Red Hat Dumps Free Linux To Focus on Enterprise

In what is being viewed as the maturation of both the company and the Linux operating system, Red Hat has announced it will no longer produce or support its free, consumer version of Linux.

Industry analysts praised Red Hat’s move to ride a building wave of Linux adoption by exclusively selling Enterprise Linux, which the Raleigh, North Carolina-based company unveiled two weeks ago.

However, analysts pointed out that the move was somewhat sudden. Support and maintenance for Red Hat Linux 7.1 through 8.0 ends at the end of next month, and support for the most recent version, Red Hat Linux 9.0, expires in April 2004. In saying it will no longer develop the free version of its Linux operating system, Red Hat began pointing users to Fedora, a developer version of Red Hat Linux, and to its own Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.

Meanwhile, Novell’s announced acquisition of SuSE for US$210 million will give the Red Hat competitor an end-to-end Linux lineup with its Ximian software and now software from SuSE, Yankee Group senior analyst Dana Gardner told LinuxInsider.

End of Life

Linux is a relatively new, burgeoning operating system that competes with time-tested Unix and Microsoft’s Windows platform, but despite the nascent nature of the Linux marketplace, the players and their offerings can change quickly.

In formally announcing “End of Life” dates for its free distributions, the company explained that with growing acceptance of Linux and deeper inroads into enterprise computing, the company’s Linux offerings left a gap at the enterprise level. To fill this gap, Red Hat began developing Enterprise Linux, which was first released last year.

Based on the Linux 2.4.21 kernel, Enterprise Linux 3 is the company’s first phase of an overall architecture road map that will focus on middleware, applications, management and virtualization, Red Hat spokesperson Leigh Cantrell Day told LinuxInsider.

The company did not respond to requests for comment on the discontinuation of its free Red Hat Linux.

Cut and Run

Yankee’s Gardner said Red Hat, like any other software vendor, wants to migrate its customers to its newer product, adding that the Linux distributor actually might experience more fiscal success as a result of the cost advantages associated with Linux adoption.

Gardner also said that because of the opportunity to apply existing labor and skills to Linux migration — many Unix administrators have the experience necessary to make a Linux deployment relatively easy — Red Hat could ride a trend of fast adoption with its enterprise product.

“There might be a trend where adoption of the latest code is something that happens on an accelerated basis,” he said. “It’s an interesting opportunity for Linux to grow, and it may be able to leapfrog other systems.”

Linux Grows, Bulks Up

Red Hat’s move away from free Linux also makes sense in light of the operating system’s “bulking up” with increased capabilities, Gardner said.

“It’s more of a data center operating system with support for more processors [and 64-bit technology],” he noted. “Those developments are substantial in the evolution of the technology.”

Red Hat’s challenge, said Gardner, is to provide the organization and support that will usher migration to the company’s Enterprise Linux platform. While he said that companies often resists adopting a new technology until it is proven, Linux adoption seems not to be hamstrung by that mentality.

“I think there’s a real maturation of Linux as a central part of the data center rather than a peripheral player in the overall architecture,” Gardner said. “This is not a lot of Web servers; it’s an integral part for Oracle and the same for IBM and HP. It’s all adding up to a pretty robust adoption cycle.”

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