Oracle Calls Out Red Hat and IBM Over RHEL Source Code

Oracle is weighing in on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux debacle, promising it will never restrict access to its own source code....
Oracle Calls Out Red Hat and IBM Over RHEL Source Code
Written by Staff
  • Oracle is weighing in on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux debacle, promising it will never restrict access to its own source code.

    Red Hat drew widespread condemnation when it announced it would begin restricting access to RHEL source code to paying customers. In addition, the customer agreement prohibits customers from sharing and redistributing the source code or from using it to create a downstream distro. The move was seen as a way to target Rocky Linux, AlmaLinux, and Oracle Linux, all of which are 1:1 compatible with RHEL and is widely believed to be in violation of the GPL.

    Oracle has responded, calling out Red Hat and IBM for not being good open source citizens in a press release entitled, “Keep Linux Open and Free—We Can’t Afford Not To.” After first saying it made its Oracle Linux distro 1:1 compatible with RHEL in an effort to not further fragment the Linux community, the company laid out its case:

    While Oracle and IBM have compatible Linux distributions, we have very different ideas about our responsibilities as open source stewards and about operating under the GPLv2. Oracle has always made Oracle Linux binaries and source freely available to all. We do not have subscription agreements that interfere with a subscriber’s rights to redistribute Oracle Linux. On the other hand, IBM subscription agreements specify that you’re in breach if you use those subscription services to exercise your GPLv2 rights. And now, as of June 21, IBM no longer publicly releases RHEL source code.

    The blog post references a follow-up Red Hat post in which Mike McGrath, Vice President of Core Platforms Engineering, tried to justify the company’s decision by saying it was about paying Red Hat engineers for the work they do. Oracle then dissects the response, drilling down on the real motivation behind Red Hat and IBM’s decision:

    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.

    The blog goes on to mention CentOS. It is no surprise CentOS was top of mind for the author attempting to justify withholding RHEL source. CentOS had been a very popular free RHEL compatible distribution. In December 2020, IBM effectively killed it as a free alternative to RHEL. Two new alternatives to RHEL have sprung up in CentOS’s place: AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux. Now, by withholding RHEL source code, IBM has directly attacked them.

    And perhaps that is the real answer to the question of why: eliminate competitors. Fewer competitors means more revenue opportunity for IBM.

    Oracle also says it will try its best to maintain 1:1 compatibility with RHEL:

    As for Oracle, we will continue pursuing our goal for Linux as transparently and openly as we always have while minimizing fragmentation. We will continue to develop and test our software products on Oracle Linux. Oracle Linux will continue to be RHEL compatible to the extent we can make it so. In the past, Oracle’s access to published RHEL source has been important for maintaining that compatibility. From a practical standpoint, we believe Oracle Linux will remain as compatible as it has always been through release 9.2, but after that, there may be a greater chance for a compatibility issue to arise. If an incompatibility does affect a customer or ISV, Oracle will work to remediate the problem.

    Oracle then makes a commitment to never take the approach Red Hat is taking and welcoming downstream distros that want to base on Oracle Linux:

    We want to emphasize to Linux developers, Linux customers, and Linux distributors that 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. We are happy to work with distributors to ease that process, work together on the content of Oracle Linux, and ensure Oracle software products are certified on your distribution.

    Oracle’s stand is similar to one made by SUSE, in which that company also emphasized its commitment to open source principles.

    Meanwhile, Red Hat has managed to do the seemingly impossible: unify the disparate Linux community and rival companies in condemnation of its actions.

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