This is a geeky post. Sorry. Maybe if you scroll down really quickly…
I was trying to get some (work related) writing done, when I get an e-mail from the computer support people at the university wondering what kinds of LINUX (sic) the machines in our lab are running. I don’t know if I’ve brought this up here, but I also double up as the sysadmin in my lab. Why? Well, I’m the geekiest of the bunch.
I tried informing them that we run a variety of RedHat based OSs, from older RedHat Linuces, some Fedora Core, and newer RedHat “Enterprise Linux” rebuilds called Scientific Linux. I soon get an e-mail from them saying their new security policy requires that all LINUX (sic) be either RedHat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 3,4 or Fedora Core 3+. And RHEL is clearly preferred. (Oh my, are the 3 Debian users going to be pissed.)
I tried explaining to them that a rebuild of RHEL is still RHEL, and more mature than Fedora Core; as in I’m not keen on moving all machines over to Fedora Core (which isn’t particularly stable or long lasting), or sending RedHat a big bag of money. I have been unable to get through; at least I don’t think that I can make a difference. So I post all my arguments below.
0. Since the software is all open (as in freedom) and free (as in price), numerous people bundle different sets of software together and call it a “distribution”. There are numerous GNU/Linux distributions out there.
1. RedHat GNU/Linux was one of the earliest into the market and is (quite consequently) a very popular distribution of the OS, especially in the US.
2. The reason I tend not to deviate from it is because I’m used to it. I was talking to a friend the other day, and we realised we’ve been using it for just over a decade last Thursday.
3. One of the other reasons for RedHat’s popularity is that they released their product entirely free for download over the internet, as easy to burn CD images (ISOs). This ending up on a CD on the back of a computer magazine was my first introduction to the OS.
4. Years later, one day they decided they couldn’t do this anymore (citing things like they being “the highest users of bandwidth in the world”), and started charging thousands of dollars for their product; while spinning off a community supported variant of their code called Fedora Core.
5. While this was nice and good, Fedora Core is annoyingly bleeding edge, and won’t always work cleanly when it’s up, while getting outdated easily as the support community gets bored and moves onto newer, shinier technologies. For instance, the end of life (EOL) for a Fedora Core version is 1.5–2.0 years, while it’s 7 for RHEL.
6. This annoying most semi-mature people, they needed a way out. Another crucial bit of this story is that the software RedHat distributes is licensed under the GPL; which means that though they are free to charge money for compiled binaries, they are obligated to release the source code of the product. So these semi-mature people decided to take these sources, and compile it to generate RedHat’s more mature, slower changing “enterprise class” product. One of these groups consists of Fermilab, CERN, and various other labs and universities around the world—and their resulting product is called Scientific Linux.
7. Which is what we use. It is still more stable and thoroughly code-audited than Fedora Core, even though it doesn’t have a RedHat brand name attached to it. Being fully binary and source compatible with the “enterprise class” product, things like proprietary software built for RedHat’s product, like Mathematica, Intel’s high performance compilers or even just a closed-source device driver, will work out of the box and not know the difference.