If you pay attention to Linux news, I’m sure you’ve heard that Eric S. Raymond (commonly called “ESR”) has dumped Fedora in favor of Ubuntu. In case you’re wondering who he is, he is the author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar which is one of the best essays about open source development (highly recommended reading by the way).
The first thing that might come to mind is “so what?” So what if this open source advocate switched? What difference does it make? Essentially not much. However the workings of major open source projects are just as political as any other aspect of human behaviour. While there maybe a common philosophical goal of “free software”, how to achieve that goal is anyone’s guess. All groups have different approaches and biases that heavily influence their development. Simply put, ESR’s public exclaimation was just a very public last-ditch attempt to influence Fedora. Will this be effective? I don’t really know.
Other’s have tried different attempts of influence. In 2005 Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, very publicly switched from the Gnome desktop to the KDE desktop. In a recent response, Gnome developers told him to use the Gnome desktop for a month and discuss the problems. Instead, Linus provided patches (source code updates) to improve Gnome. I don’t think that’s the response they were expecting. In truth I think both sides know that not much will change.
So what does that mean to the average end user of Linux? Basically that the agenda of the developers overrides the desires of end users. That’s it. It may sound cynical, but it makes sense. While many will argue about the freedoms and choices given to users, it really makes little difference for people who don’t know anything about their computers to begin with. While some choices are very nice (there are many more options than Fedora and Ubuntu for linux), some are much more restrictive (KDE or Gnome, not much else exists). Knowing all your options is not always very straightforward.
What about Fedora? There have been lots of changes in the Fedora linux distribution that will take effect in the Fedora 7 release (not Fedora Core 7). In some ways I’m considering switching myself. I cannot in good faith recommend Fedora for a desktop and the same goes for Gnome (which Fedora uses by default). Even though many open source advocates belong to a “community” I often wonder who that community includes? Could I influence Fedora or Gnome? Well if the inventor of Linux can’t then I don’t feel very encouraged myself.
Both ESR and Linus may be quite pompous at times, but their underlying concerns are very sincere and legitimate. I’ve been with Redhat using Gnome since RH6.0 in 1999 and I’ve been helping everyday users with Redhat/Fedora problems since 2001. Do I plan to switch? Well every day that seems more and more likely.