IBM, Red Hat and Free Software: An old maddog’s view

IBM, Red Hat and Free Software: An old maddog’s view

Copyright 2023 by Jon “maddog” Hall
Licensed under Creative Commons BY-SA-ND
Photo: © Santiago Ferreira Litowtschenko

Several people have opined on the recent announcement of Red Hat to change their terms of sales for their software.  Here are some thoughts from someone who has been around a long time and been in the midst of a lot of what occurred, and has been on many sides of the fence.

This is a fairly long article.   It goes back a long way.   People who know me will realize that I am going to tell a lot of details that will fit sooner or later.   Have patience.  Or you can jump close to the bottom and read the section “Tying it all together” without knowing all the reasoning.

Ancient history for understanding

I started programming in 1969.   I wrote my programs on punched cards and used FORTRAN as a university cooperative education student. I learned programming by reading a book and practicing.  That first computer was an IBM 1130 and it was my first exposure to IBM or any computer company.

Back at the university I joined the Digital Equipment User’s Society (DECUS) which had a library of software written by DEC’s customers and distributed for the price of copying (sometimes on paper tape and sometimes on magnetic tape).

There were very few “professional programmers” in those days.  In fact I had a professor who taught programming that told me I would NEVER be able to earn a living as a “professional programmer”.   If you wrote code in those days you were a physicist, or a chemist , or an electrical engineer, or a university professor and you needed the code to do your work or for research.

Once you had met your own need, you might have contributed the program to DECUS so they could distribute it…because selling software was hard, and that was not what you did for a living.

In fact, not only was selling software hard, but you could not copyright your software nor apply for patents in your software.   The way you protected your code was through “Trade Secret” and “Contract Law”.   This meant that you either had to create a contract with each and every user or you had to distribute your software in binary form.   Distributing your software in binary form back in those days was “difficult” since there were not that many machines of one architecture, and if they did have an operating system (and many did not) there were many operating systems that ran on any given architecture.

Since there were so few computers of any given architecture and if they did have an operating system there were many operating systems for each architecture (the DEC PDP-11 had more than eleven operating systems) therefore many companies distributed their software in source code form or even sent an engineer out to install it, run test suites and prove it was working.   Then if the customer received the source code for the software it was often put into escrow in case the supplier went out of business.

I remember negotiating a contract for an efficient COBOL compiler in 1975 where the license fee was 100,000 USD for one copy of the compiler that ran on one IBM mainframe and could be used to do one compile at a time.  It took a couple of days for their engineer to get the compiler installed, working and running the acceptance tests.  Yes, my company’s lawyers kept the source code tape in escrow.

Many other users/programmers distributed their code in “The Public Domain”, so other users could do anything they wanted with it.

The early 1980s changed all that with strong copyright laws being applied to binaries and source code.   This was necessary for the ROMs that were being used in games and (later) the software that was being distributed for Intel-based CP/M and MS DOS systems.

Once the software had copyrights then software developers needed licenses to tell other users what their rights were in usage of that software.

For end users this was the infamous EULA (the “End User License Agreement” that no one reads) and for developers a source code agreement which was issued and signed in a much smaller number.

The origins and rise of Unix™

Unix was started by Bell Labs in 1969.   For years it was distributed only inside of Bell Labs and Western Electric, but eventually escaped to some RESEARCH universities such as University of California Berkeley, MIT, Stanford, CMU and others for professors and students to study and “play with”.   These universities eventually were granted a campus-wide source code license for an extremely small amount of money, and the code was freely distributed among them.

Unique among these universities was the University of California, Berkeley.   Nestled in the tall redwood trees of Berkeley, California with a wonderful climate, close to the laid-back cosmopolitan life of San Francisco, it was one of the universities that Ken Thompson chose to take a magnetic tape of UNIX and use it to teach operating system design to eager young students.   Eventually the students and staff, working with Ken, were able to create a version of UNIX that might conceivably be said to be better than the UNIX system from AT&T.   BSD Unix had demand paged virtual memory, while AT&T was still a swapping memory model.   Eventually BSD Unix had native TCP/IP while AT&T UNIX only had uucp.   BSD Unix had a rich set of utilities, while AT&T had stripped down the utility base in the transition to System V from System IV.

This is why many early Unix companies, including Sun Microsystems (with SunOS), DEC (with Ultrix) and HP (with HP/UX) all went with a BSD base to their binary-only products.

Another interesting tidbit of history was John Lions.   John was a professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia and he was very interested in what was happening in Bell Labs.

John took sabbatical in 1978 and traveled to Bell Labs.  Working along with Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, Doug McIlroy and others he wrote a book on Version 6 of Unix that commented all the source code for the Unix kernel and a commentary on why that code had been chosen and what it did.   Unfortunately in 1979 the licensing for Unix changed and John was not able to publish his book for over twenty years.

Unfortunately for AT&T John had made photocopies of drafts of his book and gave those to his students for comments, questions and review.   When John’s book was stopped from publication, the students made photocopies of his book, and photocopies of the photocopies, and photocopies of the photocopies of the photocopies, each one becoming slightly lighter and harder to read than the previous generation.

For years Unix programmers measured their “age” in the Unix community by the generation of John’s book which they owned.   I am proud to say that I have a third generation of the photocopies.

John’s efforts educated thousands of programmers in how elements of the Unix kernel worked and the thought patterns of Ken and Dennis in developing the system.

[Eventually John’s book was released for publication1, and you may purchase it and read it yourself.   If you wish you can run a copy of Version 6 Unix2 on a simulator named SIMH which runs on Linux.   You can see what an early version of Unix was like.]

Eventually some commercial companies also obtained source code licenses from AT&T under very expensive and restrictive contract law.   This expensive license was also used with small schools that were not considered research universities.  I know, since Hartford State Technical College was one of those schools, and I was not able to get Unix for my students in the period of 1977 to 1980.  Not only did you have to pay an astronomical amount of money for the license, but you had to tell Bell Labs the serial number of the machine you were going to put the source code on.   If that machine broke you had to call up Bell Labs and tell them the serial number of the machine where you were going to move the source code.

Eventually some companies, such as Sun Microsystems, negotiated a redistribution agreement with AT&T Bell Labs to sell binary-only copies of Unix-like systems at a much less restrictive and much less expensive licensing fee than getting the source code from AT&T Bell Labs directly.

Eventually these companies made the redistribution of Unix-like systems their normal way of doing business, since to distribute AT&T derived source code to their customers required that the customer have an AT&T source code license, which was still very expensive and very hard to get.

I should point out that these companies did not just take the AT&T code, re-compile the code and distribute them.   They hired many engineers and made a lot of changes to the AT&T code and some of them decided to use code from the University of California Berkeley as the basis of their products, then went on to change the code with their own engineers.  Often this not only meant changing items in the kernel, but changing the compilers to fit the architecture and other significant pieces of engineering work.

Then, in the early 1980s Richard M. Stallman (RMS), a student at MIT received a distribution of Unix in binary only form.   While MIT had a site-wide license for AT&T source code, the company that made that distribution for their hardware did not sell sources easily and RMS was upset that he could not change the OS to make the changes he needed.

So RMS started the GNU (“GNU is not Unix”) project for the purpose of distributing a freedom operating system that would require people distributing binaries to make sure that the people receiving those binaries would receive the sources and the ability to fix bugs or make the revisions they needed.

RMS did not have a staff of people to help him do this, nor did he have millions of dollars to spend on the hardware and testing staff.  So he created a community of people around the GNU project and (later) the Free Software Foundation.   We will call this community the GNU community (or “GNU” for short) in the rest of this article.

RMS did come up with an interesting plan, one of creating software that was useful to the people who used it across a wide variety of operating systems.

The first piece of software was emacs, a powerful text editor that worked across operating systems, and as programmers used it they realized the value of using the same sub-commands and keystrokes across all the systems they worked on.

Then GNU worked on a compiler suite, then utilities.   All projects were useful to programmers, who in turn made other pieces of code useful to them.

What didn’t GNU work on?   An office package.   Few programmers spent a lot of time working on office documents.

In the meantime another need was being addressed.   Universities who were doing computer research were generating code that needed to be distributed.

MIT and the University of California Berkeley were generating code that they really did not want to sell.   Ideally they wanted to give it away so other people could also use it in research.   However the software was now copyrighted, so these universities needed a license that told people what they could do with that copyrighted code.  More importantly, from the University’s perspective, the license also told the users of the software that there was no guarantee of any usefulness, and they should not expect support, nor could the university be held liable for any damages from the use of the software.

We joked at the time that the licenses did not even guarantee that the systems you put the software on would not catch fire and burst into flames.   This is said tongue-in-cheek, but was a real consideration.

These licenses (and more) eventually became known as the “permissive” licenses of Open Source, as they made few demands on the users of the source code of the software known as “developers”.   The developers were free to create binary-only distributions and pass on the binaries to the end users without having to make the source code (other than the code they originally received under the license) visible to the end user.

Only the “restrictive” license of the GPL forced the developer to make their changes visible to the end users who received their binaries.

Originally there was a lot of confusion around the different licenses.

Some people thought that the binaries created by the use of the GNU compilers were also covered by the GPL even though the sources that generated the licenses were completely free of any licensing (i.e. created by the user themselves).

Some people thought that you could not sell GPL licensed code.  RMS refuted that, but admitted that GPL licensed code typically meant that just selling the code for large amounts of money was “difficult” for many reasons.

However many people did sell the code.   Companies such as Walnut Creek (Bob Bruce) and Prime Time Freeware for Unix (Richard Morin) sold compendiums of code organized on CD-ROMs and (later) DVDs for money.   While the programs that were on these compendiums were covered by individual “Open Source” licenses, the entire CD or DVD might have had its own copyright and license.  Even if it was “legal” to copy the entire ISO and produce your own CDs and DVDs and sell them, probably the creators of the originals might have had harsh thoughts toward the resellers.

During all of this time the system vendors  such as Digital Equipment Corporation, HP, Sun and IBM were all creating Unix-like operating systems based on either AT&T System V or part of the Berkeley Software Distribution (in many cases starting with BSD Unix 4.x).   Each of these companies hired huge numbers of Unix software engineers, documentation people, quality assurance people, product managers and so forth.   They had huge buildings, many lawyers, and sold their distributions for a lot of money.   Many were “system companies” delivering the software bundled with their hardware.   Some, like Santa Cruz Operations (SCO), created only a software distribution.

Originally these companies produced their own proprietary operating systems and sold them along with the hardware, sensing that the hardware without an operating system was fairly useless, but later they separated the hardware sales from the operating system sales to offer their customers more flexibility with their job mix to solve the customer’s problems.

However this typically meant more cost for both the hardware and the separate operating system.   And it was difficult to differentiate from your competitors external to your company and internal to your company.   Probably the most famous of these conflicts was DEC’s VMS operating system and various Unix offerings….and even PDP-11 versus VAX.

DEC had well over 500 personnel (mostly engineers and documentation people) in the Digital Unix group along with peripheral engineering and product management to produce Digital Unix.

