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Within the open source ecosystem, recent strategic moves by Red Hat, one of the pioneers of free software, have sparked a wide range of debates, strategic choices and controversies. This analysis aims to explore in depth the changes made by Red Hat to its source code distribution policy, the consequences of these changes for the open source community, in particular for the CentOS project, and the emergence of OpenELA as a collective response by of CIQ, SUSE and Oracle.
Red Hat's Change of Course
Red Hat recently revised its source distribution policy, limiting source access exclusively through CentOS Stream and removing previously available public access. This decision marked a significant turning point in the company's approach to sharing source code, causing a wave of reactions within the open source ecosystem.
Red Hat's historic openness to the open source community has always been a fundamental pillar of its corporate identity. However, the new policy has raised questions about the sustainability of this openness, especially in relation to the CentOS project, traditionally considered the “little brother” of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).
The Birth of OpenELA
In response to these changes, an association called OpenELA was formed, a collaboration between CIQ, SUSE and Oracle. This initiative aims to facilitate the sharing of RHEL-compatible sources, offering an alternative platform for maintaining transparency and accessibility in the open source world. OpenELA represents an attempt to preserve the ideals of sharing and collaboration that have always characterized the open source community, despite the challenges posed by Red Hat's new policies.
The Impact on CentOS and the Kmod SIG Dilemma
We now come to an update that could be classified as curiously bizarre, if not downright ironic. A recent blog post on the January 2024 news from the CentOS project – which outwardly continues to proclaim itself as independent – presented a section called “Kmod SIG” with the following announcement:
Due to changes in the way Red Hat releases Red Hat Enterprise Linux source code, the Kmods SIG is currently unable to produce packages for Red Hat Enterprise Linux for legal reasons. We are working with Red Hat to resolve this situation and hope to be able to provide packages for Enterprise Linux again as soon as possible.
Due to changes made by Red Hat in the release of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux source code, the Kmods SIG is currently unable to generate packages for Red Hat Enterprise Linux due to legal constraints. We are in dialogue with Red Hat to find a solution to this issue and hope to be able to resume supplying packages for Enterprise Linux as quickly as possible.
If you are wondering with doubts “Shouldn't CentOS be an offshoot of Red Hat?”, know that your confusion and doubts are widely shared.
The Kmods Special Interest Group (SIG), within the CentOS project, is dedicated to the development and maintenance of additional kernel modules (kmods), essential for supporting specific drivers or implementing features absent in the standard kernel.
Currently, the processing of these modules is hindered by the difficulty of accessing the kernel sources by SIG developers, due to the restrictive policies imposed by the Red Hat Enterprise Linux sources themselves. As a result, the vital contributions that these developers should make to integrate these drivers and features into Red Hat Enterprise Linux are inhibited by Red Hat's source policies.
This paradoxical scenario was highlighted by Phoronix, revealing that other SIGs, such as the one dedicated to Hyperscale, have opted to base their Linux kernel builds on Fedora, rather than RHEL.
In doing so, in addition to pursuing its primary goal – complicating the existence of RHEL clones – Red Hat paradoxically found itself navigating turbulent waters caused by its own policies, unintentionally also complicating its path of innovation and support through the CentOS project .
Conclusions and Future Perspectives
Red Hat's decision to change its source policy has undoubtedly shaken the open source landscape, raising fundamental questions about the future of collaboration and sharing in the industry. While Red Hat maintains a dominant position, the long-term consequences of these choices remain to be evaluated. OpenELA's emergence as a collaborative entity demonstrates the resilience and adaptability of the open source community in the face of challenges posed by significant changes in corporate policy.
The current situation highlights the need for ongoing dialogue between leading open source companies and the vast community of developers, users and businesses that depend on these technologies. Only through collaboration and mutual respect will it be possible to navigate the turbulent waters of change in the world of free software, ensuring that innovation and sharing remain at the heart of the open source ecosystem.