mnot’s blog

Design depends largely on constraints.” — Charles Eames

Friday, 26 December 2003

What’s after Red Hat?

Shortly after I moved to Melbourne in 1995, I set up a Red Hat Linux box in a little corner of our apartment on Flinders Lane. Shortly after that, the box was connected to the Internet via a 33.6k permanent dial-up connection with a static IP address, and it became mnot.cyber.com.au, later mnot.net.

The box behind that address went through several other changes; in location (among a few other apartments in Melbourne’s CBD and later to Potrero Hill in San Francisco) and in configuration (from a 386 with 2M of RAM to a PIII/933 with half a gigabyte of RAM), but the OS was always Red Hat Linux, roughly following their upgrades from 3 through to 8.

That’ll have to change now, thanks to Red Hat.

Red Hat has announced that pretty much every Red Hat Linux distribution known has reached “End of Life”, and they’re giving us a choice between “Red Hat Enterprise Linux” and “The Fedora Project.”

At the end of the day, I need a secure, easy-to-maintain Internet server to host my Web site, mail server and a few other facilities (such as scripts, robots, etc.). Neither of the choices Red Hat has forced upon us addresses my two biggest concerns about using Linux;

Bloat and Stability - Every Linux distribution that I’m aware of throws the kitchen sink in when you install; you get all sorts of software you’ll never use clogging up your hard disk and introducing security problems. What’s worse, many drivers shipped with Linux are of uneven quality; in an attempt to support as much hardware as possible, many distributions include stuff that should be labelled “beta”. Yes, you can select the software that gets put on your disk when you install, but slogging through those UIs is always a losing process, especially when it gets to dependency management. I want to start with a clean - and I mean CLEAN - system and build on top of it.

Survivability - I’m sure there is a Linux distribution out there - or five - that addresses the concern above. Great. Now, convince me that it’ll be around in five years. Ten years. I chose Red Hat back in the mid-nineties because it looked like it would be around for a while, and it turns out they still wasn’t good enough. These days, I need even more of this, because unlike then, I don’t have the free time to experiment with a new OS whenever I feel like it.

So, what are my potential choices?

Some other Linux distribution - Which one amongst the mob? Will it still be around? Who knows. Next.

Windows - Sorry, I simply don’t have the time to become a Windows admin.

Solaris x86 - I’m actually quite partial to Slowlaris, especially x86, as I’ve been a Solaris admin for several years, the distribution is very minimal (maybe a bit too minimal) and rock-solid. However, Sun’s back-and-forthing on the status of x86 doesn’t inspire confidence, and neither does Sun’s outlook in general, given the fact that many are openly questioning whether they’ll be around in a few years.

MacOSX - I’d love to run my home server on OSX; it’s a dream to administer and very capable. Unlike some, I do believe that Apple will be around and providing a graceful upgrade path for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, doing so requires PPC hardware, and that doesn’t come cheap. I suppose I could dig up an old G3 somewhere fairly inexpensively, but I’d like it to run headlessly, which is sometimes a challenge with Mac hardware IIRC.

FreeBSD / NetBSD - The *BSDs are fairly tempting, as they’re quite stable, featured, and have an active developer community.

Hosted - Paying somebody else ten or twenty dollars a month to do this is looking more and more attractive. Leading contenders are Pair.com and 1&1 (has anyone taken a deep look at 1&1 to see if they’re legit? Internet hosting is a very low-margin business, and I’m suspicious of their eagerness to sign new customers).

Of all of these options, the last three are the most attractive. OSX or FreeBSD both require a box to play with; Hosting doesn’t, and it has the added benefit of being available when I move, when my power goes out, etc. The downside of hosting is that you can’t customise or play with their box too much, especially in the areas of mail filtering and Web server tuning (e.g., does anybody know of a Web hosting provider that allows WebDAV?).

Note that I’d still stay with Red Hat if they offered me the option to continue to receive updates to the box I have; I just don’t want to migrate to their bloated, enterprise-focused offerings. I’d be happy to pay for the privilege, but I’m not happy to be stung so much for both the OS and the update subscription. They’re asking for more than Windows or OSX for the basic offering, much less a low-end server (which I can use OSX for very nicely, thank you).

They’re trying to drive me to another platform. Is that a big deal? I think it is, because Red Hat’s business was built on grass-roots evangelism, and this industry is littered with companies that have gone bust when they tried to milk a little bit too much out the community. I know they need to make money, but just because they need it doesn’t mean I’ll give it to them.


7 Comments

Colin Grady said:

Debian Linux. No bloat (unless you want that). It also just recently had it’s 10 year anniversary. I’ve been using it for about three years and I’ll never go back to anything else. Love it to death.

http://www.debian.org/

Friday, December 26 2003 at 7:10 AM

Sérgio Nunes said:

A couple of links:

  • Mandrake Linux [1] - They’ve just published their “8 Golden Rules” [2] where they make a position regarding product updates and software lifetime.

  • Bytemark Hosting [3] - “Full root access on your own dedicated host” starting 15£/month

[1] - http://www.mandrakelinux.com [2] - http://www.mandrakesoft.com/company/press/pr?n=/pr/corporate/2446 [3] - http://www.bytemark-hosting.co.uk

Saturday, December 27 2003 at 7:26 AM

Stefan Tilkov said:

My company has two root servers at 1&1 in Germany, and I’m very happy with them. They are running SuSE Linux, BTW. At 49 EUR for the low-end version, they are not exactly cheap, though.

Saturday, December 27 2003 at 9:58 AM

ziggy said:

If you want OSX on X86 hardware, take a look at Darwin. But given the choice between Darwin and FreeBSD, I’d probably go with FreeBSD…

Saturday, December 27 2003 at 10:05 AM

PJ said:

I’d have to second (or 3rd?) the debian recommendation. I’ve had a machine of my own colocated at one local ISP or another for the past decade, and it’s been running Debian the entire time. I’ve had zero OS-upgrade issues - my biggest problem has been hardware failure (mostly fans and the occasional hard drive). My current uptime is 301 days, which is how long ago I replaced the machine itself.

Monday, December 29 2003 at 10:27 AM

Luke Mewburn said:

The advantage of NetBSD is you have an inlaw on its core team who you can hassle for tech support… :-)

If you decide to go the Solaris route, I’d suggest using pkgsrc (www.pkgsrc.org) to manage third-party software.

Saturday, January 3 2004 at 6:59 AM

Scott Johnson said:

“does anybody know of a Web hosting provider that allows WebDAV?”

The newly-formed TextDrive offers WebDAV: http://www.textdrive.com/

-Scott

Monday, June 7 2004 at 1:52 AM

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