I’ve written previously about why open source software is not really free (as in monetary value), just free (as in freedom). Companies such as Red Hat and Novell (SUSE) make their money from support and during Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) setup, it is “strongly recommended” that the system is set up for software updates via Red Hat Network (RHN), citing the benefits of an RHEL subscription as:
- “Security and updates: receive the latest software updates, including security updates, keeping [a] Red Hat Enterprise Linux system updated and secure.
- Downloads and upgrades: download installation images for Red Hat Enterprise Linux releases, including new releases.
- Support: Access to the technical support experts at Red Hat or Red Hat’s partners for help with any issues you might encounter with [a] system.
- Compliance: Stay in compliance with your subscription agreement and manage subscriptions for systems connected to [an] account at http://rhn.redhat.com/
You will not be able to take advantage of these subscriptions privileges without connecting [a] system to Red Hat Network.”
Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 installer
Take a look at Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and you’ll see that it’s actually quite expensive – a standard subscription for a machine with up to 2 processor sockets including 1 year’s 12×5 telephone support, 1 year of web access and unlimited incidents is â‚¬773.19 [source: Red Hat Online Shop, Europe]. That is not something that I can afford and even though Red Hat gave me a copy of RHEL 5 as part of my recent training, it only includes a 30-day subscription. Now they have launched Red Hat Exchange – a new service whereby third party open source software solutions are purchased, delivered and supported via a single, standardized Red Hat subscription agreement with consolidated billing covering the complete application stack. It’s a great idea, but the pricing for some of the packages makes using proprietary alternatives seem quite competitive.
In fairness to Red Hat, they sponsor the Fedora Project for users like me, who could probably make do with a community-supported release (Fedora is free for anyone to use modify and distribute) but there is another option – CentOS (the community enterprise operating system), which claims to be:
“An Enterprise-class Linux Distribution derived from sources freely provided to the public by a prominent North American Enterprise Linux vendor. CentOS conforms fully with the upstream vendor[‘]s redistribution policy and aims to be 100% binary compatible. (CentOS mainly changes packages to remove upstream vendor branding and artwork.) CentOS is free.”
Hmm… so which North American Enterprise Linux vendor might that be then ;-)
So what about RHEL systems for which the subscription has expired? I’m not sure what the legal standpoint is but there is a way to receive updated software using an unregistered copy of RHEL. Firstly, configuring additional repositories like Dag Wieer’s RPMForge – there are even RPMs available to set up the correct repository! Then, there are the various RPM search sites on the ‘net, including:
I’ve found that using these, even if there is not an appropriate RHEL or generic RPM available, there is often a CentOS RPM (which often still carries the el5 identifier in the filename). These should be safe to install on an RHEL system and in those rare cases when a bleeding edge package is required, there may well be a Fedora version that can be used. So it seems that I can continue to run a Linux distribution that is recognised by most software vendors, even when my RHN subscription expires.