On Wednesday, June 21, 2023, Red Hat announced with a post on their blog entitled “Furthering the evolution of CentOS Stream ”. In the industry this post was quite shocking news to read, though to me this is not surprising. Red Hat has come a long way proving that open source can generate revenue and undeniably has boosted various open source projects along the way. Unfortunately the trajectory of Red Hat is no longer on a clear path of supporting free open source software since IBM acquired the business in 2019. The future may be uncertain to some, but there is still many possibilities ahead.
The development of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) works with Fedora at the top of the stream, in the middle is CentOS Stream and then RHEL. Fedora provides innovation and testing with CentOS Stream as the continuously delivered Linux distribution that is now the sole repository for public RHEL source code. RHEL source code will no longer be publically accessible. To be clear CentOS Stream and RHEL is entirely under the control by Red Hat. Fedora Linux however is independent of Red Hat and is developed under the Fedora Project.
This does still provide opportunities for those interested in participating and collaborating in the RHEL ecosystem, however without having the full benefits of RHEL direct source code.
Is It Closed Source?
With these changes of how to access the source code this means that the RHEL source code is no longer publically accessible. The only way to gain access to the source code is by being a paying Red Hat customer or partner via the Red Hat Customer Portal. In the past one could have almost one to one enterprise Linux without using RHEL directly.
Is This Even Legal?
There is many view points on this subject and in all honestly it is beyond my understanding. Though generally speaking I don’t see why a group cannot stop development and then continue on with a new license. However, since I’m not a lawyer I will leave this up to the well versed Software Freedom Conservancy article, A Comprehensive Analysis of the GPL Issues With the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) Business Model.
How Does This Affect You?
For the majority of Linux users you will not be affected since most use desktop Linux or a non-enterprise server operating system.
However, those people working in the business industry that uses RHEL or variant (e.g. AlmaLinux, Rocky Linux) will be affected. Changes will need to be done most likely within a year to either migrate to RHEL or move to new Linux server distribution.
There is already movement in the community by AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux.
No doubt this is disappointing news from Red Hat, but it is not shocking. IBM has never had a history of caring much for free open source software and as such does not align with the values open source advocates abide by. However, I see this as an opportunity for the community as a whole to create a new fork of enterprise Linux solutions that will truly be free from corporate interests.