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Is CentOS Hurting Red Hat? 370

AlexGr writes "Jeff Gould raises an interesting question in Interop News: Why does Red Hat tolerate CentOS? The Community ENTerprise Operating System is an identical binary clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (minus the trademarks), compiled from the source code RPMs that Red Hat conveniently provides on its FTP site. It is also completely free, as in beer. CentOS provides no paid support, but it does track Red Hat updates and patches closely, and usually makes them available within a few hours or at most a few days of the upstream provider, which it refers to for legal reasons as "a prominent North American Enterprise Linux vendor." Free support for CentOS can be found in numerous places around the web, and a few third parties offer modestly priced paid support for those who want it."
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Is CentOS Hurting Red Hat?

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  • by yagu ( 721525 ) * <> on Sunday November 04, 2007 @01:21PM (#21232519) Journal

    I'm going to have to go with "doesn't hurt Red Hat" on many counts.

    • There's no such thing as bad publicity.
    • CentOS users are likely users who were looking for free anyway so the alternative would have been some other free distro.
    • A natural migration path for free CentOS users would be to require more support and since their universe is Red Hat-centric, the "pay for" version they'd likely choose would be Red Hat.

    I doubt too many sales are lost here.

    And the article's example doesn't really prove the point. So a shop of Red Hat users balked at upgrades and associated fees, and decided to go CentOS because they were a seasoned Linux shop. If it weren't CentOS, it would have been something else. The veteran shops will run Linux for free because they don't need the support, period. And they will find the distro that lets them do that.

    (And I'm not quite sure what the referenced Google graph is supposed to demonstrate. I suspect he's claiming the higher count and increase in hits for CentOS indicates more popularity, and lost revenues for Red Hat, but I see it as those needing to do their own support pretty much start with Google. Red Hat licensees will start with Red Hat support.)

  • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @01:23PM (#21232561)
    I tend to agree with you. The article sounds a lot like the RIAA claiming that every illegally downloaded song directly equates to lost revenue, and it is just as flawed a perspective.
  • Simple: Support (Score:5, Insightful)

    by emgeemg ( 182902 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @01:24PM (#21232575) Homepage
    The type of organizations that want Red Hat Enterprise Linux want it for the support Red Hat offers. Take that away and there's not really any competition.
  • why??? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WwWonka ( 545303 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @01:26PM (#21232603)
    "Why does Red Hat tolerate CentOS?"

    um...because they have too?!

    "open source" look it up on wikipedia...on second thought...
  • by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @01:27PM (#21232615)
    CentOS essentially acts as advertising for the Enterprise RedHat editions. It allows sysadmins to stick with the same familiar set of tools on both systems where it is considered desirable to have a support contract and systems where this is less of an issue.

    RedHat can't do much to curb this anyway - most of what they produce is standing on the shoulders of other GPL software - but if they did, I'd imagine we'd see a commensurate rise in the use of Debian, Ubuntu and (gasp!) SuSE/OpenSuSE.
  • by rjamestaylor ( 117847 ) <> on Sunday November 04, 2007 @01:27PM (#21232617) Journal
    GPL FTW.
  • by Lulu of the Lotus-Ea ( 3441 ) <> on Sunday November 04, 2007 @01:27PM (#21232619) Homepage
    It is a bit of an asinine question why Red Hat "tolerates" CentOS. Red Hat has no option here--nor should they. By distributing code or binaries that were created by people other than Red Hat, and licensed under GPL, Red Hat has explicitly agreed that CentOS (or anyone) has the right to do the same.

