Kicking off 2012 with some downstream fun

Red Hat makes it a not-impossible task to remove the Red Hat branding from their flagship product and make your own distribution. In a comedically over-simplified way, essentially you can:

  • download the freely-available RHEL source RPMs
  • de-brand them (essentially replace redhat-logos and a few other key packages)
  • build out all of your altered RPMs and make a distro out of it (WAY out of this scope)
  • release your distribution under the same open source license as RHEL

There are several players in the universe of downstream, RHEL-derived releases, currently, and their situations are always changing. That is, of course, because they are all-volunteer efforts. Last year CentOS ( had some serious issues with their 6.0 release, and have always had a reputation of being an opaque and non-communicative group. Scientific Linux seized on the CentOS issues and attempted to make some real in-roads into their user base and community visibility. Another group actually formed in 2011, tryin to take the lessons learned from CentOS and Scientific Linux and make a new distribution with transparency built-in to the community. So how is every one doing today?

CentOS (

In North America, CentOS has been the goto RHEL-derived Linux distribution since before I ever got into IT. The releases are normally stable, but have been plagued in the past by delays in security updates, point upgrades, and almost always a lack of communication from the CentOS team. There was talk in 2011 of CentOS finally moving to a rolling release methodology, but I can’t find any confirmation that it ever happened. Their site also has no links I could find to 6.x documentation or process. This isn’t to say that it isn’t happening, it’s just to say that they’re not telling anyone about it. They do announce 6.2 being released, which brings them more or less up to their upstream source. With all of the turbulence and lack of communication and confusion, the mirrors stay up and I have to say I’ve got a 6.x CentOS ISO sitting on my desk… somewhere.

Scientific Linux (

Scientific jumped pretty hard at CentOS last year when it took CentOS a LONG time to get their 6.0 release out. For the first time, people who had never really considered anything other than CentOS were scratching their head and wondering who this upstart from CERN was. Of course, SL is no upstart, being around since 2004. This 2011 inroad into CentOS-land was relatively short-lived, however.  In August, Troy Dawson announced that he was leaving the SL project to work for Red Hat on their new OpenShift project. Not long after that, rumors of lack of team cohesion and direction started to bubble up. Currently, SL’s most recent release is Scientific Linux 6.2 beta 2 (as of January 9, 2012).

AscendOS (

AscendOS is the new kid on the block in this neighborhood, hoping to have their first production release based on RHEL 6.3. I actually had a conversation via email with Andrew, one of the AscendOS team leaders. He confirmed that AscendOS is going through a lot of the growin pains of any new open source project. Those problems are, of course, the number of contributors and the amout of time those contributors can allocate to a project. AscendOS has some developer builds available for download, and are still actively working to refine their build process and environment. If you can and want to help an interesting new project, I highly encourage you to give this project a look.

While these aren’t by any stretch all of the RHEL-derived downstream distributions, these are the ones that most interest me currently. Are there any other interesting ones out there?


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