Roughly speaking, each company was spending on the neighborhood of 1-2 billion USD per year to sell their systems, investing in sophisticated computer science features to show that their Unix-like system was best.

The rise of Microsoft and the death of Unix

In the meantime a software company in Redmond, Washington was producing and selling the same operating systems to run on the PC no matter whether you bought it from HP, IBM, or DEC, and this operating system was now moving up in the world, headed towards the lucrative hardware server market.   While there were obviously fewer servers than there were desktop systems, the license price of a server operating system could be in the range of 30,000 USD or more.

The Unix Market was stuck between a rock and a hard place.   It was becoming too expensive to keep engineering unique Unix-like systems and competing with not only other Unix-like vendors, but also to fight off Windows NT.   Even O’Reilly Publishers, who had for years been producing books about Unix subsystems and commands, was switching over to producing books on Windows NT.

The rise of Linux

Then the Linux kernel project burst on the scene.  The kernel project was enabled by six major considerations:

  • A large amount of software was available from GNU. MIT, BSD and independent software projects
  • A large amount of information about operating system internals was available on the Internet
  • High speed Internet was coming into the home, not just industry and academia
  • Low cost, powerful processors capable of demand-paged virtual memory were not only available on the market, but were being replaced by more powerful systems, and were therefore available to build a “hobby” kernel.
  • A lot of luck and opportunity
  • A uniquely stubborn project leader who had a lot of charisma.

Having started in late 1991, by late 1993 “the kernel project” and many distribution creators such as “Soft Landing Systems”, “Yggdrasil”, “Debian”, “Slackware” and “Red Hat” to flourish.

Some of these were started as a “commercial” distribution, with the hope and dream of making money and some were started as a “community project” to benefit “the community”.

At the same time, distributions that were based on the Berkeley Software Distribution were still held up by the long-running “Unix Systems Labs Vs BSDi” lawsuit that was holding up the creation of “BSDlite” that would be used to start the various BSD distributions.

Linux (or GNU/Linux as some called it) started to take off, pushed by the many distributions and the press (including magazines and papers).

Linux was cute penguins

I will admit the following is my own thoughts on the popularity of Linux versus BSD, but from my perspective it was a combination of many factors.

As I said before, at the end of 1993 BSD was still being held up by the lawsuit, but the Linux companies were moving forward, and because of this the BSD companies (of which there were only one or two at the time) had nothing new to say to the press.

Another reason that the Linux distributions moved forward was the difference in the model.  The GPL had a dynamic effect on the model of forcing the source code to go out with the binaries.   Later on many embedded systems people, or companies that wanted an inexpensive OS for their closed system, might chose software with an MIT or BSD license that license would not force them to ship all their source code to their customers, but the combination of the GPL for the kernel and the large amount of code from the Free Software Foundation caught the imagination of a lot of the press and customers.

People could start a distribution project without asking ANYONE’s permission, and eventually that sparked hundreds of distributions.

The X Window System and Project Athena

I should also mention Project Athena at MIT, which was originally a research project to create a light-weight client-server atmosphere for Unix workstations.

Out of this project came Kerberos, a net-work based authentication system, as well as the X Window System.

At this time Sun Microsystems had successfully made NFS a “standard” in the Unix industry and was trying to advocate for a Display Postscript-based windowing system named “News”.

Other companies were looking for alternatives, and the client-server based X Window System showed promise.   However X10.3, one release from Project Athena, needed some more development that eventually led to X11.x and on top of that were Intrinsics and Widgets (Button Boxes, Radio Boxes, Scroll-bars, etc.) that gave the “look and feel” that people see in a modern desktop system.

These needs drove the movement of developing the X Window System out of MIT and Project Athena into the X Consortium, people paid full time to coordinate the development.   The X Consortium was funded by memberships from companies and people that felt they had something to get from having X supported.  The X Consortium opened in 1993 and closed its doors in 1996.

Some of these same companies decided to go against Unix System Labs, the consortium set up by Sun Microsystems and AT&T, so they formed the Open Software Foundation (OSF) and decided to set a source-code and API standard for Unix systems.  Formed in 1988, it merged with X/Open in 1996 to form the Open Group.  Today they maintain a series of formal standards and certifications.

There were many other consortia formed.   The Common Desktop Environment (I still have lots of SWAG from that) was one of them.   And it always seemed with consortia that they would start up, be well funded, then the companies funding them would look around and say “why should I pay for this, all the other companies will pay for it” and those companies would drop out to let the consortium’s funding dry up.

From the few to the many

At this point, dear reader, we have seen how software originally was written by people who needed it, whereas “professional programmers” wrote code for other people and who required funding to make it worthwhile for them.   The “problem” with professional programmers is that they expect to earn a living by writing code.  They have to buy food, housing and pay taxes.   They may or may not even use the code they write in their daily life.

We also saw a time where operating systems, for the most part, were either written by computer companies, to make their systems usable, or by educational bodies as research projects.   As Linux matures and as standards make the average “PC” from one vendor become more and more electrically the same, the number of engineers needed to make each distribution of Linux work on a “PC” is minimal.

PCs have typically had difficulty in differentiating one from another, and “price” is more and more one of the mitigating issues.   Having to pay for an operating system is something that no company wants to do, and few users expect to pay for it either.  So the hardware vendors turn more and more to Linux….an operating system that they do not have to pay any money to put on their platform.

Recently I have been seeing some cracks in the dike.   As more and more users of FOSS come on board, they put more and more demands on developers whose numbers are not growing sufficiently fast enough to keep all the software working.

I hear from FOSS developers that too few, and sometimes no, developers are working on blocks of code.  Of course this can also happen to closed-source code, but this shortness hits mostly in areas that are not considered “sexy”, such as quality assurance, release engineering, documentation and translations.

Funding the work

In the early days there were just a few people working on projects that had relatively few people using them.  They were passionate about their work, and no one got paid.

One of the first times I heard any type of rumblings was when some people had figured out some ways of making money with Linux.   One rumble that came up was an indignation that came because the developers did not want people to make money on code they had written and contributed for free.

I understood the feelings of these people, but I advocated the fact that if you did not allow companies to make money from Linux that the movement would go forward slowly, like cold molasses.   Allowing companies to make money would cause Linux to go forward quickly.   While we lost some of the early developers who did not agree with this, most of the developers that really counted (including Linus) saw the logic in this.

About this time various companies were looking at “Open Source”.  Netscape was in battle with other companies who were creating browsers and on the other side there were the web-servers like Apache that were needed to provide servers.

At the same time Netscape decided to “Open Source” their code in an attempt to bring in more developers and lower the costs of producing a world-class browser and server.

The community

All through software history there were “communities” that came about.   In the early days the communities revolved around user groups, or groups of people involved in some type of software project, working together for a common goal.

Sometimes these were formed around the systems companies (DECUS, IBM’s SHARE, Sun Microsystems’ Sun-sites, etc) and later bulletin boards, newsgroups, etc.

Over time the “community” expanded to include documentation people, translation people or even people just promoting Free Software and “Open Source” for various reasons.

However, in the later years it turned more and more into people using gratis software and not understanding Freedom Software.   The same people who would use pirated software, not giving back at all to the community or the developers.

Shiver me timbers….

One of the other issues of software is the concept of “Software Piracy”, the illegal copying and use of software against its license.

Over the years some people in the “FOSS Community” have downplayed the idea of Intellectual Property and even the existence of copyright, without acknowledging that without copyright they would have no control over their software whatsoever.   Software in the public domain has no protection from people taking the software, making changes to it, creating a binary copy and selling it for whatever the customer would pay.   However, some of these FOSS people condone software piracy and turn a blind eye to it.

I am not one of those people.

I remember the day I recognized the value of fighting software piracy.  I was at a conference in Brazil when I told the audience that they should be using Free Software.   They answered back and said:

“Oh, Mr. maddog, ALL of our software is free!”

At that time almost 90% of all desktop software in Brazil was pirated, and so with the ease of obtaining software for gratis, part of the usefulness of Free Software (its low cost) was obliterated.

An organization, the [Business} Software Alliance (BSA), was set up by companies like Oracle, Microsoft, Adobe and others to find and prosecute (typically) companies and government agencies that were using unlicensed or incorrectly licensed software.

If all the people using the Linux kernel would pay just one dollar for each hardware platform where it was running, we would be able to easily fund most FOSS development.

Enter IBM

One person at IBM, by the name of Daniel Frye, became my liaison to IBM.   Dan had understood the model and the reasons for having Open Source.

Like many other computer companies (including Microsoft) there were people in IBM who believed in FOSS and were working on projects on their own time.

One of Daniel’s focuses was to find and organize some of these people into a FOSS unit inside of IBM to help move Linux forward.

From time to time I was invited to Austin, Texas to meet with IBM (which, as a DEC employee, felt very strange).

One time I was there and Dan asked me, as President of Linux International(TM), to speak to a meeting of these people in the “Linux group”.   I gave my talk and was then issued into a “green room” to wait while the rest of the meeting went on.  After a little while I had to go to the restroom, and while looking for it I saw a letter being projected on the screen in front of all these IBM people.   It was a letter from Lou Gerstner, then the president of IBM.   The letter said, in effect, that in the past IBM had been a closed-source company unless business reasons existed for it being Open Source.  In the future, the letter went on, IBM would be an Open Source company unless there were business reasons for being closed source.

This letter sent chills up my back, because working at DEC, I knew how difficult it was to take a piece of code written by DEC engineers and make it “free software”, even if DEC had no plans to sell that code … .no plans to make it available to the public.   After going through the process I had DEC engineers tell me “never again”.   This statement by Gerstner reversed the process.   It was now up to the business people to prove why they could not make it open source.

I know there will be a lot of people out there that will say to me “no way” that Gerstner said that.  They will cite examples of IBM not being “Open”.  I will tell you that it is one thing for a President and CEO to make a decision like that and another for a large company like IBM to implement it.   It takes time and it takes a business plan for a company like IBM to change its business.

It was around this time that IBM made their famous announcement that they were going to invest a billion US dollars into “Linux”.   They may have also said “Open Source”, but I have lost track of the timing of that.    This announcement caught the world by shock, that such a large and staid computer company would make this statement.

A month or two after this Dan met with me again, looked me right in the eye and asked if the Linux community might consider IBM trying to “take over Linux”, could they accept the “dancing elephant” coming into the Linux community, or be afraid that IBM would crush Linux.

I told Dan that I was sure the “people that counted” in the Linux community would see IBM as a partner.

Shortly after that I was aware of IBM hiring Linux developers so they could work full time on various parts of Linux, not just part time as before.   I knew people who were working as disparate parts of “Linux” as the Apache Web Server that were paid by IBM.

About a year later IBM made another statement.   They had recovered that billion dollars of investment, and were going to invest another billion dollars.

