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Jiri Eischmann's Blog

Fedora: Giving Up Product?

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There is an interesting discussion going on in the Fedora Board and it gathers a lot of ideas. Some of them also say that we should give up defaults, or Fedora as an end product. I opposes such a direction and here is why:

Giving Up Defaults

Giving up defaults means giving up Linux newbies because it’d lead to the situation I call “new restaurant experience”. You go to a restaurant you’ve never been to and they give you an endless menu with tens of items usually strangely named. All you know is that you want a good meal, but you’re lost because you have no experience with the cuisine, you know almost nothing about the meals (except for ingredients) and you still need to choose something. Then the waiter comes to your rescue: “What meat do you like? Beef? Great, we’ve got this great meal with beef. You’ll love it! Would you like to give it a try?”, “Sure I would!” Or he could just say: “Beef? Great, we’ve got a huge selection of meals with beef, here see the section Beef.”  Would it help you? I can say it wouldn’t help me and when I’m in an unfamiliar location, I’m looking for restaurants that have simpler menus and predictable meals just to avoid such situations.

It works the same way with software. When my friend gave me a CD with Knoppix, I saw that Linux was quite nice on the desktop and I decided to give it a try. Knoppix was just a live distro, so I was looking for some more solid distribution. All I knew was that I wanted Linux for desktop. Someone told me that Mandrake was the best option for desktop and I went for it. I was glad that they had defaults (environment, apps,…) because I could not possibly make a qualified decision since I knew very little about Linux, and I trusted Mandrake that they chose a good selection for me. Mandrake’s default environment was KDE and I was satisfied with it enough to stick with Linux. After some time, when I was settled, I explored other options and found GNOME a better option for me. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate KDE as the default option at the beginning. It helped me.

Having defaults is about guiding. You tell newbies what you think is the best experience for them and it’s usually all they want to hear. Once they get more familiar with the distro, they can explore other options and find out that there is a whole world out there. Exposing the whole selection to new, unexperienced users is not helpful, it’s discouraging. The other day, one friend of mine told me that he needed Ubuntu or Debian to install one product that is supported only on these distributions. Because he had no experience with Linux, he asked which one. Well, I told him Ubuntu because I knew that was the quickest and easiest way to his goal: having that product up and running.  Just compare and Ubuntu gives you a very easy way to download and install it while Debian reveals all the complexity right at the beginning. Great for those who know exactly what they want, otherwise simply discouraging. And Debian still has defaults.

Having defaults is about focus. If you want to make a good product, you need to focus. It’s another thing Ubuntu did right (not any more with all that tablet/TV/mobile craze). It’s better to have one solid and working solution than ten unfinished and broken ones. If you have defaults, you know what really needs to work and you can focus on that.

Having defaults is about responsibility. A distribution is a huge selection of software. Something works better, something works worse. But it’s our responsibility that what we push to users as defaults is well maintained and has some future. I’m not sure if we can tell that about all desktop environments and window managers we’d have to equally offer if we had no defaults.

I believe having defaults is very important for Fedora Project. If we should have some default selection, it should be by use cases. You want a Linux for your desktop? Here is our product for desktop. You want to run Linux in the cloud? Here is our product for cloud. I know that choosing defaults is difficult and brings long discussions. But giving it up just because it’s difficult is like hiding head in sand.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate every new desktop environment, window manager, or application that is available in Fedora repos because freedom of choice is great, but having defaults doesn’t limit this freedom.

Giving Up Product

Making Fedora just a platform for other end products goes actually far beyond giving up defaults. Fedora would lose a lot. If you don’t have your own end product, you pretty much lose a lot of your visibility and brand. “Selling” a platform to users doesn’t make any sense because users (and most developers, too) don’t care about the platform what’s behind the product. They would use e.g. GNOME OS and just a few of them would know that there is actually some Fedora behind it and even fewer of them would care. Would it help bring more contributors? I don’t know, but I guess it probably wouldn’t. People get more likely attached to the product they’re using. While I like GNOME and I’m also a GNOME Foundation member, I’d rather switch to a different environment and stay with Fedora than stay with GNOME and switch to another distribution. This kind of attachment is very important for getting people involved and contribute. Without being the product people are using, we’d lose the ability to build such an attachment.

