[personal profile] mjg59
Eric (a fellow Fedora board member) has a post describing his vision for what Fedora as an end goal should look like. It's essentially an assertion that since we have no idea who our users are or what they want, we should offer them everything on an equal footing.

Shockingly enough, I disagree.

At the most basic level, the output of different Special Interest Groups is not all equal. We've had issues over the past few releases where various spins have shipped in a broken state, because the SIG responsible for producing them doesn't have the resources to actually test them. We're potentially going to end up shipping F20 with old Bluetooth code because the smaller desktops aren't able to port to the new API in time[1]. Promoting these equally implies that they're equal, and doing so when we know it isn't the case is a disservice to our users.

But it's not just about our users. Before I joined the Fedora project, I'd worked on both Debian and Ubuntu. Debian is broadly similar to the current state of Fedora - no strong idea about what is actually being produced, and a desire among many developers to cater to every user's requirements. Ubuntu's pretty much the direct opposite, with a strongly defined goal and a willingness to sacrifice some use cases in order to achieve that goal.

This leads to an interestingly different social dynamic. Ubuntu contributors know what they're working on. If a change furthers the well-defined aim of the project, that change happens. Moving from Ubuntu to Fedora was a shock to me - there were several rough edges in Fedora that simply couldn't be smoothed out because fixing them for one use case would compromise another use case, and nobody could decide which was more important[2]. It's basically unthinkable that such a situation could arise in Ubuntu, not just because there was a self appointed dictator but because there was an explicit goal and people could prioritise based on that[3].

Bluntly, if you have a well-defined goal, people are more likely to either work towards that goal or go and do something else. If you don't, people will just do whatever they want. The risk of defining that goal is that you'll lose some of your existing contributors, but the benefit is that the existing contributors will be more likely to work together rather than heading off in several different directions.

But perhaps more importantly, having a goal can attract people. Ubuntu's Bug #1 was a solid statement of intent. Being freer than Microsoft wasn't enough. Ubuntu had to be better than Microsoft products on every axis, and joining Ubuntu meant that you were going to be part of that. Now it's been closed and Ubuntu's wandered off into convergence land, and signing up to spend your free time on producing something to help someone sell phones is much less compelling than doing it to produce a product you can give to your friends.

Fedora should be the obvious replacement, but it's not because it's unclear to a casual observer what Fedora actually is. The website proudly leads with a description of Fedora as a fast, stable and powerful operating system, but it's obvious that many of the community don't think of Fedora that way - instead it's a playground to produce a range of niche derivatives, with little consideration as to whether contributing to Fedora in that way benefits the project as a whole. Codifying that would actively harm our ability to produce a compelling product, and in turn reduce our ability to attract new contributors even further.

Which is why I think the current proposal to produce three first-class products is exciting. Offering several different desktops on the download page is confusing. Offering distinct desktop, server and cloud products isn't. It makes it clear to our users what we care about, and in turn that makes it easier for users to be excited about contributing to Fedora. Let's not make the mistake of trying to be all things to all people.

[1] Although clearly in this case the absence of a stable ABI in BlueZ despite it having had a dbus interface for the best part of a decade is a pretty fundamental problem.
[2] See the multi-year argument over default firewall rules and the resulting lack of working SMB browsing or mDNS resolving
[3] To be fair, one of the reasons I was happy to jump ship was because of the increasingly autocratic way Ubuntu was being run. By the end of my involvement, significant technical decisions were being made in internal IRC channels - despite being on the project's Technical Board, I had no idea how or why some significant technical changes were being made. I don't think this is a fundamental outcome of having a well-defined goal, though. A goal defined by the community (or their elected representatives) should function just as well.
From: (Anonymous)
"Now it's been closed and Ubuntu's wandered off into convergence land, and signing up to spend your free time on producing something to help someone sell phones is much less compelling than doing it to produce a product you can give to your friends."

