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What indeed about Fedora?

A reader of Thursday's story, "Programmers bypass Red Hat Linux fees," asks, "What about Fedora Core?" It's an excellent question.

When Red Hat split what used to be Red Hat Linux into what today is the premium Red Hat Enterprise Linux and the free Fedora, it hoped paying business customers would head for the first and hobbyists would head for the second. While Fedora and RHEL are related, there are major differences: Fedora changes quickly and incorporates cutting-edge features rapidly so Red Hat can work out the kinks. Each RHEL version is supported with bug fixes and security patches for years, whereas Fedora support is comparatively fleeting.

Red Hat is trying to build a community of developers around Fedora but has had mixed results since Fedora was first launched two years ago. What the arrival of CentOS and its ilk show is there still is an appetite for helping out on a version that's stable and accompanied by long-term support. Users of the RHEL clones generally supply their own support, and contributions to the clones' production, testing and self-help mailing lists are contributions that won't be going to Fedora.

The complications show an advantage of Sun Microsystems' approach with its OpenSolaris program. Sun also is trying to build a community of open-source programmers around its Solaris operating system, due to become fully open-source software in the next few months, but the Solaris version available for free download is identical to the one it ships to its customers and sells support contracts.