Red Hat incorporates 'free' Red Hat clone CentOS

For almost a decade, expert Linux users who didn't need the Red Hat Enterprise Linux support used its clone CentOS instead. Now, Red Hat has adopted this community Linux. Don't panic! You still won't need to pay for it.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

If you use Linux to host your Web servers and run your Internet edge services, chances are you're using CentOS. This Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) clone has long been popular with hosting companies, data centers, and businesses that had in-house Linux expertise and so didn't need to pay for Red Hat's RHEL support. For practical purposes this let them use RHEL without paying for it. On January 7th, things changed.

Red Hat, and the CentOS Project announced they were joining forces to build a new CentOS, capable of driving forward development and adoption of next-generation open source technologies. No, it's not April 1st. This is really happening.

CentOS is joining forces with Red Hat.

First things first. If your company is already using CentOS... Do Not Freak Out. Red Hat is not going to start charging you for using CentOS. CentOS will continue to be an independent distribution with community, not paid, support. Of course, if you want paid support after using CentOS, Red Hat will be more than happy to make you a paying RHEL customer.

As Red Hat explained in a FAQ, "CentOS is a community project that is developed, maintained, and supported by and for its users and contributors. RHEL is a subscription product that is developed, maintained, and supported by Red Hat for its subscribers."

The company continued, "The two also have very different focuses. While CentOS delivers a distribution with strong community support, Red Hat Enterprise Linux provides a stable enterprise platform with a focus on security, reliability, and performance as well as hardware, software, and government certifications for production deployments. Red Hat also delivers training, and an entire support organization ready to fix problems and deliver future flexibility by getting features worked into new versions."

What is different now is that Red Hat won't be keeping CentOS at arm's length anymore. Instead, the company is "extending the Red Hat open-source development ecosystem. Red Hat anticipates that taking a role as a catalyst within the CentOS community will enable it to accelerate development of enterprise-grade subscription solutions for customers and partners, such as RHEL, RHEL OpenStack Platform, Red Hat Cloud Infrastructure, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, Red Hat JBoss Middleware, OpenShift by Red Hat, and Red Hat Storage."

Red Hat will be contributing its resources and expertise in building  open-source communities to the new CentOS Project to give it a roadmap, broaden opportunities for participation, open pathways for contribution, and provide new ways for CentOS users and contributors to bring the power of open-source innovation to all areas of the software stack.

Indeed, "With Red Hat's contributions and investment, the CentOS Project will be able to expand and accelerate, serving the needs of community members who require different or faster-moving components layered on top of CentOS, expanding on existing efforts to collaborate with open source projects such as OpenStack, RDO, Gluster, OpenShift Origin, and oVirt."

Brian Stevens, Red Hat's executive vice president and chief technology officer, said:

"It is core to our beliefs that when people who share goals or problems are free to connect and work together, their pooled innovations can change the world. We believe the open source development process produces better code, and a community of users creates an audience that makes code impactful. Cloud technologies are moving quickly, and increasingly, that code is first landing in Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Today is an exciting day for the open source community; by joining forces with the CentOS Project, we aim to build a vehicle to get emerging technologies like OpenStack and big data into the hands of millions of developers."

Stephen O'Grady, RedMonk's principal analyst added in a statement that "Though it will doubtless come as a surprise, this move by Red Hat represents the logical embrace of an adjacent ecosystem. Bringing the CentOS and Red Hat communities closer together should be a win for both parties."

So here's what the Red Hat operating system family is going to look like going forward:

  • Commercial development and deployment: Red Hat Enterprise Linux, the world's leading enterprise Linux platform, offering an extensive ecosystem of partners, a comprehensive portfolio of certified hardware and software offerings, and Red Hat's award winning support, consulting, and training services. Red Hat subscriptions deliver this value combined with access to the industry's most extensive ecosystem of partners, customers, and Linux experts to support and accelerate success.
  • Community integration beyond the operating system: CentOS, a community-supported and produced Linux distribution that draws on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and other open source technologies to provide a platform that's open to variation. CentOS provides a base for community adoption and integration of open source cloud, storage, network, and infrastructure technologies on a Red Hat-based platform.
  • Operating system innovation across the stack: Fedora, a community-supported and produced Linux distribution that makes it easy for users to consume and contribute to leading-edge open source technologies from the kernel to the cloud. As a cutting edge development platform where every level of the stack is open to revision and improvement, Fedora will continue to serve as the upstream project on which future Red Hat Enterprise Linux releases are based.

Robyn Bergeron, the Fedora project leader, underlined in her blog post that Fedora's role at Red Hat will not be changing. "The new relationship between Red Hat and the CentOS Project changes absolutely nothing about how the Fedora Project will work, or affect the role that Fedora fulfills in Red Hat’s production of RHEL. Fedora will continue to set the standard for developing and incorporating the newest technological innovations in the operating system; those innovations will continue to make their way downstream, both into RHEL, CentOS, and many other -EL derivatives."

While this is a big change for Red Hat, CentOS, and Fedora, it's not one to be frightened of. It really is a move that, I think, will benefit everyone in the Red Hat Linux family -- from developers to users to system administrators to business customers.

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