Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 features and benefits

Red Hat® Enterprise Linux® 4, released in February 2005, provides significant technology enhancements over the version 3 release.

Areas of specific development include improvements in security capabilities, increased server performance and scalability, and enhanced desktop capabilities—all while ensuring a high level of compatibility with prior releases. Red Hat Enterprise Linux supports a wide range hardware and software applications, and is the world's leading enterprise-focused Linux environment.

The following section outlines a few of the major new features in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4:

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Linux 2.6 kernel infrastructure

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 provides the most stable and robust commercial product based on the Linux community's 2.6.9 kernel. Open source projects like Fedora provided an environment for the Linux 2.6 kernel to mature significantly during 2004. As a result, the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 kernel offers numerous improvements over earlier kernels, including many enhanced algorithms and features:

  • Generic logical CPU scheduler: Handles multicore and hyperthreaded CPUs.

  • Object-based reverse mapping VM: Improved performance in memory-constrained systems.

  • Read-copy-update: SMP algorithm optimization for operating system data structures.

  • Multiple I/O schedulers: Selectable based on the application environment.

  • Enhanced SMP and NUMA support: Improved performance and scalability for large servers.

  • Network interrupt mitigation (NAPI): Improved performance for heavy network loads.

Improved storage and file system capabilities

Numerous enhancements have been incorporated into Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 that improve the scalability and performance of the data storage subsystems, including:

  • Ext3 performance: Block reservations and hash tree directories improve the performance of read/write I/O and directory scanning operations.

  • Ext3 scalability: Dynamic file system expansion and file system sizes up to 8TB are now supported.

  • Logical Volume Management: A comprehensive update to the LVM provides new features such as read/write snapshots and transactional metadata updates, along with a flexible new management GUI. Mirroring and enhanced multipathing are scheduled for delivery by mid 2005.

  • Scalability: Enhanced storage LUN management makes it possible to configure much larger storage subsystems.

  • Automounting: The inclusion of AutoFSv4 provides sophisticated device access control, supporting features such as browsable mounts and replicated servers.

  • Cost reduction: Support for Serial ATA disk storage provides increased performance, higher densities, and reduced cost per megabyte over traditional IDE devices.

New security capabilities

Provision of sophisticated security capabilities has been a specific development focus of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 release. New features include:

  • Mandatory Access Control: Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux) provides a MAC infrastructure that complements the existing Discretionary Access Control security features provided by the standard Linux environment. In a MAC-based environment, application capabilities and privileges are set by predefined policies and enforced by the kernel. This prevents errant applications from compromising system security.

  • Memory management enhancements: Several features, including Exec Shield and Position Independent Executables, combine to prevent applications from being exploited by attacks such as buffer overflows.

  • Compile and runtime consistency checking: New buffer validation techniques in the GCC compiler and Glibc library greatly reduce the risk of faulty applications being compromise.

Improved desktop capabilities

Significant emphasis has been placed on providing a feature-rich, easy-to-use, desktop environment for all Red Hat Enterprise Linux family members (including Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop). A brief summary of new features:

  • Personal productivity: Advanced user capabilities are provided by the OpenOffice.org productivity suite, the Firefox web browser and Evolution email client.

  • Plug-and-play device support: Easy handling of devices such as USB disks and digital cameras (as well as photo management applications such as gThumb).

  • Multimedia: Applications for audio, video, and streaming content such as RhythmBox, HelixPlayer, Totem, and SoundJuicer.

  • User environment: GNOME 2.8 provides numerous enhancements for a more consistent graphical look and feel. Comprehensive management tools (for example, printer and network management and VNC-based application session sharing) and utilities (for example, Gaim instant messaging and GIMP image processing) combine to provide a complete and highly functional user experience.

  • Interoperability: Technologies that allow user login authentication with Microsoft Active Directory, NTLM authentication for web-based applications, and Evolution mail client access to Windows Exchange Servers.

  • IIIMF: The Internet/Intranet Input Method framework provides the next-generation multilingual Unicode input method framework. It offers many features, such as full Unicode support and the ability to run multiple concurrent language engines.

Miscellaneous features

As a major new release, almost every aspect of Red Hat Enterprise Linux has been enhanced. Some of the more important improvements:

  • Compatibility with prior releases: Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 includes compatibility libraries that enable most v.3 and v.2.1 applications to continue to run without modification.

  • Languages: Focused on international standards, such as OpenI18N and GB18030, Red Hat Enterprise Linux has documentation and software available in 15 languages: English, Japanese, German, Brazilian Portuguese, Korean, Italian, French, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Spanish, Devnagari, Bangla, Punjabi, Tamil, Gujarati.

  • Auditing: In an update planned for mid-2005, a new auditing facility will be available that provides an open, bidirectional socket interface that can be used by auditing applications. It provides comprehensive auditing capabilities for SELinux and standard Linux events.

  • File serving: Provision of NFSv4 provides features such improved security, operation coalescing and integrated file locking, while Samba provides easy access to Microsoft Windows printers and file shares.

  • Software development: The latest GCC 3.4 compiler toolchain, and a technology preview of the forthcoming GCC 4.0 toolchain, are provided. These offer standards-compliant C/C++ and Fortran 95 development environments.

  • Advanced configuration and power interface: Support for the ACPI standard enables a wide range of power management capabilities (battery monitoring, automated power down, suspend), and provides a foundation for increasingly sophisticated features in the future.

  • Extras: Optional software is provided on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux Extras CD and Red Hat Network channel. This includes features such as additional desktop applications (e.g. Adobe Reader, Macromedia Flash), Java™ environments, and printroom-quality Agfa/Monotype fonts.

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