Red Hat Network: How can they charge for less than you can get for free?

My first experience with the RedHat Network reminds me of a major limitation of commercial platforms that doesn't get much press. You actually get less than you do with free alternatives like apt-get and yum.

I'm setting up a new hosting infrastructure for a client which, among other things, involves moving from the free Fedora to commercial Redhat Linux. Although I've managed Redhat machines before, this is my first time using the Redhat Network (RHN) for installing and updating software.

In the past I've used apt-get on Debian, and yum on Fedora, and found them a godsend. Set up properly, it takes minimal effort to keep multiple systems up to date and consistent, whereas when I've had to go the "by-hand" route, machines invariably ended up with older versions of software. It's just too hard to keep up with all the various packages installed on various servers, not to mention the headache of chasing down various dependencies and resolving conflicts when you do upgrade or install a new package.

So faced with using RHN, I made the typical assumption of a user who is "upgrading" from a free system to a commercial one, i.e. I assumed it would be better. After all, if you're paying a company for it, it'll be better quality than something maintained by a bunch of volunteers, won't it? I should know better, having seen horrors that go on inside the closed-door sausage factories of commercial software development groups.

So what's my bitch this time? Well, there's not as much software available. The first thing I wanted to do with my new Redhat boxes was checkout my puppet manifests and related configuration code from my subversion repository. To do this, I needed the subversion client but sadly, RHN (at least for Redhat Enterprise 3) doesn't have subversion.

It might be available from channels that I don't have access to, I don't know. If so, it's an example of the quicksand that I always seem to find myself mired in with commercial software. Whenever I get saddled with Microsoft Windows servers, I end up wanting to do things that I could do for free on Linux, but can't do without paying thousands of pounds extra with Microsoft, buying add-ons, third-party software, not to mention "Enterprise" editions of everything when I want to run it on more than one server, all multiplied by CPU's of course. And, oh yeah, we need licenses for our development and staging servers as well. Bleh.

So for now I'm going back to the old fashioned days of searching and downloading packages. So far I'm up to 10 packages I've had to add manually, and will have to keep up to date across 15 or more machines.

I'm considering installing yum and just ditching RHN entirely. I guess this will effectively turn my systems into Fedora boxes, and might have weird side effects. So far I haven't found much commentary out on the web related to this situation.

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