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Getting Red Hat Network support for free just got harder

Surveyware? Egad...

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With the impending rollout of Red Hat Advanced Workstation the company has made another move to 'encourage' users to pay for Red Hat Network support. As you'd expect it's a mixture of carrots and sticks, but some of the sticks look quite painful for people who're trying to run businesses off of the free RHN service - presumably this is deliberate.

"Demo subscriptions," as Red Hat is now calling them, will continue to be available, but "we will... introduce some new rules that will make it easier for us to provide service to these accounts." Be afraid? Perhaps.

First, all demo accounts have to confirm their email addresses, otherwise they'll be disabled. And demo accounts using non-unique email accounts will be disabled "in accordance with our terms and conditions." This process Red Hat calls, in terms that remind us of, um, somebody else, a "maintenance process."

The net effect is that it will become a lot more onerous for IT managers to use the free service for multiple machines, because they'll need a separate email ID for each machine. When subscribing to the free service for the second time a while back, The Register wondered why Red Hat wouldn't let us service more than one machine with the same logon - it's free, we thought, so what's the big problem? Well, now we know.

The verification process, which has started already, should also kill off quite a lot of defunct accounts, but that seems reasonable enough. Here, however, is what looks like the killer to us:

"Second, demo users will be asked to take a short survey every 60 days in order to provide Red Hat with valued customer input and to validate that the account is still active. Upon completion of each survey, RHN will extend your demo account for 60 days until the next survey."

Red Hat's registration process is in our view a tad control-freaky already. Having to complete one form every 60 days you could maybe put up with, but the life of the panhandling small company tech clearly just got a lot more complicated. If you want to use the free RHN for, say, 20 machines then you've got to have the 20 separate IDs and you've also got to pretend to be 20 different people every 60 days. The author of this piece is currently pretending to be four, and is viewing the prospect somewhat gloomily.

That last bit is significant too: "RHN will extend your demo account for 60 days until the next survey." That is, it means the RHN is not free, but something you can earn in exchange for services rendered. That is an important shift in categorisation and philosophy, and most certainly won't be welcomed in substantial sections of the community.

The carrots? There are implied sticks to most of these. Paid subscribers will get instant access to ISOs as soon as they're out, which means "no more long downloads from ftp sites, driving to the store, or waiting for your friends to finish with their copy."

They'll also get priority during heavy traffic periods, won't be subject to blackouts, and have "the ability to manage multiple systems from a single user login and password, and a single email account."

Red Hat pitches the paid for service as being "from as little as $5 per month" (complete pricing and service info available here). But depending, the total cost will be greater, and if we introduce the M-word here (which we fear we must), it's maybe quite a lot. If Microsoft could get $60 per user per year, how happy would it be? Very, surely - from consumers it gets something like $50 for the OS every two to three years, and throws in a free update service. Granted, Linux distributions include applications in areas where MS tries to sell separately, but most of the MS apps revenue comes from business, not consumers.

Which brings us back to that "depending." The tweaks to RHN are only half of the Red Hat deal. A couple of months back it rejigged its support policies, the intent being to split free "consumer" products from paid for business/professional. So to get an OS that's supported for more than 12 months you need to go professional, and whatever the entry cost of that turns out to be.

But Red Hat is doing it backwards again. It has plans to widen the Advanced range beyond the current high-ticket Advanced Server products, but it's announcing the associated changes before anybody's in a position to assess where they ought to go. Red Hat Advanced Workstation is soon, but not here yet.

Red Hat meanwhile is busily building mailing lists of people who're interested in Advanced Workstation. Click on the link at redhat.com and you get through to a nice form to fill in. We can't help noticing that although Red Hat's privacy statement says "We ask our customers how they would like Red Hat to communicate with them, if at all", there's no obvious place on the form where this question is posed. But we're sure that's an oversight. Careful though, people. We try to love and understand you, we really do, but sometimes it's more difficult than others. ®

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