What is “The Linux Community”?

Fedora is often called a non-community distribution because it is heavily supported by Red Hat and Red Hat has Veto rights in the board. Also, together with claims that Ubuntu is no Community distribution either it raises the question who and what defines the word community in this regard.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, a popular Linux blogger (definitely worth reading), stated today that the Linux community is dead. It died because distributions like Ubuntu and Fedora are influenced/controlled by commercial background and because the Linux Foundation introduced a new board of directors filled with people from big companies – which was nothing surprising, btw., but that’s not the point here.

If you share this point of view, what does community mean? When is something a community, who are the members, and maybe even more important: who are not? When is something not anymore a community?

Let’s start with the answer I read in Steve’s thoughts: non-free software inclusion is unacceptable inside The Community. Also, projects under the “control” of a non-democratic organization are not part anymore of The Community.
As a contrary example Steve mentions gNewSense, an Ubuntu based spin off only including Free Software.

Interesting – but not my point of view: The Linux Community is not a homogeneous group of people who are all equal! The Linux Community is far from that.
It consists of different individuals and of different groups. Several individuals share the same way of contributing to The Community, yes, but there are numerous ways to contribute. And that’s what forms The Community: contribution.

Following this thought, you can split up The Community into several parts: the developers who contribute code (obvious the center); the power users who contribute bug reports, howtos, packages and help (like I do); designers; interface experts; lawyers; journalists; documentation writers; people who coordinate events; people who spread the word, etc. In general: people who invest time and skills (or money) to push the idea of FLOSS or the FLOSS itself. So far about the individuals.
But there is more (and I think Steve would disagree here): some things are not contributed by individuals – they are contributed by organizations. And you can split up again: universities with FLOSS teaching schedules; companies sponsoring hardware; companies providing hardware specs; companies sponsoring events or donating money; foundations managing the legal background; companies developing the software; development organizing projects, etc. In general: every organization of any form which invests time and skills or money to push the idea of FLOSS or the FLOSS itself.

Think about Red Hat at this point: they organize, pay and support the Linux eco system in almost every way imaginable. They develop kernel code, Gnome code, X code, they bring up new programs and ideas, they write high quality howtos, sponsor events – and they even buy source code from others and release it under free licences. With all these contributions Red Hat is a quite big member of the community.
Is it worth more than other Community Members? Judging from the code definitely more worth than people like me who never contributed significant amounts of code. Judging from the “Linux to the desktops” point of view however the situation changes because Red Hat never really targeted the desktop for a long time and still has trouble finding the balance between Gnome and KDE (read: there is hardly any balance).

And now, what is a Community Distribution? Because according to Steve Fedora isn’t a Community Distribution…
This question equals if you think that there must be pure democracy inside of the Community Distribution. If you agree to that point of view than you’re left with Debian.
However, I cannot share this point of view. I gathered experiences about cooperation in communities in many different forms: political, environment protection groups, student groups, several forums, some wikis – and of course the Wikipedia. And out of these experiences I learned that democracy is not the most productive solution in every case. Of course it is in very many cases, especially these were you are forced to live and act together with others. The daily live shows that without democracy in the states we would be doomed.
But democracy might not be the solution of choice every time for creating something together with a set of volunteers. Wikipedia is the most prominent example: real democracy (despite the fact that it is impossible) would simply not work there and would harm the project massively. And no one would argue that Wikipedia is not a community.

So I do not see the democratic attempt as a must. It is good that some distributions pick it up, but not every one has to follow. Of course, a project totally controlled from above wouldn’t be better, but that’s out of question. No, there are enough intermediate solutions, and Fedora takes one of these ways.

As a result, the term “The Linux Community” applies to much more things as Steve said – and it is certainly not dead. Yes, The Community has changed over time, and it will continues to evolve. We might see even more companies, or maybe more artists or interface gurus or documentation ninjas.
But that’s ok, because everyone can join every time – as long as he/she makes him/herself to a real community member in the way all the others do it: by valuable contribution.


4 thoughts on “What is “The Linux Community”?”

  1. My idea of Linux Community is actually a bit different. To me the “community” consists of users that like to help and support each other. Ubuntu has been quite good on this: for any problem I have, I can easily found a solution or at least some useful discussion at ubuntuforum. That is actually why I like ubuntu better than any other distro, because I feel “supported by the community”, in a better way than even during my Windows years. Maybe a very small percentage of those contributing to this supporting community is actually a developer, nevertheless, it’s an active community indeed, regardless of the direction the distribution decide to follow.

  2. My idea of a community in general is people and organisations that work together to achieve certain goals or just helping each other get on through life. In Linux sense I think the problem is the community is no longer a community but a universe – so naturally it will break down into smaller chunks or communities to serve the different visions that may develop from the different community members/parties – just as we have different human communities and cultures. So I think we need open minds and flexibility for some members would like to set up different communities to serve their visions.

  3. See Beranger’s take on SJVN’s writeup, which reached PC Magazine. Sometimes he just throws a fit, which attracts many minds which get all emotional. It drawn in the readers. In any event, one Canonical guy is in and one Debian guy is out. Matt Asay, on the other hand, has complained about the lack of openness inherent in the ‘voting’ process, arguing it’s all about money. Bank of America is among those listed. :-S

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