Notes from OSCON, day one

Red Hat and Canonical are competitors.

Every time you see a Mark Shuttleworth quote that pertains to Red Hat, you should do well to bear this fact in mind, and to think: “why is he saying this?”

Mark has recently said, for instance, that Ubuntu has a better security record than Red Hat does. My thanks to LWN for pointing out, with an admirable bluntness, that this assertion is not supported by facts. But positioning is absolutely everything, especially when you’re looking to build a business that makes money — and sometimes in an effort to build strong product positioning, people say things that aren’t, strictly speaking, the unvarnished truth. Canonical plays the game just like everyone else does.

Another thing: Mark is talking a lot recently about how Ubuntu prides itself on working well upstream; it was a major focus of his talk at OSCON last night. That’s good; I’m glad to hear this message. I believe that Fedora’s incredibly strong track record of working upstream is paying dividends, and that message is so compelling to the community that Mark is forced to respond to it in kind.

Leadership is a tricky thing. Allow me to tell one of my old man stories.

Once upon a time, Jeff Waugh came to speak at Red Hat. He was actually speaking at the Triangle Linux Users Group, which meets at Red Hat HQ in Raleigh. Half of his presentation was dedicated to GNOME, and the other half was dedicated to Ubuntu. It was compelling, and educational, and all-around awesome — but there was one slide in particular that stuck with me. It was a photo of a whiteboard from an early strategy meeting at Canonical. There were a few pithy phrases on the whiteboard that are surely familiar to Ubuntu followers, including the hilariously pithy “don’t make the baby Jesus cry.” But I could only focus on one thing. In the upper right corner of that whiteboard, blocked off and emphasized, was the following aspirational imperative:

“A better Fedora than Fedora.”

It hit me like a ton of bricks, because it was audacious, and at the time of Jeff’s presentation, completely true. Here was a representative of our nascent competitor, standing in our living room, and punching us right in the face. Everything I’ve done in the Fedora community since that day has been inspired by that single image, and how it made me feel.

That’s why competition is good.

So how are we doing today?

Fedora continually gains momentum. More and more active contributors on every continent. More subprojects, more innovation, more sticky problems to be solved and more smart people gathering to help solve them. I think it’s getting harder and harder for Mark to claim that he is still building “a better Fedora than Fedora”. Take away the ease of installing patent-encumbered software, and what meaningful advantage does Ubuntu have right now, in any area? I ask the question earnestly, because I don’t see one. (Here’s one hint: it’s definitely not security.)

Red Hat and Canonical are competitors. Fedora and Ubuntu are competitors. Once upon a time, Ubuntu forced us to elevate our performance. I’m thankful for that push. It made us better — a *lot* better. Now, I believe that the tables are turned, and we are forcing the SABDFL to elevate his own performance — and he’ll need to do it with more than just talk, because in Fedoraland, we’re only going to keep moving faster.

And for those who are just looking for the snarky soundbite:

“Spaceman, we’ve upped our game. Up yours.”

(Kidding, kidding. I’m a kidder. Mostly.)

Notes from OSCON, day one

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