Rocky Linux Foundation launches

Rocky Linux takes a new road to its organization: A public benefit corporation software foundation, Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
Linux written with code in the background
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Once upon a time, 2002 to be exact, Gregory Kurtzer started a Linux distribution called CentOS, a clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). It became really popular. Businesses that had Linux-savvy administrators used it to run their businesses. Then, in 2014, Red Hat acquired CentOS.

At the start, Red Hat let CentOS be, well, CentOS. But, by 2020, Red Hat put CentOS out to pasture. CentOS Stream, its Red Hat successor, is a rolling release, development distro for RHEL, not a production one. 

That left a lot of unhappy CentOS users, so Kurtzer started a new RHEL clone and CentOS replacement: Rocky Linux

Now, this Linux distribution is moving to the control of the just launched Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation (RESF).

RESF is not a non-profit foundation, though. Instead, it's a Delaware Public Benefits Corporation (PBC) or Type B Corp. What's that, you ask? A Type B, unlike a non-profit corporation, has shareholders and can seek to make a profit. However, like a conventional Type C, a Type B must spend some of its profits and resources in support of a specific public benefit. 

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In RESF's case, the community must make certain that Rocky Linux's dependencies, sources, and build artifacts remain free, open source, and reproducible. In other words, RESF wants to make darn sure that Rocky Linux doesn't fall into the same trap CentOS did. Other Type B corps include Ben & Jerry's, Warby Parker, and Patagonia. 

This is codified in RESF's charters and bylaws. The organization's vision is to create and nurture a community of individuals and organizations that are committed to ensuring the longevity, stewardship, and innovation of enterprise-grade open source software that is always freely available.

The charter and bylaws were voted on by the initial charter member group of 30 RESF and Rocky Linux contributors. The vote was procedurally ratified by Kurtzer, who filed the original RESF PBC paperwork. 

While that means Kurtzer is the owner, legally, he doesn't control it. The RESF community calls the shots. That also means that while Kurtzer's company, CIQ, had a vital role in launching Rocky, it doesn't have any special control or access over Rocky Linux or the RESF.

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As Kurtzer said, "Open source projects should not be subject to corporate control or business agendas. What makes a successful open source project isn't having a single individual behind it or even having a massive company behind it; what makes it successful is having many individuals and many companies all supporting and managing it collectively, in line with shared interests. That has been our goal with Rocky Linux and the RESF from day one. The RESF charter and bylaws reflect our intent that neither Rocky Linux nor any RESF project will ever be controlled, purchased, or otherwise influenced by a single entity or individual."

Heather Meeker, an expert open source attorney and venture capitalist who advised on the bylaw's creation, added, "It's important for companies hosting and creating open source communities to have a choice when they consider how to best host their projects, it's not one-size-fits-all. Some companies want total control over that project. Others want a pure, decentralized community, but lacking an appropriate structure can have challenges. The RESF has taken a fresh approach to help organizations and projects build a community home for open source projects."

For now, RESF only hosts Rocky Linux. The group hopes to be the home for other open source projects eventually. It will be interesting to see how this new model for an open source organization works out. Personally, I'm hopeful. 

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