Ever since last year's announcement by Red Hat that it would discontinue its
free Red Hat Linux, concentrating instead on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux
(RHEL) product line, a new breed of Linux distributions began to emerge.
Since source RPM packages of all RHEL products are freely available on the
company's FTP servers and mirrors, why not use them to build a complete RHEL
clone? All that had to be done was remove trademarked logos and other
references to Red Hat from the original source RPMs, then compile them into
binary ones, and voilà - a new distribution is born. And because all Red
Hat erratas and updates are also released in the form of source RPMs, keeping
this new distribution up-to-date with security patches would be a simple
matter of compiling the updated source RPMs and releasing them for download.
Indeed, several such projects have been born over the last few months.
Although not all of them are completely free (beer), they all have one thing
in common - they cost a lot less than the real RHEL. As such, they are more
likely to attract small businesses and organizations that had standardized on
Red Hat Linux before it was discontinued. What are their choices? Some of the
projects that have built a complete Linux distribution from RHEL source RPM
packages include CentOS, Lineox Enterprise Linux, Tao Linux and White Box
White Box Enterprise
Linux was the first officially released distribution built from
RHEL's source RPMs. The project was initiated by a public library in
Louisiana, USA and its motivation is best summed up by the representatives of
the library itself:
We had several servers and over fifty workstations
running Red Hat Linux and were left high and dry by their recent shift in
business plan. Our choices were a difficult migration to another distribution
or paying Red Hat an annual fee greater than the amortized value of our
hardware. So we chose a third path, made possible by the power of Open
Source.... White Box Linux.
White Box Enterprise Linux is completely free in both senses of the word.
While the project lacks a flashy web site, all the most important pieces are
present: basic documentation (including a tutorial on compiling source RPMs),
highly active mailing lists, and most importantly, security updates via "yum"
from several available mirrors. Version 3.0, code name "liberation", was
released on December 15, 2003.
Tao Linux is another free RHEL
clone. It was created for reasons not much different than those driving the
White Box project - the attraction of having a well-built distribution
running critical servers for years with very little maintenance beyond
occasional security updates. The project also supports upgrades via "yum".
The maintainer promises to provide free security and bug-fix updates for a
period of at least 3 years, making them available within 72 hours after their
upstream release by Red Hat. However, the author does not currently recommend
Tao Linux to inexperienced users. Like White Box, the Tao Linux project
provides detailed information about rebuilding Red Hat's source RPM, access
to mailing lists and several download mirrors. Tao Linux Release One (code
name "mooch") was released on December 16, 2003.
Lineox Enterprise Linux is a
product of Lineox, Inc, a commercial company based in Finland. It was created
from source RPMs used in RHEL's Advanced Server, Cluster Suite and Developer
Suite. Unlike the previously mentioned offerings, Lineox goes a little
further by providing upgrades with "apt" (and optionally Synaptic, a
graphical user interface for "apt"), and it also offers some updated
packages, such as OpenOffice 1.1 and Linux kernel 2.6. Currently all updates
are available free of charge, although users will be required to pay a modest
fee for the upgrade service once the introductory "free updates" period
expires. The company promises to provide security and bug-fix updates within
12 hours after their official release by Red Hat.
CentOS is a product of cAos -
Community Linux. CentOS-2 and CentOS-3 are what the developers call
"sanitized rebuilds" of Red Hat Advanced Server 2.1 and RHEL 3.0
respectively. According to the project's FAQ, CentOS is a stepping stone
towards cAos, a more distinctive Linux distribution with many package
updates. All of these projects are in various development stages, with
CentOS-3 now at release "build5-rc1". While the distribution is available for
free download, the project maintainers are considering several revenue
generating models to pay for the cost of the development.
It is clear that the Open Source Software development model has created
interesting opportunities not available in the world of proprietary software
and there is no reason why we shouldn't take advantage of them. Of the four
Red Hat Enterprise Linux clones, White Box Enterprise Linux is looking like
the most promising effort, with a public sponsor behind it and many active
users on the project's mailing lists. Tao Linux is another project worth
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