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Thread: OpenSource wont be 100% OpenSource anymore!

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2002

    OpenSource wont be 100% OpenSource anymore!

    New Linux support policies are ominous
    By Jon Lasser, Security Focus Online
    Posted: 14/02/2003 at 11:33 GMT

    Opinion Red Hat and Mandrake are cutting support for older versions of their Linux distributions... The results will be a security nightmare for the Internet, says Jon Lasser.

    Open source opponents have for years warned, "You get what you pay for."

    Now some Linux distributors are planning to make good on that threat. Red Hat and Mandrake's recently-announced revised support policies might spell the end of the free ride for many companies using Linux.

    The policies are straightforward: Red Hat will support their regular distributions for twelve months from initial release. Red Hat's venerable version 6.2 will be retired on March 31st along with version 7.0. Versions 7.1 through 8.0 will expire on December 31st. After the expiration date, security patches will be provided at Red Hat's discretion only.

    Mandrake's new policy is similar, though a little more confusing: Mandrake will support "desktop components" of any new distribution for twelve months, and they'll support "base" components, including the kernel and Apache, for eighteen months. Which category the other packages fall into remains to be seen.

    Mandrake 7.2 and 8.0's desktop components are immediately unsupported, while their base components will be supported until March 31st. Mandrake will drop support for 8.1, both desktop and base packages, as of March 31st as well. Version 9.0's end-of-life dates are September 30th and March 31st of next year.

    How you interpret these announcements depends on what hats you wear: I didn't know whether I should, laugh, cry, or cheer. As a systems administrator, my first reaction was definitely to cry.

    Vendor-provided security patches are, unfortunately, the lifeblood of distribution support. Without well-integrated and well-tested patches, maintaining a Unix server takes a lot more work: you have to track every installed package on your system and rebuild necessary subsystems whenever a patch is released.

    Though users of commercial Unix distributions have been doing this for years, users attracted to Linux's relative ease of use and maintenance frequently don't have the technical skills to keep up while not falling behind on other important tasks. Without these vendor-provided patches, most Linux users -- and even many professional system administrators -- will have trouble keeping their systems safe.

    Twelve or eighteen months is nothing in the life of a production server. In many shops it can take more than six months to certify an application for use. In such an environment the install-test-release cycle would be constant. Furthermore, servers are often hard to update: permissible downtimes may be rare, and co-located servers are even more difficult to handle.

    Two Weeks Notice

    On the bright side, at least Red Hat and Mandrake have policies that will allow me to plan, or to make other arrangements. I still have a bad taste in my mouth from the Debian 2.1 support debacle. On September 14th, 2000, the Debian project announced that, as of September 30th, support for Debian 2.1 would be dropped entirely.

    Two weeks notice is simply not enough time to do even minimal testing before updating a production server doing anything more complicated than serving static Web pages. Furthermore, Debian 2.2 had been released on August 14th -- only one month earlier.

    I know that Red Hat and Mandrake have important reasons to limit support for older operating systems: first, open-source software has an unfortunate tendency to live forever -- many users are still relying on versions of Red Hat even older than 6.2, and supporting these primordial distributions is expensive. The QA and build machines need to be supported, and developers must be diverted from more forward-looking tasks. Given that Linux distributors make little money supporting these older releases, dropping patches must seem like a no-brainer from their point of view.

    And to their credit, both companies have different rules for "server-class" products: Red Hat will support their Advanced Server for five years, and Mandrake's policy states that server software will be supported for "no less than twenty-four months." Red Hat and Mandrake are clearly banking on support contracts and installations of their advanced server products to generate revenue.

    It's not unreasonable to expect people who want commercial quality support to pay for it.

    But as an advocate for better computer security, I'm nearly panic-stricken over this move. In the short term, at least, this will be a big negative for practical security on the Internet. Old software doesn't go away just because it's no longer supported, and with network operating systems the consequences could be drastic. Those systems will be sitting ducks for vulnerability scanners, and the size of distributed denial-of-service networks may grow exponentially as a result.

    Silver Lining?

