In a blog post, Oracle has taken aim at IBM, which owns Red Hat. It was recently announced that Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) would not provide public source code from June 21. This is causing significant problems for “downstream” variants based on RHEL, including Oracle Linux. “Fewer competitors means more revenue opportunity for IBM,” Oracle said.
Oracle Linux has been available since 2006 and is essentially a clone of RHEL, with full compatibility for that Linux distro. It has integrated the OS as much as possible with existing Oracle services, but developers are also trying to ensure compatibility with other Linux distributions. In doing so, it has relied heavily on the public availability of the RHEL source code. By no longer having such access, Oracle is warning of possible bugs and incompatibilities, although it wants to continue to fix them wherever they pop up.
Incidentally, Oracle is not the first to publicly criticize the decision to shut down the RHEL source code. Earlier, SUSE was eager to emphasize its own commitment to the open-source community in stark contrast to Red Hat and IBM.
Rewarded for work
The authors of the scathing blog post are Edward Screven, Chief Corporate Architect at Oracle and Wim Coekaerts, who is Head of Oracle Linux Development. They believe themselves and IBM have a very different definition of the GNU General Public License (GPL). In fact, IBM and Red Hat claim that under these open-source terms, they can still put the RHEL source code behind a paywall. As of June 21, it is therefore no longer available unless the user purchases RHEL. However, one may then not create another Linux product based on it.
The reason for this according to IBM? That otherwise the RHEL developers cannot be rewarded for their work. Oracle puts its finger on it in this regard: “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.” At the time of the acquisition, IBM promised to “accelerate open-source adoption” with the move.
Killing off the alternatives
Red Hat also put an end to CentOS in 2021, which had joined that company in 2014. Screven and Coekaerts argue that IBM thereby “effectively killed it as a free alternative to RHEL.”
Speaking to The Register, several experts reveal that IBM and Red Hat’s action circumvents the definition of open source. Because the GPL requirements for sharing source code are officially limited to those who receive the binary, RHEL can effectively remain behind a pay wall. In doing so, according to Bradley Kuhn of the Software Freedom Conservancy, there was a very questionable stance surrounding RHEL. “IBM’s Red Hat should voluntarily give up this practice immediately,” he said.
In any case, it raises the question: who truly adheres to open source? After all, Oracle itself is not averse to discontinuing public support. In 2019, for example, it ended the free updates available for Oracle JDK even if someone was not a customer of the company.