Having directories of software packages floating extraneously around the Internet was not a bad way for hackers to share software. However, for Linux to be acceptable to a less technical population of computer users, it needed to be simple to install and use. Likewise, businesses that were thinking about committing their mission-critical applications to a computer system would want to know that this system had been carefully tested and well supported.
To those ends, several companies and organizations began gathering and packaging Linux software together into usable forms called distributions. The main goal of a Linux distribution is to make the hundreds of unrelated software packages that make up Linux work together as a cohesive whole. For the past few years, the most popular commercial distribution has been Red Hat Linux.
In September 2003, Red Hat, Inc., changed its way of doing business. That change resulted in the formation of the Red Hat–sponsored Fedora Project to take the development of Red Hat Linux technology into the future. But what does that mean to individuals and businesses that have come to rely on Red Hat Linux?
The announcement of the Fedora Project by Red Hat, Inc. at first prompted more questions than answers about the future direction of the company and its flagship Red Hat Linux product. In fact, it seemed that nothing named Red Hat Linux even existed anymore. Instead, what was Red Hat Linux would be reflected by Linux distributions coming from two paths:
Fedora Project (http://fedora.redhat.com) — An open source project, beginning from a Red Hat Linux 9 base, that produces its own Linux distribution. While the project is sponsored by Red Hat, Inc., there is no official support for the Linux distribution (called Fedora Core) that the project produces.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux (www.redhat.com/software/rhel) — An official set of commercial Linux products from Red Hat, Inc. that are offered on an annual subscription basis. Red Hat backs up its Enterprise product line with technical support, training, and documentation.
The primary result of the Fedora Project are sets of binary and source code packages (distributed on DVD or CDs) containing the Linux distribution referred to as Fedora Core. Before its name was changed to Fedora Core 1, that distribution was being tested simply as the next in the series of Red Hat Linux distributions (presumably, Red Hat Linux 10). The complete set of binary and source code included on the DVD that comes with this book are distributed as the official third release of that software: Fedora Core 3.
The name change from Red Hat Linux to Fedora Core wasn’t the only difference between Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, however. Red Hat, Inc. also changed its association with Fedora Core in the following ways:
No boxed sets — Red Hat decided to not sell Fedora through retail channels. The ever- shortening release cycle was making it difficult to manage the flow of boxed sets to and from retail channels every few months, and Red Hat believed that early adopters of Linux technology were clever enough to get the software themselves.
No technical support offerings — There are no technical support programs available from Red Hat for Fedora.
No Red Hat documentation — The set of manuals that came with the previous Red Hat Linux product was not brought over to Fedora. Instead, a series of small task- oriented documents are being collected for the project in article format.
By not creating a whole support industry around Fedora, that project is free to produce software release on a much shorter schedule (possibly two or three times per year). This allows Fedora users to always have the latest software features and fixes included with a recent version of the operating system.
Another potential upside to Fedora is that the Fedora Project hopes to encourage community software developers to create compatible software. By including software download and installation tools (such as the yum utility) in Fedora Core, the Fedora Project hopes to encourage people to contribute to software repositories that Fedora users can rely on to download additional software packages.
The major shift of attention to Red Hat Enterprise Linux as the focus of Red Hat, Inc.’s commercial efforts has been on the horizon for some time. Some characteristics of Red Hat Enterprise Linux are:
Longer release intervals — Instead of offering releases every 4 to 6 months, Enterprise software will have a 12 to 18 month update cycle. Customers can be assured of a longer support cycle without having to upgrade to a later release.
Multiple support options — Customers will have the choice of purchasing different levels of support. All subscriptions will include the Update Module, which allows easy access to updates for Red Hat Enterprise Linux systems. The Management Module lets customers develop custom channels and automate management of multiple systems. The Monitoring Module allows customers to monitor and maintain an entire infrastructure of systems.
Documentation and training — Manuals and training courses will center on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux distribution.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux install types focus on three different types of computer systems, referred to as WS (for workstations), AS (for high-end systems), and ES (for small and midrange servers). Red Hat has also recently released a new Red Hat Desktop product targeted for wide-scale desktop deployments.
Each system in the Red Hat Enterprise Linux family is meant to be compatible with the others. There are Basic, Standard, and Premium editions of these Enterprise systems. While Basic offers only software downloads, standard and premium editions offer hard copy documentation and additional technical support.
If you bought this book to try out Linux for the first time, rest assured that what you have on the DVD with this book is a solid, battle-tested operating system. There is still a lot of overlap between Fedora Core and Red Hat Enterprise Linux. However, the newest features of Fedora Core 3 provide a way to test out much of the software that is slated to go in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 editions.
Although Fedora may not be right for everyone, Fedora is still great for students, home users, most small businesses, and anyone just wanting to try out the latest Linux technology. Larger businesses should seriously consider the implications on support, training, and future upgrade paths before choosing whether to go the Fedora route or sign on with Red Hat Enterprise Linux. But as a way to learn and use the latest Linux technology before it makes its way to Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Fedora Core 3 is a great choice.