Programmers bypass Red Hat Linux fees

Red Hat spent months making the newest version of its premium product. Outside programmers released a free clone in less than two weeks.

It took Red Hat 16 months to produce the newest version of its premium Linux product, which went on sale in February for as much as $2,499 per computer per year.

It took a group of programmers less than two weeks to release a free clone. But the move could help Red Hat as much as it appears to hurt it.

The clone is from a project called CentOS--Community Enterprise Operating System--one of several "Red Hat rebuilders" that have partially nullified Red Hat's business decision in 2003 to stop giving away its supported and certified product for free. CentOS and others--Lineox, White Box Linux, Tao Linux, X/OS Linux and Scientific Linux--all rebuild a copy of Red Hat Enterprise Linux from the source code components Red Hat releases.


What's new:
Free clones of Red Hat's premium Linux product are readily available.

Bottom line:
Though that might seem like a threat to Red Hat's business, the company says the clones--unsupported as they are--could actually help, by getting people hooked on the OS and getting them to think about the benefits of a support package. Still, some say support is unnecessary.

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The clones are both a boon and a bane for Red Hat, which used an aggressive pricing plan to profit from its status as the top seller of the open-source operating system.

On the one hand, the rebuilders draft off Red Hat's labors while depriving the company of potential customers for its software and the support that goes along with it. On the other, though, they help cement the dominance of Red Hat's software and spread it to those who might eventually decide Red Hat's services and reliability are worth the price.

It's clear, however, that many Red Hat clone users aren't likely to embrace the original anytime soon.

"I don't pay for Linux, and I have absolutely no need for a Red Hat-style subscription (for) support," said Collins Richey, a Denver Linux enthusiast who uses CentOS on his personal computers to keep them compatible with work machines. "I'm considering recommending CentOS for limited use as a trial work."

Red Hat chooses to see the glass as half full, with spokeswoman Leigh Day calling the clones "good news" because they could attract new customers.

"If they try versions that are not supported or supported inadequately, they will get a hint of the value propositions that are available for Linux

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