We briefly looked in on the
discussion on defining the Fedora project a few weeks back. Since that
time, there has been more discussion—not surprising—but also
a bit more clarity on exactly what needs to be defined. While it may seem
like an unnecessary, abstract exercise to some, it is clear from the
discussion that there are some in the community who are directly impacted
by the lack of a good shared vision of "what is Fedora?", or, perhaps more
accurately: "who are Fedora's target users?".
There are a number of issues that are swirling around in the threads on the
fedora-advisory-board mailing list. In general, there is dissatisfaction
among users of Fedora, even highly technical users, because of the rapid,
often not very exhaustively tested upgrades that are part-and-parcel of
experience. Fedora has a commitment to providing "leading edge" software
to its users, but, to many users, leading edge does not equate to
non-functional or hard-to-use. Unfortunately, that is what Fedora is
much of the time.
As an example of technical users who have moved away from Fedora,
quotes a user who contacted her off-list.
The user has multiple clients, most of whom are quite technical as well,
but have moved from Fedora to other distributions over the last two years
or so. Upgrade instability is a major reason:
One particular quote she gave me that I'd like to share:
"Fedora boasts of an "innovation" target audience but is falling down in
the two areas real world (excepting perhaps games and CGI)
high-innovation users demand: stable upgrades and consistent usability.
I believe if your group can wrestle these back under control the distro
numbers would increase dramatically."
In summary, having technical users as a target isn't a good excuse for
instability and complexity.
But, there is a tension between the goal of providing the "latest and
greatest" and the goal of providing something that is consistently usable.
Seth Vidal, sums it up this way:
"And this is the crux of our problem: fedora is for latest
leading-edge pkgs. It's not easy or reasonable
the latest of things AND have a stable interface for them." The
sense from the discussion, though, is that Fedora may have gone too far in
the "bleeding edge" direction and that being a bit more cautious with
which software versions are delivered is warranted. Bill Nottingham
sees the need for a balance:
We want to present the newest innovations to users, but not so new that
they don't work. And we want to be focused on making it just work, so they
don't have to run 500 arcane commands, cut and paste config snippets from
the web, or jump through other hoops just to use that innovation. Nor
do we want to be pushing new innovation to them so fast that they
can't keep up with it, or find that their way of doing things changes
from week to week during a release.
Mike McGrath brought up a subject that was
clearly an undercurrent in the discussion, which he described as "the
elephant in the room": Ubuntu.
There is a sense that Fedora users, and potential users, are
moving to, or starting out with, Ubuntu. There are good reasons for that, he
The problem? They are KILLING us. I'm not talking about market share,
I'm talking about my recent converts from Fedora to Ubuntu. I haven't had
to do a single thing to my wife's computer since I put Ubuntu on there
except setup my printer. With Fedora I was on it almost daily.
Targeting new users is quite different than targeting new technology,
though. There is a real question whether Fedora can do both. There are
lessons to be learned from Ubuntu, however, as William Jon McCann
Might be worth considering how
Ubuntu was largely borne out of the failures of Fedora. What are they
doing right? What are we doing wrong? How can we improve? There is
very little time to continue to be defensive. It is time to confront
the brutal facts - we're losing (badly).
finds something of a middle ground:
We don't need to target Ubuntu's user base in order to produce something
excellent, something polished, something that is delightful to use and
makes people's lives easier, something that impresses them such that
they care about how it was made.
There is a fairly clear split in the Fedora community about where to focus
the project's efforts. There are some who would like to see Fedora make
the effort to stabilize to the point where attracting new, non-technical
users would be possible. Whereas others see that as largely impossible
while upholding the "innovation" that has been the hallmark of the
That split makes life difficult when folks try to determine a
direction to take or how to prioritize their work. Duffy, who does much of
work for Fedora, describes the split and its effect on her work:
The 2 views as I would summarize them are:
- Fedora is a beautiful, usable desktop for everyone (or at least, we're
getting there.) Pandas are okay! We're ready to push to the masses.
- Fedora is a menagerie of equal spins for highly-technical folks and
FOSS developers. Don't you dare insult our intelligence with pandas. Go
back to Sesame street.
[...] The main issue from a design perspective is that if no target is
defined, then the target becomes 'everybody' - and I personally feel
it's impossible to make a top-notch, beautiful design when trying to
Even determining the target user doesn't solve the underlying problems with
stability, though, as
If we want to target Fedora for any class of user, we need to think and
act for the user. Right now, we're clearly not even acting for the
people that do use our distribution. I think we should fix that before
we can even begin to define what our target user should be.
The discussion, and the perceived need for a more stable system, led
McGrath to make a
"Desktop proposal". In it, he outlines the
problems along with some potential solutions. As part of that, he would
like see a new mission added to the "Fedora
Mission": "Produce a usable, general purpose desktop operating
Putting "desktop", or even "operating system", into the mission didn't sit
well with some, but the ideas in McGrath's proposal were largely met
with approval. In many ways, he captured some of the thoughts
had been floating around in the threads. One problem that McGrath
be helped by Jesse Keating's idea for "No Frozen Rawhide" (as it has come to be called):
I plan to make rawhide more unstable more
of the time, and I plan to make "rawhide" more stable more of the time.
Crazy eh? How can I do this? By splitting "rawhide" in two.
The Fedora board took up the question of defining target users for Fedora
in its October 22 meeting. Project leader
Paul Frields reported on the
meeting at some length, noting that the No Frozen Rawhide (or "unfrozen
rawhide") proposal was looked at favorably. There was also discussion of
how to ensure that updates are smoother for users. But the main point that
came out of the meeting was a preliminary definition of Fedora's target
We found four defining characteristics that we
believe best describe the Fedora distribution's target audience:
Someone who (1) is voluntarily switching to Linux, (2) is familiar
with computers, but is not necessarily a hacker or developer, (3) is
likely to collaborate in some fashion when something's wrong with
Fedora, and (4) wants to use Fedora for general productivity, either
using desktop applications or a Web browser.
Much of what the board discussed will also be hashed out face-to-face at
the Fedora Users and Developers Conference (FUDCon) in Toronto in early
The Fedora project is at a bit of a crossroads right now, but the project
seems to be taking the right steps to determine which direction to take.
Unlike other distributions, Fedora tends to have these conversations in
public, which allows others to observe and learn from the process. While
that may make some uncomfortable, it should make for a healthier community
overall. In the end, community is really what Fedora is striving for, and
an OS is just a means to that end.
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