July 10 2023

Oracle is committed to continuing to make Oracle Linux compatible with RHEL

Implications of Restricted Access to RHEL Sources: Oracle's Role and the Future of Open Source

Following the surprising decision last month by IBM to begin restricting access to Red Hat Enterprise Linux sources, AlmaLinux quickly set to work finding a way forward e Rocky Linux also shared some ideas on how it could continue to deliver a RHEL-compatible Linux distribution. We've been waiting for Oracle to comment on their plans to distribute RHEL-compatible Oracle Linux, and today they finally released a statement.

There is a press release from Oracle today titled “We keep Linux open and free: we can't afford not to“. The release was released by Edward Screven, Oracle's chief corporate architect, and Wim Coekaerts, head of development for Oracle Linux.

Oracle has been part of the Linux community for 25 years. Our goal has remained the same all these years: to help make Linux the best server operating system for everyone, freely available to everyone, with low-cost, high-quality support delivered to those who need it.

Our Linux engineering team contributes significantly to the kernel, file systems, and tooling. We bring all of this work back to the mainline so that every Linux distribution can include it. We are proud that these contributions are part of the reason why Linux is now so capable, benefiting not only Oracle customers, but all users.

In 2006, we launched what is now called Oracle Linux, a widely used RHEL-compatible distribution and support offering that powers Oracle engineered systems and our cloud infrastructure. We chose to be compatible with RHEL because we didn't want to fragment the Linux community. Our effort to stay compatible has been hugely successful. In all the years since launch, we've had almost no compatibility bugs reported. Customers and ISVs can transition to Oracle Linux from RHEL without changing their applications, and we certify Oracle software products on RHEL even if they are built and tested only on Oracle Linux, never on RHEL.

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

Why did IBM make this change? Well, if you read IBM's blog which attempts to explain its motivation, it boils down to this:

At Red Hat, thousands of people spend their time writing code to enable new features, fix bugs, integrate different packages and then support that work for a long time… We have to pay people to do that work. Interesting. IBM doesn't want to continue releasing RHEL source code publicly because it has to pay its engineers? This seems odd, given that Red Hat, as a successful independent open source company, chose to publicly release RHEL's source code and pay its engineers for many years before IBM acquired Red Hat in 2019 for $34 billion.

The blog continues to talk about CentOS. It is no surprise that CentOS was the focus of the author's attention trying to justify the retention of RHEL's source code. CentOS was a very popular and free RHEL compatible distribution. In December 2020, IBM actually killed it as a free alternative to RHEL. Two new alternatives to RHEL arose in place of CentOS: AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux. Now, by withholding the RHEL source code, IBM has attacked them directly.

And perhaps that's the real answer to the question of why: eliminating competitors. Fewer competitors means more revenue opportunities for IBM.

As for Oracle, we will continue to pursue our goal for Linux to be as transparent and open 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 compatible with RHEL to the extent we can make it so. In the past, Oracle's access to RHEL-published source code has been important to maintaining that compatibility. From a practical standpoint, we believe that Oracle Linux will remain as compatible as it always was up until the 9.2 release, but after that there may be a greater chance that a compatibility issue will arise. Should an incompatibility affect a customer or an ISV, Oracle will work to resolve the issue.

We want to emphasize to Linux developers, customers and distributors that Oracle is committed to the freedom of Linux. Oracle makes the following promise: As long as Oracle distributes Linux, Oracle will make the binaries and source code of that distribution publicly available and freely available. In addition, Oracle welcomes downstream distributions of all types, community and commercial. We are happy to work with distributors to facilitate that process, work together on Oracle Linux content, and ensure Oracle software products are certified on your distribution.

By the way, if you're a Linux developer who disagrees with IBM's actions and believe in Linux freedom like we do, we're hiring.

One observation for ISVs: IBM's actions are not in your best interest. By killing CentOS as an alternative to RHEL and attacking AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux, IBM is eliminating one way your customers save money and make more of their budget available to you. If you don't yet support your product on Oracle Linux, we'd be happy to show you how easy it is. Give your customers more choice.

Finally, at IBM, here's a great idea for you. Say you don't want to pay all those RHEL developers? Here's how you can save money: take from us. Become a downstream distributor of Oracle Linux. We will be happy to take over the burden.

Some of the best words I've heard from Oracle in years. They don't have the best story considering how they shut down OpenSolaris development, but at least as far as Oracle Linux is concerned they're doing good.

IBM's decision to limit access to Red Hat Enterprise Linux sources has raised concerns about how the open-source software industry could be impacted. Oracle's statement sought to reassure the Linux community by promising continued compatibility of Oracle Linux with RHEL and reiterating its commitment to open source. This is a significant sign, given the critical role Linux plays in the global computing infrastructure.

However, the implications of IBM's move go beyond compatibility between different Linux distributions. It could pave the way for a broader debate on the balance between commercial needs and compliance with open source principles. It could also impact companies' decisions about technology choices and the management of their IT environments.

Oracle RHEL

While Oracle's response offers some reassurance, the overall situation highlights the need for continued dialogue and collaboration in the open source community. Issues of access, use rights and distribution of open source software can have a significant impact not only on developers and IT companies, but also on consumers and organizations that rely on these technologies. The open source community will need to address these challenges to ensure that the open source model remains resilient, inclusive, and capable of delivering effective solutions to the changing needs of the IT industry.

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