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Is Oracle Forking Red Hat Linux?

Oracle and Linux
For the last two and a half years, Oracle has been selling its own supported version of Linux based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).

But the company claims it's not a fork.

That's an important distinction for Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL), which makes billions from its products running on Linux, and is a very active player in the open source OS's ecosystem.

Instead, Oracle has long maintained that its Linux distribution, Oracle Enterprise Linux, includes changes simply to enable the company to better provide support to customers. It also said its changes get contributed to the upstream Linux community, and that its distribution is binary-compatible with RHEL, which means that software certified to run on Red Hat's OS will run similarly on Oracle Enterprise Linux.

"A lot of people think Oracle is doing Enterprise Linux as just basically a rip off of Red Hat, but that's not what this is about," Wim Coekaerts, director of Linux engineering at Oracle, told InternetNews.com. "This is about a support program, and wanting to offer quality Linux OS support to customers that need it. The Linux distribution part is there just to make sure people can get a freely available Linux operating system that is fully supported."

"We don't want to create a new Linux distribution that is different from Red Hat, because the issue is about support and not the software itself," Coekaerts added.

Yet, as it turns out, Oracle Enterprise Linus's binary compatibility does not mean that its version is entirely identical to Red Hat's. In fact, there are some important differences, including support for a key file system technology.

Differences, but not a fork

Oracle isn't the only vendor with a RHEL clone. CentOS, for instance, is a popular community-based clone of Red Hat's Enterprise Linux as well.

While the CentOS community aims to make RHEL freely available to the masses, Oracle maintains that its motivation centers around support, which it delivers through two Linux support programs.

The Oracle Unbreakable Linux program provides support to customers who already have Linux installed, while the Oracle Enterprise Linux support offering is supposed to be an exact replica of RHEL, and provides the software to users. Oracle offers that version because RHEL isn't available for free as a complete operating system without a Red Hat subscription.

To Oracle, the differences between its distribution and Red Hat's aren't about creating a wholly new direction for Linux. Instead, it said it contributes its code back upstream.

"All the new features that we work on to make Linux a strong operating system go to Linus Torvalds and they become part of the mainline Linux kernel," Coekaerts said. "Then that trickles back down to the distribution vendors and then we can make use of the feature."

Page 2: OCFS and differences in virtualization