User: Password:
Subscribe / Log in / New account


News and Editorials

What is Fedora?

By Jake Edge
October 28, 2009

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 the Fedora 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 delivering too much of the time.

As an example of technical users who have moved away from Fedora, Máirín Duffy 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 to have 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 said:

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 points out:

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).

Duffy 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 distribution.

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 the design 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 please everybody.

Even determining the target user doesn't solve the underlying problems with stability, though, as Christopher Aillon points out:

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 system".

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 that had been floating around in the threads. One problem that McGrath mentioned might 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 users:

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 December.

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.

Comments (19 posted)

New Releases

Announcing the release candidate for Ubuntu 9.10

The release candidate for Ubuntu 9.10 has been announced. "The Ubuntu team is pleased to announce the Release Candidate for Ubuntu 9.10 Desktop and Server editions, Ubuntu 9.10 Server for UEC and EC2, and the Ubuntu Netbook Remix. Codenamed "Karmic Koala", 9.10 continues Ubuntu's proud tradition of integrating the latest and greatest open source technologies into a high-quality, easy-to-use Linux distribution. We consider this release candidate to be complete, stable, and suitable for testing by any user."

Full Story (comments: 2)

Distribution News


Fedora's target audience

As part of the Fedora project's continuing effort to figure out what it is really trying to do, the Fedora board has now come up with a definition of what it thinks the project's target audience is: "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." The plan is to use this definition to focus efforts, while, hopefully, not restricting developments which have appeal beyond this audience.

Full Story (comments: none)

Open-Source ATI R600/700 3D Support In Fedora 12 (Phoronix)

Phoronix reports on open source ATI R600/700 3D support under Fedora 12. Using an experimental version of the Mesa drivers, which are available in the F12 repositories, Phoronix tried Compiz as well as several 3D games, reporting on the stability and rendering along with some screen shots. "First off, we would like to note that the ATI kernel mode-setting support by default in Fedora 12 has been working quite well from our testing. Even when using a dual-link DVI monitor running at 2560 x 1600, KMS has worked and properly mode-set to the right resolution. With a variety of hardware and different monitors, it has all worked quite well from this beta installation. When installing the mesa-dri-drivers-experimental package, upon rebooting we were able to immediately enable Compiz support without any problems. Compiz was running well with no visual defects and the performance was suitable for the Linux desktop."

Comments (8 posted)

SUSE Linux and openSUSE

Announcing the Second openSUSE Board Election

An election for openSUSE board members has been announced. There are three seats that need to be filled. openSUSE members have until November 23rd to stand for election, and the voting will be held December 8-22. "This means that as of this year's election the openSUSE Board will be made up of equal numbers of Novell and non-Novell employees, 2 seats+Chairperson and 3 seats respectively. Candidates for this election will be voted in for a two (2) year term, ensuring that there is continuity within the Board."

Full Story (comments: none)

Maintenance of the upcoming openSUSE 11.2

openSUSE has announced that, starting with openSUSE 11.2, decisions about distribution updates will no longer be done in the background. Instead, a new maintenance team consisting of two Novell employees and three community members will oversee the process, but community members will be able to influence the update decisions. "This team will decide over the requests and coordinates the whole updates progress (plan the release time according to the severity, interact with the package maintainer, coordinate QA testing, ...) based on a new update policy. It guarantees the best supply with updates. [...] Only maintenance (tagged as recommended, optional, YOU) updates are affected by this change. Security updates will be provided on the old and approved way by the SUSE security team. This is the fastest and established way to react on security problems."

Full Story (comments: none)

Ubuntu family

Minutes from the Ubuntu Technical Board meeting, 2009-10-20

Minutes from the meeting of the Ubuntu Technical Board on October 20 are now available. Topics covered include a review of action items from previous meetings, the Developer Membership Board, Units policy, and EC2 image updates: "Discussion of Scott Moser's draft proposal for providing updated EC2 kernel (AKI), ramdisk (ARI) and filesystem (AMI) images on a regular basis throughout the cycle. [...] It was agreed that an update to the kernel requires all three images to be updated, and that an update to either the ramdisk or filesystem needs those two images to be updated."

Full Story (comments: none)

Distribution Newsletters

CentOS Pulse #0906

The October 22 issue of CentOS Pulse is available. It covers the release of CentOS 5.4, a Linux hacker diary, an interview with CentOS developer Tim Verhoeven, a review of the cPanel conference, and more.

