Why isn't Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop free?

Isn't it a Linux OS? If it is, so why is not free?


  • 3
    Why should it be free? – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Apr 19 '12 at 5:48
  • 1
    Like other Linux distros – MSajjadi Apr 19 '12 at 5:53
  • SLES isn't free either. Try again. – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Apr 19 '12 at 5:54
  • 1
    Oh, I thought every Linux OS must be free. So maybe I'm wrong. – MSajjadi Apr 19 '12 at 5:57

The reason that a Linux distribution is "free" is that many of the pieces of software it includes are covered by the GNU General Public License (GPL for short).

There are two different types of "free":

  • freedom to see and modify the source code ("libre")
  • free of charge ("gratis")

The GPL is about the first "freedom", not the second.

Provided Red Hat release the source code, then they are probably complying with the license.

Further reading:



A lot of what RedHat charges for is actually the support and services around the OS itself. They have their own specific config and build, but any Linux provider has that.

The real reason RedHat can charge is that their support services are appropriate at enterprise level. Their market space includes corporates and large organisations whose need for maintenance and support is significant. Most large organisations couldn't survive on in house IT in a cost effective manner.

  • Just wondering - Isn't it supposed to be "Red Hat", not "RedHat", or "Redhat"? Or is there some historical reason for the different versions? Also, could I ask for a more expansive explanation of why in house IT couldn't support a large Red Hat client base? Thanks! – user66001 Oct 3 '13 at 21:49

To be a bit more specific, Red Hat does freely provide the source RPMs used to build the binary version of their distribution (the base ISO, updates, etc). You can grab all the SRPMs and build them, and you will essentially have RHEL. There are a number of projects that do just this (with some rebranding), notable CentOS, Scientific Linux, White Box, etc.

As Mikel notes, Red Hat is "libre", since it releases the SRPMs. It is not "gratis", as it charges for doing the work in building from the SRPMs, and providing enterprise-grade support (the latter is obviously more important for their bottom line).

Take a look at this Ars article on Red Hat's business model, and how it changed from the late 1990s/early 2000s to what it is today:



If you want a RedHat without licence costs use Fedora, Scientific Linux or CentOS. Fedora is from RedHat, whereas Scientific and CentOS are RedHat clones.

CentOS is closer to RedHat, its main aim is binary compatibility.

OpenSource does not forbid that you pay for (patch) distribution support.


As for Red Hat, it's different from other Linux distributions because it is used mostly on the server side by Enterprises. In this case, Enterprises need full support and system updates for Red Hat because its running on their production servers and such big enterprises wouldn't run unsupported systems, this is what most of Red Hat charges is actually for.

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