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DevConfCZ logo It's been about four years since it was announced that CentOS, the once-rebel Linux distribution that was a full-on, free-as-in-beer clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, was getting acqui-hired by the very company it was "competing" against.

It would be the end of CentOS, many people predicted, speculating that the hired CentOS team would be quietly redistributed to other duties and the once-mighty competitor to RHEL would vanish under the evil mechanizations of the Shadowman.

(Cue maniacal Vincent Price laughter.)

Yet, four years later, CentOS is not only still alive, it is playing a critical role in Red Hat's ecosystem, working hand-in-hand with Fedora and many other upstream projects to make all the software better.

This was the topic of today's DevConf.CZ keynote: "What Does Red Hat Want from Fedora and CentOS?"

The keynote started with a retrospective look at the impact of collaboration by Mike McGrath, Senior Manager of Global Engineering at Red Hat, focusing on, curiously, the success of Michael Jackson's 1982 hit song "Thriller."

(Cue maniacal Vincent Price laughter one more time.)

Thriller, which holds the distinction for being one of the fastest-selling records of all time, actually did not get started that way at all, McGrath told the morning crowd. Originally titled, "Moonlight," the song had the same beat and melody, but slightly different lyrics which changed the tone of the song tremendously. "Moonlight," like "Thriller," told a story of romance, but with a far lighter theme.

But, feeling something was not quite there, Jackson, Composer/Writer Rod Temperton and Producer Quincy Jones would make just a few lyric changes to create an okay song to an iconic mega-hit.

For McGrath, this kind of collaboration is exactly what he and his team want to achieve. "The best ideas come from the healthy and vibrant communities."

McGrath's introduction led well into the next element of the keynote, when Fedora Project Leader Matt Miller explained just what Fedora means to Red Hat. Chiding the conspiracy theorist out there, Miller sardonically told the audience that he would finally be revealing Red Hat's "secret agenda" for Fedora.

Fedora Exposed

Far from being radical, Red Hat's position on the Fedora distribution is very straightforward. Red Hat, Miller asserted, measure three key elements within Fedora to ensure success.

First, Fedora must make RHEL as successful as possible. Fedora's role at the upstream source for RHEL means that many elements within Fedora (though not all) will find their way into RHEL. Sometimes this is smooth, and sometimes, such as in the case of systemd, the progression is rougher.

Miller emphasized that Fedora will be a fabulous choice for RHT initiatives to incubate. But, he added, this does not always mean it is the only place.

Project Atomic, for example, started from a talk by Colin Waters on OStree and became an integral part of Fedora. Modularity, Miller added, had a rocky start but is getting better.

But OpenStack integration and software collection libraries did not work as well as expected, because Fedora's livecycle moves too fast. This is where CentOS and its slower release cycle can have an advantage.

"Open source is not always aligned with enterprise. Fedora is a good place to synchronize goals," Miller said.

Finally, Fedora will be a healthy and successful community-based Linux distribution. Beyond the need to "feed RHEL," Fedora must always stand alone as a solid and capable distribution for all to use.

CentOS Uncovered

Jim Perrin, one of the CentOS engineering managers and CentOS Board Member, chimed in that for CentOS, it was all about togetherness and inclusion, as each platform served different needs for different end-users and contributors.

"This is about a spectrum. An innovative rapid-pace is at the Fedora end. A stable pace is at the other end with CentOS," Perrin said.

And he and his project will play to their strengths. CentOS started as a sysadmin-oriented community, Perrin explained, so they can lend that expertise to Red Hat by uniting a community continuous integration platform for CentOS and Fedora to use. The CentOS team is also working to get CentOS and Fedora on the same documentation toolchain, to streamline that process too.

Perrin was able to add even more clarification answering a question from the audience about whether CentOS was the upstream or downstream of RHEL.

"Both," Perrin replied. "We're a feedback loop, here to provide innovation for complex platforms like RDO and oVirt."

About the author

Brian Proffitt is a Manager within Red Hat's Open Source Program Office, focusing on content generation, community metrics, and special projects. Brian's experience with community management includes knowledge of community onboarding, community health, and business alignment. Prior to joining Red Hat in 2014, he was a technology journalist with a focus on Linux and open source, and the author of 22 consumer technology books.