March 24, 2005 4:00 AM PST
Programmers bypass Red Hat Linux fees
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and ultimately turn to a company that can support their businesses," Day said.
Red Hat did clamp down partway on CentOS in February. Its lawyers demanded the rebuilder strip out trademarked Red Hat names and logos.
However, if Red Hat truly wanted to hamper the rebuilders, it could stop its current practice of releasing its product's source code in the convenient packages called source RPM files.
"Red Hat should be thanked for making this so easy for all of the rebuild efforts," said Greg Kurtzer, who founded the Caos Foundation that runs the CentOS project. "I am not going to fault them for trying to make money."
Red Hat will continue releasing the source RPM files. "What we're doing now we'll continue to do for the long term," Day said.
Despite the availability of alternatives, Red Hat subscription sales increased from 33,000 in the quarter ended November 2003 to 132,000 a year later. That's solid growth, but it's not as high as the peak of 144,000 in the quarter ended August 2004. Red Hat is expected to release sales figures for its most recent quarter on March 31.
Some see an upper limit to how much the Linux seller can charge. "The real reason Linux is our choice is cost," said Brian Trudeau of Eastek International in Buffalo, N.Y., a CentOS user. "Why pay for Red Hat when it costs as much as Windows?"
Send in the clones
There are several prominent RHEL rebuild projects besides CentOS:
Finnish Lineox, which released its clone of RHEL 4 on Feb. 25, charges between 5 euros and 15 euros ($7 to $20) per server for its software update service.
White Box Enterprise Linux was born when Red Hat dropped its freely available commercial product, Red Hat Linux, said project founder John Morris, who runs dozens of servers and personal computers using Linux at Beauregard Parish Public Library in DeRidder, La. "We have workstation hardware that costs less than a RHEL contract, so something had to give when Red Hat dumped Red Hat Linux in favor of RHEL, and thus WBEL was born," he said.
Tao Linux is a "community supported" version not intended for mission-critical computers; users are expected to solve problems on their own or with help from mailing lists.
X/OS Linux, for which X/OS, a computing company in Amsterdam, sells support.
CentOS in the limelight
CentOS was an offshoot of a separate Linux project called Caos Linux, said Kurtzer, who is a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory administrator and a programmer as well. But it turned out the Caos Foundation's more popular project was a rebuild of RHEL.
"For a new distribution to be widely used, it must demonstrate to the community that the project and the product are both stable, reliable solutions," Kurtzer said. "But because CentOS is based on a known codebase, it was able to short-circuit the typical path and become an almost instant success."
Kurtzer doesn't have firm numbers, but he estimates there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of CentOS users. The first version was announced in December 2003.
CentOS doesn't veer from the Red Hat course. "The point...is to be as legally identical as possible," Kurtzer said. CentOS tries, for example, to build security updates as quickly as possible, with an informal guarantee of a 24-hour turnaround after Red Hat releases the original.
CentOS isn't exactly free. The Caos Foundation asks for a $12 per
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