Red Hat revs cutting-edge software collection for devs

For developers working on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Collections presents an 'embarrassment of riches'

One of Red Hat Enterprise Linux's big selling points has been its consistency, in the operating system itself and the software packaged with it. Red Hat goes so far as to offer application certification -- now with Docker support -- to ensure the software running on top of RHEL behaves as expected.

But what about developers who want to step outside the lines, so to speak, and run something a little more cutting-edge? Are they doomed to remain a version or two behind the other folks running the latest and greatest versions of PHP or Nginx? No, says Red Hat, and it's now offering the next iteration of a software package for Red Hat Enterprise Linux designed to do precisely that.

Red Hat's Software Collections, originally released in June 2013, brings together versions of many languages and platforms that are both newer than the ones bundled with RHEL and come with official support from Red Hat.

The packages included in the 1.1 version of the Collections are listed on Red Hat's site. Among them are PHP 5.4.16 and 5.5.6 (including the memcache and Zend OPcache extensions), Python 2.7.5 and 3.3.2, Ruby 1.9.3. and 2.0.0, Node.js 0.10, Nginx 1.4.4, MongoDB 2.4.9, and a number of other applications.

One interesting addition to the collection is Thermostat, a monitoring and instrumentation system for the Hotspot JVM that uses MongoDB as a data back end and can harvest data from multiple JVMs. Thermostat has been included in Red Hat's Fedora Project since version 17, although it hasn't yet been added to RHEL itself; that's slated to happen in RHEL 7.

Langdon White, Red Hat Enterprise Linux developer advocate, described the revision and upgrade process for the Software Collections as "18 months for major releases [of the Collections] and nine months (or as needed) for minor, while critical fixes and security updates are issued as soon as possible via z-stream." Most of that timeline, he explained, was derived from the fact many of the languages considered for inclusion in the Collection "averaged about a three-year lifespan" for their major versions. "We then used that number to develop our major and minor release timelines," White said.

Many of the packages were assembled via various forms of feedback, including a poll on the Red Hat Developer Blog. There, Python 2.7 and 3.3 and PostgreSQL were among the top replies for the questions "What are you using today [in the Software Collections]?" and "What are you intending to use?" Ruby 2.x was the top reply for "What do you want to see added?" Apache 2.4, Boost, MongoDB, and Nginx also made the top five. (Docker, now a major Red Hat item, came in 10th.)

White also noted the embarrassment of riches to choose from for a project like the Software Collections. "We're ultimately limited by the timelines and what we can conceivably test and verify before each release," he said. "The proliferation of tools and technologies that are generally awesome, over the last few years, has made this harder and harder."

For those who use OpenShift, White has pointed out that many Red Hat Software Collections components are also available as OpenShift cartridges. "This means that, for the most part, applications built on OpenShift can then be dropped onto the appropriate Red Hat Software Collection on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, leading to greater flexibility and productivity for developers and systems administrators alike."

A release date for the 1.1 version of the collection hasn't been specified, but there was a four-month period between the beta release of the 1.0 edition and its final release. Mark your calendars tentatively for July.

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