Understanding RedHat’s Strategy

Free Linux still exists. www.debian.org This is Good Stuff ™, but it’s not for the timid.

RedHat has not been free for me since my first Linux Box. (Once Mark used his media to install it, and I borrowed Frank’s media once for the same box.) I’ve always tried to buy a copy of each major version, because I supported this vision of an operating system for the masses. I sometimes bought two back when they were $50 per boxed set.

Now they have this thing called RedHat Enterprise Linux, and the entry level server product costs $350. – $600. depending on what option you get. If you want multiprocessor support for 8 CPUs and up to 16GB of memory, they’re looking for $2,500 for the premium edition.

One can still get RedHat Linux, the current flavor is 9 and MSRP is $165 for the Professional version. (And you can get it for free, all you need to do is download 3 CD images. It’s usually cheaper to buy the retail box in the final analysis.)

That’s the easy part. The upfront price is a fairly small part of the equation a lot of small businesses who have made a commitment to RedHat currently face. To understand what these decisions may cost over time, one needs to look at maintenance, and the useful life of the product. As noted above, RedHat does not require you to purchase a license in order to run the operating system, but in order to use their RedHat Network, (RHN) you must pay a per system fee. RHN is roughly equivalent in function to Microsoft’s Windows Update which is a free service that Microsoft offers to keep its commercially licensed operating systems up to date.

Given these variations, and the $30 difference in the RHN annual fee, small businesses are prone to choose RedHat Linux. Why do we need an Enterprise class product?

The answer is simple once one understands that each version of RedHat Linux will only be updated for 12 months, and then you will presumably be forced to upgrade versions. As any systems administrator can tell you, this is when problems (lost productivity, down time, broken applications) occur. Recently we have seen 7.3, a first time for a fourth minor revision, and 8.0 both superceded by 9. Presumably there will be a new release in less than 12 months, I foresee a schedule of updates every 10 months. So the RedHat Enterprise Linux with a 5 year support life cycle, seems like the way to go.

Only one problem. My app doesn’t even run on 8.0 yet. No mention of Enterprise at all on the vendor’s web site. I hope RedHat doesn’t find out the hard way, by loosing Linux market share, that they can’t wield the bully pulpit the same way Microsoft does forcing market changes on its customers.

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