Editor’s note: At approximately 8:30 pm EDT on Monday, June 10, 2013 we decided to pull the plug on our Community Distro poll which is referenced in this article after we discovered that 90 votes were cast from the same IP address, evidently in Norway. All votes cast by this IP were for the same single distribution, evidently by an overeager fan of the distro wanting to improve its ranking as a community distro.
Due to issues of public trust, we have decided NOT to continue this poll with a manual count. We appreciate the time all of you took to participate, and we apologize for not being able to see this poll through to it’s completion.
We love it when you make us think and last week you did just that.
On Monday, Christine Hall stirred-up the mud a little with her article Since When Was Ubuntu A Community Distro? The article was written as a tongue in cheek response to a post on another site, in which a writer had feigned surprise while lamenting the fact that Ubuntu was “no longer a community distro.”
Ms Hall feigned surprise right back, while asserting Ubuntu to never having been a community Linux distro, despite Mr. Shuttleworth and Canonical calling it so.
That assertion is not what stirred-up the mud, however; it generated not one ripple of controversy. Nope. That was fine. Our readership is pretty quick on the uptake, so no one had any problem with the concept of just-because-somebody-says-it-don’t-make-it-so, which is basically what Ms Hall was saying. After spending a lifetime watching television commercials, it’s only a tiny baby step from realizing that Cocoa Puffs are not part of a healthy breakfast no matter what the commercial claims to understanding that Mr. Shuttleworth was just trying to get some traction for his cute little commercial Linux distribution when he insisted it belonged to the community.
It wasn’t Ubuntu that mucked the rake. It was Ms Hall’s assertion that Red Hat’s Fedora is a community distro in name only that really got the discussion heated. Not that we minded, mind you. We kind of like being in the center of controversy sometimes. Especially if it gives us, and our gentle readers, the opportunity to think and learn something.
Here’s the passage from Ms Hall’s article that got things going:
“I had a bigger laugh when Ms Guacamole proved she still hadn’t quite mastered the journalism game, that she was still a little green if you will, by proclaiming Fedora to be ‘a completely open community distribution.’
“I think Red Hat might even argue with her a little on that. Fedora is Red Hat’s testing grounds. It’s where they throw stuff against the wall to see what sticks and what breaks. It’s a distro that some of us are afraid to try because we can’t afford to be bleeding edge. We have work to do and don’t have time to recover from being Red Hat’s guinea pigs.
“Here’s what Techmint’s Avishek Kumar wrote in an article posted just last Friday:
‘”Actually Fedora is a testing platform of Red Hat and a product is developed and tested here before entering the Enterprise distro.”‘”
It appears that some people who work for Red Hat on the Fedora project somehow found Ms Hall’s article and took exception to it. They weren’t speaking for Red Hat, just for themselves, but it was obvious that they didn’t think it was fair to all the community volunteers at Fedora when folks like us give distros like Fedora and openSUSE second class status as community distros.
Quite frankly, they made a good case. One Red Hat employee who works on the Fedora project contacted us privately through email with these words:
“The reason I so vehemently dislike statements about Fedora being ‘just a testing ground for RHEL’ and ‘not a real community distro’ is that we’ve got an amazing team of volunteers who belong to the community outreach program, and when they hear that, it is incredibly demoralizing.
“They spend nights and weekends away from their families trying to build the Fedora community, participating in conventions and LinuxFests, they design content, publish articles, work to bring new community members on board… and then read this stuff. It’s enough to make them want to throw their hands up.
“…the Fedora community does AMAZING work in end-user space–from X to GNOME to apps to games, thousands of people give their own time to make ALL of Linux better (remember, we do everything in upstream, we don’t keep anything for our own distros). Then they hear that all that is ‘just a beta for RHEL.’ It’s incredibly objectionable.
From another Red Hatter connected with Fedora, we were given a good description of how development takes place within the Fedora project:
“Day-to-day, in practice, though, Fedora gets built by the people who build it – whether they’re RH staff or not. Most stuff that happens in Fedora just happens: someone with commit rights does something, and no-one complains. And lots and lots of non-RH people have commit rights to Fedora and ‘do stuff’ all the time. We have entire desktops and spins that are maintained by non-RH staff.
“Where decisions are actually made by some kind of decision-making body, there are several that aren’t RH-controlled, and even where a board or committee has a lot of @redhat people on it, they’re usually just making decisions based on their own discretion as to what is good for the Fedora project; they usually aren’t subject to ‘guidance’ from RH’s corporate hierarchy (not that it has much of one…) or considerations of ‘what’s good for Red Hat’. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that no @redhat person ever thought ‘hmm, is this going to be a problem for that huge Red Hat release next month?’ because I’m not an idiot and neither are you, but believe me, it’s not the kind of thing that’s going on _all the time_.
“So can we just agree to a kind of middle ground? No, Fedora is not a perfect ‘community distribution’, Red Hat ultimately holds the Fedora strings. But at the same time, in practice, Fedora isn’t some kind of Red Hat-directed RHEL sandbox where nothing happens without approval from the Red Hat Guidance Committee or something. In practice, the people who make Fedora mostly do it with an honest effort to make Fedora the best project it can be, regardless of RH’s concerns, and that applies whether those people are @redhat or not.”
We certainly never intended to belittle volunteers who are working hard to help the cause of GNU/Linux in consumer space or in the developmental process. By the same token, we can’t deny the fact there’s a big difference between distros such as Fedora and openSUSE, that fall under the ownership of larger commercial Linux distributions, and stand alone community distros with no commercial interests, such as Debian.
At this point, we could throw our hands up, say we can’t cope and secretly declare to ourselves that we’ll never write another article that even mentions the phrase “community distro.” We could, but we’re not built that way. To our way of thinking, this is an opportunity to have an important dialog.
So we ask, what is a community distro?
We’ve always thought of a community distro as being one that’s not connected with a commercial distro. Projects like Debian or Slackware immediately come to mind. To our way of thinking, even distros that are based on commercial distros can wear the “community” label, so long as the commercial distro has no claim over the community distro. An example here might be Bodhi Linux, which has Ubuntu under the hood but isn’t officially connected in anyway with Canonical, as far as we know.
Where does that leave distros like Fedora? With all of their volunteers working diligently to build community, it seems unfair to say it’s not a community distro. By the same token, it seems unfair to distros like Debian to lump them both in the same category.
What do you think?
We invite you to join in a dialog with us in the comments section beneath this article–after you have taken our poll, of course.
Editor’s note: Article updated 6/10/13 at 8:50 pm EDT to announce premature closing of poll.