Red Hat will abandon retail shrinkwrap software when it releases "Cambridge," its next major upgrade, says Linux and Main, citing "company communications with employees and developers" as sources. The move will be implemented along with changes to the company's distribution and development procedures, according to the site - these are expected to be announced later today, but it is not clear whether the shrinkwrap pullout will be part of the announcement.
The move however is not unexpected. Red Hat earlier this year indicated that it didn't see a long term future in retail boxed product sales, and said it was investigating alternative distribution channels. The Linux 'twice a year' upgrade cycle for the consumer/enthusiast market combined with production lead times for boxware also mean short shelf lives, making it even more difficult to run a viable shrinkwrap business line.
Red Hat will however have to come up with some convincing alternative distribution strategies if it is to avoid this being seen as a pullout - deliberate or inadvertent - from the consumer business, because although retail may not have a significant effect on the bottom line it has value in terms of presence. The nuances of the distribution and development announcements should therefore be watched carefully in order to assess the extent to which they constitute a positive, forward strategy for the Red Hat consumer business, as opposed to mere cost-cutting of a line undergoing de-emphasis.
According to Linux and Main, Red Hat will begin by making the development list public and will be returning package maintenance to the developers themselves, whereas currently Red Hat developers take control of the packages and tune them for inclusion in a particular version.
It's possibly in the way you tell them, but that component of the plan at least looks largely cost-cutting, upsides depending on how Red Hat proposes to play it. It may have positive aspects if it results in applications becoming more generic across distributions.
It's not yet clear how Red Hat proposes to replace the shrinkwrap retail channel, but as we say, it will need to do something positive here if it's to convince people it remains serious about the market. ®