I was at a Linux event in New York City when I heard of IBM selling their laptop and desktop division to Lenovo.   I knew that while that division was still profitable, it was not profitable to the extent that it could support IBM.  So IBM sold off that division, purchased Price Waterhouse Cooper (doubling the size of their integration department) and shifted their efforts into creating business solutions, which WERE more profitable.

There was one more, more subtle issue.   Before that announcement, literally one day before the announcement, if an IBM salesman had used anything other than IBM hardware to create a solution, there might have been hell to pay.   However at that Linux event it was announced that IBM was giving away two Apple laptops as prizes in a contest.   The implications of that prize giveaway was not lost on me.  Two days before that announcement, if IBM marketing people had offered a prize of a non-IBM product, they probably would have been FIRED.

In the future a business solution by IBM might use ANY hardware and ANY software, not just IBM’s.   This was amazing.   And it showed that IBM was supporting Open Source,  because Open Source allowed their solution providers to create better solutions at a lower cost.  It is as simple as that.

Lenovo, with its lower overhead and focused business, could easily make a reasonable profit off those low-end systems, particularly when IBM might be a really good customer of theirs.

IBM was no longer a “computer company”.   They were a business solutions company.

Later on IBM sold off their small server division to Lenovo, for much the same reason.

So when IBM wanted to be able to provide an Open Source solution for their enterprise solutions, which distribution were they going to purchase?  Red Hat.

And then there was SCO

I mentioned “SCO” earlier as a distribution of Unix that was much like Microsoft.  SCO created distributions, mostly based on AT&T code (instead of Berkeley) and even took over the distribution of Xenix from Microsoft when Microsoft did not want to distribute it anymore.

The was Santa Cruz Operations, located in the Santa Cruz mountains overlooking the beautiful Monterey Bay.

Started by a father/son team Larry and Doug Michels, they had a great group of developers and probably distributed more licenses for Unix than any other vendor.   They specialized in server systems that drove lots of hotels, restaurants, etc. using character-cell terminals and later X-terms and such.

Doug, in particular, is a great guy.   It was Doug, when he was on the Board of Directors for Uniforum, who INSISTED that Linus be given a “Lifetime Achievement” award at the tender age of 27.

I worked with Doug on several projects, including the Common Desktop Environment (CDE) and enjoyed working with his employees.

Later Doug and Larry sold off SCO to the Caldera Group, creators of Caldera Linux.   Based in Utah the Candera crew were a spin-off from Novell.  From what I could see, Caldera was not so much interested in “FreeDOM” Linux as having a “cheap Unix” free of AT&T royalties, but still using AT&T code.   They continually pursued deals with closed-source software that they could bind into their Linux distribution to give value.

This purchase formed the basis of what became known as “Bad SCO” (when Caldera changed their name to “SCO”), and who soon took a business tactic of suing Linux vendors because “SCO” said that Linux had AT&T source code in it and was a violation of their licencing terms.

This caused a massive uproar in the Linux Marketplace, with people not knowing if Linux would stop being circulated.

Of course most of us in the Linux community knew these challenges were false.  One of the claims that SCO made was that they owned the copyrights to the AT&T code.  I knew this was false because I read the agreement between AT&T and Novell (DEC was a licensee of both, so they shared the contract with us) and I knew that, at most, Santa Cruz Operations had the right to sub-license and collect royalties….but I will admit the contract was very confusing.

However no one knew who would fund the lawsuit that would shortly occur.

IBM bellied up to the bar (as did Novell, Red Hat and several others), and for the next several years the legal battle went on with SCO bringing charges to court and the “good guys” knocking them down.  You can read more about this on Wikipedia.

In the end the courts found that at most SCO had an issue with IBM itself over a defunct contract, and Linux was in the clear.

But without IBM, the Linux community might have been in trouble.   And “Big Blue” being in the battle gave a lot of vendors and users of Linux the confidence that things would turn out all right.

Red Hat and RHEL

Now we get down to Red Hat and its path.

I first knew Red Hat about the time that Bob Young realized that the most CDs his company ACC corps were from this little company in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Bob traveled there and found three developers who were great technically but were not the strongest in business and marketing.

Bob bought into the company and helped develop the policies of the company.  He advocated for larger servers, more Internet connectivity, in order to give away more copies of Red Hat.   It was Bob who pointed out that “Linux is catsup, and I will make Red Hat™ the same as “Heinz™”.

Red Hat developed the business model of selling services, and became profitable doing that.   Eventually Red Hat went out with one of the most profitable IPOs of that time.

Red Hat went through a series of Presidents, each one having the skills needed at the time until eventually the need of IBM matched the desires of the Red Hat stockholders.

It is no secret that Red Hat did not care about the desktop other than as a development platform for RHEL.   They gave up their desktop development to Fedora.  Red Hat cared about the enterprise, the companies that were willing to pay hefty price tags for the support that Red Hat was going to sell them with the assurance that the customers would have the source code in case they needed it.

These enterprise companies are serious about their need for computers, but do not want to make the investment in employees to give them the level of support they need.  So they pay Red Hat.   But most of those companies have Apple or Microsoft on the desktop and could care less about having Fedora there.   They want RHEL to be solid, and to have that phone ready, and they are willing to pay for it.

The alternatives are to buy a closed-source solution, and do battle to get the source code when you need it or deal (on a server basis) a solution that is not a hardware/software system solution needed by IBM.

“Full Stack” systems companies versus others

A few years ago Oracle made a decision to buy the Intellectual Property of Sun Microsystems.   Of course Oracle had its products work on many different operating systems, but Oracle realized that if they had complete control of the hardware, the operating system and the application base (in this case their premier Oracle database engine) they would create “Unstoppable Oracle”.

Why is a full-stack, systems company preferred?   You can make changes and fixes to the full-stack that benefits your applications and not have to convince/cajole/argue with people to get it in.   Likewise you can test the full stack for inefficiencies or weak points.

I have worked for “full-stack” companies.   We supported our own hardware.   The device drivers we wrote had diagnostics that the operating system could make visible to the systems administrators to tell them that devices were ABOUT to fail, and to allow those devices to be swapped out.  We built features into the system that benefited our database products and our networking products.   Things could be made more seamless.

IBM is a full-stack company.   Apple is a full-stack company.   Their products tend to be more expensive, but many serious people pay more for them.

Why would companies pay to use RHEL?

Certain companies (those we call “enterprises”) are not universities or hobbyists.   Those companies (and governments) use terms like “mission critical” and “always on”.   They typically do not measure their numbers of computers in the tens or hundreds, but thousands….and they need them to work well.

They talk about “Mean Time to Failure” (MTTF) and “Mean Time to Repair” (MTTR) and want to have “Terms of Service Agreements” (TSA) which talk about so many hours of up-time that are guaranteed (99.999% up-time) with penalties if they are not met.  And as a rule of thumb computer companies know that for every “9” to the right of the decimal point you need to put in 100 times more work and expense to get there.

And typically in these “Terms of Service” you also talk about how many “Points of Contact” you have between the customer and the service provider.  The fewer the “Points of Contact” the less your contract costs because the customer supplied  “point of contact” will have more knowledge about the system and the problem than your average user.

Also on these contracts the customer does not call into what we in the industry call “first line support”.   The customer has already applied all the patches, rebooted the system, and made sure the mouse is plugged in.   So the customer calls a special number and gets the second or third line of support.

In other words, serious people.  Really serious people.   And those really serious people are ready to spend really serious money to get it.

I have worked both for those companies that want to buy those services and those companies that needed to provide those services.

Many people will understand that the greater the number of systems that you have under contract the more issues you will have.   Likewise the greater number of systems you have under contract the lower the cost of providing service per system if spread evenly across all those customers and systems who need that enterprise support.

IBM has typically been one of those companies that provided really serious support.

Tying it all together

IBM still had many operating systems and solutions that they used in their business solutions business, but IBM needed a Linux solution that they could use as a full-stack solution, just like Oracle did.   Giving IBM the ability to integrate the hardware, operating system and solutions to fit the customer better.

Likewise Red Hat Software, with its RHEL solution, had the reputation and engineering behind it to provide an enterprise solution.

Red Hat had focused on enterprise servers, unlike other well-known distributions, with their community version “Fedora” acting as a trial base for new ideas to be folded into RHEL at a later time.   However RHEL was the Red Hat business focus.

It should also be pointed out that some pieces of software came only from Red Hat.   There were few “community people” who worked on some pieces of the distribution called “RHEL”.   So while many of the pieces were copyrighted then released under some version of the GPL, many contributions that made up RHEL came only from Red Hat.

Red Hat also had a good reputation in the Linux community, releasing all of their source code to the larger community and charging for support.

However, over time some customers developed a pattern of purchasing a small number of RHEL systems, then using the “bug-for-bug” compatible version of Red Hat from some other distribution.   This, of course, saved the customer money, however it also reduced the amount of revenue that Red Hat received for the same amount of work.   This forced Red Hat to charge more for each license they sold, or lay off Red Hat employees, or not do projects they might have otherwise funded.

So recently Red Hat/IBM made a business decision to limit their customers to those who would buy a license from them for every single system that would run RHEL and only distribute their source-code and the information necessary on how to build that distribution to those customers.  Therefore the people who receive those binaries would receive the sources so they could fix bugs and extend the operating system as they wished…..this was, and is, the essence of the GPL.

Most, if not all, of the articles I have read have said something along the lines of “IBM/Red Hat seem to be following the GPL..but…but…but...the community!

Which community?  There are plenty of distributions for people who do not need the same level of engineering and support that IBM and Red Hat offer.   Red Hat, and IBM, continue to send their changes for GPLed code “upstream” to flow down to all the other distributions.   They continue to share ideas with the larger community.

In the early days of the DEC Linux/alpha port I used Red Hat because they were the one distribution who worked along with DEC to put the bits out.   Later other distributions followed onto the Alpha from the work that Red Hat had done.  Quite frankly, I have never used “RHEL” and have not used Fedora in a long time.  Personal preference.

However I now see a lot of people coming out of the woodwork and beating their breasts and saying how they are going to protect the investment of people who want to use RHEL for free.

I have seen developers of various distributions make T-shirts declaring that they are not “Freeloaders”.   I do not know who may have called any of the developers of CentOS or Rocky Linux, Alma or any other “clone” of any other distribution a “freeloader”.  I have brought out enough distributions in my time to know that doing that is not “gratis”.  It takes work.

However I will say that there are many people who use these clones and do not give back to the community in any way, shape or form who I consider to be “freeloaders”, and that would probably be the people who sign a business agreement with IBM/Red Hat and then do not want to live up to that agreement.   For these freeloaders there are so many other distributions of Linux that would be “happy” to have them use their distributions.

A personal note here:

As I have stated above, I have been in the “Open Source” community before there was Open Source, before there was the Free Software Foundation, before there was the GNU project.

I am 73 years old, and have spent more than 50 years in “the community”.  I have whip marks up and down my back for promoting source code and giving out sources even when I might have been fired or taken to court for it, because the customer needed it.  Most of the people who laughed at me for supporting Linux when I worked for the Digital Unix Group are now working for Linux companies.   That is ok.  I have a thick skin, but the whip marks are still there.

