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Red Hat's Boston Linux Party

Linux vendor Red Hat is set to unveil the latest version of its flagship enterprise product (Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4) at a press event this evening in Boston. The announcement will likely be accompanied by a companion announcement about a new desktop product release, as well as a long list of partners that support the new version.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 (RHEL), beta-tested under codename Nahant, enters a Linux landscape vastly different than when its predecessor RHEL 3 was released in 2003.

At that time, there was arguably no significantly backed enterprise distribution that effectively competed against it in the North American market. That changed when Novell purchased SUSE Linux, which now competes aggressively with Red Hat for market share.

Since RHEL 3 was released, Red Hat also terminated its Red Hat Linux product line and has since launched its community Fedora Project version, which follows an aggressive release cycle and serves as the testing ground for bleeding-edge technologies that eventually make their way into RHEL.

One such innovation is SELinux, which makes its official enterprise debut in RHEL 4. SELinux was first introduced in Fedora Core 2 last February. SELinux was jointly developed with the US National Security Agency (NSA) as part of an effort to improve and harden the Linux operating system.

SELinux implements mandatory access controls on the system to further improve security by helping to prevent privilege elevation as a potential attack vector for hackers. SELinux has undergone a significant amount of tweaking in the Fedora Project between the Fedora Core 2 and 3 releases, which will likely be reflected in the quality of SELinux as released in RHEL 4.

RHEL 4 also is the first official RHEL version to include the 2.6 kernel, though Red Hat had back-ported a good number of key 2.6 kernel features into the original RHEL 3 release in 2003. Features from the Linux 2.6 kernel that would be of most value to commercial/enterprise customers and ISVs were back-ported for use with RHEL 3's Linux 2.4 kernel in order to provide more stable features

SUSE's CTO criticized the backporting of 2.6 features at an event in Toronto last year, though Linux creator Linus Torvalds later told internetnews.com that it was a good thing.

The GNOME 2.8 desktop is also a new feature of the release, as are updated versions of Evolution, RealPlayer and Acrobat Reader. In May, Red Hat launched its enterprise desktop product, which was based on RHEL 3. An updated product is expected to be part of the new release -- this time based on RHEL 4.

Though RHEL is on an 18-month release cycle, Red Hat has not left its flagship product untouched throughout the course of that time period, having issued three significant updates.

The last update was released in September and introduced NX security. Update three also included Novell Ximian's Exchange Connector for the Evolution groupware client. Exchange Connector allows Evolution (which is part of RHEL 4)to connect with Microsoft Exchange mail servers.

Among the partners expected to announce support for RHEL 4 is Oracle, which is hosting a joint Q&A with Red Hat tomorrow.

In other LinuxWorld news, Novell is expected to announce its cross-over Netware/Linux product, Open Enterprise Server, at the show, as well. Novell released SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9, which is the direct competitor to RHEL, in August.

Red Hat's Fedora Project last issued its most recent update, Fedora Core 3, in November. Fedora Core 4 is expected to be released in May.

French Linux vendor Mandrakesoft has also recently upped the ante in the enterprise Linux stakes with its Corporate Enterprise Server released last month.