The Oracle Unbreakable Linux incompatibility

Submitted by dag on Tue, 2007/10/23 - 22:13

It was exciting when a year ago at LinuxWorld Expo London we heard a rumor that Oracle was going to support Red Hat Enterprise Linux. It was surprising to find out that this rumor was not entirely as well-intended and supportive as it sounded.

Instead of helping the community, Oracle was directly attacking Red Hat with its own product as if it was showing the world that Open Source has no value and that even Oracle could run away with Red Hat's crown jewels and customers. A hostile take-over attempt of Red Hat by Oracle.

What the world did not understand (and Oracle tried to hide) is that the business value is not in the source-code, but in the development and the community. Red Hat is involved in most of the Open Source projects and in fact is able to support their product for 7 years because they have the experts and the insight of how projects work. Oracle has not.

Another well-hidden fact of Oracle's promotional buzz is that you cannot both be compatible with RHEL, and provide bugfixes and improvements. Either you make changes, or you stay compatible with the original. So whatever Oracle stated was self-contradictory. All the articles at the time failed to mention that, riding on Oracle's wave.

Now that Oracle is porting YaST to Red Hat (who in their right mind would want to have YaST on RHEL is beyond my comprehension) it becomes all that obvious that whatever procedure you have for RHEL or CentOS it will not work with YaST. Once you use YaST, you cannot change (a lot of) configuration files by hand.

I always tell people at tradeshows that "CentOS is completely compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux, including the bugs". And even though that seems a bit harsh, it is very true and it is exactly what we want to tell people. We cannot replace Red Hat's support because we need to be compatible and therefor rely on Red Hat's support. We cannot fix any bugs ourselves. That means that if you really need support (and you cannot support yourself), you need to get it from Red Hat.

The CentOS users rely on us to provide a compatible product and Oracle is fooling their customers if they tell them otherwise...

Still, when all is said and

Still, when all is said and done, as Sergio Leunissen, a senior director for Oracle's Linux Business Solutions, noted in a UK Unix group newsletter, Oracle hasn't "talked about how our Linux is better than anyone else's Linux. Oracle has not forked and has no desire to fork Red Hat Enterprise Linux and maintain its own version. We don't differentiate on the distribution because we use source code provided by Red Hat to produce Oracle Enterprise Linux and errata. We don't care whether you run Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Enterprise Linux from Oracle and we'll support you in either case because the two are fully binary- and source-compatible. Instead, we focus on the nature and the quality of our support and the way we test Linux using real-world test cases and workloads."

So, while Oracle may add features, such as Yast, that sit above the core operating system or improve PHP functionality, at its heart, Unbreakable Linux remains RHEL's identical twin. On the surface, however, the two can no longer be mistaken for each other.

What does support mean ?

The contradiction is mostly in the fact that when Oracle offers support for Unbreakable Linux, how can they help customers if they cannot make changes ?

Either they help customers and actively fix problems and improve the product (as part of the support contract) or they passively wait for Red Hat to fix those bugs.

If Oracle relies on Red Hat to fix certain bugs than customers actually rely on Red Hat's support not Oracle's support and as a result Oracle's support will never be better than the support Red Hat provides. (Maybe that explains why it is cheaper ?)

I can see how Oracle can help Red Hat by providing fixes, but I don't see how Red Hat's service would improve by undermining Red Hat's business model. In fact, by taking a swing at Red Hat's revenue, the support model becomes weaker instead of stronger.

And the fact that Red Hat's stock plunged 30% and the signal Oracle is sending to the financial world does not help Red Hat or Linux an inch, quite the opposite.

So I have a hard time understanding why Oracle did what it did. All indicators point to foul play to me.

PS YaST does not work on top of the OS, it cuts into most of the sysadmin tasks and often breaks config-files that have been handcrafted. YaST actually requires that start-up scripts and /etc/sysconfig-files are heavily modified.

I am all for a smitty-alike tool for Red Hat but linuxconf and YaST, to me, take the wrong approach.

competition vs. copycat

Oracle's entrance in cloning RHEL is pure profit plain and simple. Their value add is "tailored" support for Oracle platform and products. They do support bug fixes just as Centos does. I use both Centos and OEL. OEL contributes clustering file-system technology that is incorporated in the Kernel. All patches from OEL are GPL. Echoing above, the base OS is still pure RHEL. Other packages are purely addons such as YasT. Remember they are charging for the Support, the distro is a free DL