At the end of this week will take place the biggest event of the year for Fedora, the North American FUDCon, a place for great expectations with events, talks, discussions and such, is the place from where you expect a "strategy" to come but where in reality we'll see a lot of bating around the bush with the main issue: we are going the wrong way and we are losing contributors - some reduce their work drastically, some step back quietly, some say goodbye with a tear in their eye, some wave their hands from the Debian side, some go away in flames, some are shown the door - all they have some thing in common: they don't contribute any more.
As many other problems, this is a design problem, and I am not talking here about graphic design or interaction design, I talk about a higher level design, one that is perhaps the Board's competence: is the definition of the Fedora purpose and is implemented with policies, peer pressure, the power of example and so on. The problem is: Fedora used to be a distro aimed at advanced users, the ones that are likely, and we want, to contribute back and now is changing into a distro aimed at the Girl Scouts of America. A huge identity crisis, we are tying to become the second Ubuntu and this is not good.
I used to be in Fedora's target audience, now:
- as an User I don't have the apps (or the app versions) I need for my day to day work, being pushed towards 3-rd party repos and I get bad defaults - this is a big problem, the purpose of a distro is to offer a collection of packages and default options. Also, the way forward is departing from my needs: I use my computer to do stuff, not to watch stuff, if I needed a phone UI, I have used a phone, not a PC.
- as a Contributor the itch to scratch is vanishing - I do not care about the Girl Scouts, so there is no incentive for me to contribute to a distro targeted at them, I want to contribute to a distro that makes my life better, is targeted at me and solves my problems.
- as an Ambassador I am embarrassed: Fedora 14 was the lowest so far from this point of view, if I talked about the new features bragging for the single end-user talking point "JPEG pictures are loading faster", I would have been laughed out of the room. So I gathered people for beers, with no talks about features.
Do not get me wrong, I am not arguing for making Fedora hard to use or to make it hostile for Girl Scouts (heck! in the local community I am usually considered the public figure for our equivalent of Girl Scouts, so the complaints above coming from me should mean something), I argue for returning Fedora to the target it used to have maybe a couple of years ago, when it was a much better place to contribute. So, please, give our distro back!
I am sure many would like to frame this as a "Red Hat versus Community" problem, which is not the case: Red Had is big enough of a company to not have a consistent policy towards Fedora, leaving enough place to maneuver for interest groups (up to middle management) to play their politics and power games, with people naturally siding with the next-cubicle guy because they have to live together, with people who value their job security and like their workplace and there are also people who do not like the situation but fear to talk in public (and not only a few of them) as there are people who talk in public but not very loud. So loud can be someone like me, who has nothing to lose - I believe we are not yet as low as our green friends who kick out from the community voices out of the "party line".