There was actually an attempt to build just a platform upon which others can build their products – Unity Linux. And it never took off. They never attracted enough developers while Mageia, another derivative of Mandriva which is also an end product, is doing much better. I still think a distribution like Fedora is the best wrapping for what’s called a Linux system. While e.g. GNOME is the face of the system, it’s Fedora who has the expertize from the kernel up to the desktop.

Another question is if any community would be interested in building a product based on Fedora. Why wouldn’t they choose Debian at the first place? By becoming just a platform, Fedora would lose a lot, but would we get something back, someone else on board? I doubt. And OS products generated from our own community? Regarding desktops, the GNOME part of the Fedora community might able to produce a solid desktop product, maybe KDE, too. But that’s pretty much it. I don’t see any other spins that are strong enough to build and promote products on their own.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I’d love to see Fedora as a great platform to build on, but I’d rather have Fedora as a great product to use and I don’t think that building a great product prevents us from being a good platform to build on. However, I’d encourage people to build things in Fedora rather than on Fedora.

And what would be my vision for Fedora?

A truly free and community general-purpose operating system that aims at people who create things and build solutions. It doesn’t matter whether they are designers, developers, admins etc.

27 responses to “Fedora: Giving Up Product?”

  1. ardian Avatar

    Great article

    In my eyes fedora is now much easier to use than say Ubuntu (I don’t know if its just me but Unity looks complicated and not so friendly) I would like to add one more thing that we should start and build a better place where you can find and install software, I must say that installing a software for my dad looks much easier in Ubuntu than in fedora, while many people say fedora is not a new comer linux distro I heard this also from our community. I am agains this saying. I don’t really know what the state for a better looking software center is since I use yum, but I wish we could make a change.

    1. Leonard Umin Avatar

      Are you serious? Fedora has so many versions, so much inacurate documentation, and such a crappy default desktop that it’s virtually usable, even for linux users. I NEVER refer a newbie to Fedora. Look at the forum – 756 pages of issues – so what does Fedora do? Come up with a new version. Idiotic. Fedora since V 14 has taught me the value of Debian and Ubuntu just to survive. MOST of the dialogs in Fedora 27 crash easily. Routine tasks are problimatic at best. Fedora is acasualty of PC politics at best. I predict Redhat will not exist in 5 years.

      1. James Beard Avatar
        James Beard

        I used Red Hat Linux from the mid 1990s until Fedora came out with an unusable Gnome 3 desktop. By unusable, I mean that you couldn’t easily find a way to do *anything* other that start an already-installed application, anything else like installing a printer was a major project, and it locked up constantly. I tried their KDE and still had stability problems, then went to Debian and never looked back. I’m writing this reply on Debian.

  2. David Avatar

    I would need to leave Fedora for another Linux distribution if Fedora chose to abandon defaults or simply became a platform. I am a DBA with Unix experience, but in the complex world of interdependent software, I must rely on others to put together the end software that I need. I do not have the time to learn all of the things needed to “build” my own desktop environment (including the understanding of which packages are needed for which purposes).

  3. mkruger Avatar

    If I understand the issue correctly, then I am of the opinion that giving up defaults (or becoming just a platform) would be the death of Fedora. As far as desktop oriented distros go, Fedora already needs quite a bit of tweaking to become a usable desktop. Clearly distros such as Linux Mint, Mageia, and now Fuduntu are what most mainstream “desktop” users really want, especially folks giving up Windows for Linux. For more talented users, the apparent choice is slackware. If Fedora wants to become another slackware, what’s the point? Slackware already exists.

