Fedora's not just for Developers

Following a bit of the controversy around Fedora and how we relate to the rest of the community, I thought I would throw in my two cents. This seems to be a recurring theme, and it would be nice to put it to rest, but as we like to say in the Jewish world, "two people, three opinions".

Perhaps I can't speak for everyone who uses Fedora when I say this, but what follows are the impressions I've received being part of the Fedora community for almost exactly a year. My initiation to Fedora was mixed, flipping back to Debian for a while when I couldn't make Fedora work, and then flipping back when Debian got in the way too much. I realized this was a mistake, and made a commitment to myself to stick to Fedora for the entire 9th release. It's paid off.

Each of the major distributions tries to bring something tangible to the table. The reality is that 95% of the components in Fedora, Gentoo, SuSE, Ubuntu, Debian, and what's left of Mandrivia are the same. They differ though in their goals. Fedora's motto has always been that it is Free, Open, and concerned with true freedom. But it seems that once or twice a year, we get into a big debate about what this means.

The free part is hard to argue about, since it's been so clearly defined by the Free Software Foundation. There will always be complaints that Fedora does not ship with Foo, but that's the reality of Freedom. What seems to be harder to define is this term 'open'.

One way that Fedora has been open is that it's like an open playground. Anyone can come and make changes, and anyone that does work gets to set the rules. If there's some new technology showing up in the Linux World, it usually shows up in Fedora. One of the best parts about working with Fedora is that it's like one big hobbyist's shop. People come and go all the time to try things out, to test an idea, to develop the next generation big thing, and overall to have fun. This is because Fedora is an open shop.

One thing that's very common in such a place is the amount of insider information and protocol that exists. A number of people have been here for a very long time, and not many people here are complete newbies to the world of hobbyist computing. When given the chance to decide between the newest best thing and polishing what exists, invariably the decision turns towards the experimental. This creates probably the two hottest points I've heard discussed this past year from all sides. Let's examine them both.

The first is whether Fedora is or should be a newbie distribution. It seems that the issue of experimental forward looking technology has been confused with the newbie issue. It's true that in order to support the uninitiated masses, we do require some consistency from Fedora. It requires that we write alot of hand holding documentation, and maintain it despite broad sweeping changes. It requires that certain tools generally work, no matter what changes underneath the hood. But this does not mean a newbie does not also want access to the latest and greatest software. These are really two orthogonal issues, and really need to remain that way. Remember, you're only a newbie for a short while. The reality is that Fedora and Red Hat based technology has and will trickle down to other distributions, and perhaps even refined there. Furthermore, often times the new technology is designed with newbies in mind. For example with newer version of Xorg, there is far less that one needs to do to configure the X server. While this may require some wide spread changes to the drivers, in the end having a failproof X server that works on all distributions is far more user friendly, even if it works poorly for the first week of Fedora 9's lifecycle. Firefox 3 Beta is far more streamlined and usable than Firefox 2, even if some extensions don't work. Including the hobbyist shop desires in a way makes Fedora 9 more usable, if only it doesn't crash.

The second issue is the reliable vs the experimental. This is more in line with the issue of who our target audience is. The fact is that we're so busy supporting the new stuff that we never have time to support the old. This is unfortunate, because it's really a question of manpower. But we've already seen the benefits we gain by sticking with the experimental. Even so, it's important to understand that Fedora is not Red Hat's test bed for new things. Fedora is simply put a hobbyist's distribution.

(I find it amusing that so many Fedora people I've met are former Gentoo users, including the first person who introduced me to Fedora in the first place, Jack. Gentoo has always had a massive hobbyist following.)

This leaves one question in my mind, the million dollar question, really. How do we market Fedora. If I had to put my money somewhere, I would say 'the Future'. My idea for a Fedora slogan would be "Fedora - The Future". Our target audience is not just a bunch of bearded developers living in a fort of chinese take-out cartons but the people who want to see what the future looks like. These are the people who read Cory Doctorow and Neal Stephenson. These are the people who love performing experiments on society. These are the people who study about bio-domes. These are the people who want to go up into space if they could. They want to reshape society into the better image they see. These aren't just developers, but include anyone who is tired of doing the same old same old, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Some of them are newbies, but we don't want to make our distribution for newbies; we want to make the world Free and Open to them.

To put it in the words of the Mahatma Gandhi, we must be the change we want to see.

But that's just my $0.02

1 flames:

Unknown zei

"My idea for a Fedora slogan would be 'Fedora - The Future'."

Which is, in fact, very close to one of the slogans that Fedora Marketing has been pimping. "Fedora: The Future, First."