There are so many ways that people can help build this community that have nothing to do with the ability to write code, write documentation or even generate a reasonable bug report.

Simply promoting Free Software to your schools, companies, governments and understanding the community would go a long way.  Starting up a Linux Club ( in your school or helping others to Upgrade to Linux ( are ways that Linux users (whether individuals, companies, universities or governments) can contribute to the community.

But many of the freeloaders will not even do that.

So far I have seen four different distributions saying that they will continue the production of “not RHEL”, generating even more distributions for the average user to say “which one should I use”?  If they really want to do this, why not just work together to produce one good one?   Why not make their own distributions a RHEL competitor?   How long will they keep beating their breasts when they find out that they can not make any money at doing it?

SuSE said that they would invest ten million dollars in developing a competitor to RHEL.  Fantastic!  COMPETE.  Create an enterprise competitor to Red Hat with the same business channels, world-wide support team, etc. etc.  You will find it is not inexpensive to do that.  Ten million may get you started.

My answer to all this?  RHEL customers will have to decide what they want to do.  I am sure that IBM and Red Hat hope that their customers will see the value of RHEL and the support that Red Hat/IBM and their channel partners provide for it.


The rest of the customers who just want to buy one copy of RHEL and then run a “free” distribution on all their other systems no matter how it is created,  well it seems that IBM does not want to do business with them anymore, so they will have to go to other suppliers who have enterprise capable distributions of Linux and who can tolerate that type of customer.

I will also point out that IBM and Red Hat have presented one set of business conditions to their customers, and their customers are free to accept or reject them.   Then IBM and Red Hat are free to create another set of business conditions for another set of customers.

I want to make sure people know that I do not have any hate for people and companies who set business conditions as long as they do not violate the licenses they are under.  Business is business.

However I will point out that as “evil” as Red Hat and IBM have been portrayed in this business change there is no mention at all of all the companies that support Open Source “Permissive Licenses”, which do not guarantee the sources to their end users, or offer only “Closed Source” Licenses….who do not allow and have never allowed clones to be made….these people and companies do not have any right to throw stones (and you know who you are).

Red Hat and IBM are making their sources available to all those who receive their binaries under contract.  That is the GPL.

For all the researchers, students, hobbyists and people with little or no money, there are literally hundreds of distributions that they can choose, and many that run across other interesting architectures that RHEL does not even address.



About Jon "maddog" Hall:

Jon "maddog" Hall is the Board Chair Emeritus of the Linux Professional Institute. Since 1969, Mr. Hall has been a programmer, systems designer, systems administrator, product manager, technical marketing manager, author and educator, currently working as an independent consultant. Mr. Hall has concentrated on Unix systems since 1980 and Linux systems since 1994, when he first met Linus Torvalds and correctly recognized the commercial importance of Linux and Free and open source Software. As the Executive Director of Linux International(TM), Mr. Hall has traveled the world speaking on the benefits of open source Software having received his BS in Commerce and Engineering from Drexel University, and his MSCS from RPI in Troy, New York.

78 responses to “IBM, Red Hat and Free Software: An old maddog’s view”

  1. Avatar photo Bud Heal says:

    About “Red Hat and IBM are making their sources available to all those who receive their binaries under contract. That is the GPL.” A common misapprehension.

    Linux is licensed under GPLv2 only. GPLv2 gives three options for source code transmission: either bundle with the binaries, allow any third party to obtain source code for at least three year for cost of copying, or for non-commercial works only, inform the recipient where the sources can be gotten from.

    There are many other licenses applicable to packages, for instance, in RHEL, and thanks to the distros which are willing to untangle them downstream, but if Linux itself does not come with a copy of its source code, it is not sufficient to provide the source code to only the recipient – the source code must be published and provided to anyone asking for it and without further restrictions.

    • Avatar photo Kazinator says:

      Your understanding is flawed.
      The first party in the GPLv2 is the copyright holder.
      The second party in the GPLv2 is that party which is choosing to redistribute the software, possibly with modifications.
      The third party is the target of the redistribution.
      You are mistaking random fourth parties as the third parties.

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      I believe you misunderstand the GPLv2 license as @kazinator points out below.

      In addition, when you talk about “Linux” being licensed as GPLv2, you are probably talking about the Linux kernel, whose copyright holders are legion, some of whom have left the project, some of whom are dead and whose estates are not available. Ergo the kernel stays at GPLv2.

      Other projects included in the RHEL release have different copyright holders, and different licenses. As I said in the article, some of the packages may be solely the property of Red Hat, and certainly the compendium of packages can have a separate copyright and license.

  2. Avatar photo Christopher M McDonald says:

    100% agreed most level headed and honest look at the hole thing.

  3. Avatar photo Bhaskar Chowdhury says:

    Fascinating Read!! Thanks a bunch, Jon 🙂

  4. Avatar photo Anonymous Coward says:

    Thank you for this incredible history lesson. I learned a lot from reading this and people I respect highly speak very highly of you!

    • Avatar photo Robert van den Breemen says:

      Thanks for the historic view. In the end I think IBM is in it for the ownership of the enterprise. Red Hat has been absorbed by IBM and thus are now moving into a mode to make money. They need to if they want to survive. Too bad that they don’t honor the GPLv2 license model. Hope they will be fought in court to see how that license interpretation holds.

      • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

        I believe that Red Hat is following the GPLv2 license model, and in any case that license typically affects the kernel, but not the rest of the distribution as I have noted in the article and in the comments above.

        As far as IBM “in it for the ownership of the enterprise” anyone who has followed IBM’s business models for the past 50 or more years know that is IBM’s target. They are not in the consumer market, the hobbyist market, etc. They, like a lot of other computer companies (Apple, Microsoft, etc.) are also in the educational market.

        RHEL has also been in the enterprise market for a long time. “Enterprise” is even in their name. Fedora was a strategy to keep community ties and act as a sandbox for new ideas. Red Hat has been open about that.

        Red Hat has been making money, but in business there is also the concept of ROI (return on investment) and if you are not maximizing your revenue with the resources you have, you are not paying fiscal responsibility to your stockholders.

        I do not think that IBM or Red Hat will be taken to court over this. Yes, the change in terms will mean that some of their customers will choose a different distribution, but that is doing business….happens all the time. And I hope that the “clone makers” will stop trying to make clones of RHEL and instead (as I said in my paper) make a BETTER RHEL, a BETTER Red Hat.

        However, making a BETTER Red Hat is more than just making a better set of bits in an ISO. It is understanding your customer’s business, setting up and training channel partners, setting quantity discount schedules that make sense. Things that Red Hat has been doing for close to thirty years.

  5. Avatar photo Preston L. Bannister says:

    Presently, I am working on a long-running project that used Centos as a base. The need was for a stable Linux distribution, and the choice of Centos was pretty much arbitrary. In present would likely choose Debian. The recent nonsense around Centos is a pain.

    Not sure about the size of the set:
    “[…] some customers developed a pattern of purchasing a small number of RHEL systems, then using the “bug-for-bug” compatible version of Red Hat from some other distribution”.

    For those large enterprises that keep limited technical staff, for whom buying support makes sense, does the above model work? Is this truly a significant sized set? (I have no notion, or any notion of how to measure.)

    Will admit I am entirely unfamiliar with those sort of enterprises (other than as customers). Never been on that side of the fence. Rarely have sought support from an operating system vendor, and almost never got anything useful.

    There is the group that deploys Centos in their datacenter and/or cloud. They need a stable compatible base, but are not needing support, or the friction of managing licenses. (Yeh, I do not really know that world. Did write cloud infrastructure software as a past project.) Guessing this is the largest set, and only occasionally needing the support of paid-licenses.

    In my case, for Linux built into advanced military radars, managing dozens of licenses on each for widely deployed systems that might be in use for decades – is friction I do not need. Support calls to Redhat are unlikely.

    But then, I guess I am a freeloader. Was a minor early contributor to CVS, Apache Tomcat, and Mortbay Jetty – long ago. Not so much recently. (Did vote for “comp.os.linux”, if that counts.)

    And yes, my reading of “forbid” puts Redhat in violation of GPL, aside from everything else.

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      “In my case, for Linux built into advanced military radars, managing dozens of licenses on each for widely deployed systems that might be in use for decades – is friction I do not need. Support calls to Redhat are unlikely.”

      In that case choosing Debian would probably be the right way to go.

    • Avatar photo sunny-dee says:

      I can’t say too much but I worked at Red Hat for a very long time and left last year. There are absolutely massive customers that are buying RHEL licenses and then deploying 100x (or more) as many systems on Centos. Some of it was suspected based on support requests, but the scale came out after the first Centos EOL announcement about 18 months ago.

  6. Avatar photo Jef Spaleta says:


    You didn’t speak to it, so I’m not sure you’re aware of a specific complication of the RHEL source code access situation.
    There are several community/partners that produce kernel module binaries for RHEL that are now in limbo because of the change in source access.
    For example the CentOS kmod SIG use to build binary kernel module rpm packages for both RHEL and CentOS (for example btrfs kmods just to name one in particular)
    They can no longer do that work because they can’t meet the source requirements of the GPL without risking their contractual agreement with RH for RHEL updates. Part of that contractual agreement is you can’t share the sources with 3rd parties. But a kmod binary distributor must do that as the generally accepted interpretation is the binary kernel modules are derived works of the kernel.

    This also potentially impacts OEM partners who provide kernel binaries. I’ve identified at least one commercial hardware vendor who is providing binary kernel modules of the lastest RHEL update kernel, that has no public source availability. They have increased risk of liability of a GPL violation now because the RHEL kernel source isn’t public. This is a problem. It’s a problem you didn’t speak to.

    These efforts are not clones, if anything they are value-add community efforts that RH has condoned and in the case of the CentOS kmod SIG in particular has explicitly blessed. But worse are the potential impacts on OEM partners that work hand in glove with RH to sell RHEL provisioned systems. If they have kmod binaries available for public access(as I said I’ve found at least one vendor who does) RH has opened them up to potential liability by contractually restricting them from providing source code to anyone (like me as a non RHEL user) to obtain the kernel source used to build the kernel module binary. This is a problem?

    Is this evil? No, never ascribe to malice what can be explained by incompetence. But it is a problem. RH didn’t do its due diligence to understand the impacts of its decision in establishing the source wall. RH isn’t blameless in how they handled this situation and unfortunately, its ecosystem partners who carry the liability burden in the wake of the decision. That’s not evil, but it is unfriendly.

    I have assurances RH legal is looking at this. Assurances I obtained 2 weeks ago, after bringing up the problem a week prior to that. Its a month now basically sitting on my hands, biting my tongue to undo the impact on RH’s on contributor and partner ecosystem. There’s no excuse for a month long delay, this legal review of the impact on binary kernel module builds should have happened before the source wall went up.

