Drama shakes up CentOS community
Update: Slashdot is reporting that CentOS co-founder, Lance Davis has reappeared and that the domain, trademarks and artwork are now under the stewardship of the CentOS Project. Let's hope they file the proper legal forms ASAP.
For users or businesses that want to use Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) but don't feel like ponying up the required subscription fee to get the binary, CentOS has been a great option. Essentially, CentOS take the source from RHEL (which is released to the community), repackages it and offers up the binary for free to anyone who wants it. Although RHEL isn't really my favorite server-based Linux distro, one of my web servers uses CentOS, and it's a pretty decent solution.
Yesterday, some of the developers and maintainers of the CentOS project posted an open letter to Lance Davis, the co-founder of the CentOS proect.
It reads, in part:
You seem to have crawled into a hole ... and this is not acceptable.
You have long promised a statement of CentOS project funds; to this date this has not appeared.
You hold sole control of the centos.org domain with no deputy; this is not proper.
You have, it seems, sole 'Founders' rights in the IRC channels with no deputy ; this is not proper.
Please do not kill CentOS through your fear of shared management of the project.
For quite some time, it appears, Davis has been absent from meetings, unresponsive to messages and requests and just generally unavailable to the other project developers. As one of the co-signers of the letter, Tim Verhoeven points out in his own blog entry, this is problematic because not only is the centos.org domain in Davis's sole control (and he has now secured it with an anonymizing service so the owner of the domain isn't visible), the accounts from the Google AdSense ads and the PayPal accounts where donors have contributed to the project are also completely in Davis's control.
That creates a problem because money individuals think is going to help the project is really just going to one person who is doing God-only-knows-what with it.
At this point, it appears that all the developers hope that this situation with Davis can be resolved amicably, and that the project can move forward, but if this last-resort of sorts doesn't yield the proper answers, the project will have to move to another domain, potentially adopt another name and lose any funds that have already been donated to the cause.
Not only would changing names be annoying for CentOS users (who then have to decide if they want to follow the fork or not, or more than likely, convince their bosses why they need to follow the fork), the project loses out on six years of branding.
As Serdar Yegulalp from InformationWeek points out, this really highlights one biggest hurdles volunteer-based open source projects face when trying to compete against proprietary or corporate-backed open sourced projects: professionalism.
More and more businesses are migrating, or considering migrating, to free and open source solutions. These migrations are not about ideology, they are primarily motivated by cost, pure and simple. But cost is about more than just a monetary license fee. Having a stable, reliable development team (and not having key assets under the control of one person with no legal or contractual obligations to anyone else, including the users) has a cost too, and it is important to recognize those types of costs before choosing a platform or service.
This isn't to say that the CentOS team is unprofessional. I actually think being public about the matter and attempting to take control of the situation shows real integrity and maturity. Let's just hope that the future of CentOS can go into a direction that is controlled less by one person, and more under the stewardship of a foundation that offers up more transparency.