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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
New ReleasesThis update has 60 bug fixes and is recommended for all users running MeeGo 1.0 for Netbooks."
Debian GNU/LinuxThe 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." 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 people."
Fedora<mjg59> Lennart's sufficiently stoic to cope." summary of both the September 3rd meeting and the September 8th meeting of the Fedora Board.
New Distributionssidux has changed its name to aptosid. "Today 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 is available.
LWN last covered sidux in December 2009.announced its existence. "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."
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