UMTS to the rescue, Red Hat only seconds behind
When I installed CentOS 5.2 on my Thinkpad X200s only to discover that neither my onboard ethernet (e1000e), nor my onboard wireless (iwlagn) was supported by CentOS 5.2's 2.6.18 kernel, I managed to manually configure my Bluetooth UMTS connection to my cellphone to fix my connectivity problems and get back in business in no time.
Funny how the newest technology (UMTS) apparently is better supported by older kernels than ethernet or wireless (ieee 802.11) technologies.
I was also pleasantly surprised that the newer RHEL 5.3 Beta kernels (also 2.6.18) had no issues with those very recent e1000e and iwlagn drivers. Red Hat spent the effort to backport those drivers from 2.6.25+ kernels to a 2-year old kernel they will support for the next 5 years ! Only tens of seconds and a reboot later I was running the newer kernel (2.6.18-128.el5).
When I wrote my Ubuntu's need to catch a wave article, this was exactly what I had in mind. Red Hat actively backports functionality and drivers to stable kernels. They have done this the past 6 years in increasing volumes. And that is a huge effort which requires considerable resources, resources that Canonical simply does not employ (yet) and has not proven to be capable of doing for Ubuntu LTS. As an Ubuntu LTS user with newer hardware, you are forced to use a bleeding-edge Ubuntu release and upgrade every 6 months until the next LTS release that works. So Mark does have the advantage if the Enterprise kernels and software stacks would be aligned between distributions.
And this also proofs that Red Hat is very much interested in the Linux desktop, despite what is often stated to the contrary. The iwlagn driver is not something you find in datacenters, still the whole shiny mac80211 infrastructure was backported to support this device (together with a whole bunch of others) to the 2 year old kernel.
Even though Red Hat is not targeting the consumer desktop market with RHEL directly (a good way to burn through your money quickly!), they are focusing on the Enterprise desktop and Enterprise workstation functionality, and that is where those drivers come into play. A very recent Gnome may not be that important to businesses (hey, I manage to do fine with Gnome 2.16 for my day to day work) but not being able to run RHEL5 on current Enterprise hardware is a very big concern.
So yes, Red Hat has its own motives for Linux on the (Enterprise) desktop and CentOS users benefit from that equally. CentOS 5.3 will have a whole slew of newly supported hardware together with the trusted and stable environment you are already using: Thanks to RHEL 5.3 and Red Hat's effort!
A happy new year, indeed :-D