Fedora's way forward

Stanton Finley stanfinley at comcast.net
Wed Mar 29 05:11:26 UTC 2006

On Tue, 2006-03-28 at 04:50 -0500, Eric S. Raymond wrote:
> I've had a few days now to get through the expected upgrade teething
> troubles, use FC5 for my normal tasks, and watch my non-techie wife
> Cathy use FC5 for *her* normal tasks.  I've been a Red Hat/Fedora user
> and contributor for more than a decade now, since before 2.0 and
> *well* before I became famous enough to show up in Red Hat's corporate
> timeline :-).  I've taken some time to reflect on FC5 and the trends
> of the last decade, and where I think Fedora and Red Hat need to go in
> the future to achieve the dreams they were founded on.
> Let me start with some good things.  I thought Fedora was in
> desperately bad shape in the FC3/FC4 period, and as some of you know I
> raised hell about it, threatening to jump very publicly to another
> distribution and orphan several Fedora-related HOWTOs in the process.
> I'm delighted to be able to report that much of what pushed me very
> near to giving up on Fedora has been fixed.
> Good thing the first: Maintainence of the core repositories is no
> longer a disgraceful, poorly-documented shambles. Because of this, yum
> is at last fulfilling the promise of (almost) friction-free upgrading
> over the net.  Such problems as I've encountered with FC5 upgrades
> have been due to upstream bugs, not egregious fuckups in the Fedora
> infrastructure.  This had...ahem...not previously always been the case.
> Good thing the second: this time around, I can ignore RPMForge.  While
> those guys have done excellent work and performed a valuable function
> by keeping Fedora on its toes, one of the things I really, *really*
> wanted as a sysadmin was to be able to point my yum at official Fedora
> repos plus one (1) repo for Damned Things like proprietary codecs, and
> be done.  In FC5, core plus extras plus livna does as good a job as
> core plus half-a-dozen RPMForge repos used to.
> Good thing the third: it's clear from the devel-list traffic that the
> submission pathway for new packages has got most if not all of the
> process issues shaken out of it.  I had meant to get more directly
> involved in that, there are four or five things I want to package and
> submit myself, but higher-priority tasks ate my bandwidth.  One of my
> resolutions for 2006 is to make time for those submissions.
> Good thing the fourth: A combination of increased polish in various
> distro components and significant upstream developments (one biggie
> being OpenOffice 2.0) has, to my observation, inched FC across an
> important functional threshold.  My wife can use it with as little
> pain as Windows now, rather than merely tolerating the crap because
> she believes in what the Linux community is trying to do.  This is
> significant, because she's *not a geek*; she's a lawyer.  She is,
> in fact, perfectly representative of the kind of forward-looking
> professional in non-technology fields that we must have on our
> side if we're to take Linux all the places we want it to go.
> Take a moment to savor these good things.  Because the news is by no
> means all good.  We've come a long, long way, baby -- but having got
> past some of the serious blocking issues, we now get to face a new set
> of them. And at least one old issue everyone has been ducking...
> First, a relatively minor issue that is nevertheless quite annoying.
> It's the Fedora distribution art, the images in Anaconda and the
> Fedora-customized graphics in the admin tools and elsewhere.  It has
> never been much better than mediocre, and in FC5 it hits a new low
> with backgrounds that look like a Teletubby hocked loogies into a
> dish full of soap scum.  And whose bright idea, I have to wonder, was
> it to abandon the attractive and recognizable Fedora icon for
> something that's...not a fedora?
> Cripes.  By comparison, even the original BlueCurve was superior.  And
> original BlueCurve wasn't much to cheer about compared to the
> decorative art on a Windows or (especially) a Mac -- acceptable, but
> not a competitive plus, not something that would actually attract
> users.  The FedoraBubbles stuff is bland and tacky goo that I expect
> will repel them.
> Now that we've gotten past some of the key blockers on the functional
> level, it's time to worry more about fit-and-finish issues like these.
> Mediocre art, workmanlike images that convey information without
> being ugly, is good enough for a niche product aimed at techies.  If
> we want Fedora -- and for that matter Linux in general -- to break out
> of that niche, we have to make it *look* like we want it to.
> That means high-quality art, art that makes people actually *want* to
> look at the screen because it's a significant aesthetic experience.
> Which, right now, we ain't got.
> But the art problem pales compared to the issue that everyone has been
