ٰShadowman is Gone

The departure began trip began in 2019. Ended in 2023.

It was confusing moment when Jim Whitehurst announced in 2019 the new branding for Red Hat (which was RedHat prior). The reason was the departure of Shadowman from Red Hat. Shadowman is the character wearing the iconic hat in Red Hat logo and branding since its inception. As a company that was built with focus on free and open-source, it had an audience not only from enterprise, but also from computer nerds and geeks like me who wanted to see GNU/Linux take over the world (is it year of GNU/Linux on desktop already?) and Shadowman played well in this; I can't tell exactly why, but it was our own pop figure. I was one of those who celebrated Red Hat making over a billion US dollars in single fiscal year because it showed that FOSS is on the way to conquer every aspect of modern computing.

But the only constant in life is change; Red Hat got acquired by IBM two months after the rebranding announcement, and this continued the changes in the company with more focus put into the cloud solutions rather than traditional solutions. Though, the prime for the change was 2020 announcement to discontinuing CentOS, the community-supported RHEL-binary-compatible GNU/Linux distro. This was huge because CentOS didn't start as a Red Hat product, but a community project that Red Hat acquired in 2014. This decision brought up assumptions Red Hat intended to acquire and rule-out CentOS with time, which didn't reflect well on company's image that doesn't miss a chance to cry open-source. The announcement had a critical problem, CentOS tracks RHEL, this includes the support. Users who began using CentOS 8 in 2019 expected five years of support until 2024, only to find-out that discontinuing CentOS also meant stopping updates to the release by end of 2021; More than two years before originally planned. The community had its round of rants, but then returned to work hard at solving this problem, and the solution came in the form re-creating CentOS again by the community. This time two projects started at the same time to pick where CentOS stopped; AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux. I used AlmaLinux myself after CentOS announcement and my experience was very good and CentOS announcement felt just like another corporate shake-up that has less effect in reality.

Then comes 2023.

On June 1st. Fedora Development mailing list saw a post on LibreOffice packages be removed from future versions of RHEL and Fedora, this didn't make rounds in the community and I don't understand why. This post made it clear that Red Hat is going to cut its efforts in end-users applications, and this also fits in the chain of changes Red Hat is making to become a service provider.

But June didn't end yet. On 21st. of June, Red Hat announced closing RHEL sources or what they called it, restricting it to RHEL customers only. To understand how problematic this is, I must explain how CentOS worked before it was acquired, and how AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux came to be: With every new package release Red Hat made into RHEL, the source used to build the package would be made public. This would allow RHEL clones to fetch, build the packages, and push them to RHEL clone RPM repositories so users of these distros get 1-to-1 binary-compatible RHEL clone. This change prevents this workflow altogether, and effectively kills any attempt for crating a RHEL clone. Another aspect of this change is it is immediate, making it, another mid-release change that affects any current users of RHEL clones. And to expose how bad this move is, Red Hat has affirmed its Terms of Service in the blog post itself, which is a pointer about the term in the agreements that prevent RHEL customers from re-distributing the sources. So, while Red Hat is fulfilling GPL terms, it is restricting it beyond that behind a legal agreement, effectively creating an illusion of open-source operating system that is closed and proprietary in reality, as confirmed by this tweet from a Red Hat employee.

This has sparked controversy. The first wave of articles only reported the news as it was still not clear whether readers missed something from the announcement, but with a day passing it was clear Red Hat has, whether intended or not, initiated an operation to kill and end cloning RHEL. Of course AlmaLinux1, and Rocky Linux2 has posted their thoughts on this, and these trying-to-sound-positive posts are indicator that Red Hat didn't communicate this change to them before announcement, leaving them in limbo just like the rest of FOSS community. One area that was very upsetting to see is Red Hat employees jumping to advocate for their company announcement when nobody asked them to3 4 5. This could indicate a culture change at Red Hat, where employees there now expect their company to do so.

For me seeing this meant I can no longer recommend or use RHEL, CentOS Stream, or RHEL clones in my work. Furthermore, I decided to begin leaving behind Red Hat ecosystem altogether. On personal level this means figuring out a distro other than Fedora, which has been my main distro since 2005. I'm exploring looking at openSUSE since it is a distro I keep running on side between times, but also looking at completely new adventure with NixOS. For my work, I'll plan migration from AlmaLinux, my RHEL clone of choice nowadays to Debian or openSUSE, which I'm still debating. Other Red Hat products such as OKD/OpenShift will not be part of my work recommendations going forward.

I've also started a new project to collect feedback on alternatives to RHEL and Red Hat products under the name "Escape Red Hat". You can check it out on this GitLab link, or this GitHub link.

While removing Shadowman from its logo didn't have any real significance, it was a signal of a shift happening in the company. The company is no longer that nerdy guy who makes things because its his enthusiasm, but just another corporate doing what it can to make more bucks by year end. There's nothing wrong with that at all. I have to be clear here, as I'm not demanding Red Hat becomes a charity and not making money to its shareholders. But maintaining spirit of FOSS is what I expected from them.

1 Impact of RHEL changes to AlmaLinux

2 Rocky Linux Expresses Confidence Despite Red Hat's Announcement

3 The problem with Rocky Linux and free beer

4 Tweet by @jscar_hawk

5 Tweet by @geerlingguy

Header photo: By Marc Mongenet - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

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