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End of the Linux free lunch?

Eric Doyle
Recent moves in the Linux market indicate that the free lunch may soon be over, with companies forced to pay licence fees for the open source operating system.

Hewlett-Packard has produced its own secure version of Linux aimed at companies that cannot afford specialist services to customise and secure their systems. But at $3,000 (£2,069) per server, the cost is substantially higher than the sub-£100 pricing of most Linux distributions.

HP's move follows Linux distributor Caldera's decision to charge users on a per-system licensing basis. The company's actions have caused it to get a barracking from the open source community, which is fiercely protective of Linux's status as "free" software.

Currently, Linux users can either pay distributors such as Caldera or Red Hat for maintaining their system or rely on free support from the open source community over the Internet. However, with the increasingly complexity of Linux systems, there is only a limited pool of programmers with the right skills to support it.

Christine Axton, lead analyst at research firm Ovum, said, "The idea that someone, somewhere in the Linux community will help [users] is fine at the moment, but, as functionality increases, the number of able developers decreases and the time taken to produce a fix increases. The whole proposition becomes uneconomical."

However, Eddie Bleasdale, a consultant with Netproject, an open source software consultancy, believes that customers will welcome HP's product. "We are often called in by customers to secure their standard Linux systems but not everyone has the resources for customisation services. There is a market for an off-the-peg solution," he said.

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