Editor’s comment: The format of this article is different from the usual article that Fedora Magazine has published: a Fedora origins story told from the point of view of a Fedora user. The author has chosen to tell a story, since to simply present the bare facts is akin to just reading the wiki page about it.
Hello, I am… no, I’m not going to give my real name. Let’s say I’m female, probably shorter and older than you. I used to go by the nick of Isadora, more on that later.
Now some context. Back in the late ’90s, internet became popular and PCs started to be a thing. However, most people didn’t have either because it was very expensive and often you could do better with the traditional methods. Yes, computers were very basic back then. I used to play with these pocket games that were fascinating at the time, but totally lame now. Monochrome screens with pixelated flat animations. Not going to dive there, just giving an idea how it was.
In the mid-90s a company named Red Hat emerged and slowly started to make a profit of its own by selling its own business-oriented distribution and software utilities. The name comes from one of its founders, Marc Ewing, who used to wear a red lacrosse in university so other students could spot him easily and ask him questions.
Of course, as it was a business-oriented distribution, and I was busy with multiple other things, I didn’t pay much attention to it. It lacked the software I needed and since I wasn’t a customer, I was nobody to ask for additions. However, it was Linux and as such Open Source. People started to package stuff for RHL and put it in repositories. I was invited to join the community project, Fedora.us. I promptly declined, misunderstanding the name. It was the second time I got invited that I asked ‘what is with the “US” there (in the name)?` Another user explained it was ‘us’ as in ‘we’ not as in the ‘United States.’ They explained a bit about how the community worked and I decided to give it a go.
Then my studies got in the way, and I had to shelve it.
By the time I came back to Fedora.us it had changed its name to Fedora Project and was actively being worked on from within Red Hat. Now, I wasn’t there so my direct knowledge of how this happened is a bit foggy. Some say that Fedora existed separately and Red Hat added/invited them, some say that Fedora was completely RH’s idea, some say they existed independently and at some point met or joined. Choose the version you like, I’ll put some links down there so you can know more details and decide for yourself. As far as I’m concerned, they worked together.
Well, as usual someone dropped some CDs with ISOs for me. If I had an euro for every ISO I’ve been offered, or had tossed at my desk, for me to try it, I would be rich. As a matter of fact, I’m not rich but I do have a big rack full of old distros.
Now it’s the early 2000s and things have changed dramatically. Computers’ prices have dropped and internet speed is increasing, plus a set of new technologies make it cheaper and more reliable. Computers now can do so much more than just a decade ago, and they’re smaller too. Screens are bigger, with better colors and resolution. Laptops are starting to become popular though still expensive and less powerful than desktop PCs.
During this time, I tried both Fedora and Red Hat. Now, as has been said before, Red Hat focuses on businesses and companies. Their main concern is having exactly the software their customers need, with the features their customers need, delivered as rock solid stability and a reliable update & support cycle. A lot of customization, variety of options and many cool new features are not their main core. More software means more testing and development work and bigger chances of things failing. Yet the technology industry is constantly changing and innovating. Sticking too much to older versions or proven formulas can be fatal for a company.
So what to do? Well, they solved it with Fedora. Fedora Project would be the innovative, looking ahead test bed, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux was the more conservative, rock solid operating system for businesses. Yes, they changed the name from Red Hat Linux to Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Sounds better, doesn’t it?
Unsurprisingly, Fedora had a fame of being difficult, unstable and for “hackers only”. Whenever I said I was using Fedora, they would give me odd looks or say something like “I want something stable” or “I’m not into that” (meaning they didn’t fancy programming/hacking activities). Countless individuals suggested I might want to use one of the other, beginner-friendly distributions, without themselves even giving Fedora a try! Many would disregard Linux as a whole as an amateur thing, only valid for playing but not good for serious work and companies. To each their own, I suppose.
Yes, but why?
Those early versions were called Fedora Core and had a very uncertain release pattern. The six months cycle came much later. Fedora Core got its name because there were two repositories, Core and Extras. Core had the essentials, so to speak, and was maintained by Red Hat. Extras was, well, everything else. Any software that most users would want or need was included there, and it was maintained by a wide range of contributors.
From the beginning, one of the most powerful reasons for me to use it was the community and its core values. The Four Foundations of Fedora, Freedom, Features, First & Friends were lived and breathed and not just a catchy line on a website or a leaflet. Fedora Project strove (and still does) to deliver the newest features first, caring for freedom (of choice and software) and keeping a good open community, making friends as we contribute to the project.
I also liked the fact that Fedora, as its purpose was testing for Red Hat, delivered a lot of new software and technologies; it was like opening the window to see the future today.
The downside was its unreliable upgrade cycle. You could get a new version in a few months or next year… nobody knew, there was no agreed schedule.
What was in the box
Fedora Core kept this name up to the sixth version. From the start, it was meant to be a distribution you could use right after installing it, so it came with Gnome 2, KDE 3, OpenOffice and some browser I forgot, possibly Firefox.
I remember it being the first to introduce SELinux and SystemD by default, and to replace LILO with GRUB. I also remember the hardware requirements were something at the time, although they now sound laughable: Pentium II 400MHz, 256MB RAM (yes, you read it right) and 2GB of space in disk. It even had an option for terminal only! This would require only 64MB RAM and Pentium II 200MHz. Amazing, isn’t it?
It had codenames. Not publicly, but it had, and they were quite peculiar. Fedora Core 1 was code named «Yarrow» which is a medium size plant with yellow or white crown-like flowers. Core 2 was Tettnang which is a small town in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Not sure about Core 3, I think it was Heidelberg, but maybe I’m mixing with later releases. Core 4 was Stentz, if I recall correctly (no idea what it means), Core 5 was a colour, I think Bordeaux, and Core 6 was Zod that I think it was a comic character but I could be wrong. If there was a method in their madness I have no idea. I thought the names amusing but didn’t give a second thought to it as they didn’t affect anything, not even the design of each release.
So what now?
Well, of course, Fedora Project has evolved from where we have stopped. But that’s for later articles or this one will be too long. For now, I leave you with an extract of an interview with Matthew Miller, current Project Leader and some links in case you want to know more.
Extracts to interview with Matthew Miller, Project Leader.
Matthew Miller tells about the beginnings in Eduard Lucena’s podcast (transcription here): “Fedora started about 15 years ago, really. It actually started as a thing called Fedora.us.” Back in those days, there was Red Hat Linux.” “Meanwhile, there was this thing called Fedora.us which was basically a project to make additional software available to users of Red Hat Linux. Find things that weren’t part of Red Hat Linux, and package them up, and make them available to everybody. That was started as a community project.”
“Red Hat (then) merged with this Fedora.us project to form Fedora Project that produces an upstream operating system that Red Hat Enterprise Linux is derived from but then moves on a slower pace.”
“We were then two parts, Fedora Core, which was basically inherited from the old Red Hat Linux and only Red Hat employees could do anything with and then Fedora Extras, where community could come together to add things on top of that Fedora Core. It took a little while to get off the ground but it was fairly successful”
“Around the time of Fedora Core 6, those were actually merged together into one big Fedora where all of the packages were all part of the same thing. There was no more distinction of Core and Extras, and everything was all together and, more importantly, all the community was all together.
They invited the community to take ownership of the whole thing and for Red Hat to become part of the community rather than separate. That was a huge success.”
Links of interest
Fedora, a visual history
Red Hat Videos – Fedora’s anniversary
Red Hat Videos – Default to open
Fedora’s Mission & Foundations
A short history of Fedora