    1. eischmann Avatar

      I agree. It’s not only Slackware. There are also Gentoo and Arch. People who don’t need defaults and know what exactly they want are already using these distributions. So giving up defaults wouldn’t bring anyone to our user base and we’d lose many Linux newbies and average users.

    2. Leonard Umina Avatar

      Fedora died when it switched to Gnome 3 and stuck there in spite of critical commens from nearly everyone with a brain. It caused forks, new projects and the consumption of valuable open source resources to be wasted. The Linux community would benefit if Fedora is cancelled. It’s become a cancer we should excise. Enough is enough.

  4. Máirín Duffy Avatar

    Well said, giving up defaults is a terrible idea.

  5. jeff Avatar

    default with option to add 100,000 `s of free applications through repos and 🙂

  6. Craig Avatar

    Fedora’s only problem is an image problem. The actual technical side of the process is as solid as ever but the web sites/apps look like puke and the package review/sponsorship process is a such a disorganised mess that I gave up and decided to maintain my packages outside of the repos.

    If I was a designer type or someone who’s judgement is heavily guided by aesthetics, I would have long since given up on Fedora and turned to OS X. I strongly suspect that’s why many open source hackers have done so already.

  7. jam19 Avatar

    forget it. Leave Fedora “as is”, but if I may suggest 🙂
    The server side is strong.
    The desktop side is Strong.
    The tablet side is needed.
    The spins are a good thing.
    Update the website design to be more enticing and dynamic.
    Three minute view on How to use guide in the website.
    Three minute view on How to use guide in the Desktop.

  8. Leslie Satenstein Avatar

    Since 2004 when I was introduced to Core (Precursor to Fedora), I was turned on and tuned in. I never left Fedora for another distribution and I still will not, though the temptation is strong.
    I had a philosophy that whenever I could find a spare hard disk at a great discount, I would purchase one. At the same time I started a project in C and C++ (QT4). I found that I needed other distributions, because of the differences in library maintenance and machine word size. (32bit, 64bit).

    By luck, I happened to find a wonderful Russian distribution of Fedora 18 spin, with all the goodies installed. Wow, everything worked, I had all the codecs, and developer tools, and moreover, a forked version of anaconda. This F18 is what Fedora should be by default.

    So, when F19 alpha came out, and I saw what Gnome was doing, I installed “Open Suse 12.3.” I never was more pleasantly surprised. It too, during the installation, provided the option to include free and non-free codecs. Right now, I am still evaluating it, because if “Feels good”.

    I will upgrade to F19 when it becomes an official production release. I am however, going to use KDE if there are no functional improvements to Gnome 3.8. On the other side of the evaluation, the Hello screen (via first boot), in Gnome 3.8, is very well done and Gnome must be congratulated for it. Yes, there are positive improvements to Gnome when compared to version 3.6

  9. Leslie Satenstein Avatar

    I forgot to mention that I have 5 disks, where I have my development files, online backups and in general, some partitions that I can scrap because I want to try features. The disk sizes are 1 terrabyte.

  10. James Beard Avatar

    If all Red Hat needs out of Fedora is to satisfy the Linux requirement of having a free distribution so that they can offer Red Hat with support for a fee, then simply offering a platform is the least complicated solution. But if they want to compete for market share of free distributions, they need to keep the product with its now-excellent set of general defaults. I always check off software development and office software.

    A platform-only or no-default release would find an audience only with IS types who are competent to configure the workstations that they are installing and maintaining. The result is that the user base that knows and prefers Red Had would shrink.

    Maybe Red Hat doesn’t think that they need this pool of potential future Red Hat customers any more, particularly since the dumbing down of Gnome has led many to go to other distributions or the KDE skin. I went to the KDE skin myself after looking at other distributions after the first buggy dumbed-down Gnome release, but I stayed with Fedora. But abandoning us Fedora people to other releases may be a turning point for a reduction in market share of Red Hat in the future. This would not be good for Linux, because it would weaken the most prolific supporter of GNU out there.

