My name is Beth Lynn Eicher and I am Fedora.
Before Apple’s “I am a Mac and he’s a PC” ads, long before Microsoft’s “I am a PC and Windows 7 is my idea,” Red Hat Inc. had released a campaign in 2004 “I am Fedora.” To Red Hat, Fedora is commitment, not a gimmick. Fedora is both a living community and a Linux-based operating system for those who love freedom.
Here at “What Will We Use” we discuss Ubuntu bug one: Microsoft will lose majority market share come June 30, 2011. Some may be surprised then by my announcement of the title of this post, “I am Fedora,” as some people assume that one can be loyal to only one Linux-based operating system. I am here to explain why I love Fedora, and last weekend at the South East Linux Fest, I joined the Fedora Project. It was a long journey to join a project which produces a Linux operating-system. Still, it feels like I am finally home.
Back in 1999, my employer, Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center put a Red Hat Linux system running an Alpha processor on my desk. From there I was supposed to do write parallel code for a Red Hat Linux beowulf cluster. It was tricky without some basic desktop tools. The default install for the Alpha lacked a browser, let alone an office suite. There was no Internet Explorer for Red Hat Linux… there still is not. If you used an Intel-based Red Hat system, you could get Netscape. The Mozilla Project, which beget the Firefox browser, was still very new and no one had compiled and packaged the source code for the Alpha. Despite all of these frustrations, I liked that I could use other tools such as Openssh, Gcc, and Ghostview. I came home to my Windows system, I missed the software at the office. While Windows alternatives existed for these applications, they were expensive. Sure, Cygwin existed back then but I did not know about it.
I saved my entire paycheck for several months to be able to afford a Linux box from of my own. The vendor was “Explorer Micro” who agreed to ship the system with a copy of Red Hat 6.0. The order took over two months which was this vendor’s M.O. Once the system arrived, it was painful: The operating system was not installed, the CD-Rom drive was defective, the modem was not US-Robotics, the sound card required a driver that was not in the Linux 2.2 kernel. Still, with the help of Western PA Linux User Group, I was up and running happily.
In 2001 I went to go work for Carnegie Mellon at the School of Computer Science. There, my job was to support the now defunct proprietary UNIX operating system, IRIX. Many UNIX-based platforms were used as a desktop with the fastest growing being Red Hat Linux. Before long, I was a Linux system administrator too.
Most of my days involved building systems. I knew and lived the pain points of Xfree86, isapnp, usb, and sound cards that would not support midi. Even though we could download the software at no cost and install off a floppy, I would still buy the boxed sets. Loki Games came with Each Red Hat Linux 7.2 only in the boxed set since the software was not open source. Still, I looked forward to each full number release with fantastic excitement. In 2003, Red Hat Linux 9 was simply glorious with Open Office and Mozilla – that was “the year of the Linux desktop” for me.
In 2004, that all changed with Fedora. Red Hat Inc. was no longer going to release “Red Hat Linux.” Instead, customers could buy support contracts for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) or use their new community-based Linux named Fedora. Being at a non-profit university, the “per employee” model of support that RHEL sales contract tried to make us buy was not going to cut it. Fedora on the other hand was at no cost but would a distribution with an aggressive 6 month that welcomed volunteer code. But would Fedora be any good? Red Hat Inc. made Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science ask “What will we use?”
Much was going on in the desktop operating system market also during the same time: Microsoft Windows XP was the most popular Windows yet, Novell had just bought SUSE, Lindows (aka Linspire) was looking suave, Apple’s market share was picking up as MacOSX matured… In the end we chose to support Fedora from day one. We figured that it would be the most familiar to our large Red Hat Linux user base.
Also in 2004 I became a major contributor to the Ohio LinuxFest. This will be important later.
After we started deploying Fedora, I did like it. I must have installed it over 1000 times for professors and graduate students. In 2005, I went out to the CPLUG Security Conference to do a talk. As a speaker, Red Hat gave us some really nice swag including a t-shirt that said “I am Fedora.” Even though I had used and installed Fedora just as much as some Red Hat Inc. employees, I did not know how I could make such a bold claim.
I am Fedora?!? I did not commit a single keystroke to the operating system product known as Fedora.
