Thursday, September 15, 2011

CentOS 6.1...

... or not!

Ok, before I continue, first a disclaimer. This is my personal view of the whole situation around CentOS. If you disagree, that's ok. If you wish you can argue via comments, but please, keep to the point and give arguments for you statements. Don't troll. Oh, and if you spot grammatical and similar errors, please email me corrections.

So, this whole situation is frustrating, a lot! First, there was a long long wait for 6.0 to appear. According to this Wikipedia article, about 240 days! Then, finally 6.0 appeared, and everyone was very happy. But now, there are no updates and no 6.1. And it's already about 120 days behind. Not to mention some serious bugs that are present in fully patched CentOS 6.0 installation. And note well, if you plan to use CentOS and security is important (e.g. Internet facing Web server), don't use CentOS 6. If you desperately need CentOS, use version 5.

On the other hand, Scientific Linux managed to track a Prominent North American Distributor quite well. Obviously, no matter what CentOS developers claim, it is possible to be faster.

Now, whenever someone says on mailing lists or forums: Hey, this is a problem, two things happen (actually, three because there are those that agree). First, there are those that repeat constantly that you get as much as you pay for! Second, there are those that repeat that  '... the CentOS developers have to work on CentOS and it's not good for them to waste time arguing about development process, so don't say those thing here!' But, there is one big BUT! And that is that at least some of the people that complain at the same time offer help! Also, if something is so important like CentOS is to many people and companies, developers can not behave as it if doesn't concern them. Well, they can but then they risk the project failure! 

And failure of CentOS is not only the problem for CentOS and it's users, but also for RHEL. The reason is simple, the majority that use CentOS won't buy RHEL anyway, so they'll search alternative. First alternative, Scientific Linux has a main problem in its name, it doesn't sound like something that some serious business would run, no matter how this argument is actually stupid. Anyway, what's the next alternative? Oracle's Unbreakable Linux. And, this means Oracle's distribution will have more users, and thus will be more commercially successful. But even if CentOS users do not go with Oracle's Linux, the only alternative they have is to go with Ubunut or Debian (not to mention other Unixes like FreeBSD) and those are completely different types which means that the ones that go that route, won't ever return to RHEL types.

For completeness, I have to say that some things did improve. For example, based on critiques they received, Atrium site was introduced to track development. Well, they improved microscopically, because if you look into this site you'll find that it's not used. Calendar is empty. There are some sporadic comments, many of them old, and that's it. Yes, I know, developers started to talk a bit more about what's happening in different ways, e.g. twitter. But that's not enough!


So, where is the problem? I don't know, to be honest, because the project is all but transparent. But there could be several problems.

Lack of people

The main problem is probably the lack of people working on CentOS. There are, as far as I understand, core developers and QA team. On main CentOS page there is a list of people with their functions (Select Information, The CentOS Team, Members). There are 11 people listed of which 6 don't participate in core development (infrastructure, wiki, Web, QA), four are listed as supporting older versions of CentOS (2, 3, 4), and this leaves one working on CentOS 5 and 6. The information there is certainly old (maybe the Web gay left?), but nevertheless, for such an important project more people are necessary.

To solve this problem CentOS team has to introduce more people into the project. But how will they do that when all of them (i.e. CentOS team) are heavily busy trying to catch RHEL and they don't have enough time to do anything else? The best way, IMHO, is to talk to vendors that use CentOS and ask them to provide payed engineers. And, with those people try to create community that will recruit new project members.

Decision/Strategic problem

Under this title I'll put the decision that was made during RHEL 6 Beta program. The decision was not to do anything and wait for RHEL release. The reason is to help RHEL better test new version of RHEL. Well, that's certainly good intent, but development of CentOS 6 had to progress intermediately because there was no way CentOS team could deliver beta version of CentOS in parallel with RHEL's beta version. In the end, they lost a lot of precious time!

Collaboration with Scientific Linux and others

This subject was beaten to the death, and nothing happened. I don't know where the problem is. The CentOS developers didn't say anything about it - did they try to approach SL developers? Was there any discussions? What they think? Nothing! What rings in my head is the perceived problem of compatibility, and, here we are with a next problem.

Strict compatibility

Actually, this is not a problem per se. CentOS has a mission to be as close to upstream as possible, and this is advantage actually. But this advantage is turning to a great disadvantage since CentOS is late because of that. The one reason cited why CentOS couldn't work with SL is that SL doesn't care much about strict compatibility. And this, I believe, is fallacy. Both projects have to remove RH's trademarks and such from packages and at least here there is possibility to cooperate.

Next, because of strict compatibility no package updates can be provided without upstream. The reason is that package name in that case (and version) has to be changed and this could bring two problems. The first is that, when upstream releases update, there could be divergence and collision. And second, package names/versions differ what might confuse some third party software made explicitly for RHEL.

As for this, I don't understand why yum can not be patched (or plugin provided) that will allow packages to have same name but also release date will be taken into account? Also, why there couldn't be pre-releases of CentOS, named for example 6.1.test0, 6.1.test1? With all the packages the same, but with different release dates that will be taken care of by yum?

Finally, people that use CentOS don't need support because they now how to do it. And if they don't, who cares?


In conclusion I'll say that CentOS isn't going the right direction. CentOS team has to do something and do it as quick as possible. Maybe the most important is to hire some capable project manager that will change all this and open up more.


hey said...

This is a smart blog. I mean it. You have so much knowledge about CentOS 6.1, and so much passion. You also know how to make people rally behind it, obviously from the responses. Youve got a design here thats not too flashy, but makes a statement as big as what youre saying. Great job, indeed.
learn linux basics

sgros said...

Thank you, but I wouldn't say that this is special, there are much better blogs than this one...

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scientist, consultant, security specialist, networking guy, system administrator, philosopher ;)

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