    There are other reasons too, such as the Fedora user base providing a user base for Red Hat that provides a broader and more diversified base of software users and thus bug reporters. This makes Red Hat a better platform which supports continued market share of Red Hat and Fedora. Take way the Fedora user base and the whole software support infrastructure runs on with reduced input data.

    1. Leslie Satenstein Avatar

      If you are a vendor of a Linux server, surely you would want to also be a vendor of a client terminal. If by some fluke, a bug occurs, it would be helpful for the vendor if he owned the server software and the client software.

      So, there is a desire for RedHat to provide a good Linux client. From a quality control and marketing perspective, as well as acting as a testbed where there are hundreds of thousands of users, what better test bed and wonderful group of volunteers. Vendor and Linux User are in a win-win situation

  11. Barry Smith Avatar
    Barry Smith

    I also agree that giving up defaults would be a terrible idea for all the reasons above. And I completely disagree with some of the comments about the design of the Fedora Website and the distro’s general presentation – I think they’re beautiful. (It would be nice if the content on the Wiki were more accessible: like Max Spevack said, there’s some fantastic material on it, but it’s hard to find it.)

    Another thought is that maybe Fedora doesn’t have a problem. What is it that Fedora is looking for? It’s such a great distro…in the top five of Distrowatch consistently. Maybe not being #1 is a necessary sacrifice – I think so. For ex., it’s generally agreed that Vermont is a beautiful state. Why? In part because of necessary sacrifices. There are no billboards, and development is somewhat regulated. You want to play, you’ve got to pay…somewhere. Maybe the way Fedora pays is by being at the leading edge, and by being a free software leader… That said, it’s amazingly successful. I think most other distros owe a debt to Fedora for being so far upstream and out front.

  12. pdp11 Avatar

    “n my eyes fedora is now much easier to use than say Ubuntu (I don’t know if its just me but Unity looks complicated and not so friendly) I would like to add one more thing that we should start and build a better place where you can find and install software, I must say that installing a software for my dad looks much easier in Ubuntu than in fedora, while many people say fedora is not a new comer linux distro I heard this also from our community. I am agains this saying. I don’t really know what the state for a better looking software center is since I use yum, but I wish we could make a change.

    i think this sums up every wrong idea about linux noobies and desktop usability in one post. this is not 1990 any more. anyone under 40 knows how to use a computer and install software. as time goes on more and more people are getting more sophisticated with there computer use not less. and the percentage of old people that know nothing of computers goes down.

    making things “easy” by stripping the desktop down to just a window that can open a single app is not what noobies consider “easy”. fedora is not as “easy” to use as ubuntu if you want to install steam and play games. thats what noobies consider “easy” if you do not understand that you do not understand what “easy” means. easy does not mean zero option and zero configuration. that make it “harder” to do just about everything people want to do. the vast majority of potential linux noobies are people under 40 who are above average in using there computer and understand how to troubleshoot there problems on forums and they want configuration options for desktop, taskbar, menus etc. they want to update graphics driver for hardware acceleration and related tweaks. they also want to play games, and try out new app from all over the spectrum and have fun with learning how to use the new apps and uninstall them quickly. to think of linux noobie as someone who is old and does not know anything about computers is very incorrect imo. if these old people that end up on linux did not have linux power user installing linux for them would they ever even know what linux is? i dont think so. i think that is a different category of user. i consider a potential linux noobie as someone that had the ability and interest to install linux on there own. and does so because of personal interest.

