A great blog post that Jon Masters made today pretty much sums up my frustrations with Fedora. I was really happy to see it! Jon basically lays out four things he’d like to see Fedora do:
- Slow the updates – they bring too much instability to what is supposed to be a stable release.
- Set a mandate – either ask the users or set it yourself, but take a stand. “Fedora can’t be all things to all people, that isn’t working,” OMG yes, preach it!
- Establish cross-functional workgroups.
- Set specific goals. “Have a strong process (stronger than now – before anything is allowed to be built and shipped out the door), with an overall vision that those ideas fit into.”
I wanted to point out some of the efforts the Fedora Board (current and over the years) has made thus far to rectify the situation (which, by the way, I think is a natural symptom of growing as a project and not too much cause for alarm given that we right it soon.):
- The Fedora target user base was put together by the last Fedora Board. In short it’s a user who is a voluntary Linux consumer, computer-friendly, a likely collaborator, and a general productivity user.
- We have Fedora’s foundations, which are the core values of the Fedora community – freedom, features, friends, first.
- We have a mission statement, “The Fedora Project’s mission is to lead the advancement of free and open source software and content as a collaborative community.”
- The current Fedora Board has been discussing Fedora’s vision (or lack thereof) and is in the process of drafting a vision statement for the project. You can see some of the drafting and discussion on this thread of the advisory-board mailing list.
Here’s how I see these interacting:
- The mission statement sets out what we are doing. We’re focused on free and open source software and content. While running a panda nursery or developing new and exciting flavors of ice cream might have some positive value to society, those are out-of-scope for our project (damn! ;-) )
- The target user base sets out who we are doing it for. Sometimes it can be hard or even impossible to please two groups of people at once, for example, how can you please both New York Rangers and New York Islanders hockey fans at the same game? The target user base defines the team we’ll be rooting for when conflict arises and a decision needs to be made (the Rangers, of course!)
- The four foundations set out how we do it (from a values perspective.) There’s a lot of different ways you can get to the same end goal. For example, I could raise money by holding a bake sale with cookies and cakes, or I could raise money by selling tickets to the circus. If my organization is like Weight Watchers, I’ll probably opt out of using decadent baked goods since it conflicts with my organization’s core values towards healthy eating and healthy weight. I might sell tickets to the circus instead. If my organization works to protect animals, though, supporting a circus might be a questionable way to represent my organization’s values, and a bake sale might be a better choice.
- The vision statement will set out why we do it and where we want to be. While driving around in a car without a destination or purpose in mind can be fun, it’s not necessarily going to be very productive. This isn’t to say that open exploration or innovation is a problem – not at all – but there are ways of doing that without being a total flake, I think. I think arguing that this kind of free meandering about will eventually lead to a great user experience does a great disservice to the time, effort, and discipline that is in reality required to achieve that.
So, what you may ask, and what I ask myself all the time, is – are these fancy documents really going to be of any use? I think Fedora has grown up enough that they really are necessary. It’s not a close-knit group of folks in North Carolina putting a Linux distro together. I think small, tight teams don’t need fancy documents because they work so closely together, they share a common culture and can work big-picture concerns out. When you’ve got a large global project with several thousands (if not more) contributors across the world working on it, it’s a bit harder to get everyone on the same page and resolve misdirections before they go too far. Thinking walking your dog vs. herding a hundred cats. Although I think maybe Smooge can speak more authoritatively on how Red Hat Linux was put together vs. how we put Fedora together today.
No, I don’t think finally having a vision statement as the final puzzle piece in place is going to magically fix everything. I think there’s a lot of work that is going to need to happen to put all of these things into working use. I think the documents and more importantly the ideas behind them are going to have to be socialized into the culture of Fedora to really be successful. That is why it is so important to get involved in the discussions around them if you are part of Fedora. So please, do :) Hit up the Fedora advisory-board mailing list to start, and maybe drop by a public Fedora Board meeting.