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Red Hat opens Linux development process

The company releases another test version of its Linux operating system along with a new development process that's designed to include outside programmers.

Red Hat released a new test version of its Linux operating system on Monday along with a new development process that's designed to include outside programmers.

The Raleigh, N.C.-based company has relabeled Red Hat Linux to reflect the new philosophy, now calling it a "project" instead of a "product." The move to let outsiders have a stronger role in the software's development was made possible by the split last year of the company's products into two versions: the fast-changing and more experimental Red Hat Linux and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which is less volatile, with guarantees for corporate customers.

"Just as most of the software in Red Hat Linux is developed in an open fashion, so should Red Hat Linux itself--driven by those who develop, test, document and translate," Red Hat programmer Bill Nottingham wrote in an e-mail announcement of the new version to developers. "To accomplish this, we're opening up our process."

Currying favor with developers is a common strategy. Indeed, strong ties with programmers have been important to the success of Microsoft's Windows and Sun Microsystems' Java software.

While numbering much less than the total user population, programmers influence what customers test out and potentially run. And in the open-source movement, developers are crucial participants who help write, debug and advocate the software.

Red Hat has opened up the Red Hat Linux process significantly. It posted a schedule for the new version, which is due for relase on Oct. 6. The company also described the division of labor between it and outside programmers and ways to join company discussions.

More processes will be opened up to outside programmers later, the company said. One possible set of candidates for outside help are updates such as bug fixes and security patches, which Red Hat guarantees for only a year in its Red Hat Linux versions. Red Hat Enterprise Linux has a five-year support period.

"There's no reason that 12-month period couldn't be longer if people are willing to pitch in and help share the workload required to produce older errata (bug fixes)," Red Hat programmer Brent Fox said in an earlier e-mail.

Letting others assist with software updates could help address the needs of universities, which often need long-term support but "do not have the money or the inclination to switch to Red Hat Enterprise Linux," Fox said. Many universities use Red Hat Linux versions 7.3 to 9.

"We've talked a lot internally about what (might be) the right way to address the needs of universities," Fox said. Universities could essentially contribute labor to help sustain the Red Hat Linux line. "Ideally, universities will collaborate with each other in the context of the Red Hat Linux project to help provide errata for as long as people are interested in producing them," he said.

Red Hat isn't forgoing complete control. "Red Hat will retain editorial control over the Red Hat Linux. This is not a free-for-all," the company explained on its Web site.

The new beta, code-named Severn, includes a new boot process, programming tools, e-mail software and a Web browser, Red Hat said. When it's done, it will be called Red Hat 10 and code-named Cambridge.

Severn requires a minimum of 64MB of memory and a 200MHz Pentium-class processor for running in text-only mode. Enabling graphics pushes the requirement to 128MB and a 400MHz Pentium II, and 192MB is recommended for the graphical installation.