I’ve been watching with interest as the Red Hat story continues to unfold. Joe Brockmeier has posted two excellent articles about the current situations and the history that has led up to it, Red Hat and the Clone Wars and Red Hat and the Clone Wars II: A history of the early 2000s Linux landscape, and Jeff Geerling has made a YouTube video to go along with the blog posts he’s made. While in some ways they represent opposing sides of the argument, I think the both make excellent points.
As expected, there has been a huge uproar in the community for putting the Red Hat sources behind a subscription paywall, with an a termination clause if you choose to exercise your rights under the GPL and other open sources licenses and redistribute the package sources. Part of me understands Red Hat’s position as outlined in the response they posted on their corporate blog. I don’t necessarily think it’s right that companies like VMWare and Oracle basically take Red Hat’s product and repackage it. I imagine Red Hat is targeting large corporations like that who are directly profiting off of Red Hat’s work without paying anything for it, and the community distributions like Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux are collateral damage.
While I agree with Joe Brockmeier that Red Hat isn’t violating the letter of the GPL and other open source licenses with this move, I feel like they are definitely violating the spirit of the four essential freedoms in the The Free Software Definition. As a result they have destroyed their hard-won reputation as a true open source company and eroded trust with the broader Linux community. As I mentioned last week, this also erodes my trust in Red Hat managed open source projects like Fedora, Ansible, and Podman. While Fedora is specifically designated as a community project, Ansible and Podman have commercial offerings in the Red Hat portfolio. How long will it be until they receive similar treatment?
I am genuinely worried about the future of Ansible at this point. While the core parts of Ansible are GPLv3 licensed, Red Hat is already bundling non-free components as part of their commercial Ansible Automation Platform. My understanding is there isn’t way to recreate an equivalent product using just the open source components. Red Hat has announced they will be adding new AI functionality based on IBM’s Watson, and Watson is decidedly not an open source project. I think Red Hat is slowly morphing into a hybrid vendor that will be offering open-core like mixes of open source software combined with proprietary components. That said, I don’t think Red Hat’s paying customers are the types that really care about free software ideology and are still happy to pay Red Hat for support and continued development.
Speaking of eroding trust, Google has killed off yet another popular service. Google DNS is going to be sold off to Squarespace. This has happened enough times now that I have zero confidence that any service Google offers will be around long enough to make it worth investing in. I’ve been migrating my personal services away from Google services, and now the only services I still use are Google Mail, Google Calendar, and Android on my phone. I’ve had an Android phone since the original Motorola Droid, but this continued behavior might get me to switch to an Apple device in the future. I don’t trust Google with my data and sometimes I wonder if Android is profitable enough for Google to continue investing in it.