commentary, supply chain

An Open Letter to Docker About Moby

Congratulations, Docker. You’ve taken the advice of many and gone down the path of Fedora / RHEL. Welcome to the world of upstream/downstream product management, with community participation a core component of supply chain management. You’ve also unleashed a clever governance hack that cements your container technology as the property of Docker, rather than let other vendors define it as an upstream technology for everyone. Much like Red Hat used Fedora to stake its claim as owner of an upstream community. I’ll bet the response to this was super positive, and everyone understood your intent perfectly! Oh…

So yes, the comparison to Fedora/RHEL is spot on, but you should also remember something from that experiment: at first, everyone *hated* it. The general take from the extended Linux community at the time was that Red Hat was abandoning community Linux in an effort to become “the Microsoft of Linux”. Remember, this level of dissatisfaction is why CentOS exists today. And the Fedora community rollout didn’t exactly win any awards for precise execution. At first, there was “Fedora Core”, and it was quite limited and not a smashing success. This was one of the reasons that Ubuntu became as successful as it did, because they were able to capitalize on the suboptimal Fedora introduction. Over time, however, Red Hat continued to invest in Fedora as a strategic community brand, and it became a valuable staging ground for leading edge technologies from the upstream open source world, much like Moby could be a staging area for Docker.

But here’s the thing, Docker: you need to learn from previous mistakes and get this right. By waiting so long to make this move, you’ve increased the level of risk you’re taking on, which could have been avoided. If you get it wrong, you’re going to see a lot of community pressure to fork Moby or Docker and create another community distribution outside of your sphere of influence. The Fedora effort frittered away a lot of good will from the Linux community by not creating an easy to use, out of the box distribution at first. And the energy from that disenchantment went to Ubuntu, leaving Fedora in a position to play catchup. That Red Hat was able to recover and build a substantial base of RHEL customers is a testament to their ability to execute on product management. However, Ubuntu was able to become the de facto developer platform for the cloud by capitalizing on Fedora’s missteps, putting them on the inside track for new cloud, IoT, and container technologies over the years. My point is this: missteps in either strategy and execution have a large and lasting impact.

So listen up, Docker. You need to dedicate tremendous resources right now to the Moby effort to make sure that it’s easy to use, navigate, and most importantly, ensure that your community understands its purpose. Secondly, and almost as importantly, you need to clearly communicate your intent around Docker CE and EE. There is no room for confusion around the difference between Moby and Docker *E. Don’t be surprised if you see a CentOS equivalent to Docker CE and/or EE soon, even though you’re probably trying to prevent that with a freely available commercial offering. Don’t worry, it will only prove your model, not undermine it, because no one can do Docker better than Docker. Take that last bit to heart, because far too many companies have failed because they feared the success of their free stuff. In this case, that would be a colossal unforced error.


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