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One of the most successful commercial Linux vendors is Red Hat, Inc., makers of the eponymous Red Hat Linux distribution. In this chapter, you will read about Red Hat Linux version 7.3 and focus on the characteristics that make it unique and useful. Since Red Hat Linux is one of the more popular and most well-known distributions, it's a good place to start learning about Linux systems in general.
This chapter is the first of three distribution-focused chapters in Part Two of this book. The goal of these sample distribution chapters is to provide three perspectives on Linux systems, offer insight into their construction, and illustrate the general concepts of distribution design. Most important, examining these different sample distributions will provide you with a broader base of experience from which to draw when you work with any other distribution, current or future.
Red Hat, Inc. was founded in 1994 by Bob Young and Marc Ewing, who were intrigued by open source software and thought it would make a great business model. Their primary activity at the beginning was the production and marketing of Red Hat Linux, their flagship product. Since Red Hat's inception, the company has branched out into a number of additional markets, including embedded systems and professional services. As a company, however, Red Hat remains aligned with and dedicated to the open source model. Almost all of their own software is released under an open source license, and they fund various open source development efforts that are not necessarily core to the Red Hat Linux distribution.
See Chapter 2 for a discussion of the open source model.
However, Red Hat Software is a business, so they have to make money. Because Red Hat Linux itself is free, Red Hat makes profit by adding value to the distribution through support contracts, subscriptions for priority access, and so forth. In fact, these other activities are Red Hat's primary source of funding, and their Linux distribution can be viewed simply as a platform that enables these other sources of revenue.
Regardless of whether it's their primary moneymaker or not, Red Hat's Linux distribution still has to be of quality, or else it won't succeed. To ensure the best overall quality, Red Hat views their distribution as a holistic system that must be as full-featured and bug-free as possible in the aggregate, rather than state-of-theart in terms of each individual component (such as the kernel or the system C compiler). Consequently, Red Hat takes a more conservative approach to their software than do many other free software and open source organizations. Red Hat frequently incorporates software versions and patches that aren't technically "stable" but that Red Hat deems production-ready. Conversely, Red Hat just as frequently elects not to include software that others might claim is stable if it doesn't meet Red Hat's own quality standards. In other words, in order to enhance the quality and functionality of the Red Hat distribution, the company makes various tradeoffs with that goal in mind.
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