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The StartX Files: Inside the Expo - page 4

On Penguins and Lawyers

  • August 8, 2003
  • By Brian Proffitt

Red Hat's new development program for the consumer editions of their distribution is going to move away from the fixed pace of the six-month cycle and towards something where the distribution would be incrementally released based on the upgrades of individual tools and applications.

The reason why there is very little difference between the tools in Red Hats 7, 8, and 9 is that when Red Hat made a boxed set, they insisted that everything be as stable as possible for those retailed versions. So, if a toolset came along (say, Apache 2) that only sorta, kinda worked, Red Hat would not include it in the application list. If it wasn't stable, it wasn't going in the box.

Now, however, that rule will no longer apply for the consumer editions. Red Hat is going to let things in that might not be absolutely rock solid, and let the beta testers have more of a hand in QAing the end results, thanks to a longer development cycle that won;t be truncated by the need to wrap everything up early and send off to the mass CD-burning factory.

Keep in mind, this is only about the consumer editions. The enterprise versions of Red Hat will still follow the rock-stable model of software inclusion.

This change makes a huge impact on the Linux community that goes way beyond not being able to pick up a copy of Red Hat at your local Best Buy. There are many vendors that use Red Hat's consumer editions as the basis for their own products. If they have support issues, they can call up Red Hat and get the standard user support, which they can then implement within their own product line.

Under the GPL, this is all cool. But it may have bugged Red Hat to know that other companies were just taking their work and implementing it without more than just a standard user support contract, if that.

Under this new development strategy, though, things are going to be more in Red Hat's favor. If a company wants to use Red Hat distributions as the basis of their own software platform, they are going to have longer to wait between versions and the versions they do get might not be a rock-stable as they were before. Which leaves such a vendor with three choices.

First they can begin maintaining their own separate Linux distibution from here on out. This is certainly doable, but a lot of the smaller startups may not have the resources, which is why they were based so heavily on Red Hat in the first place.

This first choice, by the way, is probably why Sun Linux is really back. Rather than be tied Red Hat's new development timeline, Sun, which certainly has the wherewithall, is going off into its own direction on the client desktop.

Second, they can drop Red Hat and work with another distro. Again, this is a likely course of action, until every other major Linux distro chooses to go the same route as Red Hat. And they will, because Red Hat's plan eliminates the need to sell boxed sets, which is a huge expense for any company. Look for Mandrake and SuSE to follow suit with some variant of this development model soon.

Third, they can work more closely with Red Hat in a more partner-like arrangement and get more direct support from them.

Guess which option Red Hat is banking on?

Because of this, the Red Hat development changes are sheer genius. In one fell swoop, they eliminate the overhead of retail channel, reduce a lot of deadline pressure on their own developers, and create a situation where RH-using vendors will either stop leeching off of Red Hat altogether or better yet enter into new partnership arrangements with Red Hat.

And, all of this happens while they get to make the beta testers, developers, and power users in the community happy by allowing "more involvement in the Red Hat development process."

Brilliant? You betcha.

None of this is particularly evil - this is a case where one company is looking out for itself. But Red Hat's move is going to have a ripple effect across all of the other distribitions companies, ISVs, and embedded hardware vendors in the very near future as companies try to adjust to the new model.

The overall impact the LWE will have on the rest of the community will still be felt and seen for many months to come. This is a very tight community, where everyone knows everyone else, at least by name, and usually more. The decisions made here this week in San Francisco effect everyone, and so will the show's overall attitude.

The attitude of success.

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