The openSUSE project has been re-evaluating its direction as of late, and today I checked out the current draft of the new openSUSE vision, available here. Linked from the post is an evolving document on identifying the openSUSE project’s target user, it reads:
“The target users of openSUSE are people who need to get work done, and want something stable and usable for their every day needs. They are users who are interested in technology, willing to learn if needed, capable of reading documentation or asking questions on forums. But also people who don’t want to do that if they don’t have to. In short, the productivity-focused professional. This includes power users, developers, system administrators but also office workers who sit behind a computer all day. A convenient definition would be someone who regularly reads computer magazines or technology sites and works with computers a lot. So we are NOT targeting people who don’t use a computer very often – if your grandma only checks mail and Facebook once a week, give her a Netbook interface like MeeGo or Plasma Netbook, not the default openSUSE Plasma or GNOME desktops.
Our user wants control over his or her computing experience – but at the same time doesn’t want to WASTE time – things should work out of the box and offer flexibility and configurability only where needed. And this user is empowered to help his or her favorite distribution – it is easy to contribute back to openSUSE!“
Besides the expected need for grammatical tightening, I have a few problems with the current draft. First, I think using the term “professional” is limiting, as I am currently a student, and I’ve known of many power users who won’t be of age to become professionals for quite a few years. At the same time, I think people who don’t care much about computers would find using openSUSE Plasma Desktop to be much easier than using Plasma Netbook (which I wouldn’t say is very intuitive, even for the more computer savvy among us) or MeeGo (which is just different).
If I were to cut this vision down to its core, here is what I would deem the most accurate way to portray openSUSE:
“The target users of openSUSE are people who want something stable and usable for their every day needs. They may be users who are interested in technology, willing to learn if needed, capable of reading documentation, or willing to ask questions on forums. openSUSE gives power to productivity-focused users, including powerusers, developers, system administrators, and office workers who sit behind a computer all day. openSUSE users want control over their computing experience. Things should work out of the box and offer flexibility and configurability only where needed.
And if users feel inclined to help their favorite distribution, they should find that it is easy to contribute back to openSUSE!“
What this does is focus on who openSUSE is intended for, without alienating those for whom it is not. If Grandma wants to use openSUSE, we should welcome her, not tell her that she needs to go elsewhere. We may feel that she may be better off working in a distribution targeted towards new users, but if she finds that opening Firefox in openSUSE is easy enough for her, and she likes the way the lizard looks in the bottom left hand criteria, then she should know that she is welcome to use openSUSE for as long as she wants.
I also feel that this abridged version is more in line with another post I read by community manager Jos Poortvliet earlier this month. In it, he observes the debate among Fedora users over what direction their distribution should head in and how to best do so. In short, the situation boiled down to how to best distribute packages so that users who want a stable platform can have access to new applications without decreasing the stability of their overall system. In response to this problem, Poortvliet blogs:
“openSUSE is far more conservative when it comes to upgrading packages in the stable release. Making it a much more stable platform. So, that means you’re always a bit behind and you can’t have the latest and greatest? No! openSUSE users CAN have their cake and eat it too. Thanks to the Build Service, newer versions of enduser applications and libraries can be entirely build against the stable distribution, lowering the number of packages you need to pull in and thus increasing stability.“
This paragraph stuck with me, because as an openSUSE user, I felt that this was a better representation of how openSUSE should be developed than the current draft of the new openSUSE vision. openSUSE is a stable platform that is safe to work on, whether for your job or for personal use, but can be upgraded through OBS and repositories in a relatively safe and easy manner depending on each users desires. openSUSE isn’t out to hold a new user’s hand, just provide them with a stable environment that they can learn on without it breaking. In its default form, it doesn’t want to appease the bleeding edge types, because dealing with breakage is a hinder on productivity. In its base form, openSUSE wears a suit and tie, works from 9 to 5, and drives a Honda. It has no time for surprises and needs to be reliable. It has a job to do. But when its spouse wants to cuddle, its kids want to play, its friends want to party, or its government wants it to fight, openSUSE has the means to adapt, and adapt well.