    Red Hat is welcome to hold whatever opinion they want on whether they *like* CentOS to do what they do... but in the end, it's none of their damn business how someone else decides to distribute GPL'd code (within the license terms, of course... Red Hat is also a creator of a significant body of GPL code).
  • by allthingscode ( 642676 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @01:30PM (#21232641)
    Did we miss the point of the GPL? The instance of the software is owned by the user. They can do what they want with it. If they feel like doing everything on their own, they can do so (CentOS). If they want to pay someone else to make their life easier, they can do so (RedHat). RedHat knows this. "Choosing" to tolerate is the one choice RedHat doesn't have: If RedHat wants to use GPL'd software, they have to let other people play by the same rules they do. CentOS isn't going to hurt RedHat any more than Debian does.
  • by rice_burners_suck ( 243660 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @01:31PM (#21232659)
    I don't think Red Hat is tolerating it. They simply have no choice. The OS and most of the components installed with it are licensed under the GPL, which states that exactly this sort of thing can happen.
  • by caseih ( 160668 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @01:31PM (#21232677)
    One of the things that makes CentOS a clear winner is that because it is a completely compatible recompilation of RH, going from a test CentOS install to a fully supported RH entitlement is very easy. Thus I install CentOS initially on all my servers initially and then when I put them into production, I convert them to RHEL and buy an entitlement for them. Some of my less important servers remain CentOS. One of the main reasons for converting my servers to RHEL is that I can watch over them all, in terms of patches and security eratta, from the RHN.

    In other cases, I can convert a RHEL box to CentOS, then build the replacement server with its entitlement, allowing me to keep the original server in production for a few weeks or months while the new server is ramped up.

    So if anything CentOS actually increases RH usage because it is so easy to, at any time, buy entitlements from RH, convert the CentOS machines, and get whatever level of support you deem necessary at the time.
  • Huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rindeee ( 530084 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @01:36PM (#21232751)
    That's like asking why I "tolerate" the speed limit, or why I tolerate my bank demanding I pay my mortgage after signing the contract to do so (okay, so those are kind of crappy examples). Their product is licensed such that CentOS can and (I must say I am very grateful for) does make use of the source code. What's the problem? It's not as though RedHat has any say in the matter. The article even points out; "After all, the vast majority of the packages in RHEL were not created by Red Hat, and they are all governed by the GPL, which is absolutely clear about the obligation to redistribute code." Well duh! Someone could just as easily claim that MySQL is losing money because distro XYZ includes it when the end user could be paying MySQL for installation and configuration support. And so on. The article is basically drivel IMO by someone who comprehends what the GPL is, but doesn't "get it" or the real value it represents.
  • No it isn't (Score:3, Insightful)

    by scheme ( 19778 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @01:41PM (#21232813)

    Red Hat is welcome to hold whatever opinion they want on whether they *like* CentOS to do what they do... but in the end, it's none of their damn business how someone else decides to distribute GPL'd code (within the license terms, of course... Red Hat is also a creator of a significant body of GPL code).

    Redhat doesn't have to distribute the packaging or configuration information to satisfy the gpl. For example, they could provide a cvs or svn repository with just the code or tarballs of the source. The gpl would be satisfied, but it'd be very difficult to recreate the configuration information required to get a working system. E.g. the selinux policies required to get a working system would take a fairly large project in and of itself.

  • by BlueParrot ( 965239 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @01:44PM (#21232827)
    Red Hat probably realises that people using CentOS are people who may just like it so much they they come back for more, and since they don't make their money on the software, but rather supporting it, CentOS just means more potential customers in the long run...

    Some companies are control freaks who prefer to sue potential customers, Red Hat has picked a slightly more sane aproach.
  • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @01:49PM (#21232885)
    In the early days, MS gave the impression of tolerating piracy. Whether they did or not it's widely believed it helped them more than it hurt them. Centos is not piracy but it can help Redhad spread itself.
  • by kebes ( 861706 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @01:49PM (#21232901) Journal

    And I'm not quite sure what the referenced Google graph is supposed to demonstrate. I suspect he's claiming the higher count and increase in hits for CentOS indicates more popularity, and lost revenues for Red Hat, but I see it as those needing to do their own support pretty much start with Google. Red Hat licensees will start with Red Hat support.
    Not only that, but it's entirely possible that people who have Red Hat systems (and Red Hat support) but are looking for a quick answer might do searches on CentOS sites. Similarly if you have an Ubuntu system you may very well do searches on Debian support (or vice versa) since the answers are usually interchangeable.

