I’ll be there for you

CentOS makes friends with Red Hat

Elliot Bentley

Community Linux distribution leaders hail a “new era” as corporate giant pours resources into project.

A “new era” for popular Linux distribution CentOS began yesterday, as community leaders announced a deal with Red Hat that will see the open-source giant pouring resources into the project.

An unofficial clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, CentOS was initially released in 2004, and despite almost collapsing in 2009 after reclusive founder Lance Davis “crawled into a hole” has established itself as a popular choice. Now, after almost a decade, Red Hat have surprised everyone by embracing CentOS, sponsoring some of its core contributors, and helping to found a new merit-based leadership structure for the project. CentOS leaders were keen to emphasise that the changes would be strictly positive, and that the “firewall” between it and RHEL would remain in place. But what does Red Hat gain from helping out what is essentially a free clone of its bread-and-butter business? In a press release, the company claimed that “taking a role as a catalyst within the CentOS community will enable [Red Hat] to accelerate development of enterprise-grade subscription solutions” – ambiguous to say the least. Cutting through the marketing speak, the key here is that RHEL will remain the only version with paid support, making CentOS and Fedora – Red Hat’s other Linux distribution – the freemium options. Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst praised CentOS for being “one of the reasons that the RHEL ecosystem is the default”. “It helps to give us an ubiquity that RHEL might otherwise not have if we forced everyone to pay to use Linux,” he told ReadWrite. “So, in a micro sense we lose some revenue, but in a broader sense, CentOS plays a very valuable role in helping to make Red Hat the de facto Linux.” In an FAQ, Red Hat position the three as: RHEL as the “trusted, hardened, supported” production version, Fedora as the cutting-edge Linux distribution, and CentOS as a place to “experiment” with a more stable distribution before paying out for a subscription. The company says the move is also about building a broader enterprise user base for Linux-based projects like Gluster, OpenStack and oVirt – which, funnily enough, Red Hat is heavily investing in. Rather than attempt to quash their (legal) clone, Red Hat have chosen to use it as a weapon in the cloud game, which will only bolster its reputation for promoting open source, working alongside competitors, and generally doing ‘the right thing’.
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