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Red Hat: Go support yourselves, Fedora users

That's what development release means, people

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

One of the most frustrating aspects of open source but commercially supported software is that it takes many orders of magnitude of freebie customers to attain a base of core customers who will pay for a glorified product with commercial-grade installation and ongoing tech support. There is always a temptation to try to monetize the vast installed base of users who are making use of the so-called development or community editions of programs. But Red Hat isn't going for it.

In a recent conference call, when Red Hat reported its financial results for its second fiscal quarter 2009 ended in August - revenues up 29 per cent to $164.4m and profits up 16 per cent to $21.1m, and apparently ahead of expectations by a smidgen - Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat's president and chief executive officer, was asked if the company would reconsider changing its business model and start offering support on Fedora, the company's development release for its variant of Linux.

Forget that idea.

"Fedora is our key open source development platform with the community and we have no plans to change that," Whitehouse said, explaining that Fedora's reason for existence was to create the foundation code that eventually makes its way into Enterprise Linux, the commercially supported product.

"It is not something that we look at directly monetizing nor is that something that we have considered."

It is not exactly a stupid idea, even if such support would probably not be a big money maker. Way back when, when SUSE was an independent Linux supplier, its development release, SUSE Linux Professional, offered 90-day support for a nominal fee.

Over the past few years the openSUSE project has taken over as Novell's SLES development effort, but Novell nonetheless sells a supported version of openSUSE 11, which will be the basis for SLES 11, for $60.

And Sun Microsystems - which is trying to blunt the attack of open source and commercial Linux by freely distributing its commercial Solaris 10 Unix variant and now offering support on OpenSolaris 2008.05, its first commercially supported open source Solaris release - is also keen on making the development release a supported product.

OpenSolaris basic support, which includes web support and the ability to get bugs fixed, costs $324 per machine per year on a machine with up to two processor sockets; a production-grade, 24x7 support contract costs $2,160 per year for a two-socket box. That basic support price is exactly the same as Sun is charging for its basic Solaris 10 commercial support, which is restricted to one-socket or two-socket machines at $324 per year.

Sun also offers standard support, which provides 9x5 business hour support with telephone contact in addition to the web, for $720 per year on a two-socket X64 box and $1,320 a year on larger x64 machines; support on Sparc boxes is more expensive as machines get more cores (which seems a bit unfair). Premium support (24x7 with all the bells and whistles) on a two-socket box costs $1,080 for the regular Solaris 10 commercial edition, so companies that want to put OpenSolaris 2008.05 into production have to budget carefully, since they are paying twice as much for support per machine.

Red Hat's contention has been - and continues to be - that if Fedora users want to have official support for their operating system, then they can buy a license to Enterprise Linux and be done with it. ®

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