In the first half of 2010, openSUSE tried to find its identity. Who is the
target user? What are the long-term goals of the distribution? What is its
unique selling point? The openSUSE Board ran a survey,
held a series of strategy sessions on IRC, and had a strategy meeting in Nuremberg. This resulted in three possible strategies, which were discussed publicly. But at the beginning of September, openSUSE's new community manager Jos Poortvliet admitted that the whole process hasn't been a big success.
The openSUSE community didn't go through all this just because they felt
the need for some introspection. You can't be the best everywhere, so if
you want to be successful, you need to choose your focus. By searching for
its identity, openSUSE can find its strengths and build upon them to
maximize its competitive advantages. Ultimately, with a better
understanding of its identity, the distribution should be able to attract
more users and developers. More information about the motivations behind
the search for an identity and a strategy can be found in our previous coverage of the process.
To reiterate: the openSUSE Strategy Meeting on the last weekend of May resulted in three possible strategies:
- openSUSE the home for developers (distro, tools, apps)
- openSUSE the base for derivatives of any kind (e.g. openSUSE Education, openSUSE XYZ)
- openSUSE for the mobile world (be the glue between mobile services (clouds) and mobile consumers)
Back in June, one of the commenters on the wrap-up blog post made the
valid observation that these proposals were either too specific or too
generic. When the complete strategy proposals were published
mid-June, another commenter exaggerated somewhat but nonetheless had a kernel of truth:
The task was to answer the question "Why openSUSE?", to get some direction and focus and perhaps even create some form of mission statement. And what you come up with is to focus on the narrowest of narrow niches, which will make openSUSE irrelevant to 95% of people, including alienating most existing users.
In the general feedback on the discussion, the same concern was voiced by several people: these strategies were too specific, with the risk of losing a number of users for which a newly focused openSUSE doesn't offer an interesting solution anymore.
The initial strategy proposals
So let's look at these strategy proposals and how they have been received. The first one is the home for developers. With this proposal, openSUSE would deliver an integrated platform for developers of all sorts, e.g. web developers, system developers, Qt/GTK developers, Android/MeeGo/WebOS developers, and so on. This would be done by delivering an out-of-the-box experience for all popular open source IDEs and integration of related tools, including deployment tools such as the openSUSE Build Service and SUSE Studio.
This proposal was discussed on the opensuse-project mailing list and on the openSUSE forum. For example, Guido Berhoerster commented:
While I don't consider any of the three proposals "niche cases" they inevitably imply specialization and this in turn has the potential to alienate both existing and potential new contributors and users.
The second proposal is the base for derivatives. With this proposal, openSUSE would focus on delivering a high-quality, long-term supported (LTS) core distribution, with tools and infrastructure to easily build derivative distributions on top of it. Tools like the openSUSE Build Service, the KIWI image system, and SUSE Studio can be used then to build spin-offs.
This proposal was also discussed on opensuse-project and on the forum. Martin Schlander made some critical remarks: derivative makers will not ask "What can I do for openSUSE?" but "What can openSUSE do for me?" and a successful spin-off will receive all the attention instead of openSUSE. His conclusion: "Being a good base for derivatives might be a good sub-strategy, but it's not a good main focus for the project."
The third proposal is the mobile and cloud ready distribution. This is an innovative vision where openSUSE would not only embrace mobile and social network services and integrate these with the Linux desktop, but also deliver a server solution to host these services, to be less dependent on companies like Google. OpenSUSE would collaborate with Android, MeeGo and WebOS to create integrated development tools for mobile platforms, and ship tools like ownCloud and Etherpad.
Once again, the proposal was discussed on opensuse-project
and on the forum. Jan
Engelhardt correctly pointed out that there are already enough other distributions to fill this area, so it would become difficult to have a unique selling point.
Additional strategy proposals
During the discussion of the strategy proposals, some community members presented their own proposals, and some of these were picked up by the openSUSE board and presented for discussion. The first one was not that surprising: openSUSE as the number 1 KDE distribution, which targets essentially what openSUSE already is, but will customize, fine-tune, and polish the KDE technology in the distribution.
Although this proposal sounds reasonable, Jos Poortvliet argued
on his blog that it didn't make much sense as a strategy. By choosing KDE,
this proposal focuses on a solution instead of a goal. Moreover, it's too
specific: most users are not interested in the technology but in the result. And last but not least, Jos warned that openSUSE could lose all non-KDE contributors.
Another new proposal was about openSUSE for the
productive poweruser, summarized as "We cannot compete with
Ubuntu for the übernoob segment, and we shouldn't compete with Fedora
on being experimental bleeding edge - instead we should pick the middle
ground." Another proposal is that openSUSE should become a reference
platform as a base for more specific distributions (which sounds a lot
like the derivatives proposal), and a last proposal, made by Jan
Engelhardt, is for the status quo: quantify what openSUSE tried to do in the past and do it better.
