Red Hat's open source approach encourages competition


Linux distributions often follow each other, the Openness of this approach encourages competition. Image Source

Let's look at competition. In the proprietary model, various intellectual property techniques are used to prevent others from implementing equivalent features - customer choice is limited to only one vendor. This can make proprietary software profitable, since if a customer becomes dependent on the software as part of their business process, they will pay fees disproportionate to the development effort in order to retain the software. This is the dream of the non-free software development model - lock.

But what if you're using Free software? Of course, you're free to continue using the software, and to modify and copy it as you see fit. But from a competitive perspective, no one vendor can lock you in - you can give the software to another vendor and ask them to help you with it.

And that's exactly what has happened with Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Because Red Hat is Free software, Red Hat cannot lock customers in, and, indeed, competitors have arisen to offer the same service. Let's now look at four of these teeth biting on Red Hat's rump.

  1. The purist approach is ftp.redhat.com. Anyone can go there and download all the source code for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and install it anywhere they like. This makes absolutely anyone, YOU included, a competitor for Red Hat. However, it does take some effort to maintain the Red Hat distribution from the source code, and that might not be everyone's idea of easy. And, of course, neither Red Hat nor anyone else will provide you with a service desk to answer your questions or help solve your issues.
  2. The community approach is CentOS. "The Community Enterprise Operating System". CentOS goes to ftp.redhat.com, gets the source code, strips the Red Hat logos out of it and then recompiles it to form a binary distribution which is essentially identical to "the upstream vendor" edition. CentOS is on of the world's most popular server operating system. Again, no service desk, but certainly a wealth of forums and question boards.
  3. A sponsored community is Scientific Linux. This is the same approach as CentOS, but there is a small handful of maintainers paid by the scientific research community to recompile and redistribute Red Hat. Despite the name, there is no difference between Scientific Linux and RHEL. Scientific Linux is then used as a springboard for more specialized distributions, like Fermi Linux. Perhaps because of the funding, Scientific Linux tends to be updated a little faster than CentOS, although CentOS has more emphasis on scaling out farms of servers.
  4. A commercial approach is Oracle Linux. Oracle takes the source code from Red Hat, stips the logos, and recompiles it to produce another identical distribution. Oracle also offers a patched kernel optimized for running the Oracle RDBMS as an option for Oracle Linux. Most excitingly, from a competitive perspective, Oracle of course sells a service desk support arrangement, and will even sell support for your existing, unchanged Red Hat installations.

Those are four live examples of how the Freedom in the Red Hat Enterprise Linux software creates competition. A few at Red Hat (perhaps those newest to the feel of software Freedom) dislike this situation and criticize the existence of the 'downstream' options. However, Red Hat overall recognizes and applauds the presence of competition.

Why does Red Hat choose this model?

Because it emphasizes how Red Hat's model is entirely different from other lock-in vendors. Red Hat is NOT selling software - they are selling support. The software you can have at zero cost. And Red Hat cannot lock you into a support arrangement - if you want 24/7 support for your Red Hat installations and you decide you don't like Red Hat's service, you can stop paying for it and give Oracle a call, instead. As easy as that. Change nothing but the name on the cheque. "Every year is election year for Red Hat!" one of their senior platform engineers once told me.

And like the wolves chasing the bison in the Taiga, those teeth biting Red Hat make Red Hat stronger. Red Hat knows it, and most importantly, the customers know it. Customers choose Red Hat because they're the best, not because they have no choice.

True competition. That's what software Freedom can mean to you.