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      I have explained several times the the comments above that the GPL V2 license of the kernel is different from the license of the RHEL distribution. I believe it was not the intent of IBM nor Red Hat to impact the development of the kernel. You should not need Red Hat’s permission to push kernel sources upstream, nor for that matter to push kernel sources or patches downstream to customers who need them. As I have said before, the essence of the GPL was to give end users the ability to fix bugs and modify the binary code that they received. You are simply a third party supplying that expertise to them. As you said, “this is not a “clone”.

      It takes time to have lawyers do anything. I recently went through a bout with lawyers over a trademark issue, and one of the premier legal firms in International IP (you might recognize the name if I told you) took some time in understanding the impact of what someone was trying to do.

      You could choose to go ahead anyway, and let Red Hat hit you with a “cease and desist” order, which might raise the priority of their legal team. Recognize that IANAL, and this is not legal advice.

  7. Avatar photo Lennie says:

    My first language is not English, but my guess is you did not want to write: father/con team

    Judging what I’ve seen the ‘backlash’, for lack of a better word in my vocabulary, IBM/Redhat is mostly following the GPL as far as I can see*, but I think what people find a bit icky is seeing a community member going from: everything in the open to only source for our customers.

    Not to mention all the people who don’t know what these licenses and specifically the GPL does and does not allow.

    * although terminating customer contracts for those who distribute GPL-code it seems like an extra restriction on the GPL which it doesn’t allow it ?

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      Has Red Hat canceled people’s contracts, or simply told them that when the contracts expire Red Hat will not renew them unless the customer agrees to meet these terms? There is a big difference. Likewise I do not think that Red Hat will come after current customers who use Red Hat and clones. Their systems will not stop working. The customers will have the source code for them and can get their support elsewhere if they wish.

      If I am wrong, please correct me.

      Thank you for the “father/con team” catch, I will see that it is corrected.

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      “Father/con” is now corrected to “Father/son”.

  8. Avatar photo Matthew Wilcox says:

    [SCO] “Started by a father/con team Larry and Doug Michels,”

    Probably meant “son”, but maybe just foreshadowing? It made me laugh anyway.

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      Doug Michels, the son of that team, was anything other than a “con”. I will have that corrected.

  9. Avatar photo Kwan says:

    Mr. Hall: thank you for this insightful article. I really enjoyed reading about the history and clarifying the reasons for Red Hat’s changes.

    I do try to contribute back with our Linux user group (Flux in South Florida). In shove ways it’s easier than when I started, but in other ways the complexity seems overwhelming even with 20 years of experience with Linux.

    But really I’m just writing to say thanks for the inspiration over the years. I had the opportunity to meet you once at MetroLink but have appreciated your tireless work for Linux for years as it has given me a career.

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      “Giving back” to the community is not just about writing code. which anyone can see has become more complex as the needs of the systems have become more complex.

      I also want to make sure that I have *never* said that any of the clone makers are “freeloaders”. However there are a lot of users of Free Software that might fit that description, because they never give back to the community in any way.

      I used to tell people that just using Free Software was useful to the community, but I will modify that to intelligently using Free Software, understanding that (as RMS used to say) “It is free as in freedom, not free as in free beer”. To this I would add that there are few things that are truly free. The water we drink needs to be kept safe, the sewage has to be treated, the air has be be kept clean. All of this costs money.

      So at a minimum people should understand why they are using Free Software and then tell others why they should be using and contributing to Free Software.

  10. Avatar photo Shaun Thomas says:

    It’s an interesting history and reasonable take. I think the primary issue is that IBM is attempting to put the genie back into the bottle in order to preserve their dwindling RHEL client-base, and as a result, may have simply hastened the exodus.

    Unfortunately for them, they produced one of two standard bases that many have come to rely on, if only for the sake of compatibility with other similar systems. Anyone who couldn’t afford RHEL used CentOS or something similar because that’s what they were familiar with, and that spread like a wildfire. Now those same organizations or users need to switch, or simply be SOL. It’s the same way Windows became so ubiquitous; turn a blind eye to piracy and reap the market penetration benefits. Become the standard in the workplace, and home users fall in line—and vice versa.

    By pulling back the way they did, they’ve left quite a few people with no recourse. Migration is expensive, even to a nominally compatible system. Licensing and switching to RHEL specifically may not be in the budget. Of course people are going to lash out as a result.

    That said, I don’t see an easy way out of this. Nothing is free, and IBM/Red Hat need to be compensated for their efforts in the Linux space by _somebody_ or they’ll eventually stop doing it. Like you said, they’ve been a huge ally in the past, and souring them on the experience does us no favors.

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      It is an unfortunate situation, but there have been others in the past.

      I will remind people that at one time Red Hat Software was the “go-to” distribution for High Performance Computing (HPC) systems that used to be called “Beowulf” systems.

      I was at a HPC conference when Red Hat announced that they were going to be charging on a per-cpu basis for their support, which almost overnight caused the HPC community to go to other distributions. I did not even have time to contact my friends at Red Hat to say “WTF? What were you thinking?”

  11. Avatar photo mett_hel says:

    Thank you for the nice read and in-depth history !
    What disappoints me and seems somehow inevitable in our economic system is that RedHat has to eradicate all his big rivals in this domain.
    After centos, the next big one is Debian it seems to me.

    • Avatar photo Bwaaah says:

      It’s telling to me that you describe Debian as being quite like CentOS, as a competitor to RedHat. That’s some fast and loose use of words. CentOS *was* RHEL, with the trademarks removed. There is nothing about RedHat’s behavior that would suggest it would try to “eradicate” its competitors. RedHat’s recent decisions have only challenged its _copiers_, not its competitors, and to the contrary, should stimulate a notable boost to real competitors like Debian (and Suse, and Ubuntu). It’s regrettable that, in order to make an argument such as you make, you distort/hide the real differences and issues.

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      I see no reason why Debian (or SuSE, or Ubuntu, or several other “big rivals”) will be eradicated by this move of Red Hat any more than they have been eradicated in the past 30 years. In fact Debian started as a distribution the same year that Red Hat did, and Ubuntu, which started as a “clone” of Debian, has moved to its own distribution with its own following.

      If anything, Red Hat’s decision might force people to go to these other distributions or follow Alma Linux with their decision to be binary compatible and form real competition in the Linux space.

  12. Avatar photo Petros Koutoupis says:


    Wow! What a fantastic write up. Thank you for taking the time to write this very informative history. To your point in the very end:

    From a business perspective: I whole heartedly agree. It is within the rights of IBM/RHEL to limit or restrict sources to their binary releases only to paying customers. This is the GPL. They are not breaking any rules here.

    From an ethical perspective: It does seem quite unethical (at least from my perspective) that IBM/RHEL are consuming open source projects (often as a non-paying consumer), available to the general public, apply their changes and then in turn, limit the availability of those changes to paying customers.

    From a development perspective: I would hate to see how much this approach hinders progress and stability of bug/feature isolation/patching. I do not have the numbers in front of me but I would like to think that those who used those free versions of their enterprise distribution often contributed code back, further stabilizing the distribution.

    Red Hat has a long [and wonderful] history of creating a standard to which many direct and indirect consumers adhered to. And because of that standard, it was relatively easy for RHEL customers to utilize applications and repositories that were not directly development in RHEL. I’d hate to think of the fragmentation introduced at the results of this.

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      “From an ethical perspective: It does seem quite unethical (at least from my perspective) that IBM/RHEL are consuming open source projects (often as a non-paying consumer), available to the general public, apply their changes and then in turn, limit the availability of those changes to paying customers.”

      This depends on the project, the licensing of that project and the way the project is run. Many projects are delivered across many distributions. Let’s take a simple one like Libre Office. I am not sure if Libre Office is delivered as a part of RHEL, because I have never used RHEL, but if it was and a RHEL customer found a bug and asked Red Hat to fix it, would Red Hat keep that change to itself and keep applying it every time Libre Office released? I think not. If there was a major addition to Libre Office that really benefited RHEL customers perhaps Red Hat might add it as a module in the RHEL release along, but again, I do not think so. The cost of re-implementing and testing it might be more than the perceived value of the change.

      On the other hand I extensively wrote in my article that Red Hat and IBM have continuously given back to many projects (kernel, web servers, security patches, etc.) that went to other distributions too. I think if you put on the scales the code contributed by those two companies and their employees they would weigh in quite well to code from other sources.

      From what I have seen from Red Hat management on this topic, the “contributed code back” from the clone users did not pay for the business lost by non-payment of service fees.

  13. Avatar photo Philip Molloy says:

    RHEL is downstream from Fedora. Why not use Fedora? Or use it as an upstream if you really feel like you need to fork RHEL.

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      Yessir. Or, as I said several not clone RHEL, make a better RHEL.

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      My understanding of “CentOS Stream” is that it is where the updates to an eventual RHEL stream are placed. Then at a certain time, the stream is taken to build the RHEL release, but the Source RPMs (SRPMS) for RHEL may not be *exactly* what the code had been in the CentOS stream. Therefore the functionality of the CentOS build might not be *exactly* what RHEL was, and the functionality of the binaries for “CentOS” might not be *exactly* the same for RHEL, which is what the CentOS users wanted.

      Fedora is probably further off than the CentOS Stream, with functionality that might never make it into RHEL, and RHEL functionality that might never appear in Fedora.

  14. Avatar photo Anuj Verma says:

    This is extremely well written article. I am former Red Hat employee. When I first join Red Hat I did not understand the reason why anybody would _pay_ for Red Hat Enterprise Linux ? I used to refer to as Red Hat Expensive Linux. But after looking at few of the customer issues that we used to deal with on daily basis I completely change my mind and attitude toward RHEL. Red hat deserved to be paid for the hard work they put in produce enterprise ready product.

    It takes lot of money to hire motivated developers, certify operating system on myriad different hardware and software combinations, write documentation , do quality assurance and the most import – provide timely quality technical support.

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      In 1995 a small group of people and companies formed Linux International, a non-profit whose members thought that GNU/Linux had a future for commercial, enterprise businesses, education and government.

      We realized that this meant more than just “code”. We needed trained professionals, we needed good trademark protection, we needed good marketing that showed the value of Free Software was NOT just that it often came as low or no cost.

      So we started the Linux Mark Institute, who protected the term “Linux” for everyone to use for legitimate purposes. We formed the Linux Standard Base project, to allow code to work across distributions. We helped form the non-profit Linux Professional Institute (LPI) to help certify Systems Administrators and other Linux Professionals in an open way, and now has over 200,000 certified Linux Professionals in over 180 countries around the world.

      Eventually many of these projects were folded into the better funded Linux Foundation, although LPI remains independent to this day.

      Of the twelve companies that helped form this organization two were Red Hat and IBM.

  15. Avatar photo Bill "Sn33x" Jones says:

    Jon is spot on in his article, but it doesnt change the fact I left RedHat long ago and I do not miss it. I have been in the IT field about 40 years and my colleagues always ask me why No RHEL certifications … I said I support ‘Linux’ which is open source for anyone and anyone could support it – you do not require a certification, just proof you can do the job … my colleagues hated me >< lol

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      You are talking to the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Linux Professional Institute ( One of the main things we do is certify Linux Professionals with tests, mostly for system administration people, but more recently for DevOPs and even FreeBSD.

