more feature-rich Empathy, which has largely replaced Pidgin in Fedora, Ubuntu and other desktop distros. You also won't find extras like the Shotwell photo manager or "broadcast" clients like Gwibber.

While many common software packages haven't been updated to the latest releases that's to be expected from a conservative distro like RHEL, which has always erred on the side of stability rather than newest features.

RHEL 6 does include the same Nvidia hardware drivers found in recent Fedora releases, so while the package system may lag a little, the range of supported video cards is on par with any other distro.

Performance on the desktop matched what we've seen in recent releases of Fedora and Ubuntu - snappy even on somewhat dated hardware.

RHEL typically ends up on servers and there's good news to be found in the standard LAMP server stack. Just about everything is close to the latest stable version -- Perl 5.10, PHP 5.3, Apache 2.2 and MySQL 5. There's also built-int support for the latest Ruby on Rails 3.0.

Python remains at version 2.6 - it would be nice to have a parallel installable Python 3.x, which Fedora has included in the last two release - but otherwise, the server software stack is much more up-to-date than the RHEL desktop.

Red Hat is also touting some impressive power saving features in this release. Some of these come from kernel improvements others are more specific to RHEL optimizations. Several of the major improvements in energy efficiency are also part of the recent RHEL 5.4 and 5.5 that enjoy a 25 per cent energy savings over earlier releases in the 5.x line. Impressively, the new RHEL 6 gains yet another 25 per cent improvement in energy efficiency.

While that's nice for small server setups and even home users, the energy savings can be huge for larger data centers, which is one of Red Hat's major target markets.

System Admins get some new tools in RHEL 6, most notably the new service System Security Services Daemon (SSSD), which provides central management of identities. SSSD also has the ability to cache credentials for offline use, handy if you're managing a large number of laptops that often leave the local network.

CentOS option

RHEL is not for everyone. It isn't free, nor does it have much to offer the desktop user that can't be found elsewhere for free. However, if you're looking for a stable, no frills desktop RHEL 6 does fit the bill.

For those who don't want the level of support you're paying for with RHEL, CentOS is essentially the same thing, save the support option. However, CentOS typically lags a couple of months behind RHEL releases, which means CentOS 6 probably won't be out until early next year.

For Red Hat's corporate and enterprise customers the upgrade to 6.0 will be an important one, particularly for those that need the virtualization and hardware support improvements, and while RHEL 5.5 still has plenty of life left in it, RHEL 6 is already paving the way to 2020. ®

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