Red Hat Obfuscation is a Tempest in a Teapot

Voting with one’s pocketbook and one’s feet is exactly what software freedom is about.

I encountered another reference in the mainstream analysis to Red Hat “obfuscating” their work on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. This really is a tempest in a teapot. 

  • It makes economic sense for Red Hat to get any true kernel fixes they discover back upstream into the mainline so nobody (including Red Hat) suffers.
  • RHEL-only fixes they discover should likely make it into Fedora if they are relevant, so no one on Fedora suffers.
  • As to which downstream patches Red Hat applies to create RHEL, that really is their business, and if CentOS, Oracle, et. al. want to do the forensic work to sort it out, they will.  And CentOS will again match RHEL.  Those that care can do the work.  Nothing prevents it from happening.
  • For CentOS "customers" that are NOT Red Hat customers: they may need to sort out whether to move to a better supported gratis server like Ubuntu. This is ALL GOOD for Canonical long term.  And Red Hat certainly hasn't lost anything.  Neither has free software nor open source.  
  • For Red Hat customers that mix-and-match RHEL and CentOS: they need to sort out what they want to do.  Some will pressure Red Hat.  Some will investigate alternatives. (This may be bad for Red Hat long term, but those folk aren’t necessarily good customers.  And others may finally true up so it may be a wash.)  
  • Pure-play paying Red Hat customers don't care.

The rules that the FSF put in place in their license and that Linus used allow Red Hat to do what they’re doing to protect their business.  I think folks complaining about the “obfuscation” need to separate in the minds the free software project that thrives from the product being sold.  It's not like Red Hat hasn't invested an enormous amount of economic effort in Linux year-on-year for 15 years, and continues so to do.  One could question what actual economic value CentOS contributes to Planet Linux by repackaging RHEL.

For those that are really unhappy, they can speak with their pocketbook or their feet.  It's their right in the marketplace and exactly the vision for software freedom that Stallman argued in 1985 and the Open Source Initiative reinforced in 1997.

Tempest meet teapot.


Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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