      Of course having a certification does not mean you will be a good systems administrator, just like having a college degree in electrical engineering does not mean you are a good electrical engineer.

      If you take a good look at what a university does, it is these things:

      o develop a curriculum that guides you to get the knowledge you need
      o develop courses that meet that curriculum
      o teach the courses
      o test the students to see if they learned the information
      o eventually offer a certification (diploma)

      However, I will point out that after you graduate with a four year degree you never are “de-certified”. Your degree is never taken away from you.

      That is because universities do not teach you a job. They teach you how to learn on your own.

      When you are in grade school there is nothing on the test that does not come out of the teacher’s mouth.

      In university the professor says:

      o here is the syllabus of the class
      o there is the library
      o there are your other students
      o there are industry people for you to interview
      o (and today) there is the internet

      They teach you how to learn on your own. Then when the technology changes they expect you to learn the new technology.

      In speaking to young people I am often asked “Do I need a university education to be a good programmer”. The answer is “no”.

      However, few people have the skills to learn on their own. this is why the university drop-out rate for freshmen is often over 50%

      If people can learn on their own, they tend to learn only the things they perceive they need, or that they enjoy learning. Often this is not enough to be effective in life.

      I tell young people interested in computers that you need to know both “up” and “down”. Learn the languages and APIs, but also learn the algorithms and the way the machine works. I do not expect people to program in assembly language these days, but they should understand the difference in ISAs and how cache works, etc.

      Certifications are not just for the job seeker. They are for the hiring person. In the days when Linux was just starting many employers could barely say the word “linux”.

      [As a side note there used to be an audio file in the kernel where Linus Torvalds said “Hello, I am Linus Torvalds and I pronounce “Linux” as “Linux”. It was funnier if you actually heard it.]

      For these CIOs, CTOs, and CEOs, having certified people (especially ones that could not have 40 years of Linux experience because Linux was only around for 10 years) was useful.

      Probably like you I was hired by Bell Laboratories to be a Unix systems administrator without ever having seen a Unix system, but by that time (1977) I had worked on dozens of different systems from six or seven companies, trained myself in three assembly languages (PDP-8, IBM 360/370 BAL, and PDP-11 MACRO-11) by reading books and practicing and taught operating system design and compiler design at the college level, so Bell Labs “took a chance”.

      No one has asked to see my college transcripts for the past 40 years. I have no certifications other than my BS in Commerce and engineering (1873) and my MSCS from RPI in 1977.

      However I would not blame someone who wanted to hire me as a Linux systems administrator in a complex network to ask to see a couple of recent certifications since I have not done that work in the past 20 years.


      • Avatar photo Echo Nar says:

        Personally I fall under that 50% dropout with the skills to learn on my own, but I never put two and two together to realize that self-taught people tend to limit what they learn to perceived needs or interests. I appreciate you pointing that out. I’ve always recognized the value of understanding the “full stack” and pursuing knowledge of unrelated or uninteresting things in tech, so I struggled to understand why others didn’t seem to do the same. Tho, on the flip side, do shy away from topics outside of tech, but fully acknowledge as such saying things like “I’m dumb outside of tech” and “Tech is all I know.” I can see now why a self-taught person could be harder to work with and thus a higher risk to hire.

        The other thing you open my eyes to was about certificates. Universities teaching one how to learn is a concept that I grew up hearing but, already knowing how to learn, it kinda defeats the purpose of paying to how to it. Especially if one isn’t able to take courses that will expand their knowledge in related career areas to stay engaged and gain any form of value from the money spent. Certificates seem like a better solution to prove my skills, but the amount of people with certified “book knowledge” bothered me. In a time where people seem to treat certificates as achievements, it definitely comes off as a flawed system. Being in the earlier years of life, I never considered the value of a certificate where it was all kinda new.

        Although a reply to someone else, I really appreciate your insight and prospective.

  16. Avatar photo Wookie Witham says:

    Jon, thanks for the write up. A very nice summary and hello Chris.

  17. Avatar photo Ken Coar says:

    Jon, the breadth and depth of your experience — not to mention that you can remember and chronologise so much of it — leaves me gobsmacked as always. What a writeup!

  18. Avatar photo Ken Coar says:

    I forgot to ask: Back in the day, Red Hat had a program office that helped get gratis licences to hobbyists and other non-commercial entities wanting to use (the precursor to) RHEL. Is that something they’re supporting as part of this change, or are individuals shut out of they can’t afford a full RHEL licence? And then there’re the IAAS hosting providers who offered RHEL platforms..

  19. Avatar photo Steven Zanvil Sawolkin says:

    This would be a magnificent history/narrative, if only I were not quite suspicious of some of what I (I, I said) would characterizes as dubious postulates and axioms.

  20. Avatar photo Daniel Harka says:

    Such an exciting read! Thank you for sharing!

  21. Avatar photo Mauro says:

    Putting recent events in perspective is really useful and makes them sound a lot more reasonable. Thanks Jon!

  22. Avatar photo Bill Ross says:

    I approve of this history, having started with punch cards, and transitioned from VMS/CTSS to Unix/CTSS at Berkeley and LBL in the 80’s, continuing at the first Unix-only supercomputer center, at NASA, where my group hosted the site/repository of one of the *BSD’s in one of our racks. Tho I have no experience of RHEL, having gotten further and further from ops since the 90’s.

    I’ll be using AGPL in releasing my psychological mirror for switching paradigms by opening oneself to an AI and finding direct/natural vs. commercialized rewards, while making interactively-introspective thinking/modeling oxytocinal. I think it needs to be run locally, so-intimate is the data it gleans, but AGPL would at least force hypothetical server providers to give source for how they tweak the ‘mind’ of the mirror, which is based on labeling ‘Rorschach pairs’ of photos yes/no, forming a projectable graph of personality.

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      How you license your code and create your business plan is a very important part of every project.

      When I speak to young FOSS developers i point out that THE most important part of your project is how to make it sustainable. If money making is your goal, what is your strategy for releasing your code and getting revenue.

      Your business/sustainability plan does not have to be long. Some people think it can be done in for or five presentation slides. But you need to think about it.

  23. Avatar photo Bwaaah says:

    This is a sensitive and salient treatment of the history of the open source ecosystem and the big context within which to consider RedHat’s offerings and decisions.
    I, and the companies I’ve worked for, have been huge beneficiaries of free software in general, and RHEL/RHEL clones in particular. Alas, despite the persistence of the express “free as in free beer,” there is no free beer. But as an anomaly of the near-zero cost of copying software, there is free software, which should be better understood to be free as in “free ride.” That said, it is typically very costly to produce software, and RedHat ‘s work is no exception to that. Thanks for explaining and defending the free software model in general, and RedHat in particular. This is the most meaningful treatment of the subject that has appeared on Sl_shd_t, and I suspect it reflects more of the widespread sensibilities in the world than are represented by the up-modded comments in that forum. 

    Thanks to Free Software, RedHat’s contributions, and Maddog!

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      Actually RMS has repeatedly said “It is free as in freedom, NOT free as in free beer”, but many people did not hear him.

  24. Avatar photo Adam Kean says:

    Excellent article. Gave me additional insight. I was a lawyer. I did systems fraud work and defended piracy clients with varying success. This included MIS flogging off licences as a side hustle. Would I pony up to RH or IBM to avoid that? Very possibly! Their employees can be prosecuted, not mine. I also did a bit MIS for law firms I worked for. I brought in the odd bit of Lin but your platform and distribution choice is, in my experience, dictated far more by your business application vendor more than anything else. The application vendor needs OS support in addition to the end customer. Most lawyers think they are experts at everything and if they didn’t know about Linux it is because it is false knowledge. That support contract no matter how abstruse, or ignored by conduct, is on the critical path. No contract, no insurance etc. etc. Specialist systems vendors responded accordingly. What RH have done seems to me to be legally sound but my problem was that in the case of both the switch to CentOS stream and the recent brouhaha is the change with almost no notice it in a release mid-lifecycle. CentOS 8 and 9 users were told (albeit non-contractually) by a RH backed distro that they were getting support until 2029 and 2032 respectively. The lack of notice looks to me like a railroading effort. Even three years would have given clone users time to decide whether to pay up or move on. As you say, there are plenty of places for them to move on to. Increasingly that is cloud containers. The distro really won’t matter nearly as much. With the great gift of hindsight added to my little knowledge this was all entirely foreseeable.

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      I understand that many CentOS customers feel they have been abandoned when they expected support to 2029 and 2032.

      However, these same CentOS customers have the source code for their whole distribution. They could hire professional software companies to support them until 2032 and beyond. I would bet they could even hire Red Hat to support them on a support contract for the right fee structure.

      I do not understand this wringing of the crying towels.

  25. Avatar photo freakazoid33 says:

    …offer only “Closed Source” Licenses….who do not allow and have never allowed clones to be made….these people and companies do not have any right to throw stones (and you know who you are). Looking at you Larry

  26. Avatar photo Doug Mildram says:

    me: now(2023) 68/retired, was a *nix,etc sysadmin 1985-2010,
    network engineer 2011-2019 for with the brightest team I’ve ever seen;
    also a loose/distant-now member of a linux user group in Worcester MA USA
    to which maddog belongs. Thanks John!

    So….I lived thru all of this, first as a dumb sysadmin, learning from co-workers = mostly developers.
    How dumb was/am I ? Extremely, when it comes to licensing, so my input won’t enlighten nor likely amuse anyone.
    Definitely a freeloader type, but my employers paid for alot of software so I managed most licenses we needed.
    So I feel like I know what an OS is, since I had to load them onto various servers and desktops for decades,
    but I’m rambling already and I’m not finished doing so, so pardon…especially the next mostly irrelevant paragraph.

    In my first nerd job (robotics,1985ish), dumb terminals prevailed, a few lucky hackers had Sun workstations == a windows system/desktop. “vi” and “cc” and shell scripts were tools for me and my vt100,etc terminal; emacs didn’t exist yet (and I never converted, just glad I could hit ESC endlessly in vi at no risk of quitting. Later I appreciated GNU just for utils esp. free gcc on Solaris) My first/main job kept me busy doing tape backups at 1600 or 6250 bpi ( 30+mb or 120+mb per tape, when a DEC ra81 hard drive was 3-400mb, and we had 4 VAXen running 4.2 BSD, and source code, I can’t swear why… probably cuz our robot OS was cross-compiled.)
    #END data rant from my worst-puppy days, where I barely mention GNU.

    What amused me? That the BSD4.2 source license cost $1k USD, but first you had to buy the $30k(roughly?) ATT sysV source license even though you didn’t want or use sysV. Makes sense though, since BSD came from sysV.

