Red Hat 9 Forces Stability Gamble

"Release early and often" is an open-source mantra.

"Release early and often" is an open-source mantra, but it has anything but a calming effect on enterprise IT administrators more concerned with maintaining stability in their infrastructure than staying on softwares bleeding edge.

In a bid to court these enterprise customers without relinquishing its Linux leadership role, Red Hat Inc. has split its operating system offerings into enterprise and general-purpose lines, with the former focused on maintaining stability by sticking to a conservative upgrade path and the latter free to incorporate the latest and greatest of Linux.

On the general-purpose fast track, there will be no point upgrades—nor the stability they promise. Case in point is Red Hat Linux 9, the first update of the product since Version 8.0 was released just last September.

The Labs tested Version 9, which will be available April 7. Superficially, the differences between Versions 8.0 and 9 are less pronounced than those between 7.3 and 8.0, but changes to core packages, such as the Glibc (GNU C library), could impact thousands of applications. For example, users of Phoebe, the Red Hat 9 beta, have reported problems compiling Wine, the software that provides an open-source compatibility layer for running Windows applications on Linux.

As with any major upgrade, eWeek Labs recommends that enterprises survey their application lineup for compatibility with Red Hat 9 before making the move. Some companies may find their needs better served by selecting one of Red Hats enterprise products, sticking for now with an older Red Hat version or opting for an offering from another operating system vendor.

Be advised, however, that Red Hat has announced plans to end updates and support for Versions 7.1 through 8.0 at the end of this year, and subsequent releases will come with one year of support each.

Red Hat Linux 9 is available in a $40 Personal Edition and a $150 Professional Edition. In contrast, Red Hats Enterprise line ranges in price from $299 for the Workstation Edition to $2,499 for the Advanced Server Premium Edition. Red Hat 9 will also be available for free download (without support) from Red Hat or one of its mirror sites. Paid subscribers of the Red Hat Network will have download access to Version 9 starting March 31.

Improved Scalability

Probably the biggest upgrade in red Hat 9 is its inclusion of the Native POSIX Thread Library for Linux, which should improve hardware scalability by enabling the system to use multiple processors more effectively and boost performance of applications such as Java virtual machines.

Red Hat 9 also includes a new version of the Xfree86 graphics system, which expands support for graphics cards in general and allows for new cursor types.

Red Hat 9 ships with the latest versions of KDE (K Desktop Environment) and GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment), both of which have grown tighter and more pleasant to use since Red Hat 8.0 was released.

Red Hat had intended that Version 9 would be the first release of the operating system to provide finer-grained control over file permissions in the ext3 filesystem, through ACLs (access control lists)—an important feature for the enterprise. However, because of problems in combination with the network file system, Red Hat pulled ACLs out of the product near the end of the development cycle. According to company officials, the cause of the problems has been identified, and ACL support will be included in a future release.

Red Hat 9 has an expanded suite of system configuration tools, including a utility for configuring Samba shares (see screen). This is a nice addition, but room for improvement remains: Setting up Samba shares can require adjustments to a systems network, firewall and services settings. Separate tools exist for each of those tasks, but wed like to see the Samba utility tie them together better.

The version of that is shipped with Red Hat 9 is roughly the same as the one from 8.0, but the updated release of the productivity suite includes a nice new version of Mozilla that makes use of anti-aliased fonts through the fontconfig subsystem.

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at