This morning, The Register’s Tim Anderson published excerpts of an interview with the CentOS project’s Brian Exelbierd. Exelbierd is a member of the CentOS board and its official liaison with Red Hat.
Exelbierd spoke to Anderson to give an insider’s perspective on Red Hat’s effective termination of CentOS Linux in December, in which the open source giant announced CentOS Linux was to be deprecated immediately—with security upgrades to CentOS Linux 8 ending later in 2021 rather than the 2029 end of support date CentOS users expected.
The tail mustn’t wag the dog
“CentOS is a [Red Hat] sponsored project,” Exelbierd told the Register. “We are the funding agent (the entity which receives and disburses grants), and we also happen to be a heavy contributor. We have learned that open source communities do well with independence. We let those governing bodies govern.”
The devil in these particular details, of course, is that “the CentOS board doesn’t get to decide what Red Hat engineering teams do.” This is the contribution that Exelbierd mentioned earlier—specifically, the labor of Red Hat engineering teams. According to Exelbierd, Red Hat decided “we’re going to make some fundamental changes in how we direct our investment,” then “went to the CentOS project and said, here is a thing Red Hat is going to do.”
That thing was the cessation of Red Hat’s support for CentOS Linux while prioritizing its investment in CentOS Stream, which Exelbierd describes as “critical” to Red Hat. “We laid out our case and we said that we’re moving our engineering contribution, people time in some cases… we want to call your attention to them because depending on what you decide to do, there are potential liability issues that could result, so we want to make sure you have a plan.”
Not a sales push, Exelbierd says
Exelbierd says that short-term profits—the migration of some end users from free use of CentOS Linux to paid RHEL subscriptions—was not a key motivator for the company. He pointed out that the email address offered for those considering a switch to RHEL doesn’t go to the sales department—”it goes to me and two of my colleagues in the business unit,” he said.
Rather than a bunch of small sales, Exelbierd says looking for feedback—the sort of feedback Red Hat has not traditionally received from CentOS users, most of whom “never called, never write, they don’t interact with us.” The feedback address, he says, “is the business model. It is absolutely not a mailing list for salespeople […] nobody wants to go after the person with one server, two servers, 16 servers. There are definitely going to be some folks for whom their CentOS Linux… will become paid RHEL, absolutely. But our goal was not to sit down and make every CentOS Linux user a revenue RHEL customer.”
Regarding the quality and readiness of code in CentOS Stream, the forward-tracking rolling release CentOS has been replaced with, Exelbierd says “this stuff has been tested. It is not work in progress.” If our customers could consume change that fast, it’s what we would ship. [A] lot of CentOS Linux users [run]
yum updateevery single night… Stream’s going to do the same thing for [them]. [They’re] already leading the Stream life, in a lot of ways.”