Prominent Linux vendor Red Hat is dropping its free Linux product range and asking customers to migrate to its priced Enterprise Linux.

In a statement posted on its Web site, Red Hat said it would end maintenance and errata support for Linux versions 7.1 through 8.0 on 31 December 2003, and for the most recent version 9 on 30 April 2004. Red Hat Linux can still be downloaded free but the boxed versions that were on sale for between US$39.95 and $149.95 are no longer available. No future versions will be developed, the company said.

Red Hat has characterised its free Linux product, which has been available since 1994, as "a general purpose, low-cost solution that... attempted to be all things to all people."

By contrast, Enterprise Linux has been certified by a wide range of hardware and application software vendors, Red Hat said.

The company is offering its users a choice between two upgrade paths, either to the stable Enterprise Linux product which starts at US$179, or to its developer-oriented Fedora Project, which is available as a free download.

The Enterprise Linux product comes in three versions; AS for large corporate environments, ES for smaller offices and WS for workstation/desktop use. Each of these products is offered in basic, standard and premium editions depending on the level of support required.