After thirteen years as a loyal Red Hat and Fedora user, I reached my limit today, when an attempt to upgrade one (1) package pitched me into a four-hour marathon of dependency chasing, at the end of which an attempt to get around a trivial file conflict rendered my system unusable.
The proximate causes of this failure were (1) incompetent repository maintenance, making any nontrivial upgrade certain to founder on a failed dependency, and (2) the fact that rpm is not statically linked -- so it's possible to inadvertently remove a shared library it depends on and be unrecoverably screwed. But the underlying problems run much deeper.
Over the last five years, I've watched Red Hat/Fedora throw away what was at one time a near-unassailable lead in technical prowess, market share and community prestige. The blunders have been legion on both technical and political levels. They have included, but were not limited to:
- Chronic governance problems.
- Persistent failure to maintain key repositories in a sane, consistent state from which upgrades might actually be possible.
- A murky, poorly-documented, over-complex submission process.
- Allowing RPM development to drift and stagnate -- then adding another layer of complexity, bugs, and wretched performance with yum.
- Effectively abandoning the struggle for desktop market share.
- Failure to address the problem of proprietary multimedia formats with any attitude other than blank denial.
In retrospect, I should probably have cut my losses years ago. But I had so much history with Red-Hat/Fedora, and had invested so much effort in trying to fix the problems, that it was hard to even imagine breaking away.
If I thought the state of Fedora were actually improving, I might hang in there. But it isn't. I've been on the fedora-devel list for years, and the trend is clear. The culture of the project's core group has become steadily more unhealthy, more inward-looking, more insistent on narrow "free software" ideological purity, and more disconnected from the technical and evangelical challenges that must be met to make Linux a world-changing success that liberates a majority of computer users.
I have watched Ubuntu rise to these challenges as Fedora fell away from them. Canonical's recent deal with Linspire, which will give Linux users legal access to WMF and other key proprietary codecs, is precisely the sort of thing Red-Hat/Fedora could and should have taken the lead in. Not having done so bespeaks a failure of vision which I now believe will condemn Fedora to a shrinking niche in the future.
This afternoon, I installed Edgy Eft on my main development machine -- from one CD, not five. In less than three hours' work I was able to recreate the key features of my day-to-day toolkit. The after-installation mass upgrade to current packages, always a frightening prospect under Fedora, went off without a hitch.
I'm not expecting Ubuntu to be perfect, but I am now certain it will be enough better to compensate me for the fact that I need to learn a new set of administration tools.
Fedora, you had every advantage, and you had my loyalty, and you blew it. And that is a damn, dirty shame.