The most free distro war: “free software on proprietary terms”

For years we have been reading articles reporting Debian as the most free distro, but recently Mark Shuttleworth started a new kind of distro war, saying that Red Hat and Novell essentially offer free software on proprietary terms.

Shuttleworth answering to some comments made clear is point of view:

When a free software kernel is compiled by a company and then licensed under a commercial license (i.e. you can use this source code freely, but you can’t actually run our build freely), then I think we are in danger of recreating Microsoft in the Linux world.

Greg De Koenigsberg, the Community Development Manager for Red Hat, answered Shuttleworth provocation saying that:

What is “proprietary” is the brand, and the quality of service you are entitled to receive by being a paying customer.

He also added that while Red Hat makes all of its source RPMs available to anyone, Novell don’t.

Mark Shuttleworth then replied:

Applications, as you know, don’t run on source RPM’s. Hardware vendors don’t certify source RPM’s. Users don’t install source RPM’s.
So let’s talk about the real meat – the binaries that make up RHEL. As you are well aware, these are a closely controlled and licensed under terms very similar to those of any traditional proprietary software. That’s why Oracle’s having to jump through hoops to produce Unbreakable Linux (bless ‘em). That’s why users are required to pay for the privilege of using RHEL.

De Koenigsberg posted a definitive answer to Shuttleworth:

Yes, “let’s talk about the real meat” — the way that Mr. Shuttleworth chooses to define “proprietary”. It appears that he defines it thusly: “using a business model that is not compatible with my own.”
I think that most folks would agree that Richard Stallman is the defining ethicist of the copyleft generation. Does he say in the GPL, “one must give away one’s binary packages for free”?
He does not.
What is “proprietary” is the brand, and the quality of service you are entitled to receive by being a paying customer.

The real issue is that challengers like Canonical are struggling to get a space in the Linux arena, where barriers are higher and weak intellectual property assets don’t help to appropriate returns.
Canonical is offering to all Ubuntu users a quality of service delivered by the incumbents only to paying subscribers, that’s neither noble nor admirable. but simply a marketing necessity.

In the meanwhile, Sun Microsystems through its Sun Partner Advantage News says:

Companies currently evaluating Red Hat or SuSE Linux will likely be concerned about potential business disruptions resulting from the recent announcements as well as the potential for increased risk associated with compatibility, support, and intellectual property issues.
Users of Solaris 10 will not be affected by these developments.
At Sun, free means free. Open source software makes the Solaris OS the safe, strategic choice for commercial and development use.

Is the most free distro war becoming the most free OS war?