Red Hats Numbers Game

Brooks: The split into aggressive and conservative Linux product lines is certain to cause consternation.

When last weeks column hit the Web, wed just learned that Red Hats next Linux release would carry a full version number jump, from 8.0 to 9—an uncharacteristic move for Red Hat, since three point releases came between versions 7.0 and 8.0.

Quite a few of you e-mailed me expressing dread over the release number jump, and the loss of version-to-version stability that the move suggested.

For many, these fears may have been realized when Red Hat announced last week that itd be dropping point releases all together in its general-purpose OS line, indicating that these releases will focus less on stability and more on occupying Linuxs leading edge.

Customers in search of a more stable OS product from Red Hat may opt for one of the firms Enterprise offerings, which deliver a slower update path, application compatibility certification and more robust support than whats available in the general-purpose line.

Of course, all this will come at a cost. Red Hats Enterprise line ranges in price from $299 for the Workstation Edition to $2,499 for the Advanced Server Premium Edition. Whats more, although Red Hat provides source RPMs for its enterprise OS for free download, the same does not apply to binaries or iso images.

As in the past, Red Hat 9 will be available for inexpensive retail purchase, as well as for whatever it costs you to download the software and burn it onto installation disks.

As someone who uses Red Hat Linux as a desktop OS, I like the move. Im happy to upgrade my desktop every six months or so, especially if it means getting the latest and greatest features and fixes. With the speed at which Linux, particularly on the desktop, has been moving, a fast update track can be very attractive.

Red Hat has announced one-year support and update maintenance terms for its general-purpose releases. These are relatively short terms, but not too brief to suit my personal needs—even if I sometimes opt to skip a release.

However, for those whove built their businesses on Red Hat Linux, many of whom have chosen it primarily on the basis of cost, the split into aggressive and conservative product lines is certain to cause consternation—particularly since only time will tell how jarring upcoming system updates will be, and whether a migration to the enterprise line will prove to be a luxury or a necessity for those running Red Hat in production settings.

Also, its not yet clear what impact the move will have on Red Hats RHCE certification program—will the enterprise and general lines have separate certification programs, and if they do, which will prove more valuable?

One thing is clear, though—if Red Hats new release initiatives fail to satisfy customers, the fact that Red Hats code is released under the GPL leaves the door open for another distributor to pick up the code and move with it to serve these unmet needs.

Im really interested in hearing what you think of Red Hats new release strategy—do you welcome a faster pace, fear it, or both? Write to me at