Note: Here's what Alan passed on in response to this question. As usual, things aren't quite as simple as they first appear. -T.
Alan Cox: Probably the first thing to explain is the Red Hat kernel. That actually isn't something I am responsible for. Arjan van de Ven is the keeper of the distribution kernel, and has the unenviable task of getting a kernel together that will actually pass all the brutal QA testing. Arjan is perfectly entitled to (and sometimes does) throw out bits of -ac changes.
You'll see Red Hat patches being merged into -ac and Linus trees when appropriate, often from Arjan or Pete Zaitcev. Many of the other patches in the RH tree are considered "fixups" - they are workarounds for problems but not generalised or clean enough to feed into the main tree without further work. Others are RH specific patches for things like packaging.
With the -ac tree I try and do rapid rolling releases, sucking in new code to test it and also its interactions with other new code. By doing releases every few days I get a high number of people testing and reporting bugs before there are too many possible causes. This is how Linus trees used to work long ago, and I still think its the better technique.
At regular intervals I take stuff from the -ac tree and feed it to Linus. Sometimes Linus doesn't want to take other changes in case they confuse other things being done, sometimes they just vanish and fairly often they get applied.
I'm actually limited in the rate I can forward patches because I need to feed Linus blocks that are debuggable. Thus I don't want to feed Linus both file system and disk driver changes at once or I won't know which to blame if there are corruption reports.
I also don't feed Linus code that has active maintainers unless the maintainer has asked me to do so. Thus the USB diverges quite a lot because Johannes Erdfelt has chosen not to feed chunks of the USB and input changes on. Similarly, the user-mode-linux port in -ac has not been fed on to Linus because Jeff Dike wishes to improve it further before submitting it.
I have been concentrating on getting the driver code and some architectures synchronized with Linus, and that is now mostly done. The next big challenge is getting all the file system work on to Linus, and Al Viro has begun that and fed Linus the first blocks of the superblock handling cleanup.
Finally we have changes that are down to fundamental disagreements, perhaps in part stemming from the fact my background is real production systems rather than OS design work. Linus decided to update the 3D support without keeping back compatibility - I kept both. Linus I suspect will never accept a patch to do that. Secondly he decided that he didn't wish to allocate new device major numbers but look for a saner solution over time. Laudible, but not in the middle of a stable release. The -ac tree has drivers allocated "non-Linus" major numbers that are recognized by LANANA and thus common across vendors. These drivers like the HPT370 and Promise IDE raid will thus always be part of the -ac tree only.
The -ac tree also tries hard to avoid any incompatibilities. Having applications that require -ac or Linus trees is simply not an acceptable situation. The only specific exception for that right now for 2.4.x is deep at the system level and is for quota tools. That one was unavoidable to get 32bit uid quota working.