    After all, many users have come to rely on the auto-update mechanisms provided by vendors, such as Red Hat's up2date tool. When Red Hat's support for 7.3 goes away, tens of thousands of users will have no automated way to apply third-party security patches to the base OS.

    As an open-source advocate, I must say this problem is also an opportunity.

    We have a large base of commonly used open source applications, and we now have to develop support mechanisms that do not rely on a single commercial vendor. Although up2date is closely tied to Red Hat's proprietary Red Hat Network support offering, an up2date server clone is under development. Its feature set is rather limited at present, but Red Hat's new support policy will undoubtedly drive many users to run their own patch servers.

    Another tool that could be used is Connectiva's port of Debian's apt package management front-end to Red Hat's RPM format. Running an apt repository is not difficult and provides an excellent mechanism for continued security updates.

    All that is necessary is continued community support for the orphaned distributions, in the form of well-managed projects that follow security updates for core OS components, and then build and extensively test new packages on the target platform.

    If you think that this sounds like an opportunity for third-party support vendors, you're right about that, too. I suspect that Tummy.com's KRUD distribution which provides monthly updates to a Red Hat-based system, will gain quite a number of customers. I know of at least one other vendor who is considering a Red Hat support offering including packages for older Red Hat versions.

    Open source proponents have long claimed that our community can provide better support than any commercial vendor can. Now we'll have to prove it.
    it was bound to happen, to major Linux distributors like RedHat and Mandrake
    I don\'t wanna grow up change my skateboard for a tie

  2. #2
    Purveyor of Lather Syini666's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2001
    I'm pretty sure the community will pick up where the companies leave off. I've found that often the community is more helpful, because they don't worry about feasibity of supporting somthing, they just do what needs to be done. I've found very little support for winmodems from actual companies, most of the drivers I've found were written by groups or individuals. But your right, we will definately see how far the community can go as far as support and such will go.
    You're not your post count, You're not your avatar or sig, You're not how fast your internet connection is, You are not your processor, hard drive, or graphics card. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of AO
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  3. #3
    If a particular distribution is not supporting a certian distro anymore just means they are evolving. While I agree the support life of a distro is shorter than an MS or other OS, I have to disagree this means it not "open source" anymore. Just because a company does not support a distro, does not change the licensing terms in which the software can be used and implimented has changed.

    As the article said, it just means more work for administrators and users to go and find patches for packages, kernel upgrades, etc. However, there are programs out there to check for updates and the like if you are really gung-ho in keeping your current distro and not going to the lastest and "greatest" thing. Take Red Hat 8.0. A lot of people do not like Red Hat 8.0 and prefer 7.3. it does not mean it cannot be upgraded It just means Red Hat themselves will want nothing to do with it to support newer versions.

    Further, like Syini666 said, there is a huge community base and if you need help and support for unsupported distro, there is plenty of people willing to help.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2002
    I'm going with Syini666 on this one, I find that redhat.com's web site is worthless compared to doing a google on a command or come here. Also the MAN pages help out a lot. Heck you don't really need to even use the destributor for help. :-\
    To be God is to be Root, if someone is erking you just type: rm -d /home/heathen

  5. #5
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    I must say, the thread title is a bit mis-leading. This really doesn't have much to do with the open source license.

    It might be an inconvience, but Redhat, Mandrake, etc are all corporations and must make a profit. Although, some of the drop dates are a little to soon (especially Mandrake's).

    Lastly, the thing that makes the difference between this being an inconvinience and a major catastrophe is that it's open source.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    I have to agree with Wickdgin this doesn't change the Open Source agreement. Truly the Linux community will be a better source of support than the companies. Time will shed better light upon this subject and know how will better serve the community as a whole. I would prefer to write my own kernel anyway to test out my ideas

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    Untill I Installed RH8 On My Personal Box I Didn't Know What Up2Date Was; I Use Mandrake On All Of My Other Boxes. I've Allways Gone To The Community To Find Exploits Or Bugtraq And Patch It Myself.
    There Are Four Colors Of Hats You Need To Watch Out For: Black, White, Grey, and Red. The Respective Meanings Are \"Cracker\", \"Hacker\", \"Guru\", and \"Victim\"

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