Two insurgent efforts to make sure the CentOS distribution remains viable have been launched following a decision by Red Hat to no longer invest in that fork of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) distribution.
Launched in 2006, CentOS is widely employed by IT organizations that need an open source distribution of Linux to, for example, deploy a web server. Red Hat gained control over the CentOS trademark in 2014 as the primary sponsor of the project. Starting next year, Red Hat will only support CentOS Stream, which provides IT teams with a “rolling preview” of capabilities the company plans to make available on RHEL. Both RHEL and CentOS Stream are available via a subscription from Red Hat.
The backlash to that announcement has been swift. Gregory Kurtzer, one of the co-founders of CentOS, has launched Rocky Linux with the support of more than 650 contributors to make sure IT organizations have access to a distribution of a fork of RHEL that doesn’t require a subscription.
Kurtzer said many of those contributors work at independent software vendors (ISVs) that would prefer to see forks of RHEL continue to be available to their customers. Ultimately, the goal will be to add new capabilities to a Linux distribution in a more agile manner than what has occurred under the stewardship of Red Hat, added Kurtzer.
At the same time, CloudLinux is pledging to spend $1 million annually to create a distribution of Linux dubbed Project Lenix that is also based on a fork of RHEL. CloudLinux has previously provided a hardened edition of CentOS that has been installed more than 200,000 times by 4,000-plus customers.
CloudLinux CEO Igor Seletskiy noted the only other existing RHEL-compatible distribution of Linux is Oracle Linux. However, given Oracle’s stewardship of the open source MySQL and database, and the way the transition to open source editions of Java technologies has progressed, Seletskiy said there are many in the open source community who would prefer an alternative.
As for the Rocky Linux effort, Seletskiy said Project Lenix not only will appear sooner but also IT teams will be able to convert entire fleets of servers over to it via a single command with no reinstallation or reboot required.
Red Hat can do little to quell these initiatives because RHEL itself is based on open source code that anyone can employ to create a separate distribution. It’s not clear what impact this nascent rebellion will have on the ability of Red Hat to further monetize RHEL; however, it does illustrate how difficult it really is for a provider of any open source code to maintain control over the community that evolves around a given project.
Many contributors to these projects are also becoming resentful of vendors that productize their efforts by converting open source software into, for example, a cloud service or subscription service that goes on to be the dominant means through which open source software is consumed. As a result, there is increased pressure for vendors to find a way to better reward contributors to these projects. Initiatives such as Rocky Linux and Project Lenix are clearly tapping into an egalitarian spirit within the open source community that runs counter to the way some vendors monetize these initiatives.
It’s not clear to what degree these two efforts might inspire other revolts based on forks of open source code. However, it’s clear that the stewards of the primary open source project may not be the complete masters of their domain regardless of who may own the trademark for a specific distribution.