September 19, 2023

RALEIGH – A headline at tech news site ZDnet captures the essence of a war within Linux and open source communities:“Red Hat’s new rule: Open source betrayal.”

Its “Brutus” move: altering the access to its top-draw product Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) to only paying customers.

“We’ve been called evil; I was called an IBM exec who was installed to turn Red Hat closed source — and that’s only the ‘nice’ stuff,” wrote Mike McGrath, the original poster of the RHEL news, in a follow-up to that announcement.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux is a pillar on Wall Street and across cloud computing. Its powerful reach is a big reason why IBM paid $34 billion to acquire the Raleigh-based software and services company in 2019.

Red Hat recently made a change to distribution channels for CentOS, the open-source version of RHEL. “The CentOS Stream will now be the sole repository for public RHEL-related source code releases,” according to a June 21 blog post by McGrath, VP of Core Platforms Engineering. The CentOS source code will continue to be available for Red Hat customers and partners in the Red Hat Customer Portal.

What this statement does not say is that, the public source of RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux), will no longer be maintained by Red Hat. The CentOS Stream, while technically part of the open-source CentOS project, is actually an “upstream” version of RHEL, meaning it is a beta version released ahead of production. The shift away from a stable version of RHEL, with matching compatibility to production, has the open-source community heated up.

Community Response

The recent changes from Red Hat mean that the only “stable” version of CentOS will be available to paying Red Hat clients and partners through the Red Hat portal. The portal version comes with Red Hat’s terms of service, which seem to preclude the use of CentOS for redistribution, despite it being licensed by the GPL.

The apparent conflict in licensing is leading some to find their own workarounds. The Rocky Linux project announced on June 29 that they’re planning to utilize the pay-per-use RHEL public cloud and post to their Git repositories stating, “These methods are possible because of the power of GPL. No one can prevent redistribution of GPL software.”

It remains to be seen how aggressively Red Hat will defend access to the CentOS source code.

Red Hat strikes deal to expand Enterprise Linux to Oracle Cloud

On July 11, SUSE, an open-source software company that also builds on Linux announced a hard fork of RHEL, stating that it will create its own compatible distribution independent of Red Hat. In the open-source world, a fork of a major company’s project like this is the equivalent of “going nuclear.” The announcement included a plan to invest more than $10 million into the project in the coming years.

In the statement, Dirk-Peter van Leeuwen, CEO of SUSE, said, “For decades, collaboration and shared success have been the building blocks of our open-source community. We have a responsibility to defend these values.”

Meanwhile Oracle, long seen as a rival to Red Hat, has added its voice to those feeling betrayed by Red Hat. In a scathing July 10 blog post, Edward Screven, Oracle’s chief corporate architect, and Wim Coekaerts, head of Oracle Linux development directed pointed criticism at Red Hat’s parent company IBM.

“Interesting. IBM doesn’t want to continue publicly releasing RHEL source code because it has to pay its engineers? That seems odd, given that Red Hat as a successful independent open source company chose to publicly release RHEL source and pay its engineers for many years before IBM acquired Red Hat in 2019 for $34 billion.”

That post also appealed to consumers who are or will soon be in the market for a new version of Linux, with strong statements regarding Oracle’s support of the open-source community.

“Oracle is committed to Linux freedom. Oracle makes the following promise: as long as Oracle distributes Linux, Oracle will make the binaries and source code for that distribution publicly and freely available. Furthermore, Oracle welcomes downstream distributions of every kind, community, and commercial.”


Mike McGrath’s follow-up post defending the decision to end CentOS focused on the free use of RHEL, saying “I feel that much of the anger from our recent decision around the downstream sources comes from either those who do not want to pay for the time, effort and resources going into RHEL or those who want to repackage it for their own profit.”

He later said, “Simply rebuilding code, without adding value or changing it in any way, represents a real threat to open source companies everywhere.”

These comments have further antagonized the open-source developer community. Programmer Jeff Geerling took to Twitter to respond to McGrath.

“What I hate most about Red Hat’s response is they call anyone who wants CentOS a freeloader, when: 1. There’s nothing morally wrong about being a user of OSS without contributing. 2. Almost all RH employees, contributors, [and] (former, now) advocates I know have relied on CentOS.”

There’s also open debate in the community as to whether the changes mean Red Hat is violating the terms of the GPL. The general consensus seems to be that Red Hat is following “the letter of the law, but violating its spirit.”

But the open-source community is all about spirit. Regardless of what happens to CentOS, Red Hat’s choice to drop access – and its uncompromising defense of that call – signals a shift away from its friendly, community-supporting brand. To many, that Red Hat is looking suspiciously blue.

From Red to Blue Hat? Hatters paying a price for big change in Linux distribution

The post Red Hat’s latest move ignites open source firestorm – some say it’s now ‘closed source’ first appeared on WRAL TechWire.

Red Hat’s latest move ignites open source firestorm – some say it’s now ‘closed source’ first appeared on Web and IT News.

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