Eric Raymond, a key figure behind the Red Hat Linux distribution, has sparked a storm of controversy by shifting his allegiance to the rival open source platform Ubuntu.
The influential developer and cofounder of theOpen Source Initiative used a popular Linux mailing list as his platform this week to slam Fedora, Red Hat’s free distribution, leveling a series of damaging charges.
“After 13 years as a loyal Red Hat and Fedora user, I reached my limit today,” wrote Raymond. He cited chronic governance problems and constant difficulties maintaining repositories, which resulted in “effectively abandoning the struggle for desktop market share,” as reasons for the move.
Addressing the Problem
Red Hat also failed “to address the problem of proprietary multimedia formats,” he claimed.
“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,” said Raymond.
The culture of the project’s core group has become increasingly “unhealthy” and “more inward-looking,” he said, while maintaining a narrow concept of “free software.”
Raymond also referred to “ideological purity.” The project was “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,” he charged.
“I have watched Ubuntu rise to these challenges as Fedora fell away from them,” he said.
Red Hat Support
A recent deal betweenLinspire andCanonical, Ubuntu’s commercial sponsor, which will give Ubuntu access to commercial codecs, demonstrates how each is more forward-thinking than Red Hat, Raymond pointed out.
Of course, there are many sitting on the opposite side of the open source fence, and plenty of those came out against the recent comments.
There are underlying differences between Raymond’s business-friendly “open source” philosophy and the more ideological “free software” movement that underpins much of Linux’s development, said Alan Cox, a core Linux developer and Red Hat employee.
“The moment Fedora includes non-free stuff, it becomes a problem for all the people who redistribute and respin it,” he added, “and it becomes unfair in the proprietary world in the eyes of everyone who didn’t get included.”
Keeping Software Open Source
Fedora is intended to include only free or open source components, Cox noted, and doesn’t include those codecs that would allow users to watch Windows Media formats, although users can install them.
Including proprietary components in Fedora Core would cause more problems than it would solve, he remarked.
“We believe in Free Software and doing the right thing (a practice you appear to have given up on),” Cox wrote on the Fedora forum Web site. “Maybe it is time the term ‘open source’ also did the decent thing and died out with you.”