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02 March 2011, 09:28

Controversy surrounds Red Hat's "obfuscated" source code release

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Red Hat has changed the way it ships the source code for the Linux kernel. Previously, it was released as a standard kernel with a collection of patches which could be applied to create the source code of the kernel Red Hat used. Now though, the company ships a tarball of the source code with the patches already applied. This change, noted by Maxillian Attems and, appears to be aimed at Oracle, who like others, repackage Red Hat's source as the basis for its Unbreakable Linux. Removing the visibility of information about which patches have, or have not, been applied will be difficult for companies like Oracle who use the patch information so they know what state the Red Hat kernel is in before applying their own patches.

The changes do not appear to violate the GPL version 2 which requires redistribution of source code where the "source code for a work" is defined as the "preferred form of the work for making modifications to it". The term applies to the entirety of the work, in this case the Linux kernel and Red Hat is shipping that work in its entirety.

When queried about the change, officially Red Hat had no comment, but sources with an intimate knowledge of Red Hat's operations confirmed to The H that the obfuscation was taking place and it was a deliberate move to make business harder for downstream consumers of Red Hat's Enterprise Linux source code, specifically Oracle.

Reports suggest that Red Hat's own engineers are also upset by the move. Others outside the company are more blunt; Attems, for example, said "Red Hat should really step back and not make such stupid management moves". Although targeted at Oracle, the changes will make work harder for distributions such as CentOS, the community built Linux distribution also based on Red Hat's sources. CentOS is built from the RHEL source by a limited number of volunteers and Red Hat's change in policy will mean more work for them unless more volunteers or other companies step in and provide them with assistance.

Update Red Hat have now commented on the issue and the CentOS developers have said they do not have a problem with the change in policy.


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