Wednesday, 3 December 2008

All CentOS is theft... Or is it?

Up to now I have been running Ubuntu as my Linux Server OS of choice: for me, the Fedora stack is updated far to frequently for it to be a viable server option. However, for reasons that will become apparant in future posts, I need to run a Red Hat type server. The problem is I don't want to pay for it... Wouldn't it be good if I could get hold of the Red Hat Enterprise code, without having to pay for support? Enter The Community Enterprise Operating System:

CentOS is an Enterprise-class Linux Distribution derived from sources freely provided to the public by a prominent North American Enterprise Linux vendor. CentOS conforms fully with the upstream vendors redistribution policy and aims to be 100% binary compatible. (CentOS mainly changes packages to remove upstream vendor branding and artwork.)
That "prominent North American Enterprise Linux vendor" is, of course, Red Hat. The CentOS FAQs make the following points:
  • CentOS-x is NOT Red Hat® Linux, it is NOT Fedora™ Core. It is NOT Red Hat® Enterprise Linux. It is NOT RHEL.
  • CentOS-x does NOT contain Red Hat® Linux, Fedora™ Core, or Red Hat® Enterprise Linux.
  • CentOS is built from publicly available open source SRPMS.
And so, dear reader, we enter the bizarre world of Open Source licensing. I am not saying that the folks at CentOS are a bunch of liars and thieves - clearly what they are doing is perfectly acceptable in the Open Source world. But where else would it be acceptable? What if I go and get a can of Diet Coke, scrub off the printing, and then put on my own label? In what sense would that NOT be Diet Coke? Would the The Coca-Cola Company not sue my sorry ass if I tried to pass this stuff off as my own - even if I was giving it away for free?

Now any Open Sourcers out there reading this may well be saying you just don't get it. And you know what? I don't. I write software for a living. If someone took my code, changed the logos, and then passed it off unchanged as their own, I would have some issues with that. But Open Source software isn't like that, right? It is a community effort, right? RHEL a community effort? The creation of those SRPMS files a community effort? I don't think so. (I'd better stop there, I'm starting sound like Lewis Black from the Daily Show...)

So I'm not going to use CentOS? Wrong! I'm definitely going to use CentOS. He who lives by the sword dies by the sword. If Red Hat want to play in a world where software has no value, that's up to them.

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