Writing honestly about Linux distributions is not a way to become popular or make friends. When a given distribution, any distribution, has problems and a reporter writes about it there are always fans who will circle the wagons and/or go on the attack. I am very used to that by now. It's no surprise at all that has happened with a few CentOS loyalists. What is surprising is that it is continuing more than two weeks after I last wrote about the subject. Ken Leyba's post on the Cooking With Linux blog gets things seriously wrong on a number of levels.
A netbook is nothing more than a small notebook. Mr. Leyba is completely off base when he claims otherwise. Machines like this have been used in business for about forever. I remember the CEO and other senior execs of a company I supported when I contracted to IBM Global Services using the itty bitty Toshiba Libretto with a 7" screen for travel back in 1999. Nothing has changed all that much other than the fact that you no longer pay a premium for tiny and that has helped make small machines popular. Linux makes them more productive.
Enterprise Linux is marketed for the desktop. To claim that CentOS, an EL clone, is only for servers and that my experiment was somehow invalid because it was done on a desktop/notebook/netbook is patently ridiculous. When I was consulting for Red Hat in 2004-2005 I visited a number of companies that were and undoubtedly still are using Red Hat Enterprise Linux on desktops, workstations, and yes, on laptops. Those enterprise customers would have considered a failure to deliver a Firefox patch that closed a number of critical security vulnerabilities to be a serious problem. The idea that a Firefox patch is irrelevant on an enterprise distribution as some have claimed is simply preposterous.
CentOS has to prove they can get patches out on a timely basis to be taken seriously as an enterprise product. Their track record in that area over the past year has been atrocious. It wasn't one Firefox package. It was a year of things arriving late, sometimes months late.
The response from CentOS developers to the security issue in the comments of my business-centric article for O'Reilly Broadcast on the subject was actually spot on:
"Your point about the security updates is well founded, we try a lot harder to make sure we get things right and we have a much more involved process to establish when the 'right' is. An easy way to work through this would be if Red Hat were to share more info with us. Not sure if that is likely to happen and what the timeframe for that would be, but over the course of the next few months we hope to have a more transparent process in place that lets users track exactly what is going on, where and how."When patches are a few days late it can, indeed, have something to do with the upstream vendor. When they are two months late that seems entirely unlikely. The fact that a member of the CentOS development team is owning the problem making a commitment to "get things right" in the future is a very positive step.
My complaints about the dependency on third party repositories and the lack of packages in general is an issue that is hardly unique to CentOS. I raised the same issue when I reviewed Slackeare 12.1 last year. It's a significant issue for any desktop/laptop user, not just on netbooks. The need to go to third parties for packages to adequately support newer hardware isn't netbook specific either.
I also feel that the issues around the open letter to Lance Davis called into question how that distro is being managed. Yes, it was blown way out of proportion by the tech media and I said as much in my O'Reilly Broadcast article. That one issue may well have been solved and I certainly bear the CentOS devs no ill will. That doesn't change the fact that Scientific Linux has done a better job with getting patches out on a timely basis. It is not dependent on a few volunteers and has the backing of and funding from major laboratories and universities all over the world. From a business perspective that makes Scientific Linux a safer choice for an Enterprise Linux clone.
The attempt to replicate my business environment on my netbook was a valid experiment. I thought other Linux users, those who think highly of Red Hat Enterprise Linux as I do, might want to do the same. The original DistroWatch Weekly feature article documented the difficulties in doing so. The post here which Mr. Leyba responded to was the fourth of five if you include the original DistroWatch piece and the business-centric O'Reilly piece. Considering that I linked back to the preceding articles should be a very clear message that the one post shouldn't be taken out of context but as part of a larger whole. In any case it wasn't a "rant" against CentOS as Mr. Leyba claims, but rather it tied the proverbial ribbons on the end of my experiment and explained why I decided the whole thing was more trouble than it was worth.
I did make a mistake in putting issues regarding servers and desktop-specific issues in one blog post. While many of the issues involved impact both areas the fact that I did not make a clear enough delineation between the two almost certainly generated misunderstanding. In that sense I did fail to communicate clearly. Mea culpa.
It's important to note that the experiment really wasn't a total failure. In the end I did get the netbook hardware to be 100% functional running CentOS. I also managed to improve performance significantly. What I also did was document the difficulties involved. I don't think there was anything wrong with doing so.
Mr. Leyba has shown integrity by allowing me to respond to him and to his readers directly on the Cooking With Linux blog. I do appreciate that and I will certainly afford him the same opportunity if he wishes to comment.
I thought I had put this issue to bed and moved on a couple of weeks ago. Clearly some people had other ideas. That's perfectly fine. In the final analysis nothing has really changed. I stand by all the pieces I wrote on the subject of CentOS. I'm using Scientific Linux instead and that will continue to be my recommendation for anyone who wants a no cost, no support Enterprise Linux clone either in the server room or on the desktop.