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Fury brims over Red Hat support changes

Some loyal Red Hat Linux users aren't about to pay for enterprise-grade Linux and are hunting down new distributors. Red Hat, meanwhile, says there have been misunderstandings and that options exist for everyone.

Loyal Red Hat users say they feel like the brims of their Fedoras have been pulled right over their eyes.

And most of them aren't hanging around for explanations from the Raleigh, N.C.-based Linux distributor.

Users said they feel betrayed and disappointed in Red Hat's decision to end free support at the end of the year for Red Hat Linux 7.1, 7.2, 7.3 and 8.0 and next April for Red Hat Linux 9.0. The company will support only Red Hat Enterprise Linux and the Fedora project. Many said they are looking for new Linux distributors, and they believe Red Hat is headed down a path taken by many proprietary vendors, one loathed in the open source community.

Business users will either have to migrate to the enterprise edition of Red Hat's operating system and absorb what some say are expensive licenses, or take their chances with Fedora, a hobbyist version of Linux that is constantly being updated and likely does not offer the stability an enterprise would require for its mission-critical systems.

Red Hat representatives told this week that there have been some misunderstandings since Red Hat announced end-of-life earlier this year and that good options are available for all of its customers.

"Two years ago, Red Hat was a one-operating system company," said John Young, Red Hat's vice president of marketing, referring to Red Hat Linux. "We had a vision that one OS would not meet the needs of our customers, so [we said], 'Let's create a portfolio that meets the needs of all.' We developed Red Hat Enterprise Linux and enhanced that for our enterprise customers with a five-year life cycle. We also opened up a version for the open source community's developers and testers in Fedora."

Young said it's no longer feasible for Red Hat to offer free support to its Red Hat Linux customers and that the company has been communicating migration options to them. For example, Red Hat is offering two years of support for the price of one should a customer decide to move to Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS or ES Basic before March 2004.

"We have an obligation to our shareholders and our enterprise customers," Young said. "It's not responsible to develop a business model to support that. [Red Hat Enterprise] licenses are not expensive when compared to the alternative. The silent majority is confident with what they are getting from Red Hat."

Anyone seen a new distro?

Some users, meanwhile, said they feel betrayed by Red Hat.

"I have evangelized Red Hat to anyone who would listen. I purchased support for many, many of my clients systems, because it was cost effective and simple to do so. Now they want to charge close to 600% more for support. For that much money, and the draconian licensing, I will support some other distribution and run the update services myself," said Sean McAdam, a consultant with Fredrick Communications LLC in Maryland. "The bottom line is that I am dropping Red Hat as fast as I can, and migrating all of my clients to a new distro. I will most likely never purchase a product from them again."

Subscription pricing for Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS ranges from $179 to $299 for Intel x86 licenses, and costs $792 for Itanium and AMD64. Red Hat Enterprise Linux ES sells for $349 and $799 on Intel x86. Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS sells for $1,499 and $2,499 on Intel x86, and for $1,992 and $2,988 for Itanium, AMD64 and the IBM iSeries and pSeries. For the IBM zSeries and s/390, AS sells for $15,000 and $18.000.

McAdam isn't the only one looking for a new distributor. Schunk GmbH and Co. of Germany, a manufacturer of grippers, rotary actuators, linear units and accessories for the automation market, is also looking at moving its SAP systems from 100 Red Hat servers -- versions 6.2 to 9 -- to Debian and SuSE Linux servers.

"It is a shame to treat your customers this way. We have just paid the support fee -- which will [lose] its use for us after [Jan. 4] and probably before," said Dieter Heilenz, an IT manager with Schunk. "A supplier can do this [only] once to us."

Contrasting views

Others, however, say that Red Hat made an understandable business decision. Alceu Heinke Frigeri, a developer in Brazil, points out that Linux and GPL code is free, and finding support is essentially a matter of finding a service provider.

"I understand pretty well [why] Red Hat is choosing to work only with the enterprise, and only those, among them, which have cash," Frigeri said. "It can't be a bad move. As a matter of fact, I'm just waiting for Novell-SuSE to make the very same move. After all, how can you sustain a company when all you sell is 'cheap boxes' that can be copied/installed freely? It's just economics."

This question of economics, however, will likely hit the small and midsized businesses most enamored with Linux's flexibility and cost structure. Fedora, meanwhile, doesn't satisfy a business' needs -- even Red Hat admits that.

"Fedora appears to be a fine project, but I can't suggest to my clients that they go with a Linux distribution that is being rapidly developed," said Bob James, a consultant with Pentar InfoSystems. "And the pricing Red Hat is using for its enterprise edition nullifies the cost advantage many of these SMBs and nonprofits were counting on."

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