Daily Archives: 2009/04/07

Fedora Community

Max Spevack hold a talk about the Fedora Community on 2009 FOSDEM. Which I suggest you listen first before reading on:

Essentially I think Max grabbed the “Community” at the wrong handle. He elaborated a lot about how Red Hat and Fedora  work together and ow they enable people to build uppon the tools that Fedora has invented. Thats all very nice, especially for Red hat. In the last years Fedora often has stated that they do not interfere at all with Ubuntu. This always comes up when people compare the popular success of Fedora to Ubuntu.

Fedora is very developer centric. What Fedora is missing some warmth – some more “family” feeling. Do people feel comfortable? Fedora is also a big testbed for Red Hat – it can look what technologies work or are popular – and which are not. That makes Fedora often bleeding edge – more than a general user might often want. Also the support cycle is much shorter than on Ubuntu. So Fedora is not really a distro you would want to plant on your organisations desktops or servers. You will be forced to update quite often. Fedora moves fast. But thats getting offtopic from the community.

Fact is that trough the developer centricity leads to make the barrier for non-developers harder. One thing is what I already have pointed out in another post is the fact that even when editing the wiki you will have to sign some papers.

My view is that it is very important that the connection between general users and developers is open and flowing. Fedoras style is more a either you are a part of us or you are not.

On April 23rd I will organize my first Ubuntu  Release Party in my hometown. Why not for Fedora? Because essentially also on marketing Fedora INVENTED barriers and  created the Ambassador program, which I interpret as a means to professionalise the marketing efforts. And to make sure that people talk about the right things.

The problem here is that this turns of a lot of general users who are totally capable to talk about Fedora and show people how cool it is and what to do with it. Fedoras problem is that technically it is slightly ahead – but not years, but rather months – and that this alone does not attract people.

From all the talk I can not really see to what audience Fedora is talking. I would say Fedora is for people who want a fairly new Linux as a build platform and do live and like the Red Hat/ Fedora world. So you can use Fedora to develop an application that will work on future versions of Red Hat. Fedora also contributes a lot upstream and so allows work to be transfered outside Red Hat and Fedora.

So in the end that makes Fedora not very attractive neither for general users nor for company desktops – besides being the testbed for Red Hat. Fedora does not seem to have an autonomous agenda and depends highly on Red Hats decision. it does not make much sense for self-employed Linux folks to base their installments on Fedora nor does it make sense for the typical grandpa.

Some people at Fedora might agree and would define Community as this: Developer Community. The problem is that this also means that general users will not participate as whole heartedly as they do (for example at Ubuntu). And to make it clear: Thats a concious decision of Fedora – everything from development, contribution to marketing is organized in a hierarchical way that DOES allow everybody to start contributing but in fact turns a lot of people of.

In my hometown I have not met one guy who uses Fedora. Many early Linux users did use SuSE – and if they were dissatisfied they switched to Ubuntu – and then there is the Debian, Gentoo and FreeBSD crowd. This means nobody ever sees Fedora, this means nobody ever sees Red Hat. If this is a concious business model it is not working here.

What is Fedora missing? I think as a start it should be encouraged to talk about fedora even if you are not an official Fedora Ambassador. Give people something to work with, encourage them to make  Fedora their own. I also had the experience that nobody was willing to give a speak about Fedora at our local Linux conference – actually nobody even answered my plea. But it should be the other way around. Fedora Ambassadors should go out actively and seek for the possibility to show Fedora. And here is also the problem – if only Ambassadors do it, Fedora will be shown in fewer places.

So I think the whole Fedora eco system has a problem and thats why Ubuntu is so much ahead in popularity. And I dont believe you guys that you wouldnt love it if people would adopt  Fedora as much. Technically Fedora is much better than ubuntu, its the better product – but you very miuch have given up the popularity contest, which is sad. Even OpenSuse is doing more in this regard and it shows slowly.

I dont know who does the strategies at Fedora. And maybe you guys are satisfied with the status. But what I think is that in the longterm Fedora will be marginalized, especially when OpenSuse as another RPM based distribution is gaining more ground.

Thats it for now.

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Commenting on GNOME 3.0

First of all I think that this is the first time for some time that I see GNOME taking the right steps and the right direction when they announce the GNOME 3.0/plan. I have left marketing team because there was no marketing plan – no direction and man opportunities missed. So I was very astonished to read this well written document. I will take the chance to comment on some stuff:

Planning for GNOME 3.0

[…]
Let’s first diverge a bit and discuss the general impression that GNOME is lacking a vision. If you look closely at our community, it’d be wrong to say that people are lacking a vision; but the project as a whole does indeed have this issue. What we are missing is people blessing one specific vision and making it official, giving goals to the community so we can all work together in the same direction. In the pre-2.x days, the community accepted as a whole one specific vision, and such an explicit blessing wasn’t needed. But during the 2.x cycle, with our six months schedules, it appeared that everything (community, development process, etc.) was just working very well, and as the vision got more and more fulfilled, the long-term plans became less important as we focused on polishing our desktop. But we’ve now reached a point where our next steps should be moving to another level, and those next steps require important decisions. This is part of what the Release Team should do. Please note that Release Team members don’t have to be the ones who have the vision; we “just” have to be the voice of the community.