I don't follow you here: both parts of your statement can apply both to phones and desktop: contributing to a Linux distribution which can either be pre-installed on computers sold at a shop, or installed on a server with commercial goals is "spend your free time on producing something to help someone sell computers/make money using your software", isn't it?
And on the other hand, most non-Canonical people who work on Ubuntu Touch do so because they want to produce a product they can give to their friends (as you can install Ubuntu Touch on many devices sold with Android, the same way you can install Fedora on many computers sold with Microsoft Windows).

You might have a point if Canonical was selling its own phone hardware and prevented/discouraged other phone producers from using Ubuntu Touch, but that's not the case.
Am I missing something?
From: (Anonymous)
Canonical is trying to out-Google Google, by producing Mir for UbuntuTouch-fka-Android devices, which will support *Ubuntu-specific* binary-blob graphics-stack drivers. Mir is under CLA, all changes become copyright Canonical (cf Oracle's ownership of nominally-GPL java source... so that Oracle can relicense it as proprietary under windows/OraRHEL... notably, with 'faster graphics' as one of the main marketing spiels.) To be fair, I'm not sure Wayland has much of a different emphasis -- Collabora just spent a lot of time and energy porting it to the Raspberry Pi, to prove they can work on limited devices just like Ubuntu's Mir, but in the process accepted a binary-blob graphics-stack (the equivalent of mesa/gallium/dri/libdrm/pcieKernel is all in regularly vendor-flashed 'firmware' sitting on top of the actual GPU).

As for your take on Fedora, no, you aren't missing much -- mjg is complaining that Ubuntu is becoming a way to push Ubuntu Phones (with one touchscreen UI to rule them all ... win8-slash-iOS anyone?). But he's kinda quiet about the *financial* purpose behind Fedora, which is to act as a test-bed for later RHEL releases. In particular, the main reason IMPO to want an Official Fedora Server-flavored distro is to try and displace CentOS in the webhosting world -- the free-as-in-beer RHEL clone. (Ubuntu LTS is an attempt to displace Debian, in much the same role... and unlike RHEL/CentOS, nowadays Ubuntu LTS upgrades their kernel every six months, staying one release behind Ubuntu non-LTS. And in fact, a Fedora-server flavor would have as a *second* big purpose: the ability to compete on equal footing with Ubuntu now-with-rolling-kernel-upgrades-LTS.)

Anyways, I'm sure that soon Fedora will soon be offering a server-oriented flavor, featured prominently on their main site. Whether this is merely a way to combat Ubuntu LTS, or is in fact also aimed squarely at boosting RHEL whilst beating down CentOS, will depend on what options the enduser of the Fedora Server is offered when their security-patches dry up, and their installed Fedora version is EOL. If the list is just 1) upgrade to Fedora N+1, or 2) upgrade to current RHEL, then clearly Fedora Server is a lock-in play, intended to boost RedHat finances, pure and simple. Compare with Lenovo BIOS whitelisting of their own wifi chipsets only, albeit less blatant/nasty, since the Fedora-Server upgrades-or-crossgrade *can* be done manually (no firmware mods required).

On the other hand, if the list *also* includes 3) crossgrade to CentOS, 4) crossgrade to SciLinux, or maybe even 5) crossgrade to Ubuntu LTS, then I'm all for a good Fedora Server release! It will help people that 'need' the latest and greatest version of php/mysql/whatever for their new web project... and when their now-year-month-old project is a going concern, where server stability & security is more critical than the latest version-hotness, they will have a clean pathway to move onto a more stable rhel/centos/scilin platform, which by then will prolly have the necessary daemon-versions available in the repo (if not stock then at least EPEL/rpmFusion).

And hey, why not offer Ubuntu LTS as a crossgrade, too? It will be a gesture of solidarity by the fedora/redhat folks, in the face of a quickly-fragmenting linux community. For that matter, go ahead and offer a crossgrade to Oracle EL, too, and Debian Stable. (I'd stop short of putting in a radio-button that offers to downgrade the webserver to Win2k8 ... but for the sake of completeness, you *can* run php and apache on that OS, not to mention redhat's own cygwin, so....)


Matthew Garrett

About Matthew

Power management, mobile and firmware developer on Linux. Security developer at Google. Ex-biologist. @mjg59 on Twitter. Content here should not be interpreted as the opinion of my employer.

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