After a long period of discussion and deliberation, the Fedora project has started to put together concrete answers to the questions that have been swirling within that community: "What is Fedora?" and "Who is Fedora for?". The Fedora engineering steering committee (FESCo) recently approved a policy on updates that will govern how package updates are applied to the various Fedora branches, while the Fedora board has come up with a "vision statement". Both of those will help answer the questions, but they aren't complete answers, at least yet, and meanwhile there are other community members, like Mike McGrath, who are proposing major shifts in the direction of the project.
The vision statement is meant to serve as an overall guide to what Fedora is and why it exists in a single sentence. Obviously it isn't a manifesto, but is, instead, a succinct guide that can be used at a high level to decide what fits for the project—as well as what doesn't. The final draft was presented by Fedora project leader Jared Smith for comments in advance of a board meeting to discuss it, which was held on October 1. Some wordsmithing was done to the draft at that meeting, which resulted in:
That wording was adopted at the October 4 board meeting, and the the project is still putting together some background and rationale statements to go along with it. The next step, according to Máirín Duffy's meeting summaries for the September 27 and October 1 board meetings, is to come up with tangible goals for specific special interest groups (SIGs) and teams within the project that are based on the vision. In addition, the board will set high-level priorities that FESCo and others can use to set their own goals. Based on that, the vision statement will be used to make each Fedora release more focused than we have seen in the past, with the board and other leaders trying to shape the efforts of Fedora volunteers into a more cohesive whole.
Once the release is made, the update policy will kick in to try to calm the flood of updates that tend to follow any release. In particular:
This necessarily means that stable releases will not closely track the very latest upstream code for all packages. We have rawhide for that.
That stands in sharp contrast to some of the updates that have been pushed in the past (e.g. KDE) just to provide additional features. Security updates are handled somewhat differently, particularly for packages where upstream doesn't provide a backport and it would be "impractical" for the package maintainer to make that change. In that case, subject to the judgement of FESCo and the maintainer, it may make sense to move forward to a new release that is supported by upstream.
In addition to the overall philosophy that is meant to slow down the updates train, there are more stringent requirements for critical path packages. Those are the packages that are considered essential functionality without which the system is unusable. That includes various system-level packages (kernel, init system, X server, etc.), but has been augmented by the updates policy to include things like desktop environments, important desktop applications (Firefox, Konqueror, Evolution, Thunderbird, etc.), and the package updating tools (PackageKit and friends). In order to push out an update to any of those packages, even for a security update, it requires a two or higher "karma" sum in Bodhi, and one of the positive votes must come from a proven tester.
For updates that do not affect the critical path, the requirements are relaxed somewhat. Those updates can either pass the criteria for the critical path, reach a (presumably lower) karma threshold specified by the maintainer, or spend at least a week in the updates-testing branch. But, once again, it is stressed that the changes should not affect the ABI/API or user experience "if at all possible".
McGrath's proposal is to shift Fedora from a packaging organization into more of a development organization, with a focus on providing open source "cloud" applications and services. While it fits in just fine with the vision statement, it is a radical departure from what most folks think of as Fedora. The reaction on the fedora-advisory-board mailing list has been, not surprisingly, mixed. Some community members are excited about a shift in that direction, while others are less so.
There is a real question, though, how Fedora would go about making this change, even if the board and community were completely behind it. As Jesse Keating points out:
Keating is concerned that McGrath's proposal will be "another drive-by 'hey, we should be doing THIS thing over here, somebody should look into that.'" But McGrath sees it as a bigger project, that might involve other organizations, so it is something that the board would have to facilitate:
Free (as in freedom) cloud services have been on the minds of lots of FOSS advocates lately. Many folks are increasingly locking their data up in proprietary web applications, at least partially because there are no alternatives. It may be too late to disconnect the general public from services like Facebook, but even the staunchest free software advocate would be hard-pressed to point to a free, working alternative. If no one in the FOSS world starts working on cloud applications, we will remain stuck in that uncomfortable position.
There are hopes that things like Diaspora will fill the role of Facebook for privacy and freedom-conscious users and there are some other nascent efforts to fill in other holes, but there isn't, yet, any umbrella project that is looking at the whole picture. That is what McGrath would like to see Fedora evolve into. It seems like that may be a hard sell for the Fedora community (and its sponsor Red Hat), but it would be a very valuable project for some new or existing FOSS organization to take on.
While it may seem rather late for Fedora to be hashing these things out (after 13, nearly 14, separate releases over seven years), it is a sign that the distribution has reached a critical mass. Over the last year or two, there have been various factions pulling Fedora in different directions, and without much guidance from the board or FESCo. Those competing interests have finally caused the project to really consider its focus and direction. There are undoubtedly those who will be unhappy with the update policy, possibly to the point of leaving the project, but for those that remain, it should make it a friendlier, and easier, place to work.
Debian GNU/Linuxlenny-backports-sloppy will please the group that is happy to upgrade from lenny + lenny-backports to squeeze + squeeze-backports. lenny-backports is meant only for packages from squeeze, even after the release. Technically that means it will get locked down for uploads after the release of squeeze and require manual approval (for e.g. point release update versions, or security updates that happen during the squeeze release cycle), while lenny-backports-sloppy will accept packages from wheezy. Uploading to lenny-backport will have to get approved by the Debian Backports Team after the squeeze release, just like uploads to lenny are currently approved by the Release Team."
FedoraIt's no secret I'm not big on the future of the desktop. With great reflection and further research I've come to realize something else. Google is about to destroy just about everyone. There's a tiny handful of people that don't like the idea of cloud computing and information 'in the cloud'. The majority of the world though in love with it or will be and not know it. The problem: Free Software is in no position to compete with the web based applications of the Google of tomorrow." He would like to reorganize Fedora to help developers create applications that will be competitive in that world. provides a summary of the Fedora Board meetings held on September 27 and October 1.
Other distributionsIt is recommended that any system still running CentOS 3 should be upgraded to a more recent version of CentOS before this date to ensure continued security and bug fix support."
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