[This article was contributed by Ladislav Bodnar]
from Red Hat
about the upcoming release of Red Hat Linux 9 has caught many by surprise. In
the past, Red Hat, Inc has stubbornly refused to pre-announce any release,
whether final or development, giving all who inquired the usual "released
when ready" talk. The version number was also unexpected as many had
that this release would be labeled 8.1 rather than 9.
At first glance these changes might seem insignificant. But a closer look
reveals that there are reasons why they come into effect at this point in
time and some of these changes will have substantial impact on enterprises.
Firstly, let's look at the significance of that "9". Of all Linux
distributions out there, Red Hat is the only one that maintains a technically
and logically justified versioning scheme, as opposed to a scheme driven by
marketing. Historically, Red Hat only increased the major version number if
the new release broke binary compatibility with the previous one. The binary
compatibility was, to a large extent, defined by the the glibc library and
if we look at the last few years' worth of releases, we will see that Red
Hat 6 series shipped with glibc 2.1.x, Red Hat 7 series with glibc 2.2.x
and Red Hat 8.0 with a pre-release version of glibc 2.3.
Red Hat 9 will ship with glibc 2.3.2. However, there is something else that
breaks the binary compatibility in this case and that something is called
NPTL (Native POSIX Thread Library). What is NPTL? A comprehensive white paper (in
PDF format) explains all the technical details, but in layman's terms, NPTL
is a much improved new library for threading of processes which takes into
account capabilities of modern processors. This library, developed by Red
Hat, is designed to replace the existing library written back in 1996.
(See also LWN's coverage of
NTPL from last September).
As a result of introducing NPTL, many applications compatible with previous
Red Hat releases will no longer work on Red Hat Linux 9. Some of the
implications are explained in
this mailing list post. The poster (Red Hat's Matt Wilson) also points
out another interesting fact: the Enterprise Linux series of products has
freed the company to put newer technology into the base "Red Hat Linux"
distribution. Red Hat Linux is starting to look like the final proving
ground before software moves into the (more stable) Enterprise distributions.
Also note the missing ".0" from the version number. This has possibly
something to do with market perception (whether it is correct or not is a
different matter) that x.0 releases are generally buggy and unsuitable for
deployment on servers. Whatever the meaning, this is not a new tactic for
Red Hat; Red Hat Linux 7
also lacked a ".0".
The quick succession of major number releases was noted by many Red Hat
Certified Engineers (RHCE). Up until now the validity of the rather pricey,
but highly valued RHCE certificates was limited to two major releases. Red
Hat was quick to react with a policy change: "The validity period for
all RHCEs and RHCTs is now officially pegged to the release of the
Enterprise product commercially available at the time certification was
earned, and certification shall be current until after one (1) major
release of the Enterprise product." More details are available here.
All these changes, together with the recently announced restrictions
on free access to Red Hat Networks and reduction of support
periods are designed with one goal in mind: to increase Red Hat's
revenue. Despite some voices of criticism, one cannot blame the company. Red
Hat Linux has become the dominant Linux OS on servers and there are possibly
thousands of enterprises around the world that use Red Hat's products without
ever paying a single cent to Red Hat. The time has come to collect the toll.
As Red Hat tightens the screws, the small and medium enterprises with limited
IT budgets -- especially in the current economic climate -- are the ones that
are being affected and might even re-evaluate their needs. But do they have
alternatives? After all, there are so many Linux distributions, so why use
Red Hat? The awful truth is that, for many customers,
the alternatives are not particularly
appealing. Mandrake and SuSE, despite their ranges of enterprise products,
are still perceived as distributions for desktops. Slackware's total lack of
interest and ability to market and provide commercial support for their
otherwise excellent server product leaves it as a viable choice only for
experienced Linux enthusiasts, rather than medium-skilled system
administrators. The only other alternative is Debian. But for Debian to make
inroads into server rooms, corporations would have to learn to live with a
product made by volunteers in their spare time, without any commercial
interests. And that's something that is unlikely to happen on a large scale.
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