We delve into the controversy surrounding Red Hat’s new source code policy, igniting debate and raising concerns in the open-source community. Expert opinions provide insights into the implications of this decision.
In a surprising move, Red Hat, a prominent provider of open source solutions, has faced severe backlash over its revised source code policy. The decision has given rise to significant concerns about the future of collaborative software development and potential legal disputes.
Mike McGrath, Red Hat’s vice president of Core Platforms, unveiled this controversial shift in a blog post titled “Furthering the evolution of CentOS Stream.” The announcement stated that CentOS Stream would become the sole repository for public RHEL-related source code releases, limiting access to the source code for non-Red Hat customers and partners.
The new policy has caused uproar within the RHEL clone distro circles and the wider Linux and open source developer community. RHEL clone distributors, including AlmaLinux, Rocky Linux, and Oracle Unbreakable Linux, now face significant challenges in creating RHEL-compatible operating systems. The root of the problem lies in the fact that CentOS Stream, serving as the RHEL upstream distro, is not fully compatible or as stable as the shipping version of RHEL.
Most Red Hat contributors feel that this demand for RHEL code is disingenuous. This statement reflects the frustration many in the open source community feel, who argue that Red Hat’s decision hampers their ability to use and develop upon the RHEL codebase freely.
The controversy is rooted in the history between Red Hat and CentOS. Over time, Red Hat incorporated its patches directly into its kernel tree, diminishing CentOS’s standing as an independent and fully compatible RHEL clone. In response, Red Hat transformed CentOS into CentOS Stream in late 2020, leading to widespread dissatisfaction among the hundreds of thousands of CentOS users who relied on the previous stable version.
The discontent among the community led to the emergence of two new RHEL clones, AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux, designed to address the gaps left by the change in CentOS’s direction.
Former Red Hat senior engineer Jeff Law stated that, “What Red Hat has done recently is depressing, but not a huge surprise to me. Red Hat struggled repeatedly with how to deal with ‘the clones.’ The core idea I always came back to in those discussions was that the value isn’t in the bits, but in the stability, services, and ecosystem Red Hat enables around the bits.”
While Red Hat defends its policy by suggesting that opposition comes from those seeking to avoid paying for RHEL or aiming to profit from repackaging it, critics argue that the move violates the spirit of open source collaboration.
The ongoing dispute highlights the delicate balance between business interests and the principles of open source software. As the situation unfolds, whether legal proceedings will be initiated to address the conflicting perspectives remains to be seen. The outcome will shape the future of RHEL clones and have broader implications for the open source community, underscoring the challenges of managing licensing issues within the Linux ecosystem.