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Red Hat Drops Anonymous up2date Services, Introduces Service Fees For Some Users

Mar 20, 2001, 12:28 (101 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Michael Hall)

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By Michael Hall, LinuxToday

Linux distribution maker Red Hat has begun the process of entrenching its Red Hat Network (RHN) services as a source of revenue for the company by dropping anonymous automated system updates via its up2date tool and charging for users administering more than a single machine via RHN.

According to Billy Marshall, Director of the Red Hat Network, the change shouldn't be a surprise to users who "take a little time to read the documentation [Red Hat's] put out." Red Hat released a mail apprising users of the change several weeks ago.

The primary change in the way the service is offered for single-system desktop users involves a requirement to register and provide some basic contact information to establish a customer record. Previously users were able to run Red Hat's up2date software anonymously, without providing any personal information. Marshall stressed that the registration process doesn't automatically result in receiving the numerous mailings and phone calls software registration typically entails, noting that by default, users won't be registered for such lists.

Marshall also noted that downloading Red Hat updates without the benefit of the RHN's management tools will remain an option for all users.

Marshall said the registration will provide the ability for customers to receive automatic e-mail updates of errata and security fixes separate from receiving marketing-oriented communications from the company.

Along side the changes in registration requirements, Marshall said users will have a slightly different experience in obtaining updates, with a web-based interface that allows them to review changelogs, queue packages for delivery to their systems, and receive zip files of fix collections.

The Red Hat customers who will first notice the new charge structure are those maintaining more than one system via the RHN. Marshall said that until April 12, the service will be available for $9.95 per month per system, but after that date, the charge will increase to $19.95 per month for customers who buy the service a month at a time. Customers who choose to buy the service for a year will pay closer to $8.00 per month provided they enroll before the April deadline.

At first glance, the move may seem counterproductive in the face of both other commercial software houses, such as Eazel and Ximian, who are both also providing their own update and dependency-resolution tools in the form of Nautilus and Red Carpet respectively. Both provide mirrors of Red Hat's archives and presumably will continue to allow their users to obtain updates, anonymously in the case of Red Carpet.

Marshall, however, says Red Hat's model will fly based on the fact that Red Hat and Eazel are partnering around Red Hat's deployment of Nautilus as the default file manager on Red Hat distributions in a deal with undisclosed financial elements that will involve the companies sharing revenues from the use of Nautilus as a conduit for Red Hat's update services.

According to Marshall, the current set of services RHN provides are only a small part of what subscribers will eventually receive as the company unfolds its overall plan. Marshall said later iterations of RHN's services will involve Enterprise-class tools that provide for profiling and management of large groups of machines based on common hardware and software characteristics. One hypothetical he offered was the use of RHN to service a large network of systems serving different purposes with specialized hardware across several groups of machines. According to Marshall, system profiles could be created that set the priority of updates depending on where each system fits into an organization's production scheme, with less mission-critical workstations receiving more automated updates for their software as opposed to essential systems requiring an administrator's approval before replacing essential packages.

"The focus is not on automagical updating," said Marshall. "The focus is on system management software, the first two elements of which happen to be automatic updates and errata fixes."

Marshall said Red Hat's plans will fit into a broader, "macroeconomic trend" of shortages in qualified tech workers, moving the process of system administration "from a craft or art to a set of policy decisions."