Proceed Carefully to Oracle's Proprietary Linux Kernel

After years of using Red Hat Enterprise Linux as the basis for its own "Unbreakable Linux" distribution, Oracle this week announced that it has created its own version of the Linux kernel that's optimized for use with its other enterprise offerings.

The company will continue to give customers the option of running the Red Hat Compatible Kernel, apparently, "if they prefer strict Red Hat compatibility over a system optimized to run Oracle and other enterprise software," the company wrote in its Monday press release.

The new Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel, however, is now "the only Linux kernel Oracle recommends for use with Oracle software," it added.

The company, in other words, is hoping to make Linux a proprietary thing.

Oracle Branding

Oracle's Unbreakable Linux distribution, which has been around for about four years, has always been essentially just an Oracle-branded version of Red Hat's Enterprise Linux package, with the addition of support from Oracle.

Oracle, in other words, has mostly just been in the business of providing support when it comes to enterprise Linux. Now, suggesting that Red Hat has been too slow in releasing patches and is not "modern" enough, Oracle has taken a newer version of the mainline Linux kernel--version 2.6.32--and done some tweaking for performance with its own hardware, databases and middleware.

In particular, the new Linux is being targeted at the company's Non-Uniform Memory Access (NUMA) and Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud servers.

A Newer Kernel Version

The new kernel is faster than RHEL 5, the company says--though that's not too surprising, given that the current RHEL is based on an older version of the Linux kernel. The next version, RHEL 6--due later this year--will presumably be similarly updated, with all the speed and other benefits that brings.

What's more concerning, I think, is the way Oracle is trying to introduce vendor lock-in in an area that's supposed to be defined by openness.

The company has already been showing its true feelings about openness lately. First, it sued Google over Android's use of Java, then it pulled the plug on OpenSolaris, the open version of Sun's Solaris operating system. One can only worry for OpenOffice.org.

'Wanting to Draw from Our Success'

Now, however, Oracle appears to be trying to lure Red Hat customers into an Oracle-only solution with the promise of benefits that, in reality, will be short-lived at best. Red Hat, in fact, on Tuesday essentially said as much in a blog post on the topic.

"With this unique open source operating model and leadership position comes competitors, challenging us and wanting to draw from our success," Red Hat wrote. "We believe that our unique value and truly open position continues to be the sound choice for enterprise customers who seek lasting value in their IT investments - especially when compared to competitors who selectively open their offerings while seeking to lock in their customers."

'A Huge Invoice and Vendor Lock-in'

At the end of the day, Red Hat said, "our commitment is deep and lasting, not fireworks and hyperbole followed by a huge invoice and vendor lock-in."

Just as Oracle shouldn't be trusted to keep OpenOffice.org alive, I don't think it should be trusted with any all-in-one solution, either. Enterprise Linux users, be warned!

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.

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