  13. pibarnas Avatar

    Steve Jobs used to say it: “Customers don’t know what they wan’t. We know”. Gnome guys are in the way, even with all the criticism. I think Fedora better days are yet to come, and I’m anxious for them. It has all the potential to be “the linux desktop” the same way ubuntu is presented to all people that never heard about linux. Perhaps some details aren’t noted in 1st. world, but something like delta-rpms are welcome on countries where internet doesn’t have a good performance. That’s why doesn’t make sense to use arch linux with broadband. So, Fedora must look outside. Foresee what people want, and they want ease of use and performance, they want good apps, that simply works. Decided to take off codecs? Offer an easy way to get them. Your have poor font rendering out-of-the-box? Explain how to make it great as those the suposedlly concurrant presents. There are rough edges, of course. But we know who they are. I think it’s an advantage. I’m waiting for the action, though.

    1. pdp11 Avatar

      if gnome wanted to be “the linux desktop” then there would not be a problem. but thats not what gnome wants to be. they thought they were going to chase the new new thing and be “the linux tablet of the future”. how many tablets does gnome3 run on? you could probably count them on one hand. they totally rewrote gnome into another product that has nothing to do with the desktop or gnome2. that new product has zero market penetration and zero users. android has laid waste to all competition in the tablet and small devices markets and meegoo is a footnote in history. the new new thing now is tizen. and honestly its because they are a better technology for small devices and that has been there focus for years. so what is gnome now? its a broken tablet interface shoved on the desktop and gnome does not really know what it is. they have basically told the desktop users to get lost. there new users are a theoretical group of multi touch tablet users that does not and will not ever exist, at least as far as gnome3 is concerned. i honestly think they prefer it like this because theoretical users never complain and you never have to refine your product to meat the needs of theoretical users. i think gnome3 is kaput. they have already burned to many bridges and its OBVIOUS that the other linux users and new users are not impressed with gnome3.

      so what should happen? remove gnome3 as the default desktop on fedora and give people a desktop focused window manager as a default. kde, xfce could be tweaked to make everyone happy. id like to see enlightenment also as an option. i think that if the gnome team want to recover there user base they will have to start gnome4 now and focus it as the successor to gnome2 in terms of functionality. gnome3 could be focused exclusivity on mobile devices. that way gnome3 development would not have to deal with the requirements of the desktop and laptop systems. and gnome4 would not have to work on mobile devices. does the fedora team have the guts to take that stance with gnome? i have my doubts. it sure seems from the outside like no matter how crappy gnome gets and no matter how much damage that does to fedora gnome will still be the default. it looks more like a political decision then picking the best desktop to attract new fedora users and bring back those who have left.

      1. eischmann Avatar

        GNOME developers are not aiming at tablets. It was officially declared at the last GUADEC. The primary target devices are workstations and laptops. They just wanna stay touch-friendly because many laptops have touch screens nowadays.

        1. pdp11 Avatar

          that may be what they say now. but for over 2 years before gnome3 was released every interview and statement was about moving gnome3 to tables and small devices because that was the “future”. that was the zeitgeist and everyone was blown away by the ipad and the ensuing rise of the tablet market. the same thing happened to microsoft with windows8. clearly windows8 is designed for there tablets but they have slightly more tablet users then gnome does. which is close to zero. so just like microsoft gnome is stuck with a radically different product design which failed in its intended market. it now looks like most people will still have a laptop or desktop with a full keyboard and monitor to do there work but they will also buy a table for recreation like watching movies and the net. people understand now that these design moves were a mistake for the desktop and they will not accept these design blunders to replace the much better design of normal desktop like gnome2 kde windows7 etc. they will not simply buy the “rebranding” and marketing the productivity drop of one window tablet interfaces is to high. they will switch to a desktop that has a normal interface or in the case of windows they will simply not upgrade until microsoft changes there design back to a normal desktop. for gnome3 it is kaput. most gnome2 users who switched have found there new desktop like xfce totally acceptable as there permanent desktop. throwing some extensions on top of gnome3 to make it “classic” (SIC) just makes people angry because it proves that there criticism is correct and that the gnome3 design is a turkey. so now people can just wait for gnome4. desktop users will wait and see if gnome4 is the replacement for gnome2. and if it is better then gnome2 for the desktop then they might consider trying gnome4.

