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Persistence

Red Hat pledges to provide updates to fix serious issues or security holes for at least seven years. For a mainly server orientated subset, Red Hat offers a further three years of updates as a paid service – this means they will be supported until 2020. The maximum support period for desktops and servers is, therefore, more than twice as long as that of the LTS variants of Ubuntu or the latest versions of Debian, and it far exceeds the support period of the community distributions.

Every seven to twelve months, Red Hat issues a "minor release" with a version number such as 6.1 or 6.2. These minor releases include the updates that have accumulated and, in the first four years, they also include major changes to support new functionality or hardware. The kernel, Glibc and other core components and server applications are sometimes extended substantially in the process, but their version numbers usually remain the same. In addition, new versions of such desktop applications as Firefox or OpenOffice are sometimes included.

This approach differentiates RHEL from Debian or Ubuntu LTS, as the "minor releases" of these distributions mainly contain bug fixes and hardly ever offer new functions. They also rarely contain new or updated drivers, which makes their use more difficult on hardware introduced after the release of the latest version of Debian or Ubuntu.


Zoom The very extensive and detailed documentation also includes a SELinux handbook to provide background information on this security solution, as SELinux occasionally likes to cause trouble especially on desktop systems.
Novell uses a similar approach as Red Hat with SUSE Linux Enterprise, although the support periods are slightly shorter. Seven years of updates are available for the RHEL-based distributions, Oracle Linux (previously called Unbreakable Linux) and CentOS. CentOS is a free RHEL clone for which Red Hat's source code packages are recompiled. CentOS promises full compatibility with the original. The CentOS project also provides the updates, but will always lag slightly behind. At least critical security updates are often available within hours or days. New versions, on the other hand, are only released weeks or months after the originals. The CentOS developers started work on CentOS six immediately after RHEL6 was released and have indicated it might take four to six week to get finished.

Despite this free competitor, for years, Red Hat's revenue has been growing. Companies are quite prepared to pay for Red Hat's service and for having someone to talk to if there is a problem. Furthermore, hardware components and commercial applications are usually only certified for RHEL, but not for CentOS, which means that, if there are problems, those who use the clone are left out in the cold.

Service contracts

The workstation variant of RHEL 6 is available for x86-32 and x86-64 systems, while the server version is also available for Power (PPC64) and System z; an Itanium version is no longer available. Like its predecessors, RHEL 6 is distributed via service contracts which provide access to updates on the Red Hat Network (RHN). RHN also offers various functions for managing computer clusters.

With RHEL 6, Red Hat has substantially restructured its subscription model. Add-ons which implement certain functions or system configurations are now individually available at a charge; in RHEL 5, some of these features were only available with the most expensive service contract. The Advanced Server, and special subscriptions for operating a guest under virtualisation solutions by Microsoft and VMware, are no longer available. Instead, the system's number of CPU sockets and the potential maximum number of virtual machines are reflected in the price.

As before, Red Hat provides the fastest and most comprehensive support with its "Premium" contract; the "Standard" contract is slightly less expensive. The new "Self Support" contract replaces the previous "Basic" budget contract. The most economical desktop version only costs €39 (£33). Adding all available options to the "Standard" contract increases its cost to up to €239 (£204). The simplest server contract costs €279 (£238) with add-ons, the price increases to several thousand euros. Purchasing a large number of contracts or agreeing to a 3-year term slightly reduces the cost.

Conclusion

Due to its numerous advancements, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 represents a major step in the development of this operating system. As a result, RHEL6 is now far more suitable for current, as well as future, computers and requirements.

In tests on a handful of systems, RHEL 6 had no major, but still a few minor kinks. The next few months will show how well the new version of RHEL fares in practical use; Red Hat will probably release a few updates to fix teething problems. However, due to its long support window and the provision of drivers and improvements via minor updates, the new RHEL is much more attractive for some systems than distributions such as Debian or Ubuntu LTS.

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