Red Hat slows release schedule to accommodate users

Enterprise customers today welcomed Red Hat's decision to lengthen the release schedule for updates to its commercial version of the Linux operating system to reduce the burden of internal testing.

"We're slowing things down to cover customers who don't want to change so often," said Nick Carr, Red Hat's enterprise marketing manager.

Companies are often leery of upgrades for fear of introducing security holes or software crashes to hundreds or thousands of computers. Most engage in a testing or certification process before installing even minor updates, which can be labour-intensive.

Carr said that starting with the expected release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 5 in December, major versions will come out closer to once every two years, compared with the previous rate of once every 18 months.

Additionally, Red Hat will release updates to major versions every six months instead of every four months. Red Hat will also support each update for 18 months after release, meaning companies installing RHEL 5.0 can keep getting support even if they skip versions 5.1 and 5.2, and jump to upgrade when RHEL 5.3 comes out a year and a half later.

"Users told us that they can't take every update because it involves too much certification, yet they still need the security fixes," Carr said.

Red Hat will also provide maintenance for seven years after the release of each major version.

Cybersource CEO Con Zymaris said the move is indicative of how open source technologies are maturing.

"Large customers demand longer release cycles and very long support periods. As Linux becomes embedded within the genetic fabric of the enterprise, it has to abide by those expectations," he said.

"As with all technologies, Linux and server-oriented open source applications have matured to a point where substantial changes are not occurring at break-neck pace any more.

"From the CIO's perspective, this is positive news. The rapidity of changes within the open source industry can be overwhelming at times."

For those users who want updates as fast as possible, Red Hat recently introduced a feature in its Red Hat Network systems management software that allows subscribers to get non-critical fixes automatically delivered via the Internet once a week, Carr said.

Both RHEL 3.8 and RHEL 4.4 are due for release around mid-year, Carr said. Update 8 is the final update for RHEL 3, originally released in October 2003, and adds several device drivers. Update 4 to RHEL 4, meanwhile, adds meatier features such as support for InfiniBand networking, IPv6 and more, Carr said.

For the highly anticipated RHEL 5, which will include built-in Xen virtualization, Red Hat will release a beta test version to a limited set of partners and customers at the end of July, followed by a public beta in mid-September. Virtualization and other possible new RHEL 5 features will be available for preview via Red Hat's free open-source distribution, Fedora Core 6, Carr said.

Red Hat's services group will also begin offering a service to evaluate companies' readiness for virtualization after the release of the limited beta.

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