Red Hat's announcement earlier this week that it would be ending the Red
Hat Linux product line should not be too surprising for those who have
been reading the tea leaves -- or LWN. Red Hat
the end of the Red Hat Linux
product line in July, and merged the Red Hat Linux Project and Fedora
Project in September
. Still, the end-of-life announcement sent to Red Hat Network (RHN) subscribers this week seemed to catch some by surprise:
Red Hat will discontinue maintenance and errata support for Red Hat
Linux 7.1, 7.2, 7.3 and 8.0 as of December 31, 2003. Red Hat will
discontinue maintenance and errata support for Red Hat Linux 9 as of
April 30, 2004. Red Hat does not plan to release another product in the
Red Hat Linux line.
While Red Hat will continue to sell and support its enterprise line of
products, users who have grown accustomed to the (relatively)
inexpensive Red Hat Linux line and RHN support are now
looking for other options. Users have about six months to decide what
direction they want to go. RHN channels with updates for discontinued
versions will remain available for at least six months after the
end-of-life, but the April 30 date will be the end of new errata for
regular Red Hat Linux products. RHN subscribers who are paid-up past
April 30 will receive an evaluation ISO for Red Hat Enterprise Linux
WS and channel access to updates for that distribution until their
subscription expires. Red Hat is no longer allowing subscribers to
extend their subscription past April 30, though subscribers can renew up
until April 30 for $20.
The first option for Red Hat loyalists is Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
Red Hat is offering introductory pricing for Red Hat
Enterprise Linux WS or Red Hat Enterprise Linux ES; the deal
is 50% off either product for up to two
years, putting annual cost of the workstation product (WS) at $89.50 per
system and the server product (ES) at $174.50 per system. This pricing
structure, while not overly expensive for a single system, may not be
popular with Red Hat users who have been maintaining multiple systems
with Red Hat Linux.
Another likely choice for hobbyists and users who have grown fond of Red
Hat Linux is the Red Hat Linux Project's successor: Fedora (which has just made its first core release). Fedora will likely replace Red
Hat on many systems as Red Hat Linux 9 approaches end-of-life. However,
many users are likely to be a bit wary about adopting Fedora as the
project is still in its infancy and it has yet to be seen how well the
project will evolve. Fedora will will also be a more volatile
distribution, with each release being, essentially, a "dot-zero" version.
Users might also choose to move to derivative products like Tummy.com's KRUD, or KRUD Server. KRUD is based
on Red Hat Linux and users can opt for a monthly subscription with
updates via CD-ROM. A one-year subscription to KRUD will run users $65,
a one-year subscription to KRUD Server is $190. This may be an
attractive option to many users, since Tummy.com does not require a
per-machine subscription. Thus, a KRUD subscription is usable on any
number of machines, unlike subscriptions to Red Hat Enterprise
There are, of course, other distributions which will be more than happy to pick up
customers left behind by Red Hat. Red Hat's termination of the
"consumer" line of products may be a blessing for other commercial Linux
distributions with a strong interest in the retail Linux market. SUSE,
Mandrake Linux, Xandros, Lindows and other commercial distributors may
pick up some of Red Hat's audience still looking to buy a supported
retail product. Non-commercial distributions like Debian might gain users
as well; see this week's Distributions
page. In the commercial arena,
Mandrake is still working to emerge from bankruptcy,
leaving SUSE as the strongest contender for the retail market at this
point, particularly with the backing of Novell.
Joseph Eckert, SUSE's Vice President of Corporate Communications, told
us that he is optimistic about SUSE's prospects in the retail channel.
He noted that SUSE has seen a jump in sales with the 9.0 release, though
it has not been available for very long. Unlike Red Hat, SUSE's retail
products still account for a significant portion of their overall sales.
According to Eckert, SUSE expects between €35 million and €40
million in sales this year, with the SUSE's desktop products accounting
for more than 50 percent of their business.
Eckert also said that SUSE has no plans to cancel its desktop
products. "As Red Hat continues to distance itself [from retail
products] we consider it a service to the community to keep the desktop
alive...it's not just about the enterprise desktop, it's about making
sure that our community of developers and enthusiasts are satisfied."
Indeed, it may be important for any vendor interested in the enterprise
to keep developers and enthusiasts happy. Red Hat's decision to abandon
retail products and focus solely on its enterprise products may help
boost Red Hat's rivals in the enterprise market as well. Red Hat found
its way into many organizations because that was what IT staff used at
home. With some of Red Hat's user base looking at moving to different
distributions, they may decide to bring those distributions into the
workplace with them.
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