A fresh start
The additional strategy proposals are clearly less focused and also more in line with what openSUSE is now. So it's natural to ask: aren't the openSUSE users just happy with openSUSE as it is now? Last week, Jos Poortvliet wrote a strategy statement on the openSUSE blog where he admitted that the discussion had derailed:
Over the last weeks there has been a lot of discussion, both internally and externally, about the strategies which have been proposed. However, we also missed a lot of voices from our community. We take responsibility for leaving many of you behind by focusing on a very corporate-management solution to the initial question which prompted this process. A question we think still is relevant: The identity of openSUSE both as a Community and as a Project.
Jos explained that the openSUSE strategy team would like to go back to
the start and focus on describing what openSUSE is, as a community, instead of finding new directions. The plan is to highlight the "story" behind openSUSE, to identify who are the target users and what openSUSE offers to them, and to "connect it with the issues that matter most to our community".
In an email interview, Jos explained what he means with that last sentence:
We want to make sure the new description of openSUSE is wide and can get everyone enthusiastic instead of defining a narrow direction for the future of openSUSE. It also has to be current and at least to some extent forward looking - just not as much as the initial strategies did.
The openSUSE community manager also admitted that the strategy team forgot the initial question ("Why choose openSUSE?") and moved into a direction that was too abstract for the openSUSE users:
Some have (maybe rightfully so) questioned that direction and even the term 'strategy' in the first place. It was a bit high and mighty for many in the community, most of which are down-to-earth engineers after all. We lost many community members somewhere in the first few paragraphs of the extensive 'strategy' documentation on the wiki... Still the initial question remained valid: what is unique about openSUSE, both as a community and as a product? So we had some discussions about this and I urged the team to try and go back to the basic questions - just trying to explain what makes openSUSE different.
The fresh start of the strategy discussion doesn't mean that all those
discussions were in vain. The openSUSE project has learned a lot in the
meantime and has received a lot of constructive criticism. For example,
back in June, Guido Berhoerster made a suggestion to re-use the discussion material:
Although I agree there has to be some direction for the whole openSUSE project, this should IMO be kept much more general. I'd rather propose that such strategies should be adopted by respective teams diving the given objectives, i.e. the KDE team could adopt the "KDE#1" strategy, the Mobile team could adopt the "Mobile and cloud ready" strategy etc. The strategy for the whole project should then be rather general and encompassing superset of these.
In any case, the strategy team will, based on the input from all those
discussions and many private chats the team had over the last months,
create a new document with a much simpler scope: describe what openSUSE
is. The team will put that description up for discussion in segments over
the coming weeks, take the input from the community into consideration, and
present a unified version at the openSUSE conference in October, where it will be refined. Jos thinks that the strategy team will get it right this time:
It might not be as ambitious but it will fit with what the community wants and needs. From the draft document we now have and the feedback I've gotten over the last few weeks, I feel we have something which is actually quite pronounced and powerful. OpenSUSE has a reputation of offering a stable base ("German engineering") and offering choice and flexibility (e.g. through the openSUSE Build Service0. I think these features are worthy of a professional, powerful solution for people who need to get work done. I think that's all the identity we need, and combined with the great technology we have (OBS not being the least of that) we've got a distribution to aspire to.
OpenSUSE is not the only distribution that is struggling with its
identity. Even Fedora, which is known for its "bleeding edge" approach, is
still not entirely sure of
who its users are or how to deliver what those users want. In contrast,
Ubuntu doesn't seem to suffer from this problem, probably because it has a benevolent dictator who chooses the direction for the distribution. However, it's interesting to note that Debian also doesn't seem to struggle that much, even though the distribution doesn't have a clear identity, nor a benevolent dictator or a corporate sponsor.
While openSUSE's search for a strategy has derailed, it's not fair to
call it a failure. As part of the process, the strategy team has received a
lot of input from the community. Maybe the most important input was that a
community isn't interested in bureaucratic concepts like strategies and
SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analyses. With
luck, the strategy team will get it right this time and come up with an identity description its community can identify with.
Comments (9 posted)
The third update for the MeeGo v1.0 Core Software Platform & Netbook
User Experience is available. "This update has 60 bug fixes and is recommended for all users running MeeGo 1.0 for Netbooks.
Full Story (comments: none)
Debian project leader Stefano Zacchiroli has proposed a general resolution
which would cause the project to recognize non-packaging contributors as
Debian developers for the first time. "The Debian project
acknowledges that: [...] Active contributors of non-packaging work, which
share Debian values and are ready to uphold Debian Foundation Documents,
deserve the opportunity for becoming Debian project members.
Full Story (comments: 1)
Gunnar Wolf has an update from Debian's keyring maintenance team. PGP (v3)
keys are gone and the team is pushing for even stronger keys.
