Recent blog postings here on the O’Reilly Network and articles on Slashdot (including a recent review of my book) have generated some really strong negative comments about the Fedora project. Does Fedora really matter?
I believe that Fedora is a unique, vital, and critical open source project:
- Fedora is about pushing the envelope with open source. Or, as Max Spevack wrote last summer, “Fedora is about the rapid progress of Free and Open Source software”. Since new releases are made on a 6-month schedule, the Fedora project puts new versions of software into users’ hands more quickly than many other distributions. Some new technologies with a lot of potential, such as SELinux, are benefitting from this drive.
- Fedora is absolutely, completely free software. (It can also be obtained without cost). It doesn’t contain binary blob drivers for wireless or video cards, patent-encumbered codecs, or binary-only packages such as Adobe Flash or Acrobat Reader. Debian shares this trait, but other major distributions such Ubuntu and SUSE do not. The benefits of free software have frequently been enumerated: the ability to recompile for different architectures, the ability to fix bugs or change the software in any way you choose (or pay someone to change it for you), and the ability to use the software wherever, whenever, and however you please.
- Fedora is a community distribution. Yes, most or all of the developers on Core are Red Hat employees, but most of Extras is maintained by non-Red Hat packagers, and it’s likely that the distinction between Core and Extras will soon be erased. Meanwhile the bugzilla system, development lists, repositories, doc systems, and localization efforts are all out in the open.
- The company supporting the Fedora project by paying the infrastructure costs and providing development manpower is Red Hat. Their investment in the Fedora project is massive, and the software improvements generated by this investment are reliably propagated upstream (in fact, Red Hat developers are the “upstream” for many packages in Fedora and other distributions). And, unlike Novell, they haven’t been making dubious patent deals with proprietary software vendors.
I sometimes read of people pining away for the old Red Hat Linux releases, which clearly demonstrates the power of nostalgia. I used and liked those releases, too. But they contained binary-only code (such as Netscape Communicator) and there was no way to become involved in shaping the distribution.
The introduction of the Fedora project in 2003 was widely perceived as a negative development, but this was primarily due to massive miscommunication. At that time Red Hat effectively opened up their development process, making previously-internal processes transparent to the open source community; invited external package maintainers to join the project (Fedora Extras); started the move towards an all-Free distribution; and recognized that the store-shelf distribution model made no sense in the age of broadband. As the Fedora project has evolved, it is now considering erasing the distinction between Core and Extras, further involving the community in the development process.
Fedora isn’t for everyone. But if you’re looking for a distribution that is vehemently free and open source, paced to drive innovation and new development, and backed by a company that’s putting its money where its mouth is, then Fedora is a good fit for you.
A request regarding comments: distro opinions can get a little strong! Let’s keep the discussion civil and constructive.