The Beauty of Open Source

march 24, 2011

"If you don't like it, don't use it." -Johnny Hughes, CentOS Developer  

So, to put the comment into context: CentOS 5.6 is still not ready and there are some pretty antsy users. Some of them are not as nice as others. The one that posted to the centos-devel mailing list that prompted the reply from Hughes was one of the "not nice" ones. I can totally understand Hughes' frustration and why he wrote what he wrote.

What he wrote shows the beauty of Open Source software: If you don't like it, go use something else. I took Hughes' advice. I grew up with Red Hat Linux (before they squeezed the "Enterprise" in there). I feel most comfortable in Red Hat environments. But, Red Hat continues to tie their longer-term support software with contracts. Which is fine because it is a good business for them.

If I want to build a server but do not want to keep the rapid pace of Linux distro upgrades, I don't have too many choices. I can go with CentOS, which is a rebuild of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. I could go with Ubuntu Server LTS, which is supported for up to five years. Or I can go Debian which has a three year support cycle. Or I could get crazy and go with a rolling-release type distro like Arch Linux.

What brought all this up is that the CentOS group seems to be showing their limitations. I do appreciate all the team's work in producing a free recompile of RHEL for those of us who don't need a support license from Red Hat. But, I think that the team needs to rethink their current "people structure" and become more transparent with what they are doing -- and how they are doing what they are doing.

As it stands the CentOS team looks to be stretched to their max. RHEL 4.9, 5.6 and 6.0 were all released within three months of each other -- 6.0 being completely new and probably needing a lot of infrastructure setup and tweaking to get to compile. The CentOS team was able to crank out CentOS 4.9 within two weeks of RHEL 4.9's release which is great. But, then came the questions about the other two versions. 6.0 was released in November of 2010 and 5.6 in January of 2011. Neither have been released to date.

This would all be fine, except that there are updates in 5.6 that maybe security packages which can't be released until CentOS 5.6 is released. It has been three months since RHEL 5.6 was released and there has only been a handful of CentOS 5.5 updates since RHEL 5.6 was released. That leaves an open question of whether there are vulnerabilities which have not patched yet (CentOS updates / RHEL updates).

RHEL 6.0 is almost five months old. RHEL 6.1 is in beta already. And there is no CentOS 6.0 yet. This is not much of a big deal because there's no installed CentOS 6.0 base. But, still it is worrisome that RHEL 6.1 maybe released before CentOS 6.0 has been released.

After all is said and done though, Hughes is right: If you don't like what's going on with CentOS...leave and use something else. And that is what I have done. After a few weeks of documenting and testing Ubuntu Server 10.04LTS, today I converted my CentOS 5.5 server into an Ubuntu server. During the testing and setup, I learned a lot about Ubuntu/Debian and I think it was a good thing that CentOS is so far behind because it forced me out of my comfort zone to learn Ubuntu Server. I got to learn a lot this time around.

There are somethings that I wish could happen. First, I wish Red Hat would stop tying their software updates directly with their support contracts. Some of us would love to use RHEL, but really don't need the support. Giving the software away will help keep RHEL in the mindset of new and power users. Sure, we have CentOS and Fedora to continue to play around with. But, I'm just saying...and I doubt this wish of having free RHEL will ever come true. Given that...

Second, I wish that the CentOS team would open up the project. I know that they say that the "C" in CentOS stands for "community", but it's not a project that the community does -- it's a project that produces an enterprise grade OS for the community. While that's a nice thing to say, I think that they need community help. They are showing that they are bogged down as it is. I would suggest some sort of technical board to drive the technical side of things with an open community model, inviting the community itself to help in the process. A social board could go a long ways to help foster help with the Wiki and get better documentation together for CentOS. 

If things don't change at CentOS, I don't think I will be the only one taking Hughes' advice -- and I doubt I am the only one who has switched recently either.