If it weren’t for RedHat Linux, I might not have ever found PostgreSQL. In early 2001, I was running the tech side of a company with an ISP component to it. After starting with RedHat 4.2 in 1997, we’d standardized all the servers by then on RedHat 7.0, refusing to upgrade from its 2.2 kernel even when new versions with 2.4 appeared. (We needed VPN Masquerade and it didn’t work on those crazy bleeding edge 2.4 kernels) Into the business came a new product that needed a database embedded into it. As a former Progress DBA of some reknown (seriously!), I got the job of figuring out which to use. After poking around at the open-source database options that were a simple rpm install away, I found PostgreSQL 7.0. It seemed completely sensible for a small but important database. BerkleyDB was too simple for the queries I wanted to write, MySQL 3.23 was frighteningly loose with its data to me, and I was still pissed at Oracle for killing off my previous database career–even if I had wanted to budget for it. I got a copy of Bruce’s PostgreSQL book, hot off the presses, built an app with RedHat 7.0 plus PostgreSQL 7.0 plus Perl-DBI, and the database part of it worked great.
When RedHat switched to a modified business model as part of their rebranding for RedHat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) in 2002, I parted ways with using their distribution at home. Still recommended it for businesses, and made part of my living as a 2.1 AS, RHEL3, and RHEL4 consultant. Then in 2004 I found White Box Linux, which let me play with a RHEL-like server at home again. Easy transition from RHEL4, and I’ve owned some sort of RHEL 4 or 5 derived server here ever since for tinkering purposes.
Shortly afterwards, CentOS Linux became available as another RHEL-derived option. The glory days for CentOS were the spring of 2007. RHEL5 shipped on March 14th that year, and CentOS followed with their CentOS5 release less than a month later. With some older competition like White Box failing to ever deliver a RHEL5 based release, CentOS has been the distribution to beat ever since, if you want a free-as-in-beer Linux that’s as similar as possible to RedHat’s Enterprise product. That’s made it easy for me set up CentOS systems whenever necessary at home, while also having RedHat’s commercial product available to recommend too.
The ugly memories of watching White Box shrivel up and die after failing to deliver a RHEL5 distribution have been coming back lately. RHEL6 was released in November of 2010, tomorrow it will be exactly six months old. There is no sign of a CentOS6 yet. I realized there was trouble brewing after two months when I still hadn’t seen a CentOS6, and instead saw on Planet CentOS that the developers seemed to be fighting over resources with the next RHEL5 update. It seemed like there were serious and growing issues with the CentOS development team, and I’ve been keeping a closer eye on this area ever since.
Shortly afterwards, I started seeing a lot more information about Scientific Linux. They were on track to a reasonable release date, with SL6 betas earlier in the year. Their SL6 came out in March. At this point, two months later, I’m hearing about a happy CentOS5 -> SL6 conversion every few weeks now. The similarities to how CentOS5 rose to prominence in the first place, by shipping their RHEL derived version before any other credible source, are rather obvious.
If I needed a sign that it was time for me to start installing SL6 myself, this week I found it. Any long-time user of RPM-based distributions has probably used a package from a Dag Wieers repo at some point. Dag has saved my ass by providing some tricky to compile from source package in RPM form on a regular basis for a long time now, seemingly as long as I’ve been using RedHat Linux seriously in some form. When I saw he was working seriously with the CentOS developers some time ago, that made me even more comfortable with their distribution.
Well, that party is over. Last week Dag publicly announced he was resigning from CentOS development work, seemingly over development team communication issues. In the comments there, Dag specifically suggests Scientific Linux as the right distribution to move to now, saying “their process is more open and the people are actually friendly to feedback.” If a tight development group has enough resources to keep its users happy, so long as the end result is open-source I’m not going to knock the process that got there. But when your release is at least four months later than it was expected by most people, and you’re causing major community contributors to abandon your project in a bad way, I don’t have any choice but to start looking into more open projects.
I’ve seen this movie before, and I didn’t like the ending the last time. Thanks to the CentOS development team for helping provide me with an excellent business-oriented Linux distribution I been able to use for free over the last four years. But I’m writing this as my first Scientific Linux install executes, and I have my first SL6 work for a customer also fed up with waiting on CentOS6 to start on when it’s finished. CentOS isn’t the first group to run an open-source development project without what I’d consider a really open development community, they’re just the latest to show how dangerous that is.