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By Jake Edge
August 8, 2012

While the value of distribution release names is sometimes questioned, the Fedora community has pretty clearly indicated its preference to continue having them. We looked at some of the issues surrounding Fedora release names back in March—precipitated by the choice of "Beefy Miracle" for Fedora 17. Since that time, Fedora has chosen another somewhat controversial name for Fedora 18 ("Spherical Cow"), but it is also trying to come up with a better naming scheme for the future.

In practice, Fedora's release names aren't regularly used. As several have pointed out, it is difficult to remember the names for releases from the past (e.g., Fedora 14 "Laughlin"). Other distributions' naming schemes are more commonly used; for example, Debian release numbers are often harder to remember than their names ("Squeeze", "Wheezy"), which are based on characters from Toy Story.

The Ubuntu community is also prone to using names. The alliterative "adjective animal" names, rather than the release numbers, are often seen—though the names often just get shortened to the adjective (e.g. "Precise", "Natty"). The alphabetical ordering of the names helps make them memorable, of course. In addition, names decided by fiat (either by the Debian release team or Mark Shuttleworth for Ubuntu) may lead to fewer disgruntled supporters of names that didn't make the cut. By putting the names up for a vote, Fedora may be setting itself up for some division within its community.

While there has been some grumbling occasionally over the names chosen for Fedora in the past, "Beefy Miracle" seems to be the straw that broke the camel's back. But the Fedora community voted 550 to 384 to keep release names in a non-binding vote. The vote was taken back in April, at the same time "Spherical Cow" was chosen for Fedora 18. While it may not exactly be a ringing endorsement (59% for keeping release names), it does indicate an interest in continuing the tradition. Now the question is: "how?"

Eric Christensen put out a request from the Fedora Board for suggestions on how to name releases. Earlier efforts had already led to a list of proposals on naming schemes. Máirín Duffy's idea to use a particular theme (e.g. types of coffee/tea, dinosaur breeds, herbs and spices), where all names would connect to that theme, seems to be fairly popular. One problem is choosing the theme, of course, but another is perhaps a bit more surprising: trademark woes.

Fedora release names have always undergone a review by the Red Hat legal department before they were cleared for a vote. Much of that review concerns trademarks; there are a surprising number of seemingly innocuous terms that can't pass that hurdle. Some of the popular ideas for themes are much more likely to run afoul of problems in that area. For example, using famous people's names has been suggested in different ways (composers, computer pioneers, and so on), but, as Red Hat legal team member Pam Chestek explained, it can be difficult to get them cleared:

Names are more difficult to clear from a legal perspective because, not only do you have to worry about trademark rights, you have to worry about the right of publicity too. These types of rights are becoming more commonly enforced, even in cases where a now-dead person would never have conceived of the fact that they have such a right (Einstein and Amelia Earhart are two in that category that come to mind) - but their families have. So it's extra difficult for us to clear them and the clearance rate will be lower. My greatest happiness with "Beefy Miracle" was that it wasn't a person's name (no offense, Beefy!!).

While critiquing another proposal that suggested "materials" (e.g., wood, crystal, diamond, ...) as a theme, an offhand comment by Lynn Dixon ("Since Fedora has a very fast release cycle, once we ended up at something like platinum, where would we go next? Into the heavy elements?") quickly became popular. It spawned suggestions of using the periodic table and perhaps synchronizing the release number with the atomic number of the element used for the name. That would eliminate the voting cycle, which is seen as a waste of time by some, but, alas, that idea may have run aground because of trademark issues as well.

First off, many element names are used in computer-related trademarks, which might make it difficult to clear the next element name for some upcoming Fedora release—breaking the synchronization. Opening up a vote on some suggested element names from the entire periodic table for each release might be an alternative. There were also thoughts of adding a second word to the name to try to avoid trademark conflicts—though Dixon's alliterative adjective suggestion (e.g., Perfect Potassium for Fedora 19) was not popular. But there was another surprise there, as Chestek pointed out:

Don't add a second word just because you think it helps avoid infringement. Sometimes yes, sometimes no, it depends on what the primary word is. The "yes" cases tend to be where a word is descriptive or ubiquitous, like "ultra," "platform," or "open." Where the primary word is more distinctive (like a planet name or element), it is less likely that adding a second word will jump the hurdle of making name usable when the primary word alone is not. Add a second word only if there is independent value in doing so, like making it more memorable, funny, fun, etc.

It is a difficult problem. Fedora release names only last for around 18 months, and a new one needs to be chosen every six months. That leads to a fair amount of work in suggesting, clearing, then voting on a name twice per year. Given that few inside or outside of the Fedora community actually use the release name, it's not surprising that there have been calls to change the process—or eliminate it entirely.