    As you said, if you have a supported Red Hat install, you're not very likely to be doing as many random Google searches in the first place. The rise in CentOS searches since its inception points to more interest in that distro, yes, but that by association also means more interest in Red Hat systems.

    I should also note that when I played around with Fedora, I found it somewhat unstable (not trying to start a flamewar here!)... which in a sense made me wonder about Red Hat as a distro. But then my experiences with CentOS showed me how stable and well put-together it actually is, which increased my opinion of RHEL.

    What I'm trying to say is, the fact that CentOS is such a solid distro is good publicity for Red Hat, because people get to sample the enterprise-quality polish and updating before they commit to support contracts. Red Hat's secret sauce has never been the binaries; it's always been the reputation for good support. And CentOS adds to this perception of a quality product; a net gain for Red Hat.
  • Fedora? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by melonman ( 608440 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @02:00PM (#21233011) Journal

    Not only does Redhat 'tolerate' CentOS (see above), it also puts money into encouraging people to use Fedora, which is not only free but generally significantly more advanced than RHEL. For people who want free software and enjoy recompiling their kernel, Fedora is a much more obvious choice than a clone of CentOS.

    There was never any money in selling distros to dorm-room techies, and RHEL was never a good distribution for that market, because it's so conservative. I run Ubuntu on my desktop machines, because it's free, and it works, and it has all the multimedia stuff that RedHat don't ship as standard. On my company's production servers it's RHEL every time, because it's stable, because it will still be supported in 5 years' time if necessary, and because RHEL is a de facto standard in hosting terms. If a client's code doesn't work with RHEL, we can tell them to fix their code. If we were running some wacky, customised version of Gentoo they'd tell us to fix our server (whether or not anything was broken).

    Running CentOS would give us the conservatism of RHEL without any of the respectability. I can't see how that would be useful to us.

  • by mOdQuArK! ( 87332 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @02:08PM (#21233097)

    Too bad your are conveniently forgetting that REAL corporate customers want someone to sue when things go wrong.

    That always makes me laugh. I've heard it repeated so many times, yet I don't think I've heard of a single high-profile case where a software-provider has been sued successfully for providing a defective product.

  • by merreborn ( 853723 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @02:09PM (#21233115) Journal
    CentOS also has a much larger set of available binary software packages than redhat.

    Of course, you can use those packages with either redhat or CentOS. So while CentOS benefits from all of redhat's core OS work, Redhat benefits from all of CentOS's package maintenance work.

    Without a doubt, each project benefits the other directly.
  • by burnin1965 ( 535071 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @02:23PM (#21233227) Homepage
    1) Its open source, its not a question of tolerating Centos, its the way open source works.

    2) The anecdotal evidence is seriously flawed. His buddy was running an old and unsupported version of Red Hat Linux (7.3), and they were not paying for a service subscription, and they decided to go with Centos and continue to not pay for a support subscription. Uhh, clue here, this did not effect Red Hat in any way, they are not Red Hat's target market, if it wasn't Centos it would have been some other distro.

    3) And again, the conclusion is completely clueless. Red Hat does not change the way they do business becuase their business is based on open source. If Red Hat decided to develop their own closed source proprietary operating system they would lose the support and synergy of the massive open source community and their business would flop.

    These articles are tiresome and poorly researched. Why is it that everyone believes the only way to have a viable business today is to create a monopoly and change the way you do business to ensure there is no competition that can "sting" you. Red Hat is doing an outstanding job of monetizing a viable market, linux service, support, and training. If Jeff wants to understand why Red Hat does not change their business model all he has to do is read up on the history of Caldera/The SCO Group to see what happens when a linux distributor changes their business model and tries to monetize off the "IP" instead of the service and support they were originally established to provide as a business model.

  • by straponego ( 521991 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @02:26PM (#21233263)
    The CentOS userbase is an incentive to make your software Redhat-compatible. If there were not a free and painless option that is compatible with RH, many more people would have switched to SuSE, Ubuntu, etc.

