July 31, 2009
A rift has opened within the ranks of the CentOS project -- a schism between the project's team and its leader that, to me, points up the differences between a "hobby" and a "professional" open source project.
CentOS is a Linux distribution -- and not just any Linux, either; it's a from-source repackaging of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. It's been a good choice for those who have wanted to try out RHEL but not wanted to pay the full fees for it -- and who trust their own wizardly skills enough to get by without professional support. I know of several major-league folks who use CentOS as their "backplane" OS.
Based on an open letter released by lead programmers for the project, and by a note on the home page of the CentOS site, the project's founder and leader, Lance Davis, has been chronically unreachable for some time now. The programming team is worried that Lance is afraid of giving up even small modicums of control of the project, and is now avoiding the rest of the team as a way to continue keeping his name on everything. "Please do not kill CentOS through your fear of shared management of the project," the team wrote in their open letter. They also insist "CentOS is not dead or going away. The signers of the Open Letter are fully committed to continue the CentOS Project. Updates and new releases will continue." A blog post by member Dag Wieers talks a bit more about some other issues -- that of where the money raised for the project is actually going. Other projects, like Mozilla or Eclipse, are owned by a foundation and are required to declare such things as part of their charter. That's what Dag and the others seem to want: to have CentOS managed not by one person and be subject to his whims, but to allow the responsibility for and power over the project to be shared properly by those involved. The CentOS folks are distressed that they may have to fork the whole project, which (this part is my opinion) could conceivably mean losing everything from the brand recognition built up in the CentOS name to incurring ugly legal repercussions from Lance. Now, I don't think it'll come to that -- the bits in the project are going to continue in one form for another; that much is clear -- but it's sad when people who are all ostensibly supposed to be sharing a common goal are unable to speak to each other. I wish them all the best and a speedy resolution to all this. All this brings to mind a way to think about the quality of a given open source project, a way that from what I can tell doesn't get discussed as often as others. Not by the scope of the project or the size of the dev team or any of those things about the code alone, but the level of professionalism of the team involved. Such things are evident apart from the project development alone, once you go looking for them. A colleague of mine once mentioned a good way to get a handle on the character of an executive for a company is to see how he treats your receptionist when he visits your office. Such things leave you with a better feeling for the people behind the bits -- how they organize and treat themselves and each other. That also includes how they handle money (even small amounts of it), how they deal with catastrophe and hardship, and so on. Because unlike software, professionalism isn't something you can buy. It's something you have to develop in-house. InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis of the next-generation Web applications. Download the report here (registration required). Follow me and the rest of InformationWeek on Twitter.
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