That's because CentOS Stream, as the RHEL upstream distro, is not compatible with shipping RHEL.Rather, CentOS Stream is the forthcoming version of RHEL. As such, this RHEL beta is neither perfectly compatible with shipping RHEL nor is it as stable.
Red Hat was not pleased. In 2011, Red Hat began incorporating its patches directly into its kernel tree. All the code was still in there, but, as one person put it at the time, "It's sort of like asking someone for a recipe for the family's chocolate chip cookies, and getting cookie batter instead."
Still, the RHEL clone distributor developers managed. In 2014, Red Hat incorporated CentOS. CentOS continued to be free to use, while Red Hat hoped it could persuade CentOS users to become RHEL customers. It didn't work out. Most RHEL-family users continued using the free CentOS.
That indeed turned out to be the case. CloudLinux founder and CEO Igor Seletskiy, along with CentOS founder and CIQ CEO Gregory Kurtzer, responded by creating new RHEL clones -- AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux, respectively. In short, they both decided that the old CentOS model needed to return.
Both distros have proven successful, so Red Hat has made this move. In a subsequent post, McGrath spelled it out: "I feel that much of the anger from our recent decision around the downstream sources comes from either those who do not want to pay for the time, effort, and resources going into RHEL or those who want to repackage it for their own profit. This demand for RHEL code is disingenuous."
Needless to say, AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux aren't happy either.
Benny Vasquez, the AlmaLinux Foundation's board chair, fears that AlmaLniux must follow Red Hat's licensing and agreements in addition to following the software source code licenses. That would also mean, as AlmaLinux understands it, "Red Hat's user interface agreements indicate that re-publishing sources acquired through the customer portal would be a violation of those agreements." This, in turn, would put them in violation of the GPLv2.
This is a no-win situation. So, AlmaLinux "will be working with other members of the RHEL ecosystem to ensure that we continue to deliver security updates with the speed and stability that we have become known for. And, in the long-term, we'll be working with those same partners and with our community to identify the best path forward for AlmaLinux as part of the enterprise Linux ecosystem."
Red Hat's Terms of Service (TOS) and End User License Agreements (EULA) impose conditions that attempt to hinder legitimate customers from exercising their rights as guaranteed by the GPL. While the community debates whether this violates the GPL, we firmly believe that such agreements violate the spirit and purpose of open source. As a result, we refuse to agree with them, which means we must obtain the SRPMs [Source RPM files] through channels that adhere to our principles and uphold our rights.
Rocky believes RHEL's "sources primarily consist of upstream open-source project packages that are not owned by Red Hat."
Therefore, since Rocky can't get the code from the Red Hat Customer Portal and the CentOS Stream code isn't good enough, Rocky will be using two different approaches to get the pure RHEL code.
One option is via RHEL Universal Base Image (UBI) container images that are available from multiple online sources such as Docker Hub. "Using the UBI image, it is easily possible to obtain Red Hat sources reliably and unencumbered. We have validated this through OCI (Open Container Initiative) containers, and it works."
In addition, Rocky Linux will leverage pay-per-use RHEL public cloud instances. Their post continues:
With this, anyone can spin up RHEL images in the cloud and thus obtain the source code for all packages and errata. This is the easiest for us to scale as we can do all of this through CI pipelines, spinning up cloud images to obtain the sources via DNF, and post to our Git repositories automatically.
These methods are possible because of the power of GPL. No one can prevent redistribution of GPL software. To reiterate, both of these methods enable us to legitimately obtain RHEL binaries and SRPMs without compromising our commitment to open-source software or agreeing to TOS or EULA limitations that impede our rights. Our legal advisors have reassured us that we have the right to obtain the source to any binaries we receive.
I can guarantee Red Hat will disagree. This dispute may end up being settled in the courts.
Not all of the anger comes from those whom McGrath appears to be calling freeloaders. Bradley M. Kuhn, the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC)'s Policy Fellow, explained his position:
For approximately twenty years, Red Hat (now a fully owned subsidiary of IBM) has experimented with building a business model for operating system deployment and distribution that looks, feels, and acts like a proprietary one, but nonetheless complies with the GPL and other standard copyleft terms. Software rights activists, including SFC, have spent decades talking to Red Hat and its attorneys about how the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) business model courts disaster and is actively unfriendly to community-oriented Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). These pleadings, discussions, and encouragements have, as far as we can tell, been heard and seriously listened to by key members of Red Hat's legal and OSPO departments, and even by key C-level executives, but they have ultimately been rejected and ignored — sometimes even with a "fine, then sue us for GPL violations.
Pre-Red Hat acquisition, Kuhn contended, "CentOS. provided an excellent counterbalance to the problems with the RHEL business model." Now, though, in the pursuit for profit that has led to Red Hat's first layoffs, Red Hat has maximized "the level of difficulty of those in the community who wish to 'trust but verify' that RHEL complies with the GPL agreements."
Does Red Hat violate Linux's core intellectual property (IP) license, the Gnu General Public License version 2 (GPLv2)? Kuhn won't go that far. But he is worried that Red Hat has "moved from distributing [source code] publicly to everyone to only giving it to customers who received the binaries already." In short, Red Hat's "murky business model skirts the line of GPL compliance."
Another prominent programmer, Jeff Geerling, observed, "What I hate most about Red Hat's response is they call anyone who wants CentOS a freeloader, when: 1. There's nothing morally wrong about being a user of OSS without contributing. 2. Almost all RH employees, contributors, and (former, now) advocates I know have relied on CentOS."
On the other hand, some Red Hatters see this move as the latest in a series of mistakes. Former Red Hat senior engineer Jeff Law remarked, "What Red Hat has done recently is depressing, but not a huge surprise to me. Red Hat struggled repeatedly with how to deal with 'the clones.' The core idea I always came back to in those discussions was that the value isn't in the bits, but in the stability, services, and ecosystem Red Hat enables around the bits."
But, at some point for Red Hat, open source became a means to an end. That opened the door for Red Hat to move away from the open-source ideal. Law concluded: "What Red Hat has done may be technically legal and perhaps good for its business. However, to me, it's ethically unconscionable."
Even as anger grows on all sides, it's important to keep in mind that these are not bad guy vs. good guy issues.
There are also other licensing issues. The GPLv2 is at Linux's core, but the Linux System software contains programs using many different licenses. It's a mess that neither Red Hat nor its frenemies really should be getting themselves mired in.
We're a long way from when Bob Young, Red Hat's co-founder, told me, "I would partner with rivals. It's an ongoing opportunity. Your competitor isn't your enemy. If you can solve a customer problem by working with your competitor, then that's what you should do."
My take? I've followed Red Hat since the company was started in Young's wife's sewing corner. I've followed Linux since Linus Torvalds was a graduate student and the first open-source and free software IP licenses were written. As I see it, Red Hat is not violating the letter of the GPLv2, but it is violating its spirit.