Full Story (comments: none)
Debian's publicity team is alive and active. "In many ways Debian is
the _how_ of Free Software, not just the _why_. Debian Publicity hopes to
demonstrate the practical aspects of Free Software, how a large disparate
community can work together motivated by a common cause. Debian is a
project with many voices, and the Debian Publicity Team hopes to provide a
channel for those voices: we help you to get your message out to many
Full Story (comments: none)
The meeting summary from the September 14 FESCO meeting (click below)
states that the project has decided to ship Fedora 14 with upstart,
giving systemd one more development cycle to stabilize. The discussion
went on for quite some time, and seemingly could have gone either way; in
the end, they converged on pushing it back to F15. "<mjg59>
Lennart's sufficiently stoic to cope
Full Story (comments: 136)
Paul Frields has an update about the FUDCon in Tempe, AZ (January 29-31,
2011). Included is information about lodging, pre-registration, subsidies,
and technical sessions and hackfests.
Full Story (comments: none)
Máirín Duffy has a summary
of both the
September 3rd meeting and the September 8th meeting of the Fedora Board.
Máirín has also posted recaps of the meetings held on September 8 and September 13.
Comments (none posted)
The distribution formerly known as sidux
aptosid opens its gates to continue the distribution previously known as
"sidux", created by the same team of volunteers developing software under
the Debian Free Software Guidelines. A seamless crossgrade path from sidux
to aptosid will be provided until the end of 2010. However a quick change
is suggested because of potential issues outside of our influence.
The first release of aptosid, v2010-02
LWN last covered sidux in December 2009.
Comments (1 posted)
The OpenIndiana distribution of OpenSolaris has announced
. "Lastly, we intend to enhance the OpenSolaris
operating system's ease of use, such that Linux users can make the
transition with as little pain as possible. Key examples of how we intend
to do this include making far more free and open source software available
for our distribution, working with 3rd party software projects so they
compile out of the box on Solaris, and providing excellent, easy to
understand documentation. We also believe OpenSolaris excels as a server
platform, with enterprise features found in no other operating system, such
as the ZFS filesystem, Zones, the Service Management Framework, the Fault
Management system, the COMSTAR iSCSI/FCoE framework, and the Crossbow
virtualised network stack. Combined with bug and security fixes, our stable
branch will provide one of the best free server operating systems available
on the market.
Comments (3 posted)
Newsletters and articles of interest
Comments (none posted)
Over at LinuxPlanet, Sean Michael Kerner talks with Canonical CTO Matt Zimmerman
about the tools and processes used to work with the globally distributed Canonical team. "While Zimmerman noted that he does get together face-to-face fairly regularly with his staff once a quarter, facilitating regular interaction requires a long list of common tools. For instance, Zimmerman said that Canonical engineers do a lot of work through IRC , wikis and teleconferences. The team also uses the open source Gobby tool for collaborative editing and Mumble for voice chatrooms.
'Mumble is sort of like IRC for voice,' Zimmerman said. 'You have a set of channels and then people come and go from one channel to another and whatever channel you're in, there is live voice between the people that are in the room.'
Comments (10 posted)
Mark Shuttleworth responds to
of Canonical's (and Ubuntu's) contributions to free
software. "When Ubuntu was conceived, the Linux ecosystem was in a sense fully formed. We had a kernel. We had GNOME and KDE. We had X and libc and GCC and all the other familiar tools. Sure they had bugs and they had shortcomings and they had roadmaps to address them. But there was something missing: sometimes it got articulated as "marketing", sometimes as "end-user focus". I remember thinking "that's what I could bring". So Ubuntu, and Canonical, have quite explicitly NOT put effort into things which are obviously working quite well, instead, we've tried to focus on new ideas and new tools and new components. I see that as an invigorating contribution to the broader open source ecosystem, and I hear from many people that they perceive it the same way. Those who say "but Canonical doesn't do X" may be right, but that misses all the things we do, which weren't on the map beforehand. Of course, there's little that we do exclusively, and little that we do that others couldn't if they made that their mission, but I think the passion of the Ubuntu community, and the enthusiasm of its users, reflects the fact that there is something definitively new and distinctive about the project. That's something to celebrate, something to be proud of, and something to motivate us to continue.
Comments (90 posted)
Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier takes a
at Linux Mint Debian. "Right now the only edition for LMD is a 32-bit GNOME release. KDE and other desktops, and 64-bit editions, are on hold pending the success (or not) of the first release. With any luck, this will be a long-term effort from the Linux Mint project, and we'll see 64-bit and more soon. It offers a more polished experience while still leaving a direct link to the Debian project. The Mint folks are still sorting out bug reporting, etc., but it'd be fantastic if Mint encouraged more people to become directly involved in Debian (and Mint) through this edition.
Comments (none posted)
Bruno Cornec worries
about the future
of Mandriva Linux. "So it seems to me after looking at all these recent events that the orientation that will be taken is to favour the activity of software selling to the detriment of the Open Source activities. Anyway, without Olivier, Anne, Fred, Nicolas, our brasilian friends of cooker, and all the people who have recently left, I have no hope that the new Mandriva firm will be interested in maintaining a distribution anymore when so many people are leaving.
Comments (none posted)
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