Fedora 14: Who is Reviewing the Reviewers?
I like to write reviews. I have written quite a few of them over the years... even back in my Atari days for a few print magazines. I mention this because while I'd like to write a review of the Fedora 14 release I feel like too much of an insider to be objective and I'd have trouble being as critical as a non-biased observer would be.
Yesterday I ran across a link on Fedora Planet for a video review on the Linux Action Show. I have watched a few of the LAS episodes before but am not a regular viewer... but since the topic of the episode was listed as "Fedora 14 Review" I decided to give it a viewing. About 33 minutes into it they get to the Fedora review... although it is hard for me to call it a review. It is unfortunate but they started with the Fedora 14 Release Announcement and used that as a basis for their review. Historically release announcements are very brief documents that give only spartan details but include links to other sources of more complete information, like the Fedora 14 Release Notes for example. Given the fact that the release announcement only states two new features for desktop users (libjpeg-turbo and Spice) it seems they assumed that was all there was to the release, given the fact that their main focus is desktop usage. As a result they spent most of their review time in ridicule mode... divided in two... with both an attempt at humor and at a "wake up call" style denouncement of everything Fedora. They even included an original conspiracy theory.
I think everyone who knows me understands I have a pretty healthy sense of humor that can sometimes go to the dark side... but I found almost nothing about their show funny. I'm guessing some people find their show hilarious... but me... and this episode... I'd say frustration was my reaction.
I did get on the Linux Action Show IRC channel (the only form of contact on their contact page that I use) for a few minutes and discuss with someone (probably not them) that it was unfortunate that Bryan and Chris had chosen the very brief release announcement as the authoritative source of "what's new in Fedora 14" rather than the release notes... but I do concede that the release announcement could have been much better than it was.
Desperately Seeking Reviews
While I could spend considerable time picking apart the Linux Action Show commentators' various comments I think it is more productive to examine a couple of other actual reviews.
Review 1: Distrowatch
Distrowatch had a review of Fedora 14 as a feature of their weekly edition. In it they had some background information, mentioned that the Fedora Project has a new website, had a mini-interview with Fedora Project Leader Jared Smith, and then proceeded to go through the actual Fedora 14 release.
They didn't find Fedora to be perfect (it isn't nor is any Linux distribution) nor did they find any major flaws. The reviewer mentioned what he thought Fedoras strengths were as well as some of areas that need additional attention. I thought it was a reasonable review and that the reviewer had actually put a considerable amount of time and effort into it... trying to be an information resource for the reader.
Review 2: Desktop Linux Reviews
Desktop Linux Reviews is a site that is fairly new to me but I ran across their Fedora 14 review, if I recall correctly, from a blurb on Linux news site LXer. It is obvious from the amount of coverage they provide (seven sections, lots of screen shots and even a 6 minute mini-review video) that they put a lot of effort into the review.
As a Fedora person I find it somewhat irritating that they approached the review from a very Ubuntu-specific mindset. They even say that there aren't many features for desktop users. I'm not sure why they thought that but if I had to guess I'd say it was from the two bullet points on the release announcement that the Linux Action Show guys got stuck on.
They were confused by "firstboot" and thought it odd that Fedora would ask for additional information post-install, because that isn't the way Ubuntu does it. They concluded that the Fedora installer needs to be updated to be just like Ubuntu's while completely overlooking the fact that the Fedora installer has many advanced features not found in the Ubuntu installer. The Fedora installer services a larger class of use cases and isn't solely targeted at desktop users. While you can find some of the Fedora installer features sprinkled across the various Ubuntu media types (alternative, server, etc) the Fedora's installer is more complete for advanced users while being user friendly enough for desktop users. That isn't to say that there isn't room for improvement in the Fedora installer because there is, and it is something they continue to work on every release.
While there were things I, as a Fedora fanboi, found annoying in the review... I do give the reviewer props for the effort that was put into it and the fact that he was not in any way disrespectful or mean... and was sincere with his comments.
Review 3: The H
The H published an article entitled, "What's new in Fedora 14", that took the time to look at the Fedora update policy that was recently put into place... what was new about the policy and how it might affect Fedora 14 with respect to future updates.
Now that's what I want from reviewers... additional information... incite... background information. I was already familiar with the new updates policy but I'm sure a lot of the readers weren't. Of course The H also went through the new release and examined the good, the bad and the ugly just like you'd expect of any distro review.
What is to be learned?
For reviewers - I think some folks (*cough* Linux Action Show *cough*) need to acknowledge when they have a bias, like I have, and stop calling what they do a review.
For some of the rest of you, keep up the good work.
Anyway, a review should NOT be an attempt to be completely ignorant about Linux, the target distribution and the community who made it. Reviews are a form of journalism. The reviewer should do some research and be informative. If your review is mostly an opinion about subjective things, it isn't a review.
For Fedora - First of all, I think Fedora needs to put more effort into their release announcements and needs to mention more new things that are in the release. Unfortunately they tend to mainly concentrate on the "developed here" stuff from their feature proposals and overlook all of the updated packages and vast amount of changes and updates that happen from release to release. Fedora does an excellent job of finely detailing all of that in their release notes but many reviewers don't make it to the release notes.
Fedora has a marketing team, made up of mostly volunteers I believe... and they work hard and do a good job... BUT someone dropped the ball with the release announcement as it gives the greater community, those less familiar with Fedora, a inaccurate perception of the vast amount of work that went into the Fedora 14 release.
Fedora has had a greatly expanding package set with each successive release... and during each release's life cycle a significant number of new packages are added to the Fedora Updates repository even though they aren't updates. A large percentage of packages have updated versions with new features and bug fixes and there are a lot of features for all kinds of users including desktop users. In fact, the amount of software overlap that exists between all of the mainstream Linux distros is a bit scary. There really isn't that much of a difference with the most commonly used software packages across them.
Where distros differ is in their installers, their range of packages, their admin apps (which includes package managers), and with the "polish" they provide which is mostly a function of their default theme and artwork. So far as software applications and features for their various users, not so much. Oh, one other area where they differ is in the amount of software development they do as well as their marketing muscle. To me Fedora (and their sponsor Red Hat) stands head and shoulders over the competition with regards to the software development and the amount they give back to the community... but they could use more help with the marketing part and it is that part which I hope improves over time... along with the steady stream of improvements that make it into each new Fedora release.