What Is Red Hat Linux?

What Is Red Hat Linux?

Having directories of software packages floating extraneously around the Internet was not a bad way for hackers to share software. However, for Linux to be acceptable to a less technical population of computer users, it needed to be simple to install and use. Likewise, businesses that were thinking about committing their mission-critical applications to a computer system would want to know that this system had been carefully tested.

To those ends, several companies and organizations began gathering and packaging Linux software together into usable forms called distributions. The main goal of a Linux distribution is to make the hundreds of unrelated software packages that make up Linux work together as a cohesive whole. For the past few years, the most popular commercial distribution has been Red Hat Linux.

In September 2003, Red Hat, Inc., changed its way of doing business. That change resulted in the formation of the Red Hat–sponsored Fedora Project to take the development of Red Hat Linux technology into the future. But what does that mean to individuals and businesses that have come to rely on Red Hat Linux?

Red Hat forms the Fedora Project

The announcement of the Fedora Project by Red Hat, Inc. at first it prompted more questions than answers about the future direction of the company and its flagship Red Hat Linux product. In fact, it seemed that nothing named Red Hat Linux even existed anymore. Instead, what was Red Hat Linux would be reflected by Linux distributions coming from two paths:

  • Fedora Project (http://fedora.redhat.com) — An open source project, beginning from a Red Hat Linux 9 base, that produces its own Linux distribution. While the project is sponsored by Red Hat, Inc., there is no official support for the Linux distribution (called Fedora Core) that the project produces.

  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux (www.redhat.com/software/rhel) — An official, commercial Linux product from Red Hat, Inc. that is offered on an annual subscription basis. Red Hat backs up its Enterprise product line with technical support, training, and documentation.

The primary result of the Fedora Project (at least at first) is a set of three binary CDs and three source code CDs of a Linux distribution referred to as the Fedora Core. Before it was called Fedora Core, that distribution was being tested simply as the next in the series of Red Hat Linux distributions (presumably, Red Hat Linux 10). The three binary, installation CDs resulting from that effort are the same CDs that are included with this book.

The name change from Red Hat Linux to Fedora Core wasn't the only differences between the two distributions, however. Red Hat, Inc. also changed its association with the Fedora Core distribution in the following ways:

  • No boxed sets — Red Hat decided to not sell Fedora Core through retail channels. The ever-shortening release cycle was making it difficult to manage this, and Red Hat believed that most of its customers were clever enough to download the software.

  • No technical support offerings — There are no technical support programs available from Red Hat for Fedora Core, although at the moment you can still purchase the $60/year update service entitlement for Fedora.

  • No Red Hat documentation — The set of manuals that came with the previous Red Hat Linux product is not being brought over to Fedora. Instead, a series of small task-oriented documents will be collected for the project in article format.

By not creating a whole support industry around Fedora Core, that project is free to produce software release on a much shorter schedule (possibly two or three times per year). This allows Fedora Core users to always have the latest software features and fixes included with a recent version of the operating system.

Another potential upside to Fedora Core is that the Fedora Project hopes to encourage community software developers to create compatible software. By including software download and installation tools (such as the yum utility) in Fedora Core, the Fedora Project hopes to encourage people to contribute to software repositories that Fedora Core users can rely on to download additional software packages.

Red Hat shifts to Enterprise Linux

The major shift of attention to Red Hat Enterprise Linux as the focus of Red Hat, Inc.'s commercial efforts has been on the horizon for some time. Some characteristics of Red Hat Enterprise Linux are:

  • Longer release intervals — Instead of offering releases every 4 to 6 months, Enterprise software will have a 12 to 18 month update cycle. Customers can be assured of a longer support cycle without having to upgrade to a later release.

  • Multiple support options — Customers will have the choice of purchasing different levels of support. All subscriptions will include the Update Module, which allows easy access to updates for Red Hat Enterprise Linux systems. The Management Module lets customers develop custom channels and automate management of multiple systems. The Monitoring Module allows customers to monitor and maintain an entire infrastructure of systems.

  • Documentation and training — Manuals and training courses will center on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux distribution.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux install types focus on three different types of computer systems, referred to as WS (for workstations), AS (for high-end systems), and ES (for small/mid-range servers). Each system in the Red Hat Enterprise Linux family is meant to be compatible with the others. There are Basic, Standard and Premium editions of these Enterprise systems. While Basic offers only software downloads, standard and premium editions offer hard copy documentation and additional technical support.

Choosing between Fedora and Enterprise

If you bought this book to try out Linux for the first time, rest assured that what you have on the three CDs with this book is a solid, battle-tested operating system. Because (at the moment at least) there is so much overlap between Fedora Core and Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Fedora Core provides a way to test out much of the software that is in Enterprise editions.

Although Fedora Core may not be right for everyone, Fedora Core is still great for students, home users, most small businesses, and anyone just wanting to try out Red Hat Linux technology. Larger businesses should seriously consider the implications to support, training, and future upgrade paths before choosing whether to go the Fedora route or sign on with Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Part IV: Red Hat Linux Network and Server Setup