Red Hat defends changes to kernel source distribution
Red Hat CTO, Brian Stevens, has defended the company's change to how it distributes the kernel source code in a blog posting. The company had changed its policy on how it distributed the source to its Linux kernel, a key component of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Where it had previously shipped out a standard kernel with all the patches which needed to be applied to make that kernel into Red Hat's version, for RHEL6 it switched to shipping an archive with those patches pre-applied and details of the patches not explicitly listed.
Stevens explained that the change in distribution had come about because "Our competitors in the Enterprise Linux market have changed their commercial approach from building and competing on their own customized Linux distributions, to one where they directly approach our customers offering to support RHEL". Red Hat's response to this was to compete and he stated that "Essential knowledge that our customers have relied on to support their RHEL environments will increasingly only be available under subscription". This includes the itemised information on which particular kernel patches were applied to the RHEL kernel. This is now only available to Red Hat customers.
Stevens reaffirmed Red Hat's commitment to open source development saying "Our beliefs and policies around open collaboration have only strengthened. We are proud that we have been the top commercial contributor to great open communities such as GNOME and the Linux kernel". He also noted that the company, and its competitors, have benefited from this approach, and that it would continue to contribute patches it develops to the kernel as it develops them. "We believe that the open source development model produces the best software on the planet, and Red Hat will continue to increase the resources invested in openly developing software" he added, going on to point out that the company's business is "not about the bits" but about providing services to customers.
Although not mentioned by name in Steven's comments, the change seems to be aimed directly at Oracle. The company's Oracle Linux distribution is based directly on Red Hat's Enterprise Linux and Oracle market their services to their customer base and to Red Hat's customers. Oracle apply their own patches on top of the Red Hat source but it is, as yet, unknown what the long term impact on Oracle's Linux will be; Oracle announced the availability of Oracle Linux 6 in the middle of February.
In a separate development, the CentOS developers say they would be unaffected by the change because the developers just rebuild the kernel and do not need to itemise what patches have been applied. The CentOS Plus kernel, which does have patches applied, will be affected slightly but the developers are confident there will be no problems.