Enter the Clones

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2005-02-14 Print this article Print

One free alternative to an annual RHEL subscription is roll-your-own RHEL.

All the source code for RHEL is open source and is freely available for download from ftp://ftp. redhat.com/pub/redhat/linux, as are the updates that Red Hat releases.

As a result, RHEL, in reconstituted form, can be had by anyone who opts to compile it.

For those who wish to avoid the rebuild process, there are a number of projects that have done it already.

These include White Box Linux, CentOS, Taolinux and Scientific Linux—all of which are clones of RHEL and, for the most part, differ only cosmetically from the real thing.

Another difference with these RHEL re-spins is the way they offer access to updates—most provide updates using the yum tool instead of the RHEL standard up2date.

Although you may not be able to persuade ISVs to support their software running on an RHEL clone, hardware and applications that are confirmed to run on RHEL should work in exactly the same way with one of its clones. At the very least, these options may serve well in testing scenarios.

Keep in mind, however, that all these clone projects are relatively new, and its not clear how good a job theyll do at keeping up with Red Hats updates and fixes in the years ahead.

Of course, if a clone project drops the ball, the update code will continue to be available from Red Hat for free, and compiling your own updates will always be an option.

Were not aware of a comparable clone project based on Novells SuSE Linux Enterprise Server, possibly because until recently, YaST (Yet another Setup Tool), SuSEs set of system configuration tools, was not distributed under an open-source license.

Now Novell has switched to the GNU GPL (General Public License) for YaST, and we expect to see similar projects branch out from SuSE Linux Enterprise Server.

Go enthusiast

The other major all-free alternative to per-machine licensed distributions are popular, noncommercial Linux distributions such as Fedora or Debian.

Fedora, the Red Hat-sponsored and community-supported distribution thats the most direct heir to Red Hats discontinued Red Hat Linux product, is very popular and up-to-date. Red Hat positions Fedora as an "enthusiast" distribution, which has left many wondering how suitable Fedora is for their needs.

For more on the Fedora question, click here. Debian is another strong, popular candidate for enterprise use because it benefits from very large user and contributor bases and boasts one of the most stable development paces among popular Linux distributions.

Various commercial and noncommercial Linux distributions are based on Debian. A new project, UserLinux, has set out to build an enterprise-targeted Linux distribution based on Debian to rival the offerings of Red Hat and Novell.

While noncommercial Linux distributions lack the sort of direct, vendor-provided support of the enterprise Linuxes, the much greater popularity of these distributions results in more available information on the Internet, including surprisingly good support information from mailing lists.

Its also much easier to find precompiled software packages on the Internet for particular releases of Fedora or Debian than for various enterprise Linux products.

Linux distributions tend to ship with a lot of included software, but this is as much a necessity as it is a convenience because dealing with software thats prepackaged for your particular distribution makes system management much simpler.

Next Page: UserLinux offers enterprises another choice.

As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. JasonÔÇÖs coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at jbrooks@eweek.com.

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