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Enterprise/Consumer support debate

Most of the complaining that is taking place about the recent changes
in the Enterprise versus Consumer line pricing and support policies
seems to boil down to this:

   "Y'know, before, it was great.  I could download Red Hat Linux for
    free and install it for free, and Red Hat would support it with
    bugfix and errata updates for free for years and years.  I
    convinced my bosses and/or customers that Linux was free and
    well-supported, and that we should abandon Windows for it.  But
    now, either I have to pay for Enterprise support, which is more
    expensive than Windows over the long term, or I have to upgrade
    all of my Consumer line machines every year.  This sucks."

I'm sorry, but I don't have much sympathy for the people making this
argument.  The lesson of the (United States) stock market's Internet
bubble burst is that all free lunches come to an end sooner or later.

Red Hat is a business, and for Red Hat to survive, they need a viable
business model.  Red Hat clearly doesn't believe that providing
support for multiple versions of a free product for years and years at
a rate (e.g., free, or close to it) which doesn't recoup the costs of
providing that support is a viable business model.

If Red Hat is wrong, then some other company will step in and start
providing free (or extremely low-cost) support for Consumer line
releases which Red Hat no longer supports.  But personally, I'm not
holding my breath.

(Another possibility is that volunteer efforts will spring up to
provide bugfixes and security fixes for unsupported releases of the
Consumer line.  But there are trust issues there which might make many
people uncomfortable.)

Regardless, any business which defines "cost" as "purchase price" is
foolish.  The important factor involved in purchasing decisions is the
total cost of ownership (TCO).  The flexibility and low TCO of Linux
is a direct consequence of it being free as in freedom, regardless of
whether it's free as in beer (Red Hat's Consumer line is; support for
the Enterprise line isn't).

The "give us longer free support for Consumer releases or we'll go
[back] to Windows" arguments are amusing, considering that when
Microsoft stops supporting a release of Windows, you have no choice:
you *must* upgrade if you want bugfixes and security fixes, because
you don't have the source, and can't roll your own.  With Linux, you
have a choice: if Red Hat is about to discontinue support for the
release of the Consumer line you installed 12 months ago, you can
either upgrade to the latest available Consumer line, *or* start
rolling your own bugfixes and security fixes.  Red Hat gives you that
freedom, via the GPL.  Microsoft does not.

Do you want Red Hat to provide support for release [x] of their
product for years and years?  Fine; run the Enterprise line, and pay
Red Hat the money they want for supporting your Enterprise machines.
(Enterprise support can cost as little as $29 per server per month;
the vast majority of businesses can afford that.)

If you don't want to pay, or can't afford to, then simply run the
Consumer line.  You'll either have to upgrade at least once a year, or
roll your own bugfixes and security fixes, but your only cost will be
the time you spend doing so.

Personally, I'm glad Red Hat made these changes to the Enterprise
and Consumer lines.  Not only is the Enterprise line (ES Basic, in
particular) now affordable for our organization, but the Consumer line
(which I run on my desktop, and on certain "cutting edge" servers)
will now become even more "cutting edge".  To me, that's a win-win

In fact, not only do I not begrudge Red Hat the money they want for
supporting Enterprise machines, but I'm in fact happy to send some of
my organization's money to line Red Hat's pockets.  I've been
administering unix machines for more than a decade now, and the amount
of time and effort I've saved by running Red Hat Linux over the past
few years is simply incalculable.  If Red Hat fails as a business, my
life will suck.  If the amazing concept of actually *paying* Red Hat
for support is what it takes to keep the marvelous product that is Red
Hat Linux going, then I will pay gladly.

James Ralston, Information Technology
Software Engineering Institute
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

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