    I still get confused on half?most? of this history/evolution/article, though I worked those decades and have name recognition for most things mentioned. Common joke you’ve all heard: the best thing about standards is that there’s so many of them! (very relevant to my UNIX career in the trenches). In this article, the first spot that confuses me….. is the sentence containing

    …there were not that many machines of one architecture, and if they did have an operating system (and many did not) there were many operating systems that ran on any given architecture.

    me-again> A machine without an OS? Sounds like new HW which hasn’t had an OS installed yet, am I right? Or did you mean……..
    An architecture without an OS ? Well, “arch” to me was mostly the CPU family which generally always had (i.e. I could get) an OS available and of course quite a few choices for the PC arch. Also, I worked at Encore Computer where our Multimax offered (groan, did this kill us supporting all these with maybe 100 employees?) sysV, BSD, and an obscure 3rd OS called Mach. All were UNIX. Encore died fast way roughly in the 1990’s.

    Final comment or nit/typo: When you mentioned the
    long-running “Unix Systems Labs Vs BSDi” suite

    I think you meant law suit (not suite).

    =========last tangent, i promise:
    I loved anything-BSD as long as possible, but freeBSD suffered in popularity (legal issues?)
    Still, I used freeBSD in a shop with many redhat6 servers and Solaris servers…
    ( rh6 = last free version i think, +/- yr 2000 just before RHEL?)
    …because the NFS server on freeBSD vastly outperformed nfsd on redhat, both with 100m ethernet.
    I have no idea why freeBSD’s nfs daemon was awesomely fast for writing at least,
    and I only used it for non-essential storage: in our case/usage, chip developers were
    constantly running/creating HUGE simulations (they’d remove and re-do big data results happily)
    and we couldn’t afford to host all THAT on vital RAID’d Network Appliance’s,
    but PC-based servers were SO cheap, I setup a farm so only a couple users per sim/BSD-server.

    You made it, thanks for listening! I’ll try to promote linux up here in the boonies of Maine USA. -doug

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      A couple of “nits” on your comment:

      BSD was first based on Version 6 of AT&T Unix. from Bell Labs. System V came along a lot later.

      I do not know when you tried to purchase your source code from Berkeley for $1K, but the 30K source code license must have been a special price. I tried to buy a license in 1978 or so and it was MUCH more money. I seem to remember it was about 128K. That was probably before the time that AT&T wanted to make any money on Unix and they just wanted small shops like me to go away. But it was a long time ago and I could be wrong. I do remember that license money was for a single CPU and you had to tell them what the serial number of the CPU was.

      For me an “architecture” is the hardware, buses, machine instructions, etc. Server systems were sold without the OS, that was extra. By the time “PCs” came along, Microsoft became the standard and was bundled on every “PC” so when the system hit the retailer the retailer just had to put it on the shelf and turn it on. The PDP-11 as an architecture had over 11 different operating systems.

      A friend of mine is trying to start up a Linux user’s group in Maine. He tried to start it up in Belfast, but users showing up were few, so he is moving down to the Portland area and hopefully we will get more members there.

  27. Avatar photo Peter Zaitsev says:

    Great review of history of Open Source and Free Software!

    When it comes to Red Hat there is no question whenever RedHat has a a right to do it (legally) it is a question whenever it is friendly towards ecosystem.

    The key thing I’ thing I think remains unsaid is RHEL is far from just Linux Kernel and other packages developed by RedHat directly, it is a lot of other packages which RedHat provides to their customers without giving anything back to developers of those components.

    There was the balance in the past of many in community contributing to RedHat ecosystem in other way than commercial RHEL subscription and using CentOS for their Linux needs. That balance has been broken now in two steps (killing off CentOS first and attempt to kill the clones second) .

    Time will tell whenever forcing folks to subscribe to RHEL will pay off. I expect in short term it will but in the longer term there will be shift by developers to Linux distribution which is “freeloader” friendly

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      I agree that there are many packages in RHEL that Red Hat does not “give back” directly to the developers of those components.

      However the same could be said of many of the other distributions, even Debian. I have sat in Debian meetings where they discuss deprecating packages because there are no developers working on those packages anymore, no one fixing bugs. Sometimes this is true simply because there is no one using the software anymore.

      RHEL (and other distributions) give these software projects a place to run, so users can see them. Out of 10,000 people that USE THAT SOFTWARE, perhaps one person will put in a bug report, or raise their hand to join the project. Without the distributions (RHEL, SuSE, Debian, Ubuntu, Arch, Fedora (and even the clone makers) there would be fewer people using the packages and fewer people working on them.

      Enterprise releases such as RHEL typically have LESS software packages distributed than “community” releases such as Debian. The reason for this is that there is less to test, less to support, etc. The old issue of “fewer CD/DVDs to ship” has gone by the wayside as we have moved to Internet distribution, but the other issues still exist.

      I will also point out that IBM/Red Hat/RHEL engineers often contribute to other projects outside the realm of their job, simply because the software (that runs across multiple distributions (and even operating systems and architectures) is something they have a passion about.

  28. Avatar photo Neal McBurnett says:

    From one old-school user of PDP-11s, Unix/32V, BSD, SunOS, Linux etc…
    Thanks, Maddog, for providing a valuable insight from the open source enterprise business perspective. Not many of us have that.

    But I think you should note the very valuable insights from the true experts on open source licensing, and why it is set up like it is:
    SFLC: A Comprehensive Analysis of the GPL Issues With the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) Business Model – Conservancy Blog – Software Freedom Conservancy

    They note e.g. some times when RHEL in fact violated the GPL terms, and how their sales force has some incentives to continue to do so. So access to the complete corresponding source (CCS) for RHEL is valuable for those trying to make sure Red Hat (or any other vendor) is actually following the GPL terms.

    My question for you is: suppose the next step from Red Hat, to defend their support contract income, was to stop sending some of their patches upstream? The GPL does not require them to do so. No one but their customers now knows if they are doing so. But of course, not sharing changes upstream is a real threat to the cohesiveness of open source and the community.
    Would you draw the line there?
    Is there any line Red Hat (or of course any other business) could legally cross where you would call them out and say that they are now truly undermining the community?

    It was back in 2004 that I switched myself and my clients to Ubuntu, since I was frustrated at how Red Hat was moving in terms of sharing with the community. I think I made the right move. While my sense continues to be that Red Hat is, on-balance, a valuable contributor to the open source ecosystem, I think there is a line, and it requires more than just GPL compliance.

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      Actually I read the article by Bradley Kuhn before even started my blog post. I also read the articles by various other people.

      In Bradley’s article he points out that several times Red Hat violated terms of the GPL, but they ended up correcting it. Having worked for large corporations I know there are often issues that come about between what “corporate” does and validates and what people “in the field” do. What matters most is that they are determined and corrected.

      I sensed in the writing of Bradley that there was a certain amount of opinion, bias, etc. towards the clones, or against Red Hat. For example there is his statement that:

      ” Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) business model courts disaster”

      which somehow brings images to my mind of tidal waves and volcanoes.

      That is fine, he has his right to his opinion and verbiage.

      However with licensing and copyright the nuances often come down to a court of law and the actual wording in the actual license.

      “My question for you is: suppose the next step from Red Hat, to defend their support contract income, was to stop sending some of their patches upstream? The GPL does not require them to do so. No one but their customers now knows if they are doing so. But of course, not sharing changes upstream is a real threat to the cohesiveness of open source and the community.
      Would you draw the line there?”

      It is not my line to draw.

      From my experience I know that the more code you try to keep “private” to your sources, the harder it is to integrate those changes into the code stream when it comes back down. It is why I ALWAYS give advice to people to upstream code, even if they think it is the “secret sauce” of their advantage.

      In the end if IBM/Red Hat keep too much code to themselves they might as well end up with a closed source operating system like Windows NT, but with the advantage that the customers of their binaries will have access to the sources that created them. On the other hand their comparability with other distributions will suffer (IMHO).

      So to answer your question, “the line” is probably best determined by the RHEL customers, and you are free to make the same arguments against RHEL as you do against Microsoft, as long as you are fair about it.

      “It was back in 2004 that I switched myself and my clients to Ubuntu, since I was frustrated at how Red Hat was moving in terms of sharing with the community. I think I made the right move. While my sense continues to be that Red Hat is, on-balance, a valuable contributor to the open source ecosystem, I think there is a line, and it requires more than just GPL compliance.”

      I agree it takes more than GPL compliance, and one of the reasons I wrote the blog post was to remind people of that. At the same time I think I have been VERY CLEAR that I advocate the time and effort to go into a competitor of RHEL that offers more than a price shift.

  29. Avatar photo Mahmoud Abduljawad says:

    The problem with supporting Red Hat unethical move is that it opens the door for everyone to do so. Having Red Hat contributing code doesn’t mean Red Hat isn’t benefitting from code they don’t have any contribution in. Let alone the amount of community effort in fedora where regular users are helping Red Hat realises its solid-state RHEL with every other “test day” in fedora. This is about the position; No company should be allowed to create a vendor-lock situation. No company should be allowed to make billions dollars in profits from FOSS then decide to make such a move. No company should be celebrated for limiting users’ software freedoms.

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      >The problem with supporting Red Hat unethical move is that it opens the door for everyone to do so.

      Ethics is in the eye of the beholder. Some people might say that it is unethical for a company to buy one copy of an operating system, taking advantage of the engineering work put into it, then buy 1000 copies of a clone just to save money. I am not saying it is ethical or not. The question is what does the licensing and business agreements say?

      >Having Red Hat contributing code doesn’t mean Red Hat isn’t benefiting from code they don’t have any contribution in

      I have answered this at least twice before.

      >Let alone the amount of community effort in fedora where regular users are helping Red Hat realises its solid-state RHEL with every other “test day” in fedora.

      Anyone who has brought out enterprise software knows that you do not take a release like Fedora, put the code into a release like RHEL, recompile it, dust your hands and say “done”, no matter how many dimes people have downloaded Fedora and “tested” it.

      If this was true, if Fedora could be used as the basis of a RHEL replacement, then what is wrong with using CentOS Stream? That is only one twist away from RHEL. I think we both know why….because it is not EXACTLY RHEL.

      >No company should be allowed to create a vendor-lock situation.

      I have worked for some of the largest computer companies in the world. One of the benefits of Linux and Free Software is that IF a company goes out of business, there are other options that could take over. As prevalent as RHEL is in the FOSS community, there are other solutions that people can use.

      >No company should be allowed to make billions dollars in profits from FOSS then decide to make such a move.

      How much money a company could make with FOSS was decided years ago, and is even discussed at length at the FSF. As long as they obey the licensing and their customers agree with it, there is no limit.

  30. Avatar photo Bud Coyne says:

    Great blog on the history of our computer industry that I, and many of my workmates over the years, lived through. Thanks “maddog”, for this and your continuing insight and inspiration!

  31. Avatar photo Linux Training Center says:

    It’s truly fascinating to read “IBM, Red Hat and Free Software: An old maddog’s view.” The insights shared by the author, fondly referred to as an “old maddog,” offer a unique perspective on the evolving landscape of technology, open-source software, and the dynamic partnership between IBM and Red Hat.

