Fri 29 May 2015

Letter to the Fedora council - is the Fedora community forgetting its primary goal?

Posted by ankur in Tech (802 words, approximately a 4 minute read)

I wrote this e-mail to the council-discuss mailing list. I share it here for you to read and think about. Feel free to leave comments below.

Hello all,

I've been around in the community for quite a bit, and while I'm not a kernel-dev or a team lead, I still like to think I belong to the community - helping where I can. Why I've stuck around over the years, other than because I've made friends in the community that I'd miss, is the philosophy of Fedora - the stance we take towards FOSS - which distinguishes us from any other Linux distribution.

Recently, since we moved on to, we've been working hard to make the OS as user friendly as we can - the OS must be easy to set up and use if we're to gain users, and gain market share in the process. But, what is the purpose of this drive to increase our market share? Why do we want more users? To beat other distributions in numbers? So that we can say we have more users than them?

As I've always understood it, the primary goal of the Fedora community is to spread awareness about FOSS, and the OS is a tool to accomplish this goal - the more we improve the OS, the more users we have, the more we can spread philosophy of FOSS.

Recently, though, I've begun to feel like the goal has just become to "gain more users", and the "in order to spread FOSS" part is slowly losing its importance. We've been discussing inclusion of non FOSS software, for example - in whatever capacity - repositories, meta-data links, the software itself - you will be aware that we've had a fesco ticket discussing policy changes too. (FESCo refused and asked the concerned parties to take it up with the Board)

The reason why we do not include non FOSS software seems to have changed from "because we want to only use FOSS - that is our mission" to "because including non FOSS software may risk RH, the company that backs us", somewhere along the line. While the latter is true, it distresses me to think that for some, this has now become the primary reason. The primary reason used to be "because we want our users to use FOSS as much as practically possible", and it is fortunate that this fit in perfectly with protecting RH. Surely, RH Legal should not be the the set of people stopping us from including non FOSS software??

(I'm not being naive here, I do understand that it is really important that we don't expose RH to liability, but the point is, that as a member of the Fedora community, this cannot be the primary reason.)

This change seems to have happened because we've started taking Fedora being FOSS for granted. We just don't think, speak or write about it enough - we're too engrossed in making good products for users to the level that people actually consider changing policy just to make a product "easier to use". (I'm all for making Fedora easier to use. If you were on the planet today, you'd have seen my post about Appstream data for RPMFusion.)

As an isolated example, the workstation mission statement begins: "The Fedora Workstation working group aims to create a reliable, user -friendly and powerful operating system for laptops and PC hardware." The term FOSS does not figure here. This is our primary product aimed at end users.

The simplest solution is to restart actively speaking about FOSS, about actually working on increasing awareness - our primary goal. I've written this to the council discuss list and not another because the council is tasked with leading the community - and not only towards a good OS implementation wise, but also towards the primary goal of spreading FOSS, which to me, is what gives Fedora its identity in the first place. I hope this will stimulate a discussion about what we need to do to get the primary goal of the community back into focus.

At a non council level, some of us have been thinking about an essay contest, which decause very nicely coined "Why we FOSS". The idea is to have a competition to get people to write why they use Fedora and open source software - and to use these essays as a medium to spread awareness. It's just an idea and we're working on details, but it's a start. decause also suggested that the contest also be held as part of the university outreach program, to expose young minds to the philosophy.

In conclusion, the community seems to be forgetting that our goal is to spread FOSS and the OS is a tool to achieve this, and I would very much like the council to think about this and how this needs to be rectified.