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SUSE Promises to Fork RHEL and Make It Publicly Available

As Red Hat’s reputation as an example to the corporate world on how to do open-source right fades, will SUSE’s new CEO, Dirk-Peter van Leeuwen, pick up the mantle?

Dirk-Peter van Leeuwen will become SUSE CEO on May 1
Will Dirk-Peter van Leeuwen who became SUSE’s CEO on May 1, make SUSE the new Red Hat? Source: LinkedIn

The company that might be Red Hat’s biggest rival when it comes to enterprise Linux, Germany-based SUSE, today announced that it is forking Red Hat Enterprise Linux for the purpose of continuing to make a RHEL-compatable distribution available for those that need or want it.

The company said in a statement that it plans to invest more than $10 million into this project, and that it intends to contribute the project to an open source foundation, which will provide ongoing free access to the source code.

This should bring a sigh of relief to those who once relied on CentOS and who now rely on distos such as AlmaLinux, Rocky Linux and others to bring RHEL compatibility into their data centers, now that Red Hat has locked-down the code to it’s flagship software. It will also benefit companies that pay the rent by offering third-party support for RHEL installations, sometimes for many years after a RHEL version has passed its end-of-life and is no longer officially supported.

“For decades, collaboration and shared success have been the building blocks of our open source community,” SUSE’s newly minted CEO, Dirk-Peter van Leeuwen, said in a statement. “We have a responsibility to defend these values. This investment will preserve the flow of innovation for years to come and ensures that customers and community alike are not subjected to vendor lock-in and have genuine choice tomorrow as well as today.”

SUSE is doing this, despite (some might say, “because of”) the fact that its flagship offering, SUSE Linux Enterprise, directly competes with RHEL on the marketplace. The company already offers support for RHEL and other distros that are being used in mixed-distribution environments through its Liberty Linux program.

According to SUSE, the project won’t be totally under its control, but will be a collaborative effort involving other entities with skin in the game. One of those other entities is evidently CIQ, the company behind the RHEL clone Rocky Linux, since Gregory Kurtzer, the CEO of CIQ and the founder of Rocky Linux, is quoted in SUSE’s press release.

“The enterprise Linux community requires standardization, stability, and consistency,” he said. “CIQ is bringing stability to our partners, customers, and community, by building a broad coalition of like-minded companies, organizations, and individuals. SUSE has embodied the core principles and spirit of open source; CIQ is thrilled to collaborate with SUSE on advancing an open enterprise Linux standard.”

Is SUSE the New Red Hat?

While I’m nowhere near ready to bet the farm on it, this might be a sign that SUSE is ready to pick up the mantle that Red Hat slowly discarded after it was purchased by IBM. While Red Hat remains, undoubtedly, an open source company, it no longer practices what former Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst called “the open source way,” which sees open source principles as being guidelines that go beyond the mere licensing of software.

When SUSE announced that van Leeuwen, who spent 17 years in various VP roles at Red Hat, would be taking over as its CEO starting in May, I began to wonder whether SUSE would become the example-setting company that Red Hat quit being under IBM’s ownership.

Under Whitehurst, Red Hat strove to set examples for other open source organizations to follow by doing things like letting the RHEL clone project, CentOS, live under its roof at its Raleigh headquarters, and by actually working side-by-side with CentOS developers to make it easier for them to build their freely available RHEL clone, even though it directly competed with Red Hat’s flagship product.

It also spent money advocating for open-source, and educating the public about open-source projects, through its community-focused website, which published articles written by members of the open source community about not only open source-technologies, but about running open-source projects according to open-source principles, how to nurture diversity in the workplace, and the like.

All of that is gone now. Red Hat has taken ownership of CentOS through control of its trademarks, and the distro now functions primarily as a RHEL build platform; RHEL source-code that was once freely available is now locked-away from anybody that’s not a paying customer; the entire staff that ran was recently fired in a purge.

Just before van Leeuwen took the reins at SUSE, I wondered in an article, “Will New CEO Dirk-Peter van Leeuwen Bring ‘Open Source Way’ Magic to SUSE?” Some words from a blog by SUSE’s new CEO published today give me hope that this might be the case:

“Becoming more proprietary should not be the basis for competition between open source companies. We have all contributed to the open source community – just as in the same way we have all benefited from it. It’s something bigger than the sum of our parts.

“At SUSE, we actively collaborate with the open source community to build enterprise grade products from open source projects. Our customers do not pay for the software, but for the ability to run it in a business-critical environment with long term 24/7 support, security, a certified stack and for being represented in the open source community. This is where we compete to be the best, most reliable and cost-effective vendor for our customers.

“With the latest restrictions to source code availability, we believe that the competitive landscape is shifting in the wrong direction.”

Those are hopeful words but talk is cheap, and I’ve been on this planet too long to get my hopes up too quickly. A very respected man once said, “By their fruits shall you know them.” I’m going to wait until the fruit ripens, then decide if it’s any good or not.


  1. Anonymous Anonymous July 12, 2023

    Very nice article thank you for that, should be interesting times ahead, how long does fruit take to ripen depends.


  2. Christine Hall Christine Hall Post author | July 13, 2023

    I’m already noticing a big difference in how SUSE is treating the press. In the past they’ve been distant and unresponsive to questions. During the last week, dealing with them has been much like dealing with Red Hat was back in the days when Whitehurst as at the helm.

  3. Ricardo J. Barberis Ricardo J. Barberis July 15, 2023

    “…the entire staff that ran was recently fired in a purge…”

    Wow, I had no idea of this!
    I had noticed less links from on LXer ( lately, but I never imagined it had to do with the firings.

  4. Christine Hall Christine Hall Post author | July 16, 2023

    Yup, Ricardo. They let go pretty much everybody that was involved with the project and quit publishing new content. After the public outcry, they announced “something new is coming” on the site’s homepage, but that was several weeks ago, and I’ve still seen nothing new.

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