How could I ever be Fedora as a systems administrator? This question troubled me. Heavens knows I wanted to give back. I was giving back by organizing the Ohio LinuxFest for a solid year by then. Still, I could not wear the “I am Fedora” shirt, since surely it meant for someone who contributes code… not me.
After about 9 months after receiving the “I am Fedora” shirt I pondered what my Fedora-specific contribution could be. Installing un-vetted packages was risky business. The Fedora that we deployed at Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science was fairly customized with OpenAFS, a distributed filesystem. I wanted to build a repository of .rpms that the user community at the university enjoy. Hopefully other universities that used similar dependency issues could use the repository too. Unfortunately, we turned off up2date because the default Fedora kernel did not include the “tainted” openafs module. (Due to legacy issues, OpenAFS is distributed under a free software license but it is incompatible with the GPL.)
Building and maintaining the repository would have entailed more time than I had. Meanwhile, Fedora was so popular I was deploying several computers a day. I proposed the repository idea to the management anyhow. Regretfully they decided to keep their packaging of the in-house codes in depot format. My rpm repository idea did not support the almost moot system types such as Solaris and IRIX system types that depot treated like a generic UNIX-like system.
Still, I regret not trying harder. Users were downloading their own .rpms from Fedora, Fedora legacy, rpmfind, and sourceforge without any care if it broke something distributed by depot. The users wanted fresher packages than what the depot maintainers could provide and did not care what was considered “supported.” It was my job to clean up the rpm vs depot conflict mess. Meanwhile, the official stance was depot only or be darned.
Instead of just deploying a stealth rpm repository or arguing it out, I decided to leave the university. Sure there were other reasons for me to go including my suspicions of the Carnegie Mellon’s Gates Center of Computer Science which was funded from Bill and Melinda Foundation. Ultimately, I resigned for another job in September 2006. An opportunity to really do something for the success of Linux occurred with a system administrator opening at the Linux-embedded support company: Timesys Corporation.
While at Timesys, I supported the computers that ran the business and not the product. For the first time in my then 8 year professional career, I was supporting both Linux and Windows. The funny thing is the systems running Kubuntu, Fedora, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and CentOS required about 5% of my attention. The rest of my time was working with proprietary firewalls, closed-source PBX-es, Microsoft Exchange, viruses on Microsoft desktops, and Blackberry support. To this day I can not understand how a company who sells the cost-savings of software freedom can insist so much on a proprietary infrastructure for their day-to-day business. With all of the proprietary support, there was very little time to work with the Linux operating system I loved. Still I was producing the Ohio LinuxFest in my spare time. In 2007, I left Timesys for my current employer. There is not much I can say about what I do now but I am happily supporting Linux.
2007 was an exciting year for both Fedora and the Ohio LinuxFest. One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) was shipping with a Fedora/Sugar base. The Buy-Two-Get-One OLPC project was a little too successful. Yup. I bought the two. Meanwhile I had finally felt like I was part of the success of Linux doing not for pay work for the Ohio LinuxFest. There I was working with dozens of open source projects and for-profit companies to create an excellent expo. The icing on the cake was Fedora’s community manager,Max Spevak, keynoted at that year.
Still I did not feel right saying “I am Fedora.”
Why not? I did not want to publicly show preference for one distribution for another.
Meanwhile, I was running both Ubuntu and Fedora:
- Ubuntu to test so that I could support my friends who were using that distribution.
- Fedora for the freshest free software and drivers out there.
People would see me at user groups using Ubuntu and make assumptions that I was “just a Ubuntu person.” Instead of asserting preference of Ubuntu or Fedora, I proclaimed neutrality. I really did not want anyone to assume that I, as Ohio LinuxFest officer, would direct the conference to be too much of one distribution or another. Heck, I will defend to the ends of the earth that the Ohio LinuxFest has room for all of free software, even non-Linux distributions like FreeBSD and Haiku.
Freedom to choose from many excellent free software options means more free software for everybody.
Until last weekend at the South East LinuxFest 2010, I kept my allegiances to myself. There I joined the Fedora Project Documentation Project. Later I will post why documentation and why Fedora for my first free software project endeavor.
Even as I take my Red Hat out of the closet, I have no intention of snubbing anyone for what they use. Moreover, I will be sure to write more about Red Hat, Fedora, and Ubuntu in the next twelve months.
I am not a Mac. Nor a PC. I am Fedora.