Last weekend I attended OLF 2023, an annual regional conference devoted to free and open source software, and related topics that takes place in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve been an attendee at this conference many times since 2007. This year was one of the best speaker and topic lineups ever in my opinion. Highlights for me included talks on using Arduino and Raspberry Pi together to power a network of sensors, IT value stream mapping, NixOS, and status updates from AlmaLinux, Rocky Linux, and Red Hat regarding Red Hat’s source code access changes and the path forward for each organization. I was expecting more fireworks from that last group, but surprisingly representatives from all three groups were very open and friendly with each other, near as I could tell.
I also really enjoyed the keynotes from Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier and Jon “maddog” Hall. If have the time, I highly recommend watching the recordings on the OLF YouTube channel. I had a great time and I’m looking forward to attending again next year.
All three projects sent representatives to the conference to give a talk. AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux both talked about their respective roadmaps for moving forward in light of Red Hat’s changes. AlmaLinux is going to build off of CentOS and maintain ABI compatibility with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). They may not be on the exact versions of each package with respect to RHEL, but they’ve pledged to treat situations where an application runs on RHEL but not on AlmaLinux, assuming the defect is related to the operating system. Rocky Linux has vowed to continue to be fully compatible with RHEL, and they claim they have workarounds to the Red Hat changes.
Of the two projects, I think AlmaLinux has the better strategy. Unfortunately I think Rocky Linux and Red Hat are going to end up in court before it’s all over if Rocky Linux continues to be a full clone of RHEL.
Red Hat gave a talk on the current state of enterprise Linux. I found their take on it very interesting and I think I may have been a little too hard on them initially. Red Hat’s position is that there are many large companies, companies who can easily afford to pay for Red Hat licenses, who only pay Red Hat for their production systems. Instead of paying for all of their systems, they use one of the RHEL clones in their lower environments to avoid those costs. Red Hat’s complaint, and one that I can sympathize with a bit, is that these companies are getting the benefit of all the work Red Hat puts into the RHEL distribution, including extra things like getting it FIPS certified, without contributing to Red Hat for that work. Red Hat has also been looking for more upstream contributions through Fedora and CentOS, and with the full RHEL clones that wasn’t happening. Red Hat themselves have a strict policy on upstream-first contributions and I think that makes a lot of sense. After the talk I think I have a better understanding of Red Hat’s position, and I don’t think they are acting maliciously. However, Red Hat has done an incredibly poor job of communicating with broader community on why these changes were necessary, and how contributors should engage going forward. It lead to a lot of anger and confusion that probably wasn’t necessary.
I no longer think Red Hat has turned evil, but I do think it’s a bad thing that Red Hat basically has a lock on the enterprise Linux market. I’m hoping the broader Linux community can come up alternatives so that we can have more players and competition in this space.