Red Hat's source code shift may hurt third-party support but help RHEL

Although some Linux proponents dislike Red Hat's new source code policy, they're necessary to fund RHEL development

Recent changes to how Red Hat makes available source code to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) have raised the ire within Linux and GPLv2 circles. However, the changes are intended to help Red Hat compete more effectively in the enterprise Linux market, which is ultimately good for customers and the Linux community. Here's how the changes may affect your company's use of Linux.

Increased RHEL copycats compelled Red Hat to action

Since RHEL 6 was released nearly four months ago, Red Hat has decided to ship the kernel source code with Red Hat's selected patches pre-applied. Before RHEL 6, Red Hat offered selected patches separate from the standard Linux kernel available from kernel.org, so interested parties could more easily determine what changes Red Hat had made.

[ Read the InfoWorld Test Center review of RHEL 6. | Get the latest insights and news on open source trends with InfoWorld's Technology: Open Source newsletter. Subscribe today! ]

This seemingly inconsequential shift in packaging has resulted in some Linux advocates questioning whether Red Hat is obfuscating its work. Some have claimed that Red Hat's new approach adheres to the letter of the law, but not to the spirit of the Linux GPLv2 license.

Why is Red Hat taking this new position? Red Hat's CTO, Brian Stevens, explains:

To speak bluntly, the competitive landscape has changed. Our competitors in the enterprise Linux market have changed their commercial approach from building and competing on their own customized Linux distributions to one where they directly approach our customers offering to support RHEL.

Frankly, our response is to compete. Essential knowledge that our customers have relied on to support their RHEL environments will increasingly only be available under subscription. The itemization of kernel patches that correlate with articles in our knowledge base is no longer available to our competitors, but only to our customers who have recognized the value of RHEL and have thus indirectly funded Red Hat's contributions to open source that will advance their business now and in the future.

Having recently met Stevens, I'm reassured that my initial pegging of him as a straight shooter and pragmatic thinker was spot on.

At first glance, it's hard to believe that RHEL has much to worry about in the enterprise Linux market. Even as Ubuntu grows in cloud deployments and Amazon Linux offers an alternative to RHEL on Amazon.com's cloud, RHEL remains firmly in a leadership position. For example, as this chart from Indeed.com job trends indicates, RHEL skills are in hot demand and still on a growth trajectory far and above Ubuntu, CentOS, Oracle Linux, and Novell SuSe.

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