Exactly the point. Apple is leading the desktop because they have a vision. People follow when they like a direction. If no direction is chosen people will look elsewhere.

(As a sidenote, the roadmap process that we tried to re-establish two years ago was a first attempt to fix this. Unfortunately, it turned out that we were missing the most important side of things: a project-wide roadmap. This is because a collection of individual roadmaps isn’t enough to create a project-wide roadmap.)

Right. Many project all do their own stuff. I would even think further and also communicate with guys from Abiword, GIMP, Gnumeric – those are big apps that build on top of GNOME – they do have their links to GNOME but strictly spoken, they are not part of GNOME – but they are very important parts. Or even Epiphany is like the unwanted child of GNOME – now there is nearly no distribution selecting it as primary browser. Which means GNOME is dismissed, often also by the GNOME folks.

* Revamp our User Experience
* Streamlining of the Platform
* Promotion of GNOME

Very good points – and also not too much.

Changing our User Experience

[…]
It seems pretty clear now that there are two important ideas that can have a real positive impact on the user experience:

* GNOME Shell: the shell idea is not just about changing the panel and the window manager. It’s about changing the way you start an activity and how you switch between two different activities. Or more generally, how you manage your different activities on the desktop.
* Changing the way we access documents (via a journal, like GNOME Zeitgeist): having to deal with a filesystem in their daily work is not what makes users happy — on the contrary, they generally just want to access their documents and not to browse their hard disk. Providing new solutions to this problem (using timelines, tags, bookmarks, etc.) is something that has been of interest in our community for a long time, but we never completely jumped in. We simply should.

I love the ideas. But what I have seen so far looked not yet very promising. I think one problem of a desktop interface is that you may have a lot of cool applications – but all have different interfaces. Thats one thing old Apple was good at: Making and encouraging simple interfaces, so that many apps do look similar and work similar. The other problem is that users do get confused with an increasing number of applications. So to give a good selection of tools is nice. I am happy, that Empathy (Chat) and Brasero are now also part of GNOME. Personally I would dismiss Evolution as part of GNOME, because it is just way of. The better solution would be if Evolution would start implementing some simple solutions like the possibility to filter spam without opening it (which I had filed as a major bug, but was dismissed – and thats the main reason I now use Thunderbird).

So I want to suggest that applications are becoming more hidden, while the tasks are getting more transparent. Maybe even show it like you can combine actions like LEGO. People need work process chains. Maybe they like to save actions. As Open Source software we do not need to put all the featured into one big piece of software like OpenOffice.org or Firefox. We can put knowledge into the desktop as the whole.

Streamlining of the Platform

I am talking much about that. I am sure it makes sense but i dont know too much about that.

Promotion of GNOME
[…]

One common issue that often came up when discussing how to promote GNOME was that promoting the desktop as a whole is difficult. But there’s no need to do that.

I suggest implementing technology to get steady feedback from the users. The borders should be transparent. Let users decide some parts, ask them what they like. This should be a fixed part of the development process and not only be done evetually after a release. The whole idea of release often and early is to get quick responses so that you can refocuse your development. But its important to also listen to the right users. If you only listen to geeks who are loud and the only ones you hear because others dont know how to contact you, you will get the wrong impressions. Thats were technology could help – not only to report bugs, but also suggestions – get them involved!

This leads us to a third item: relaunch our website. While our current website is known for being broken in various different ways from a communication point of view, we’ve not been able to deliver the new version that would fix things. Fixing the website is a large task, but we should not give up on this: the GNOME website is a core part of the GNOME identity, and we cannot ignore the current issues. This happened because of lack of manpower, but the good news is that there are web developers that are fond of GNOME and just don’t know they can help the project.

Disagree very much on this point. There is abolutely no lack of manpower, but there has been active blocking against help. Some old pages have been removed years after I have pointed out the fact that they are outdated. Or nobody was able to do a custom 404 page. This is nt because this would be hard – its because the people who control the website and the SVN access dont value small improvements with big impacts. A website without a custom 404 page should just be ignored – the webmasters think it does not matter if people dont find what they are looking for. Its the thinking that has to change! The scripts that are executed to update the website do only run on Linux and no OpenBSD – most of the websites is hacked together and not much effort has gone into making the process more transparent. A quick solutions would be to have one content focused webmaster who indeed accepts patches and tries to coordinate the small efforts. Sure it would be nice to have the best CMS in the world – but having such a website is just shameful. the website is bad in every aspect – the homepage still reflects that its made by coders for coders. Often there are news about coding summits. Those summits are nice – but all the GNOME hackers do have the rest of http://www.gnome.org/* and all mailing lists to inform themselves about such events. The main page should people get interested in USING GNOME. its the first page they see. And they even do not care about a new GNOME version. What they need is to be taught what GNOME is, and why they may want it.

So mostly a good vision, except that the analysis of the website is far from reality. But i am very optimistic that if that really is a consensus view we weill see a nice new GNOME 3.0 !!

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