Linux Vendors Challenged

Enterprise Linux distributions must beware of the popularity gap.

Im an enterprise user of desktop Linux, but I dont use an enterprise Linux distribution. My home and office desktops are running Fedora, the so-called developer and enthusiast variant of Red Hat Linux.

See ExtremeTechs review of Fedora Core 1.

My distribution preference has less to do with being on the bleeding edge than with basic manageability—in particular, managing the installation and updating of software on my systems. The fact that others might share my preference could pose a problem for Red Hat and other enterprise Linux vendors.

Popular and freely available Linux distributions such as Debian and Fedora boast many more users than pay-per-machine, enterprise-oriented distributions. Popularity has its advantages. More users means more bug reports, mailing list queries, unofficial how-to documents and application software packages.

A common knock against desktop Linux is that the platform lacks the breadth of application software that Windows enjoys and that installing applications on Linux involves following arcane compilation processes and wrestling with missing software dependencies.

Theres a broad and ever-widening range of applications available for Linux, the installation and updating of which are quite easy to manage, as long as the software in question comes in packages compiled for your specific distribution.

Making ready-to-install packages out of open-source application releases is a large part of what Linux distributors do, but they dont build packages for every possible project. Supplementing the packages available from the vendor of a particular Linux distribution are those provided by free-software projects.

I had been looking for an RSS reader to use on Linux, and a little while ago I came across such an application, called Straw. I couldnt find Straw in any packaged form, and I ran into dependency troubles when I tried to install it from source. Recently, I found a repository project run by a person named Dag Wieër that compiles packages for Fedora, among them Straw, making installation and update maintenance much easier on me.

Having this sort of community support is a big advantage, but it hinges on popularity. I dont think a distribution that costs at least $179 per system per year, as Red Hat Enterprise Linux does, will ever be nearly as popular as a freely available distribution such as Fedora.

Next page: Are enterprise Linux distributions doomed?