    CentOS is actually significantly better than RHEL in one respect, though. The package management system, yum, has always been more reliable for me than RHEL's up2date. Even now that RH uses yum, their reposistories seem to be down or slow fairly often. And I can't stand using RHEL's web site. It's much faster to deploy a CentOS server than a Red Hat one, enough so that the price difference seems almost secondary. On the other hand, if you install a lot of machines, you shouldn't be doing it from scratch.

    Eh, but Red Hat's done far more good things than bad things. I think CentOS (and to a lesser extent, White Box and others) have a nice symbiotic relationship with them. Some users will prefer or need officially supported software, and that's why they're still turning nice, but not monopolistic insane profits. It would be a mistake to think that they'd get many of the CentOS users if they could only work around that pesky GPL and force them to buy from Redhat. Quite the opposite; they'd ruin themselves.

  • by PDG ( 100516 ) <> on Sunday November 04, 2007 @02:30PM (#21233317) Homepage
    Nobody will read this since its at the bottom of the page, but lots of major software vendors will not provide support on CentOS.

    For example, Oracle will only provide support if its installed on the RHEL version of Linux.

    My IT department isn't concerned about the support involved with Linux, but they DO want to make sure they are supported for the big dollar, and incredibly important (data!) side of the business--so they pay for RHEL for production servers.

    In test and development arenas we use CentOS.
  • This hurts my head (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lluBdeR ( 466879 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @02:38PM (#21233413) Homepage

    From TFA:

    Until fairly recently they ran this web site on an old version of Red Hat with essentially no outside support.


    But even if they run RHEL on a mix of two and four socket machines, they're still looking at $50K per year minimum for the privilege of sticking the little red logo on their servers.

    From what I gather (and I haven't been awake very long, so I might be wrong) they've been maintaining Linux boxes on their own for years (about 5, IIRC Redhat 7.3 came out 2002-ish), and the reason they're ditching Redhat is it costs too much for support they didn't need previously? If I might go on a limb and make a bizarre suggestion: Don't pay it.

    They know that the engineering effort at Red Hat costs serious money and that someone has to pay for it

    I don't really think this is that true. I was under the impression (and unless this [] is wrong too) RHEL forked off Fedora whenever they feel like it, so in effect (according to this []) isn't Fedora just a testbed where people do free QA work for Redhat?

    My friend and his staff are Unix veterans, but they are not Linux geeks and they are definitely not the kind to muck around in the innards of their server OS just for the fun of it.

    So they're UNIX veterans, have been administering Linux systems for years, and they haven't mastered './configure && make && make install'? TFA claims they're LAMP-based, with the exception of the L, I can start on the AMP portion first thing in the morning and have all three upgraded in time for lunch (My day starts at 10, Lunch is noon without fail). Sounds to me like they're just too lazy to upgrade the 2 or 3 dependencies something might have. That's a great reason for ditching a known good and stable kernel, right?

    Hell, the first thing I do when I install a new OS is replace their Apache/MySQL/PHP with versions I compile myself (based on known-good versions we use on staging/test servers), that way I know 100% it's going to do what I want and I'm not going to see any crap in my error logs about PHP not loading it's GD extension because I opted not to install X on a server which really doesn't need it.

    If they really wanted set-it-and-forget-it why not use Slackware? Or ditch Linux entirely and go to FreeBSD?

    Sometimes people hurt my head.

  • by vakuona ( 788200 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @02:48PM (#21233511)
    It's not so much that they want someone to sue, but companies have to demonstrate that they took care to avoid unnecessary losses. Having a support contract with a company such as Redhat goes a long way to absolving managers of responsibility if something bad happens.
  • by schnikies79 ( 788746 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @03:17PM (#21233761)
    I'm a bit off-topic here but I had to bring up what you stated, "There's no such thing as bad publicity." I don't know why people say that, the only thing I can think of is that they have no experience what-so-ever in marketing. A simply Marketing 101 will teach you otherwise.