    The author’s ability to blend historical context with contemporary developments showcases a deep understanding of the subject matter. It’s enlightening to see how the collaboration between IBM and Red Hat has not only contributed to the growth of open-source but also fostered innovation that benefits both businesses and the broader tech community.

    The blog underscores the significance of open-source principles, emphasizing how they align with IBM’s and Red Hat’s commitment to providing accessible, flexible, and customizable solutions. This alignment not only reflects a progressive approach to software development but also has a far-reaching impact on the industry as a whole.

    Furthermore, the author’s insights into the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead offer valuable food for thought. The discussion around the role of open-source in today’s fast-paced tech world prompts reflection on how these principles can continue to shape the future and drive positive change.

    Overall, “IBM, Red Hat and Free Software: An old maddog’s view” is a thought-provoking read that captures the essence of a longstanding collaboration and its profound impact on the world of technology. It’s a testament to the enduring power of open-source ideals and the visionaries who continue to champion them.

  32. Avatar photo Bill Eldridge says:

    I’m a bit younger, but in the early 90s I found myself supporting SunOS + Solaris, AIX, Ultrix, IRIX, various versions of Linux, plus BSD-derived NextStep (pre-caveman OS X), and earlier a Sony NEWS SysV workstation. Add on OS/2 and the new versions of Windows, OS/2, MacOS and several transitions of Novell, it was quite a ride.
    [I took half of these to the Balkans in 1994 because I’d heard they were completely fractured – joke, kind of.]
    Windowing environments were another part of the fun, with 5 production-ready options including X-Windows, plus the failed Berlin project.
    Windows NT is listed as a July 1993 release, and it looks like Linux 1.0 kernel allowed versioning and subset compiles from March 1994 on.
    I think Windows for Workgroups (maybe Win 3.1) was the first Windows to natively support TCP/IP – add-on networking and filesharing protocols such as LAT, NFS, MacFS(? the TCP/IP version of AppleTalk) and Novell being another ride.
    I remember a royal datacenter meltdown around Oct/Nov 1995 of new Windows for Workgroups machines for a new broadcast service – supposed to be 24×7, but the OS errors weren’t helping. I gave the command order to upgrade all the servers to Win95 one night because “it can’t work any worse”, and the problems stopped.
    That to me was when Windows won the game, and the next build the following year with Win NT 4.0 was much more professional.
    That I then replaced a $700k DEC Alpha setup with an x386 running Linux, MySQL and Apache (or similar) was its own testament to how far the Linux world had come.

  33. Avatar photo Jean Carlos Adrianza says:

    Hi, maddog. I am Jean Carlos (the Venezuelan Free Software promoter). I already readed this article. I need to tell you that (at least for me) it’s not easy to understand the facts related with the history of the Free Software and Open Source. However, I tried it: When I organized the GNUfest 2019, I readed the whole book “Free Software, Free Society” and more than 50% of the RMS’ another book (but I dont remember its name in this moment).

    Your life’s experiences allow me better understand the FOSS Universe because you are a important member of the other part of GNU/Linux OS. However, your article, like the RMS’s books, make mention to specific devices and situations that, due to my almost null experience in the hacker world, I can not figure or understand.

    In other hand, I guess I can avoid this details to suppose the right now IBM is taking controversial decisions that some people traduce them like treason or even a violation to the GPL license, right?

    Well, your arguments about the need to find proactive people to make alternatives to RHEL, are very strong. And I suppose that your great experience allow you to be sure that developers must to work together to make better things. That sounds logic, but I don’t want to say the same thing because I have not experience and I prefer to trust in your considerations.

    I have more to say about your article but I will be waiting your feedback.

    Thanks for tell us the FOSS story from your experience and point of view.

  34. Avatar photo tcp_fin says:

    A thought:
    While not paying license fees, the ‘freeloaders’ block the market share of competitors and help to increase popularity and range.
    This is not nothing.

  35. Avatar photo Jean Carlos Adrianza says:

    Hello again maddog.

    I guess I should have been cautious and also sent my comments through this chat.

    Your article is long so I’ll use my memory as much as possible so I don’t have to read it in such detail again. Also, I will use Google translate to write faster.

    When I first wrote my comments, I pointed out that in your article you mention experiences of increasing historical value, which help non-hackers to understand the origins of Free Software and Open Source Software.

    On the other hand, I also guess I have mentioned (or at least now I want to say it) that although your explanations are very detailed, the chain of events that are part of the FOSS story contain technical details that in my opinion are difficult to assimilate for those who We haven’t been part of those wonderful hacker circles that you guys formed in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s.

    When I decided to do GNUfest in 2019, I read “Free Software, Free Society” in its entirety as well as a good part of the other book on RMS (whose name I can’t remember, but doing some research on the internet I would say it’s “Free as in Freedom”) ; which caused me similar difficulties due -among other things- to very specific details about problems with the hardware used at the time of GNU’s birth.

    It occurs to me – and I didn’t mention it the other time – that it is necessary to create some way to make more understandable the difficulties that you (the hackers) had to live through. Perhaps a saga of films, a series or a miniseries, could help a lot in this. Although what I am going to say seems obvious, I consider that achieving a work whose content is established by consensus, seeking the greatest truthfulness, must be an unavoidable premise. It is worrying to see how you (hackers) are already of advanced age, and (to be honest) I don’t think there are young people capable of explaining the context or the importance of the problems that Bruce Perens, Eric Raymond, RMS or you; they lived

    From what I could understand the first time I read your article, and I think I confirm now, the reason you mention all that valuable historical information is to place the reader in the context of current events that are causing criticism of Red Hat and that are related to decisions made by said company that seem to affect the Free Software community that does not pay for its services, but that do not differ from the GPL license. I am not in a position to comment on it. I am not fully familiar with the content of the GPL and I also believe that in the legal area, almost all laws can be approached from many points of view, taking advantage of the very frequent ambiguities they may have.

    You emphasize that you have never used Red Hat, however you defend the decision made by said company. So I suppose that one of the objectives of your article is to educate the community of Red Hat users (and Free Software in general) that the GPL license does not prevent companies that use it from making money and that these companies have the right legitimate to do it, right?

    Regarding the option that you suggest developers to come together and create competitive alternatives, obviously I hope they do. The solution to their dissatisfactions is that they take concrete actions.

    I would like to be able to give more in-depth opinions, but it seems to me that the scope of the conflict on which you speak does not directly influence the vast majority of people, or in any case, its influence on us is difficult to notice (but of course I know very well the importance of the existence of the FOSS software).

    By the way: I didn’t know that UNIX originated from Bell Labs… Very interesting… I guess it’s an easy information to find on the internet but it never occurred to me to do so, so thank you for enlightening me on that and many other things.

    • Avatar photo Jon "maddog" Hall says:

      Jean Carlos,

      This is a very long comment. In it you make statements such as “When I first wrote my comments”….I did not see the comments you were referring to, and I looked at the comment stream several times.

      “I pointed out that in your article you mention experiences of increasing historical value, which help non-hackers to understand the origins of Free Software and Open Source Software.”

      Yes, this is part of what I intended to do.

      “although your explanations are very detailed, the chain of events that are part of the FOSS story contain technical details that in my opinion are difficult to assimilate for those who We haven’t been part of those wonderful hacker circles that you guys formed in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s.”

      I am sorry, this goal was not the intent of my blog post. To do what you are suggesting would take much longer. My goal was to REMIND people who knew these things at one time why and how we got there.

      “I am not in a position to comment on it. I am not fully familiar with the content of the GPL and I also believe that in the legal area, almost all laws can be approached from many points of view, taking advantage of the very frequent ambiguities they may have.”

      There are many items in the GPL and many that have not been tested by case law in licensing. As often happens in cases of license violation it may be that the only way it can be resolved is from a court case. However that was not my intent either.

      “You emphasize that you have never used Red Hat,”

      This is not true. I said that I had never used RHEL, the Red Hat Enterprise Linux. I had been using Red Hat Linux almost since its inception in 1994. In fact the first distribution I ever installed from a CDROM was Red Hat Linux. However RHEL is a different business model, and since I did not need the facilities of RHEL I did not use it, nor did I enter into a licensing agreement with Red Hat Software.

      “So I suppose that one of the objectives of your article is to educate the community of Red Hat users (and Free Software in general) that the GPL license does not prevent companies that use it from making money and that these companies have the right legitimate to do it, right?”

      Actually i did not have to do that. Richard Stallman, the originator of the GPL and the founder of the Free Software Foundation, did that a long time ago. It still exists on the FSF web pages.

      “Regarding the option that you suggest developers to come together and create competitive alternatives, obviously I hope they do. The solution to their dissatisfactions is that they take concrete actions.”

      I agree, and I do not believe that generating four or five more “clones” of RHEL is the way to go. Instead I advocate for a distribution better than RHEL, but this is a very difficult and expensive process.

  36. Avatar photo leo says:

    Jon “maddog” Hall, an industry veteran, discusses IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat and its impact on free software. He raises concerns about potential consequences and offers historical insights. Maddog’s suggestions for preserving open source principles amidst corporate influence are thought-provoking and worth reading for free software enthusiasts.New York State Legal Separation Vs Divorce

  37. Avatar photo Diana says:

    It’s always interesting to hear the perspective of someone like Jon “maddog” Hall, who has such a long history in the tech industry. The changes in Red Hat’s terms of sales for their software have certainly caused a stir in the open-source community. Maddog’s insights into this matter, given his extensive experience, are invaluable. It’s clear that he’s seen the industry evolve over the years, and his willingness to share the details and reasoning behind his views is appreciated. Looking forward to reading the entire article and gaining a deeper understanding of the situation.

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  38. Avatar photo Driving Without A License In New Jersey says:

    This historical journey through the evolution of software is fascinating! Your recount of the transition from punched cards to Linux’s rise captures the essence of a transformative era. The dedication of early developers and the birth of open source movements highlight the collaborative spirit that continues to shape our digital landscape. Kudos for illuminating this intricate web of technological history

  39. Avatar photo Real Estate Company in Kolkata says:

    This article sparks contemplation on the ever-changing dynamics between big corporations and the spirit of free software. A great read for anyone interested in the intersection of technology, business, and open-source principles!

  40. Avatar photo martin03481 says:

    IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat, known for its enterprise open-source solutions, was a significant move in the tech industry. This acquisition signaled IBM’s commitment to open-source software and expanding its cloud services. The partnership between IBM and Red Hat could potentially further the development and adoption of free software principles in the corporate world. The free software movement, championed by figures like Jon “maddog” Hall, emphasizes transparency, collaboration, and community-driven development. IBM’s support for open-source initiatives through Red Hat could pave the way for a more open and collaborative tech landscape. The impact of such collaborations on the broader tech industry is significant, shaping how companies approach innovation, cooperation, and the democratization of technology. The partnership between IBM and Red Hat signifies a blending of corporate prowess with the ethos of open-source development. Abogado Lesiones Personales Maryland

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