[OT]: Free Linux? Hardly.
From: John Smith (a_at_nonymous.com)
Date: Sun, 17 Apr 2005 21:30:02 -0400
Pssst... Free Linux! Only $799!
Thu Apr 14, 2:49 PM ET
Business - NewsFactor
Paul Murphy, www.cio-today.com
How free is Linux? If your application vendor only supports one of the Red
Hat enterprise editions and this obligates you to pay at least $799 for your
first year, is it still free? More directly, under what circumstances is
Linux at $1,295 free with your order for an IBM OpenPower eServer
In theory, of course, the answer is that you're not licensing Linux; in
fact, you're not even getting an IBM operating system. You're getting a "1
year standard subscription and support license" from Red Hat, which you're
then entitled to install on that IBM machine.
Similarly, the theory says you're free to buy that IBM box without an OS and
roll your own Linux for it. In practice, of course, there are a few
impediments -- ranging from high skill requirements to foregoing application
certification and accepting the performance hit that comes from the
incompatibilities between the Power5 and other PowerPC derivititives like
In other words, you can do this, but a business would need hundreds of
copies to break even, and you'd better plan on being long gone before the
next round of hardware and software upgrades comes along.
Rolling Your Own Installations
Now you might think that someone who needs a number of these machines could
buy a support contract for the one used as a preproduction test bed and just
roll out unsupported copies to all the others, but IBM has a helpful
footnote on it's pricing page for 720 Linux that puts the kibosh on that
The Red Hat license agreement defines the RHEL AS 3 charge unit as per
install, meaning that a license is required for each server or LPAR on which
RHEL AS 3 is installed.
In my opinion, therefore, the impracticalities combine with the licensing
requirement to render both the ability to roll your own and the traditional
right to install multiple copies from the same CD every bit as fictional as
Red Hat's claim that they sell support with a free license instead of a
license with free support.
Of Third-Party Licenses
It's easy to understand how and why Red Hat's reality reversal circumvents
the GPL and related open-source licenses they work under; but why are so
many people willing to go along?
Of course it's not just Red Hat; it's IBM too. It's an IBM machine, but
there's no IBM Linux distribution to go with it. Here's how one of IBM's key
project managers for the official IBM System 390 Linux port, Karl-Heinz
Strassemeyer, justified that in an interview with Ole Tange almost a year
before SCO asked a court to lift IBM's AT&T licenses for AIX:
Most recently we wanted to make good use of Linux, because we wanted to ship
some hardware where we said we would put a little operating system kernel
into the hardware. This should enable us to do the initial program load
specifically of Linux on top it of the small kernel. Flexible from different
targets -- CD-ROM, network or whatever. The first idea to take Linux was
abandoned. We didn't want to do a distribution, because we didn't want a
patent infringement being detected. If somebody would have taken us to court
we might have had to stop shipping our product.
In other words, IBM wants you to license Linux from a third party because
IBM doesn't want to be sued for patent infringement.
What's the Contract Worth?
Poke at this a bit more, and it gets worse. For example, I don't buy from
companies that don't stand behind their products, but I'm not sure whether
IBM stands behind this one or not.
Clearly, they don't in the sense that they want to limit their own legal
exposure by having you deal with Red Hat, but ask them to help you get the
thing working and you'll find them happy to help -- although their work
won't be covered under your Red Hat support contract.
You might reasonably ask, therefore, what that contract is worth if it
doesn't cover the help you need? At best, I think it's possible to argue
that the first contract you buy of this type gives your people a form of
privileged access to information.
If, however, you buy five machines, and therefore find yourself forced to
pick up the support "option" five times, how do you justify the value of the
After all, if we're pretending the money doesn't buy a Linux license, why
give Red Hat another $5,180 for rights we already have?
Pricing Structures and Other Choices
In my opinion this whole pricing structure is a con and every time somebody
buys into it, the entire open-source movement is weakened just a little bit
more. Let it go on long enough, and the whole idea of free software could be
looted into oblivion.
To help stop it, simply refuse to play. Just say "no" to vendors who require
you to pay for Linux support in lieu of a Linux license. Make it a company
policy: Vendors either back a genuinely free Linux distribution like Debian,
Gentoo or Fedora, or they don't do business with you. And if that means
passing up a bargain like that IBM 720E -- well, think of it as a Trojan
horse and remember what happened to Troy.
Remember too, that there are always other choices. It's true that at $23,549
(plus $1,295 for Linux), a dual processor (four-core) 8-GB system from IBM
looks like a bargain.
But you could cough up the extra $4,750 or so it takes to get the equivalent
pSeries 550 with AIX or shave a few bucks off the top and get a Sun 440 with
Solaris 10 preinstalled, a range of genuinely optional support options and
no moral dilemmas or legal gotchas hiding in the relationships you get into
when you buy the thing.
Paul Murphy, a CIO Today columnist, wrote and published The Unix Guide to
Defenestration. Murphy is a 20-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry,
specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.
-- OpenVMS - The best unadvertised operating system on the planet.