    Bad publicity has destroyed products, bankrupted corporations and bankrupted people. Bad publicity definitely does exit.
  • by Mahjub Sa'aden ( 1100387 ) <> on Sunday November 04, 2007 @03:17PM (#21233763)

    Too bad your are conveniently forgetting that REAL corporate customers want someone to sue when things go wrong.
    This is either a moronic thing to write, or you're trying to write something else and this came out instead. Contrary to popular opinion, companies don't like to sue. Suing is expensive, time-consuming, and puts the issue in the hands of third-party: companies only like to sue when they're virtually assured of winning, or when some other consideration is in play that means they don't even have to win the battle to win the war, if you will

    What companies are trying to do is ensure
    • That they do due diligence to their shareholders
    • That they have the appropriate support channels available
    • That they cover their asses
    and not necessarily in that order.

    No-one, no-one wants to be in the position of having a critical system fail, and be caught holding the "oh I'm going to browse the CentOS forum for an answer" bag. No-one. The smart thing to do is buy a support contract, and when that critical system fails and you can't figure it out right away, you get the support you paid for.

    That's why people pay Red Hat money. Not because they want to sue Red Hat when things go wrong. Because they want to fix things when they go wrong.
  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @03:27PM (#21233881)
    I'll go a step further, I don't think whether CentOS hurts RedHat matters. If RedHat wants to have a go at writing and selling proprietary software, fine, and good luck. But so long as they sell others' software, they can't demand exclusivity.
  • by Jezz ( 267249 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @04:04PM (#21234239)
    Well even if we accept that CentOS does hurt RedHat, what can RedHat actually do about it? The GPL stops them from squashing the product (which is exactly the point of the GPL). The GPL provides CentOS with a cast-iron defence from RedHat's legal team. Even if it didn't the reaction of users if RedHat did move against CentOS would be quite something.

    I'm pretty sure RedHat hate CentOS, why all the coy legal mumbo jumbo about who the upstream vendor is otherwise? But actually I see no real downside for RedHat. If you want to "learn" RedHat then CentOS is as good as the real thing (for that) and it really doesn't hurt RedHat to have more people skilled in their product.

    I actually like the CentOS product a great deal - and it fills the void left by RedHat Desktop 9.
  • by dekemoose ( 699264 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @04:58PM (#21234695)
    They have to make the source available, but not convenient. Currently they make SRPMs available, which makes the life of Whitebox, CentOS, et al, much simpler. If they really hated such efforts they'd just resort to making only tar balls available. Granted it's a short leap from tar ball to SRPM, but it's a step Red Hat doesn't have to take.
  • by ePhil_One ( 634771 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @06:13PM (#21235327) Journal
    If they really hated such efforts they'd just resort to making only tar balls available.

    They need to make SRPMS available to customers. Its trivial for CentOS to be a customer, hence fighting that battle is a losing proposition.

    That said, plenty of evidence exists that Red Hat is OK with CentOS, they are just protecting the Trademarks to avoid losing them.

  • by m2943 ( 1140797 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @07:45PM (#21236007)
    Well even if we accept that CentOS does hurt RedHat, what can RedHat actually do about it? The GPL stops them from squashing the product

    Linux isn't entirely covered by the GPL; parts of it are BSD, Apache, and other licenses. Furthermore, RedHat could easily use a non-GPL license for some of their contributions.

    CentOS exists because RedHat made the choice to keep things open and available.
  • Re:Simple: Support (Score:5, Insightful)

    by liquidpele ( 663430 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @08:46PM (#21236421) Journal
    How the hell did this get modded up??

    Lets check the facts:
    1) It's an AC
    2) Claims he has important job managing unknown fortune 500 company
    3) Claims Redhat support sucks because they have bugs in Evolution (owned by Novell mind you)
    4) Complains that because their support doesn't rip apart the code on the fly to try and apply fixes that may or may not work instead of filing proper bug reports to dev, that they are not support but just accepting bug reports.
    [aolguy]You've got Bullshit![/aolguy]
  • by Eskarel ( 565631 ) on Sunday November 04, 2007 @09:11PM (#21236595)
    It's very simple. Red Hat Enterprise Linux is for the Enterprise, that's what they sell. Same thing for SuSe(though with some extensions). They sell rather expensive support contracts to organizations large enough to require them, folks don't pay that kind of money because they can't get the product some other way, they pay it to not have to have linux developers on staff, and to have support and limited culpability from a third party. Red Hat might lose a few boundary cases(people who want an enterprise style system but don't want support), but it's not going to be a major drama for them.

