September 2nd, 2010
In the end, it doesn’t matter hugely to me how this gets settled – I work QA, and as I figure it, our job is to do the best testing job we can in the context of the overall aims and development method of the project. You sometimes see cases where QA people want to dictate the way development happens on the basis of being able to test things properly, but I think that’s ass-backward; whoever is leading the project should set the goals and development methods, and QA should work within those. If whoever’s in charge is unhappy with the resulting product’s quality they might want to tweak the process, but it’s not really QA’s job to dictate that. So I’m fine with working with whatever process gets decided in the end.
From an entirely personal point of view, though, I have to say I kinda wind up on a slightly different side of the question to Máirín and Jon. Máirín has Caroline Casual User; Jon talks about what Windows and Mac OS do, what “users” want, and stuff like “can feel quite confident doing an update as a matter of best practice, even ten minutes before a big presentation, or even during the presentation if I want to”.
I’m kind of sympathetic towards the point of view that that’s a perfectly sound goal for an operating system, but it may not necessarily be the best goal for the Fedora operating system to pick. Just because that’s the target of Windows and OS X doesn’t mean it has to be ours.
For a start, there’s already plenty of Linux distributions besides Fedora with those goals. To put it bluntly, there’s Ubuntu, and Ubuntu’s doing a fairly decent job of being Ubuntu. I’ve argued before that it’s somewhat dangerous for the overall ecosystem for Ubuntu to drive out all competitors, and to an extent I stand by that, but OTOH, I’m not entirely sure that being Ubuntu’s token competition is the best thing Fedora can be. For a start, Fedora isn’t set up for it. Exactly this kind of debate makes the advantages of Ubuntu’s Benevolent Dictator model apparent; this just wouldn’t really happen in Ubuntu-land, or if it did, it’d be in a conference room with Mark and ten other people and it’d be over in an hour. The Fedora project is built in a different way; being run by a chain of partly-elected committees is great for openness and transparency and defending community values, but it does lose the benefits of focus and swiftness that come from having one person in charge and defining the project’s scope and vision.
I like the idea that’s mostly being proposed by the ‘radical’ side of the debate that the best and most efficient way to use the resources of the Fedora project going forwards is to be something different from what Windows and OS X and Ubuntu are. One of the advantages of the F/OSS world is that we’re supposed to be better at co-operation than competition. I think it would be kind of cool to have a world where everyone knows that Fedora is the distribution with the latest bleeding-edge stuff and Ubuntu is what you install on grandpa’s computer, or yours if you want to trade off a quiet life for not getting the latest everything all the time.
In fact I could be quite happy if we revised Fedora’s process completely. I can see a future where we aim to be a rolling distribution, and put out a point release only when we *have* to; when I asked people within Fedora a while back why point releases still exist, the only really valid answer was more or less ‘because sometimes changes happen that we can’t handle with an in-place update’. That’s fine, but in that case, there’s no real reason besides PR to schedule releases every six months; why not just do a release when some change means we *have* to do one? When such a change comes along we put out a set of images and give people six months to reinstall or upgrade, pushing security fixes for the previous codebase during that period, and then just declare it dead and say everyone needs to be on the new code now? Most of the objections to this kind of thing are about providing stable platforms and dependable updates and yadda yadda, but I already said, there’s no reason Fedora has to be that project. In a lot of ways I think Fedora could be a much more interesting and useful project in the long term if it wasn’t.
tl;dr summary: let’s let Ubuntu be Ubuntu, and let’s us be something different, and that should be the most efficient way for the whole F/OSS / Linux world to use its resources.