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Experts: Red Hat made 'smart business decision'

Two Red Hat administration experts say that Red Hat's decision to drop support for Red Hat Linux in favor of Red Hat Enterprise Linux enables the firm to concentrate on winning the enterprise market.

When you look at the big picture, Red Hat's decision to drop support of Red Hat Linux is a good, long-term move for the company and for its enterprise users, even if some users are crying foul now, according to Red Hat Linux administration experts Ibrahim Haddad and Richard Petersen. In this e-mail interview, they discuss Red Hat's new support stance, the challenges and advantages of migrating to Red Hat Enterprise Linux from Red Hat Linux, tips for Unix-to-Linux and Windows-to-Linux migrations and the differences among Linux distributions.

Haddad and Petersen are co-authors of this year's Red Hat Linux Pocket Administrator and a new book, which will be available in December, Red Hat Linux X: The Complete Reference, DVD Edition from McGraw-Hill/Osborne. Just as they co-wrote these books, they co-wrote their answers to's questions.

What do you think of Red Hat's decision to drop support of Red Hat Linux 7 through 9?

Ibrahim Haddad and Richard Petersen: It is a smart business decision. Red Hat came to realize that, by dropping support for Red Hat Linux, they will be able to put all their resources and efforts into capturing the enterprise market segment, which also includes the Carrier Grade Linux distribution -- a new flavor of Linux targeted for telecom platforms -- which Red Hat lacks.

At the same time, Red Hat created the Fedora project to continue the tradition of having a user desktop version of Red Hat that they can guide and support [with] the open source development processes.

What will the impact be on Red Hat Linux users?

Haddad and Petersen: Businesses usually have to have support contracts, which will not be [available] after April 30, 2004, if they are using RH 9 or earlier. So most likely they will either move to the Enterprise version or maybe to a different distribution.

Because of they popularity of Red Hat distributions, [we] believe that the Fedora project will provide the continuation of the consumer distribution. [So there won't be] much impact on individuals, as long as they [use] the stable releases of Fedora and not the development release.

What are the challenges involved in migrating from Red Hat Linux 7-9 to Red Hat Enterprise Linux?

Haddad and Petersen: As might be expected, migrating applications from consumer Red Hat products to Red Hat Enterprise Linux is simpler than from Unix or Windows environments. The level of complexity will vary depending on the specific migration. For example, migrations to Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 from Red Hat Linux 7.x will be more complex than from Red Hat Linux 9, due to the greater difference in their respective application build environments.

In general, however, there is a high level of compiler and runtime library compatibility across the environments, although stricter adherence to language standards in later versions may result in the need for minor application code changes. (Note that Red Hat Enterprise Linux does not provide Red Hat Linux compatibility libraries.)

Because Red Hat Enterprise Linux is generally a superset of Red Hat Linux, there are few or no base operating system issues to address. The Enterprise Linux products also include additional development tools that can further simplify porting and development efforts.

Lastly, the optional Red Hat Developer Suite layered product can be used to provide a fully featured Integrated Development Environment (IDE).

What are the advantages of moving up from Red Hat Linux to Red Hat Enterprise Linux?

Haddad and Petersen: It is worth noting that the Red Hat Enterprise Linux product is tuned differently and provides additional server performance features over the consumer Red Hat products. These can be expected to result in improved application performance on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux platform.

In general, its advantages are that it's more reliable [and] secure, [offers] high-performance, [and] has stable, well-tested releases. You can buy support. It supports Itanium and AMD64 systems, IBM z, i, p and S/390 series systems, multiple processor machines, and systems with more than 8 GB of RAM.

What are the disadvantages of using or moving from Red Hat Linux to Red Hat Enterprise Linux?

Haddad and Petersen: Less frequent releases. Sometimes a feature takes so much time to get into the distribution simply because of the lengthy release cycle. It's more expensive: You get all these nice things for a price more expensive than the consumer product.

What are the challenges involved in migrating from Unix to Linux?

Haddad and Petersen: In general, Linux strives to make migrations from proprietary Unix systems as easy as possible. It does this by providing similar tools and capabilities as those found on Unix systems such as Sun Solaris, HP-UX and IBM AIX. An advantage of Linux is that most developer tools are included in the base system, rather than in a separate layered product. As a result, most Linux systems provide more software than the proprietary Unix systems.

Linux compilers and related tools have been designed as replacements for Unix vendor tools and provide very similar capabilities, although usage options may be different. Perhaps the most important feature for application migration is that Linux is POSIX-compliant, greatly improving the portability of applications from proprietary Unix systems.

What's tough about migrating from Microsoft Windows to Linux?

Haddad and Petersen: Migrating from Microsoft Windows [to Linux] is probably one of the most difficult types of migration, due to Windows' fundamentally different system design, standards and APIs.

It is usually best to isolate tool dependencies by running open source tools on the Windows system and using them to port the application. Cygwin (available from Red Hat) can be used to provide a Unix/POSIX-like environment on Windows, which can help isolate many operating system issues.

One area where [a] significant development effort is usually required is the graphical interface, due to the fact that they are completely different on Windows and Linux. Note that, as with Unix, customer experience has shown that migrating Java applications from Windows to Linux can be done quickly and easily.

In some cases, it may be quicker and more cost-effective to eliminate the need to port a Windows application by running it in a virtual machine (VM) environment that emulates Windows on Linux. Example VM environments include Win4Lin and VMware. Windows runtime emulators, such as the open source Wine project (commercialized as CrossOver Office by CodeWeavers) may also provide a workable solution.

What's the biggest difference for an IT administrator between using Red Hat and other Linux distributions?

Haddad and Petersen: It's just the tools they provide for everyday tasks -- the GUI and interfaces that admins will be using on a daily basis to manage their networks, machines and users. It's only the packaging and enabling tools that [differ]; the core is the same. They all share the kernel (sometimes customized for a specific distribution, but it's the same core), and they also share hundreds of applications. How to manage all this? Different tools...

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