    That said I think that Enterprise systems are pretty terrible and I've never really liked Red Hat's product. But that's a story for another time.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2007 @02:41AM (#21238535)
    I'm sure the high powered RH legal team will be swayed by your potent argument.
    You don't protect trademarks, you lose them, the end. And you know it.
  • by wikinerd ( 809585 ) on Monday November 05, 2007 @10:26AM (#21240853) Journal

    My servers run Debian GNU/Linux 4.0 etch amd64. If for any reason I couldn't get Debian and I wanted a RedHat-like distro, then I would examine CentOS. If it suited me, then I would examine the pure RedHat. But if I couldn't get CentOS, then there would be absolutely no chance of even thinking about RedHat.

    To summarise... If I were a CentOS user I would be willing to consider RHEL, but if there were no CentOS I would *never* buy RHEL. I wouldn't get RHEL even if it, its updates, and its support were offered for free.

    Let me explain my reasoning as a user: RHEL is supported by a company. CentOS is supported by a community. Companies may die or bought by a bigger company and leave their users unsupported. Communities, while having no obligation to support the users, tend to live on and almost never die. "Dead" communities are usually just replaced by a new more vibrant one. The reason is that communities are formed because of the needs of developers and users, so for as long as users have the same needs there will always be communities covering these needs. Companies, however, are usually formed for profit, so if you have obscure needs that cannot bring profits to an enterprise then you may be unable to buy a commercial solution to your needs. A company can cease its operations for various reasons. This can't happen with a community. With an active CentOS community around, this means that upgrading to the enterprise support offered by RedHat is safe: Even if RedHat can't support me, I can always just revert back to CentOS and carry on my business as before with no changes. But if CentOS didn't exist, then getting RedHat would mean that you would assume the risk of having business continuity problems if your support provider went out of business etc. With CentOS around acting as a backup, RedHat is a much more safer choice.

    Let's use an actual example: I still have a Commodore 64 home micro from the 1980s with its sexy tape drive, but Commodore is no more and doesn't support this old model anymore. I have to rely to an informal community to get spare parts from auctions, classified ads, etc. The company has stopped supported the C64 users, but the C64 community is still alive and supports its members very well.

    Really, the knowledge that CentOS has good compatibility with RHEL and that I will *never* face the same situation as my did with my C64 makes me a thousand times more willing to buy RHEL if I ever need their enterprise support. Buying RedHat means that if I can't continue running it then I can just revert back to CentOS with little effort.

    In this sense, every commercial distributors should seek to support a compatible community-led parallel distro alongside their commercial offering. Community distros that are compatible with commercial versions achieve synergy benefits for both the community and the commercial vendor. Furthermore, companies should not be afraid of losing customers from the community version, as commercial and community distros are meant for very different kinds of users. In the CentOS/RHEL example, the difference between CentOS and RHEL is that with CentOS you are responsible for keeping your machines operational, while with RHEL you can sign a contract and give portions of your responsibility to RedHat. This usually appeals to middle level managers who get to make a choice between distros and have a higher boss to report to in case somethings gets broken. But CentOS, just like Debian, will appeal to techies and entrepreneurs who either know what they are doing or have no one above them to fear getting fired. So, really, these distros target very different markets and very different psychologies of customers.

  • by rk ( 6314 ) on Monday November 05, 2007 @02:03PM (#21243711) Journal

    'I swear I am going to find the dude who invented the "blog" and kick him in the nuts. It has resulted in nothing but an endless crapshoot of self-rightious wankers who get off listening to themselves spew garbage on topics which they have not the slightest clue.'

    I'm going to take a guess and say you've never seen Usenet, have you?

VMS must die!