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Is Red Hat Linux out of date? Oracle thinks so

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said Red Hat Linux is out of date, and announced a new non-compatible Linux distro. Linux experts disagree with Oracle's claims.

SAN FRANCISCO -- At the Oracle OpenWorld conference this week, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison trotted out a new Linux distribution, Oracle Enterprise Unbreakable Linux, diverging from Oracle’s existing Red Hat Compatible Linux distro.

The reasoning, according to Ellison, is that Red Hat’s market-leading Linux is out of date. "Red Hat is very slow to take up enhancements from the Linux community," he said. "It runs a four-year-old version of the Linux kernel; it's slow to introduce community enhancements. We can't afford to be four years behind on the mainline of Linux."

The Linux community, however, is wary of that claim, and of Oracle’s motives.

Andreas Chatziantoniou, a self-proclaimed Oracle nerd and consultant with Accenture in the Netherlands, said the claim that RHEL 5 is four years old is true, but that’s not the reason why Oracle jumped ship. “Red Hat does not exactly follow Fedora releases. However, Oracle must have been aware of this when they copied Red Hat into Oracle Unbreakable Linux,” Chatziantoniou wrote in an email. “The main reason Oracle came up with Oracle Enterprise Unbreakable Linux was because Red Hat refused to backport patches to previous RHEL versions. So if a problem was found in, let’s say, RHEL 5.3 and it could be backported, they didn’t do it. At least that’s Oracle’s story.

“For Oracle this was the main reason to copy RHEL into Oracle Enterprise Linux, because they had the chance to apply those patches to previous OEL versions. By doing so, they would service their customers who are not upgrading the OS every year. Typically the OS upgrade happens when the main application on the system is upgraded. And if you run an Oracle DB, Application Server or packaged application on it (EBS, Siebel, Peoplesoft, etc.), you want the stability for about three or four years.”

Independent Unix/Linux consultant Phil Jaenke thinks Ellison deliberately mischaracterized Red Hat's kernel choice. “Most enterprise folks consider 2.4 kernel to be the stable tree,” he said. “2.5.x is kernel devel tree, and 2.6x is considered too immature by many -- bleeding edge. The 2.4.x tree is still actively maintained as far as bug fixes.”

Analyst Bill Claybrook disputed the notion that RHEL is out of date. “Generally, the most important features of the Linux kernels appear in releases of SLES and RHEL, but not all features appear as soon as a Linux kernel is released. You notice that releases of Linux distributions do not appear nearly as frequently as Linux kernel releases,” he said. “If Oracle believes that Red Hat should come out with releases of RHEL with all of the features in the most recent releases of the Linux kernel by Linus Torvalds, then Oracle will be disappointed.”

According to Claybrook, RHEL 6 should be coming out later this year. RHEL 6 was created with 2.6.32, which was released in December 2009. But elements of 2.6.33 (released in Feb 2010) and 2.6.34 (released in May 2010) are also in RHEL 6. So RHEL 6 is based on a hybrid release of Linux.  

The new Oracle Enterprise Unbreakable Linux is optimized to work on Oracle’s latest and greatest hardware, the Exadata and Exalogic machines, and may include some Solaris features like dtrace in the future. For more news out of Oracle OpenWorld, check out TechTarget’s Special Report.

Matt Stansberry is Executive Editor of Let us know what you think about the story; email Matt Stansberry.

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