    2. Leonard Umina Avatar

      Well, history has proved you wrong.

  14. Zoltan Hoppar Avatar

    IMHO, giving up defaults is a bad idea. But, as time and the market changes we should either change. Fedora should be the one, that points out the future in features, an capabilities. We made Pulseaudio, Network Manager, and tons of features, but yet – there is no visible long term vision because of the 6 months cycle and that scaring people.
    Yet, as I feel, we DON’T promote and give true focus to our new available features and values – what we share to the people, to linux communities: We had an really great one page release note paper – but this is vanished. I think we should restore it, and put out front of the landing page. Yes, I think we had an right marketing around Beefy Miracle – everybody has talked about us, however the name has caused some confusion.

    Also we have an huge idea box called Fedora Hosted. Why don’t we have an subdomain for it, and makig available, and visible to everyone to host projects and codes, as google do if you are using Fedora? They have built an page, where you can have API’s and tools. You need Java tools? Get this. You need python environment? Click on that. Instead of yum this-and-that-and-oh-that-too. We can do that too – just not Google code, else Fedora Code. Nope?
    IF we release such distro where in basic you receive an awesome Gnome 3 easy to use desktop (with few accessories where you can enable easily the missing plugins, codecs, grx acceleration) – we’ll win the desktop users.

    For devs, they need that mentioned page, and easily accessable tools – then we will win developers. We had an tool for making respins – called Revisor. With that tool we can win builders either again…. as the new anaconda will be complete.

    So, I want to say with this: we are not Unity linux, and we should never be. Building upon us, is not the same to build WITH us. But remember: when the gold fever has broke out in California, not the miners are who went rich – else who sold ropes, pickaxes, and shovels. Again, we need to give simply reachable tools, and explainable DESKTOP. Oh, and yes: One huge hug and thank you for the Gnome 3.8 Hello screen at first boot, and I hope we’ll see more of these fine touches.

    We are always developing something awesome, but within the lot of buzz/hype of usability, and as Ubuntu conquering forward new markets – seems we are loosing the point. But this is not true. We are different. We are making Freedom. Features. We have started this, and everyone has more or less copied us, like Suse, who has even tried to copy the ambassadors program either, witch is not bad – but we are the one who creating new stuff, and so should it be, and we should follow this line in marketing, on desktop either, I think.

  15. Leslie Satenstein Avatar

    Giving up defaults has or is a two sided issue. If Fedora does that, then we should expect to see some organization building a spin, in the way Ubuntu was built from Debian. We could see 8 or 10 new kinds of spins appearing. Would that fragment Fedora to where it will disappear to be only be feeder for another kind of Ubuntu.

    Keeping Fedora as is, needs some tender loving care. It gets it from the user community. It is one of the best distributions to use, where innovation, communication amongst developers, and enthusiasts flourish. When I visit Fedora based forums etc, I noted that forum participants are active for years. No other distribution has such a fanatical following and a user group caring about the distribution.

    My response if polled would be NO! Do not give up product

  16. Brian Avatar

    I am coming very late to the party on this one bcause I am a recent convert, but I really enjoy Fedora as it is and don’t want to see any changes. I must say that mockery is the sincerest form of flattery and windows 8 certainly seems to have been influenced by what I see in Fedora.

  17. Austin Owino Avatar

    Please please leave Fedora “as is”, I switched to it from Ubuntu and have never seen anything wrong. To me, the GNOME desktop is good despite all the criticism I read.

  18. Conor Avatar

    I for one have been a fedora user since, well, redhat 5… i.e.: forever.
    I am very thankful that fedora now has mate and cinnamon during install time, as I quickly dumped gnome3 after a few weeks of using it (when it was first released). I kept using fedora but installed all sorts of other desktops until mate was supported officially. Never looked back. I may install gnome3 in the future, maybe fedora 25 or something.

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