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Red Hat to offer high-end Linux version

The top seller of Linux will begin offering a higher-end and more specialized version of Linux later this year that won't be as easy to find as the current all-purpose package.

Red Hat, the top seller of the Linux operating system, will begin offering a higher-end and more specialized version of Linux later this year that won't be as easy to find as the current all-purpose package.

Red Hat will demonstrate its coming Advanced Server product this week at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in New York and plans to begin selling it mid-spring, said Paul Cormier, executive vice president of engineering at the Durham, N.C., company.

"As Linux is making inroads into the enterprise, we think the days of trying to stuff everything for everyone on one distribution are impractical at this stage," Cormier said. The new version also won't be updated as frequently as the mainstream version, which is refreshed every six months, he added.

Red Hat Advanced Server, in beta testing now, includes features designed for more powerful servers, such as faster communications, load balancing to share jobs efficiently among several servers, and "clustering," which can let one computer take over for a crashed comrade, Cormier said. The company this week will demonstrate "failover," in which one server handling file-sharing duties takes over for another.

Red Hat has long funded programmers to work on improvements to Linux, but the effort got a shot in the arm when the company hired Brian Stevens, former chief technology officer of Mission Critical Linux, which specializes in high-end clustering and failover features. Mission Critical Linux laid off staff last year, and Red Hat was in discussions to acquire the company, sources told CNET

Before working at Mission Critical Linux, Stevens spent 16 years working on the version of Unix developed by Digital Equipment and later Compaq Computer. That version of Unix is regarded by analysts as the best to handle clustering and failover.

But the new version won't be as easy to copy as current versions of Linux, he said. Red Hat offers "ISO" editions of its product, single large files that can be copied to a blank CD to recreate installation disks. That practice won't continue with the Advanced Server product, Cormier said.

Because the individual components still will be available, people will be able to re-create what makes up the product. But they'll have to find and download the required software packages themselves.

That change could make life somewhat harder for companies such as CheapBytes that sell copies of Red Hat and other Linux software--though because of trademark law the site is referring to the product as "the XXX XXX Linux distribution" and hints that the "name has to do with an article of clothing to keep your head warm."

Because the Linux kernel and many higher-level software packages are open-source software that anyone can see and redistribute, Red Hat competitors such as Caldera International, Turbolinux, MandrakeSoft, SuSE and Conectiva benefit from Red Hat's work--and vice versa.