If you can’t beat someone – join up?

In news that broke late Tuesday and caught the globe’s open source development community by surprise, Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) struck a deal with CentOS that seems destined to grow its customer base and also bring more Linux developers under its umbrella.

Just as Red Hat openly emrbraced OpenStack and became the largest contributor to its “cloud” technology development, thus positioning Red Hat Enterprise Linux and variants as potentially big winners in the cloud market, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst is securing CentOS. The move is the latest in a series Red Hat has made to broaden its reach, including executive appointments made Monday that put resources into the cloud product mix.

The CentOS Project, which really is a clone in many ways of Red Hat and its Red Hat Enterprise Linux and has a large international community of users, is now becoming formally aligned with the world’s top Linux company. Red Hat is broadening its reach for customers and at the same time is hiring key leaders of the CentOS project.

Four of the top CentOS leaders, including CentOS Project Leader Karanbir Singh, are now Hatters.

“Furthermore, some of the existing CentOS Core members are moving to take up roles at Red Hat, as a part of their sponsorship of the CentOS Project, allowing these people to work on the Project as their primary job function,” Singh wrote in his own announcement about the deal. “This includes Johnny Hughes Jr, Jim Perrin, Fabian Arrotin, and myself. We will be working with and operating out of the Red Hat Open Source and Standards team in the CTO’s Office.”

The news triggered a variety of reaction.

  • “Red Hat and CentOS become Voltron, build free operating system together,” declared Arstechnia. 

“CentOS is a clone of Red Hat’s most important product, compiled from the source code of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). It could be seen as taking paying customers away from Red Hat,” wrote John Brodkin. “The two organizations could also be bitter rivals, but today they showed that they think working together can benefit both the customers who pay Red Hat gobs of money for enterprise-class Linux and those who use CentOS for free.”

  • “Red Hat incorporates ‘free’ Red Hat clone CentOS,” reported ZDnet.

“For almost a decade, expert Linux users who didn’t need the Red Hat Enterprise Linux support used its clone CentOS instead. Now, Red Hat has adopted this community Linux. Don’t panic! You still won’t need to pay for it,” said Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.

  • “Red Hat teams up with community-based RHEL lookalike CentOS; New partnership lends funds, devs to free Linux distro,” read the headline in tech website The Register.

Neil McAllister pointed out: “Founded in 2004, the CentOS Project produces a free Linux distribution that’s built from the same source code base as Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), albeit with all Red Hat branding and other intellectual property removed.

“That won’t change under the new partnership” according to Red Hat’s Chief Technology Officer Brian Stevens.

  • “The CentOS Linux project is a beloved distribution by those seeking an enterprise quality Linux distribution. CentOS is joining the Red Hat Linux family and this can only strengthen the distro,” wrote ITWire.

User Reaction Mixed

Given the open source community mindset, it should come as no surprise that not everyone welcomes the CentOS embrace of Red Hat as a “big brother” and funder.

“By making even more variants of CentOS RH will devalue each variant (along with Unbreakable and Scientific Linux).

“Sure CentOS will be even more THE GO TO distro for people who want to build stuff and get a free lunch, BUT if you are some clueless IT decision maker at some firm all that CentOS stuff just got a lot more confusing and picking RHEL will be the even safer bet.

“Red Hat cares only for their share holders,” wrote one poster at OS News.

Excitement – and Surrender?

Some open source community members will view the deal as a surrender of independence. After all, a new board will include three people nominated by Red Hat.

“With great excitement I’d like to announce that we are joining the Red Hat family,” Singh wrote. “The CentOS Project ( http://www.centos.org ) is joining forces with Red Hat. Working as part of the Open Source and Standards team ( http://community.redhat.com/ ) to foster rapid innovation beyond the platform into the next generation of emerging technologies.

“Working alongside the Fedora and RHEL ecosystems, we hope to further expand on the community offerings by providing a platform that is easily consumed, by other projects to promote their code while we maintain the established base.”

Fedora is the Linux open source community that’s also funded and supported by Red Hat.

In the announcement, Stevens noted:  “It is core to our beliefs that when people who share goals or problems are free to connect and work together, their pooled innovations can change the world. We believe the open source development process produces better code, and a community of users creates an audience that makes code impactful. Cloud technologies are moving quickly, and increasingly, that code is first landing in Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Today is an exciting day for the open source community; by joining forces with the CentOS Project, we aim to build a vehicle to get emerging technologies like OpenStack and big data into the hands of millions of developers.”

And Singh, who is CentOs lead developer, sought to assure users: ”CentOS owes its success not just to the source code it’s built from, but to the hard work and enthusiasm of its user community. Now that we are able to count Red Hat among the active contributors to the CentOS Project, we have access to the resources and expertise we’ll need to expand the scope and reach of the CentOS community while remaining committed to our current and new users.”

Red Hat’s Take

In an FAQ about the deal, Red Hat posted:

“Red Hat will contribute its resources and expertise in building thriving open source communities to help establish more open project governance, broaden opportunities for participation, and provide new ways for CentOS users and contributors to collaborate on next-generation technologies such as cloud, virtualization, and Software-Defined Networking (SDN).

“With Red Hat’s contributions and investment, the CentOS Project will be better able to serve the needs of open source community members who require different or faster-moving components to be integrated with CentOS, expanding on existing efforts to collaborate with open source projects such as OpenStack, Gluster, OpenShift Origin, and oVirt.

“Red Hat has worked with the CentOS Project to establish a merit-based open governance model for the CentOS Project, allowing for greater contribution and participation through increased transparency and access.”

Red Hat expressed similar thoughts in its embrace of OpenStack, agreeing to join the group as a major sponsor only after receiving assurances about transparency.

The full FAQ can be read online.

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