> ducking, which is Fedora's support for DVDs and proprietary audio and
> video and web-streaming formats and Java applets. That is to say, its
> crummy-to-nonexistent-to-actually-toxic support.  The tools in FC5
> weren't better than they were in FC3/FC4; after installing the
> critical bits from livna, they were *worse*. Totem tossed its cookies
> with a cryptic pop-up error; xine white-screened under one card and
> actually crashed my X under another!
> It's 2006, people.  The Web is fifteen years old.  Even non-techies
> have had a decade to form expectations about what constitutes a base
> level of functionality.  We don't have a prayer -- not a hope, not a
> snowball's chance in a supernova -- of becoming competitive for
> home and business-desktop use without delivering to those
> expectations.  
> Those expectations include, without any doubt, multimedia playback,
> web streaming, and never seeing the broken-puzzle-piece icon in
> Firefox more than once per media type (if that often). When those
> expectations are violated, it's not the content provider who gets
> blamed for shipping a proprietary format.  The customer interprets
> that kind of failure as a bug in the client, *and the customer is
> right*.  All the idealism in the world about Ogg and Theora and
> whatnot will not change this.
> Let's start with the basics.  For a consumer OS to be unable to play
> MP3s and handle podcasts is just plain not acceptable, not in the
> world after iTunes.  Red Hat/Fedora's duck-and-cover on this would be
> understandable if the Fraunhofer patents blocked decoders, but
> Fraunhofer itself has only dunned for royalties on *encoders* -- thus
> Red Hat/Fedora has ceded to Fraunhofer rights it has never claimed.  
> I know at least one fairly influential kernel developer who threw out
> Red Hat/Fedora in disgust over this.  When he asked me straight up how
> I could defend what he bluntly called 'corporate cowardice', I didn't
> feel like I had a good answer.  And I still don't.  In return for all
> the free development work they get, it does seem to me that it's part
> of Red Hat's job to shoulder risks like these -- and that Red Hat
> hasn't held up its end.
> AVI.  Quicktime.  ASF.  MPEG.  DVD playback.  Flash.  Java. These are
> *not optional* in 2006, any more than the ability to read Microsoft
> Word files in a word processor is optional; if we try to treat them
> that way, consumers will blow Linux off.  Evangelizing for SVG and Ogg
> and Theora may change this someday (I hope it will, anyway), but if
> that transition were going to happen soon enough to make supporting
> proprietary formats unnecessary *we'd already be past it now*.
> So. For each format, we have one of three choices:
> 1. We can end-run the patent restrictions on the technology (say,
> by developing outside the U.S. and distributing through overseas sites
> that are wink-wink-nudge-nudge unconnected with Fedora/Red hat).
> 2. We can put real resources into developing a decoder implementation
> the blocking patents don't cover, and accept the risk that the
> patent-holders will launch harassment lawsuits anyway as a cost of
> doing business.
> 3. We can buy the rights to the technologies we want as a straight
> commercial transaction from the patent-holder.
> The community is already pursuing (1) for some formats.  If Red Hat,
> which likes to see itself as the market leader and senior commercial
> distributor, isn't willing to take a swing at (2) or (3) for the
> others, then I have to wonder what the hell having commercial Linux
> distributors is actually good for.
> If solving the multimedia problem takes having Red Hat sell a
> plugins-and-drivers disk for each spin of FC, full of proprietary crap
> that it negotiated rights for, that sucks -- but better that than
> never getting any traction on the desktop because we got too caught up
> in our own idealism to meet actual consumer needs.
> And if Red Hat's answer is "we don't want the desktop", then my answer
> back is "shame on you for forgetting where you came from!", and it
> really would be time for those of us who care about the future of Linux to
> find a commercial partner with more ambition and more guts.
> -- 
> 		<a href="http://www.catb.org/~esr/">Eric S. Raymond</a>
> "This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. 
> Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise
> their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to 
> dismember it or overthrow it."	-- Abraham Lincoln, 4 April 1861

Right on the money Eric.

I love Fedora Core. In the world of Linux it is The Class Act. However I
would like to see it's core philosophical paradigm expanded to
accommodate the pragmatic reality of what the average user really wants
and what he actually installs on his Fedora machine in practice. Until
this occurs Fedora cannot hope to attract even a small fraction of its
potential user base.
Stanton Finley

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