09 February 2009

'Money for nothing, and the chicks for free'

The weekend started with a private email from a long time friend, wanting to rebuild a semi-FOSS mixed commercial and community project, and asking for some analysis of what such a project would entail. It turns out to be partially Debian based. We'll be talking later today on the matter to see if he needs some consulting services to get the project done.

Unrelated to that, I watch the mailing list traffic in another project, which is designed to be a short lifespan, bleeding edge 'proving grounds'. One of the perennial threads that resurfaces is a proposal to take one of the 'better' releases (under some unclear metric of 'goodness' -- time based is most often seen [consider Ubuntu's LTS every N'th release]), and for 'the community' to support it for a longer time frame.

A poster unfamiliar to me, Marc Schwartz, noted this over the weekend:
Keating quote in C|Net about the end of 'Fedora Legacy'

"Nobody has responded to our calls for help," Keating said. "There are a good number of consumers, people who will happily consume until the project ends; however they are not willing to actually do any of the work necessary to keep the project alive."

In other words, FL had a parasitic, not a symbiotic, relationship with its users.

If Scott is willing to do the heavy lifting and he has people that will step up with him to do the heavy lifting, then this project might have a chance. On the other hand, if people just want the output, but are unwilling to step up to contribute to the input, then this project, like FL will fail. It might take months, but it will fail.

At Owl River, we designed, built and offered a commercial general market product to work in parallel with our 'community side' work with first cAos, and now CentOS. Wings really never caught on, and neither did Ian Murdoch's Progeny venture, each offering commercial SLA post RHL updates offerings. Progeny closed its doors a couple years ago now, and the domain progeny.com looks to have been sold off to a domain linkfarmer.

As it turns out in our consulting, we seem to need just a few packages on top of a CentOS base, and related configuration. It is my thesis that it represents an uneconomic waste of cycles to spin yet another full blown distribution, rather than just solving the remaining ten percent of 'hard parts'. We meet our GPL obligations and our broader sense of giving back in support of FOSS by making our solution SRPM's initially built for customers freely available, and have do so for many many years.

The random drop-in posters on the mailing list, and in the CentOS IRC channel are of course whining that their free updates are slow in coming. How dare we have personal lives, take time to get married, etc.?

It takes discipline and a thick skin to NOT rush a poor product out, but the purpose of CentOS is to replicate its upstream, warts and all, with trademark elidement and the minimal stabilization to get the installer and update tool working properly with our updates mirror solution. We have other checklist items on this QA round as well, and frankly, it will ship when it ships.

For those who cannot wait: Go for it; the wiki documents a non-root build environment, and it is not a dark art to build a limited set of updates. The Source RPM's are freely available upstream. We have documented the comparison scripts long since.

You can solve the build, verification and stabilization issues just fine with just a few months work; if you start now, when the next point updates come out, you won't have to wait at all.