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Article from Issue 218/2019

IBM acquires Red Hat, Fedora 29 and Ubuntu 18.10 released, Redis Labs modules forked, Microsoft offers its patent portfolio.

IBM Acquires Red Hat

In a surprise move, IBM has announced that it is acquiring Red Hat for $34 billion. A primary reason for the purchase is to support IBM's hybrid cloud and Kubernetes business. IBM is a distant fourth player in the public cloud space, behind AWS, Azure, and Google Compute Engine.

Red Hat's primary bread winner is still Linux, but the Linux business has kind of reached a saturation point. The real year-on-year growth is coming from the emerging business, which is the cloud.

Red Hat doesn't have any public cloud offerings; its strength is Kubernetes-based OpenShift, which enables customers to embark on their hybrid cloud journey. However, Red Hat can grow only so much as customers move to public cloud configurations. Red Hat can't scale to address the growing market, and it is limited in how much it can invest in other hot emerging technologies like Machine Learning and IoT. "We can only do so much," Red Hat President and CEO Jim Whitehurst told me in a previous interview.

"Joining forces with IBM will provide us with a greater level of scale, resources, and capabilities to accelerate the impact of open source as the basis for digital transformation and bring Red Hat to an even wider audience – all while preserving our unique culture and unwavering commitment to open source innovation," said Whitehurst.

IBM said that joining with Red Hat will help them help clients create cloud-native business applications faster, drive greater portability and security of data and applications across multiple public and private clouds, and provide consistent cloud management.

To achieve this, the two companies will leverage key open source technologies such as Linux, containers, Kubernetes, multi-cloud management, cloud management, and automation.

"The acquisition of Red Hat is a game-changer. It changes everything about the cloud market," said Ginni Rometty, IBM chairman, president, and chief executive officer. "IBM will become the world's #1 hybrid cloud provider, offering companies the only open cloud solution that will unlock the full value of the cloud for their businesses."

Although the cloud is at the heart of this acquisition, the change won't affect the work Red Hat does in the Linux and open source space. In fact, IBM itself is among the top 10 contributors to the Linux kernel. During a conference call, IBM and Red Hat told me that there won't be any impact on open source projects maintained by Red Hat, including Gnome, Fedora, CentOS, and others.

Red Hat will continue to run as an independent entity under the leadership of Whitehurst, within the Hybrid Cloud business of IBM.

Fedora 29 and Ubuntu 18.10 Released

October is the time of the year when users get to play with new versions of Ubuntu and Fedora. Canonical announced Ubuntu 18.10, and the Fedora community announced Fedora 29. Both are Gnome-based distributions. Ubuntu has focused on faster boot times and improved support for new hardware; Fedora has focused on improving its modular design.

"Modularity helps make it easier to include alternative versions of software and updates than those shipped with the default release, designed to enable some users to use tried-and-true versions of software while enabling others to work with just-released innovation without impacting the overall stability of the Fedora operating system," according to a Fedora press release.

Fedora comes in three editions: Workstation, Cloud, and Atomic Host. The latest version of Fedora's desktop-focused edition provides new tools and features for general users, as well as developers, with the inclusion of Gnome 3.30. Fedora is putting its weight behind Flatpack.

Ubuntu also comes in different editions: Ubuntu Desktop, Ubuntu Server, Ubuntu Cloud, and Ubuntu for IoT. There are different flavors of Ubuntu that support various desktop environments, including KDE Plasma, LXQt, etc.

Snap is the default app packaging and delivery mechanism of Ubuntu that competes with Flatpack. Canonical said that Ubuntu's Linux app store includes 4,100 snaps from over 1,700 developers with support across 24 Linux distributions. 18.10 enables native desktop controls to access files via the host system.

While Fedora remains a distribution for developers (Linus Torvalds himself uses Fedora), Ubuntu still appeals to a wider audience, from gamers to enterprise customers.

Redis Labs Modules Forked

As expected, developers from the desktop projects Fedora and Debian have forked the modules that database vendor Redis Labs put under the Commons Clause.

The Commons Clause is an extra license rider that prohibits the user from "selling" the software, with "selling" defined as including selling services such as hosting and consulting. According to Redis Labs and the creators of the Commons Clause, the rider was created to prevent huge hosting companies like Amazon from using the code without contributing to the project. Unfortunately, the license also has the effect of making the Redis Labs modules incompatible with the open source licenses used with Linux and other FOSS projects.

To fix the problem, Debian and Fedora came together to fork these modules. Nathan Scott, Principal Software Engineer at Red Hat, wrote on a Google Group, "…we have begun collaborating on a set of module repositories forked from prior to the license change. We will maintain changes to these modules under their original open source licenses, applying only free and open fixes and updates."

It was an expected move. When license changes are made to any open source project, often some open source community jumps in and forks the project to keep a version fully compatible with the earlier open source license. The fork means commercial vendors like Amazon will still be able to use these modules without contributing anything to Redis Labs or the newly forked project. However, not all forks are successful. It's not the license that matters. What matters is the expertise of the developers who write and maintain the codebase. Google once forked Linux for Android, but eventually ended up merging with the mainline kernel.

In a previous interview, Redis Labs told me that they were not sure whether adding the Commons Clause to these licenses would work or not; they already tried the Affero GPL (AGPL) license, which is also designed to address the so-called application service provider loophole that allows cloud vendors to avoid contributing back their changes, but the move to the AGPL didn't help them get vendors like Amazon to contribute.

Redis Labs added the Commons Clause to only those modules that their staff wrote; there is no change to the modules written by external parties.

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