Comments (none posted)

DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 326

The DistroWatch Weekly for October 26, 2009 is out. "Ah, the excitement of an Ubuntu release! Yes, "Karmic Koala", the distribution's 11th official version will hit the undoubtedly crowded download servers later this week amid the excitement of those who enjoy the popular operating system -- and also to the annoyance of some of the more vocal anti-Ubuntu crowds on Linux blogs and forums. But Ubuntu is not the only Linux distribution that gets attention in this week's DistroWatch Weekly. Our lead article is a review of GNOME SlackBuild for Slackware Linux, a third-party effort to provide quality GNOME packages for the oldest surviving Linux distro. In the news section, Mandriva finally updates the artwork in preparation for the upcoming stable release, openSUSE brings a number of interesting features to challenge the competition, and Funtoo hints at a possible new life as a "fork" of Gentoo Linux. Also not to be missed, an amusing and frightening analysis of a web site that charges US$125 to download Mozilla Firefox. Finally, check out the new section of DistroWatch Weekly where Jesse Smith attempts to answer some of the questions that our readers regularly post in the comments section. Happy reading!"

Comments (none posted)

Fedora Weekly News 199

Fedora Weekly News for the week ending October 25, 2009 is out. "Our issue kicks off this week with news from the Fedora Planet community of Fedora developers and users, including thoughts on PHP security, a new tool, rpmguard, continued work on libguestfs, and a great Fedora 12 beta roundup. From Ambassadors we have an event report on ABLEConf in Phoenix, Arizona. Much goodness from the Quality Assurance beat, with updates on this past week's two Test days, detailed weekly meetings notes, and various Fedora 12 beta-related activities. In news from Fedora's Translation team, updates on milestone for Fedora 12 translation tasks, new contributors of a couple Fedora Localization Project language teams, and details on the next FLSCo election. In Art/Design news, some icon emblem work, Fedora 12 final wallpaper polish, and details on post-beta F12 desktop look changes. Security Advisories brings us up to date on a couple security releases for Fedora 10 and 11. Our issue rounds out with the always-interesting Virtualization beat, with discussion on paravirtualization and KVMs in Fedora, installing Virtio drivers in Windows XP, and details on Fedora 12's kernel samepage merging (KSM) feature. We hope you enjoy FWN 199!"

Full Story (comments: none)

OpenSUSE Weekly News/94

This issue of openSUSE Weekly News looks at Network World podcasts with Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier, an update from the openSUSE Boosters, wrong usage of LD_LIBRARY_PATH, a Kernel Log on what's coming in 2.6.32, and more.

Comments (none posted)

Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter #165

The Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter for October 24, 2009 is out. "In this issue we cover: Release Candidate for Ubuntu 9.10 now available, October 21st America's Membership Board Meeting, Ubuntu IRC Council Elections, Keeping Ubuntu CD's Available, LoCo News, Launchpad: The next six months, Meet Matthew Revell, Launchpad offline 4:00UTC - 4:30UTC October 26th, The Planet, TurnKey: 40 Ubuntu-based virtual appliances released into the cloud, and much, much more!"

Full Story (comments: none)

Distribution reviews

Ars takes a first look under the hood of Fedora 12 (ars technica)

Over at ars technica, there is a brief review of the Fedora 12 beta. It looks specifically at virtualization features and PackageKit, but also makes mention of power management, a SystemTap-based tool called "scomes", and Moblin: "A special Moblin spin will be introduced with Fedora 12. This will allow users to install a complete Fedora installation with Intel's custom Moblin user experience. Upstream Moblin is already based on Fedora, so there is a lot of synergy between the two projects. The Fedora 12 Moblin spin isn't available yet, but users who want to get an early look can optionally install the Moblin environment in the desktop version of the Fedora 12 beta."

Comments (none posted)

Sneak Peeks at openSUSE 11.2: KDE 4.3 Experience, with Lubos Lunak

openSUSE News has a look at the upcoming 11.2 openSUSE release. It focuses on the KDE 4.3 experience in the release, and interviews KDE hacker Lubos Lunak. "There were attempts at making Qt ports of Firefox in the past, but as far as I know there has never been one that would be really usable (and with the advances of WebKit and the fact that it's shipping with Qt I don't see that happening in the future). The reason for why we could achieve something in a few days that has been missing for years is down to the fact that I aimed pretty low — this is not a port of Firefox, but it's the same Gtk-based version of Firefox, with 'if running in KDE, call this small helper app' code inserted in desktop-specific places doing most of the job. Even with this approach I think Firefox now integrates into KDE reasonably well."

Comments (none posted)

Page editor: Rebecca Sobol
Next page: Development>>

Copyright © 2009, Eklektix, Inc.
Comments and public postings are copyrighted by their creators.
Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds