fedora culture clashes?
October 29, 2008
I’ve been seeing a bunch of threads over the last few dev cycles that are leading me to believe we are in the middle of a culture clash in fedora – maybe in linux distros in general. The cultures are roughly divided along these lines (in no particular order)
A. Sysadmins, old-school linux-y, retrogrouch folks.
B. Laptop-oriented developers.
Group A sees computers as a means to an end. Change is something they have to act as a proxy for to their users. Their users are a large and diverse group. They control many of the views of the computing world and access for their users. They meter access and privileges. When they think of users the idea of one of the users also being an admin is anathema. Change and disruption of the status quo for their users is generally considered a bad thing. This group is more likely to think of a computer in the same way most people think of a desk, a chair, a pen and paper. It’s something that is expected to be there, expected to work in a specific way and significant changes in how these items work are generally met with irritation. Recurring change is met with outright anger. At some point in time this group got comfortable with how bits were working and they are resistant to changes that don’t make things immediately easier either for them or for their users w/o a loss of functionality for someone else.
Group B sees computers as an exciting interface to the world. A place where we are not hampered by older assumptions or paths. A zero-physical-cost to replacing and revamping designs. They live in a rapid-prototyping world. The idea of throwing-one-away is something they know quite well. They believe they are working on new ideas and in some cases they are. They look at the other operating systems and interfaces than the ones on linux with an interest in bringing some of that ease of use and smoothness to linux and X in general. The release of MacOSX was an exciting driver for many folks in this group. Their concept of a user is someone buying a laptop or a netbook-style or other smaller device and wanting to use free software on it. They think that mobile and ubiquitous computing is happening in laptops, netbooks, MID devices and phones. They are able to change rapidly with design revamps b/c if they are not the ones involved with the revamp they are often close to those who are.
Let me give you a fictional example of not understanding each other:
Member of B: We’re going to be moving around where the tabs work on the default interface. They’ll all be on the right side, rotated vertically, like reading down a bookshelf. We’re sure it will help make things easier to the user. If you want them back the other way, just move them back by dragging them over or setting your preference for tab location
Member of A: You’re just going to stick that on us? That’s nuts and reckless!
Member of B: It’s progress, we need to do this to enable a vertically-functional desktop! It’s not a big change!
Member of A: I Can’t believe you’re ignoring your users like this!
What Member of A doesn’t understand is that Member of B has been looking at how various interfaces has evolved and noticed that a lot of vertical placement is comfortable (or some other explanation) for users and allows them to ‘vertically file things more efficiently in their mind’ (I’m making this up, it’s just an example)
What member of B doesn’t understand is that Member of A is going to have to deal with hundreds of end users. Some of them will find the change interesting and maybe even more efficient. Most of them are going to react with “CHANGE BAD, MAKE CHANGE STOP, GO PUMMEL LOCAL SYSADMIN UNTIL CHANGE STOPS”.
So member of A is a product of their (abusive) environment. That environment is no less valid, it is just very different from member of B.
Member of B is also a product of their environment. They work and communicate with other forward-looking developers who are welcoming and comfortable with change like this.
The problem for fedora is not about which of these groups is better or right in any sense of either of those words. The problem is there is only so far we can go in fedora trying to target BOTH groups at the same time for our default release. At some point the infrastructure changes you need to drive our interface changes make user and admin noticeable impact on core functionality in the distribution. So, fedora needs to definitively and authoritatively say what the target is for the system development that is being done. This has to keep a couple things in mind:
1. it’s current user base
2. distros downstream of it (OLPC, rhel, centos, etc)
There may be a medium somewhere between group A and group B. That is a hard place to find. However, I think it is best for us to understand the difference between these two groups if we’re going to be able to speak and comprehend each other w/o it devolving into flame wars.
Please remember, try to look at the world from the perspective of the people you’re disagreeing with. Their perspective isn’t yours and it is no less valid.