So far, though, the board seems intent on continuing with release names—perhaps partly out of tradition, but also in keeping with the "will of the people". Over the next few months—as "Spherical Cow" gets released (currently scheduled for early November) and a name for Fedora 19 is needed—we will see what the board plans to do about release naming. While some find the names whimsical and fun, others are much less enamored of them. Whatever the board decides, it seems likely to be a lively topic of discussion for some time to come.

(Log in to post comments)

The troubles with release names

Posted Aug 9, 2012 1:15 UTC (Thu) by JoeBuck (guest, #2330) [Link]

I suggest that the name of Fedora 19 be "Fedora 19", and that Red Hat give half of the money this proposal saves them in legal bills to charity and the other half to their stockholders. If a code name is required, "Nineteen" will do.

The troubles with release names

Posted Aug 9, 2012 6:48 UTC (Thu) by Wummel (subscriber, #7591) [Link]

Exactly. Codenames are nice if you have good marketing and people connect the product with the name. Fedora does not do that. So Red hat should just remove the silly names.

The troubles with release names

Posted Aug 9, 2012 8:44 UTC (Thu) by dgm (subscriber, #49227) [Link]

Silly names can be marketing on their own. I assure you that quite a few people are more aware of Fedora after Beefy.

The troubles with release names

Posted Aug 9, 2012 10:43 UTC (Thu) by pr1268 (subscriber, #24648) [Link]

Sure they're more aware, but in a positive way?

The troubles with release names

Posted Aug 9, 2012 11:47 UTC (Thu) by dgm (subscriber, #49227) [Link]

That's largely a function of Fedora quality, not the name ;-)

The troubles with release names

Posted Aug 9, 2012 15:14 UTC (Thu) by smoogen (subscriber, #97) [Link]

In this case it is the community wanting something whether Red Hat wants it or not. So the names continue.

The troubles with release names

Posted Aug 9, 2012 12:29 UTC (Thu) by johannbg (subscriber, #65743) [Link]

We should just settle on using Roman Numerals simple and elegant and be done with it.

That should allow the design team to focus on the overall distribution design instead of having them to wait then try to adapt the design to whatever weird release name we end up coming with ( whenever that has been cleared Red Hat's Legal ) . Of course we can still hold on to the ridiculousness which I will then gladly submit "Fake Titties" or any other combination that involves breasts of any kind for F19. A Spherical Cow is round and so are "fake titties", Cows produce milk, so do titties.

They can't even use the "It might offend someone" argument to block it without being hypocrites and everybody love titties.

Heck we could even talk to Rodney Carrington and see if for the first time the distribution would have a theme song! =)

The troubles with release names

Posted Aug 9, 2012 13:22 UTC (Thu) by Funcan (subscriber, #44209) [Link]

Oh, come on, can you see a release called 'VI' *not* causing complaints?

The troubles with release names

Posted Aug 9, 2012 13:32 UTC (Thu) by johannbg (subscriber, #65743) [Link]

Fedora Core 6 codenamed 'Zod' got release sometime in 2006 so no, no cant say I can...

The troubles with release names

Posted Aug 9, 2012 19:49 UTC (Thu) by mathstuf (subscriber, #69389) [Link]

I then propose that Fedora #994 be Fedora VIM. :)

The troubles with release names

Posted Aug 9, 2012 13:51 UTC (Thu) by JEFFREY (guest, #79095) [Link]

Perhaps F19 should be "Silicone Bags"

The troubles with release names

Posted Aug 10, 2012 4:45 UTC (Fri) by aquasync (guest, #26654) [Link]

Or maybe B1GB00B5.

The troubles with release names

Posted Aug 9, 2012 22:35 UTC (Thu) by jiu (guest, #57673) [Link]

A good read, and more interesting than I thought by just reading the title!

The troubles with release names

Posted Aug 11, 2012 17:28 UTC (Sat) by jengelh (subscriber, #33263) [Link]

>suggested "materials" (e.g., wood, crystal, diamond, ...) as a theme, an offhand comment by Lynn Dixon ("Since Fedora has a very fast release cycle, once we ended up at something like platinum, where would we go next? Into the heavy elements?")

Wood isn't an element you would find as such in the Periodic Table, though.

>using the periodic table [...] trademark issues as well.

Element names are obiquitious, are they not? Especially when you get to the as-of-unnamed ones with a generic counting name (Ununoctium, etc.)

The troubles with release names

Posted Aug 13, 2012 15:35 UTC (Mon) by njwhite (guest, #51848) [Link]

Whenever I see "Spherical Cow" I laugh involuntarily. "Beefy Miracle" had the same effect. For me, this makes Fedora feel light-hearted, fun and approachable. Given that it's sponsored by Red Hat, the corporate heavyweight in the room, I think that's a very positive counterpoint.

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