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The return of UCC-2b. LWN has followed the progress of the new "Uniform Commercial Code" and its impact on software licensing for a while. Now, see this InfoWorld article to see how things have progressed. The new proposed Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) contains the worst of the old UCC2b and more - restrictions on publication of reviews, remote disabling of software, non-transferability of licenses, etc. all become codified into law if this thing passes.

This is, of course, the sound of the proprietary software business trying to hasten its demise. Free software looks good now; just imagine how good it will look when the alternatives contain all this extra obnoxiousness, backed by the force of law. (Thanks to Cesar A. K. Grossmann for the pointer).

Eric Raymond interviewed in Japan. ChangeLog, a Japanese Linux news site which carries translated LWN content, has made available to us an interview with Eric S. Raymond which happened in Kyoto on May 28. Topics include Eric's new paper, the future of proprietary software, and aikido.

On Red Hat's pricing. We have recently taken a fair amount of grief from readers who disagree with the assertions made (or reported) here that Red Hat 6.0 represents a price increase on Red Hat's part. Not everybody agrees with this point of view, and the situation as a whole is somewhat interesting for what it tells us about the future of the Linux software business. It is worth a closer look.

Previous versions of the "official" Red Hat distribution carried a $50 price tag, with a street price closer to $40. Included in this distribution was the CD, a boot diskette, an installation manual, the applications CD, and a month of installation support via email.

Red Hat 6.0 has a price of $80, with street prices running closer to $70 (buy.com has it for just under $60). You get exactly the same things that you got with previous versions except: (1) there is now a separate, thin, "getting started" manual, and (2) 90 days of installation support via email. There is also 30 days worth of phone support, but one has to dig fairly far into Red Hat's web pages to find it - the installation manual says electronic mail only.

The support will indeed be useful to some users, if it works better than it did in the 5.x days (some reports we have heard indicates that it does). Most users, though, are unlikely to find much added value in the newer, more expensive distribution. For them, the new price represents an increase.

What about "Red Hat Core"? This version of the distribution omits the boot diskette, the applications CD, the "getting started" manual, and the support. Red Hat's page shows how they are positioning this product:

You have been writing code for years and can recompile the kernel in your sleep....You know what you're doing and you know how it all works. In fact, you're one of the "gurus" who is most likely helping all your friends get into Linux. You don't need a floppy; you don't need help in getting started, and you don't need support.
Clearly they do not intend for the masses to buy this version of the product. It lists for $40. Interestingly, there is no street price - Red Hat is not allowing its resellers to carry this product. You can only buy it directly from Red Hat.

The end result is that consumers of the system will not be all that put out. Even $80 is not a huge price to pay for a quality operating system. Those who know where to look can get the cheaper version from Red Hat, buy one of the (far cheaper yet) knockoffs available from a number of sources, or simply FTP the distribution from the net.

Resellers of Linux, however, have more to worry about. Companies like the Linux Mall, Linux System Labs and others, which certainly played a role in making Red Hat the successful company that it is, are now finding themselves squeezed on Red Hat's expensive distribution. Evidently Red Hat's reseller price is so high that a number of these companies are selling it at a loss. Simultaneously they are finding themselves undercut by Red Hat itself, which is offering a cheaper version that they can not sell.

Unfortunately, this is probably a sign of the future. As Linux goes mainstream, the small resellers that helped make the whole thing happen risk getting pushed aside as the big distributors move in. The largest distribution(s), feeling their strength, seem inclined to help this process along. The disappearance of the Linux resellers, in turn, would raise the barriers to entry for any aspiring new firm wishing to make a living selling Linux-related software. Choices would shrink as the market consolidates. If the Linux resellers go, we will miss them.

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June 3, 1999


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