On his latest post titled “Foresight Linux is dead?”, Thilo Pfennigs rightly asks the question that many of the current Foresight Linux users may be asking themselves. With the current stable release dated as of May 2009 and no explicit roadmap stating when the next release will be published, is it really safe to say that Foresight Linux is indeed dead?
In order to properly answer this question, one must first take a look at what the year of 2009 reserved for this young distribution. Born out of Ken Vandine's desire to follow the GNOME project as close to the upstream source as possible and introduce all the latest and coolest applications out there to the desktop before anyone else, Foresight was for a while synonymous to bleeding edge Linux done right!
Powered by the revolutionary Conary package management system and a small but talented and determined crew of developers, Ken was able to ship a new version of the distribution the same day that a GNOME release was published, a feat that no other distribution was able to keep up, even those enjoying of large hordes of developers and user base. Foresight was the first distribution to include several trend setter applications out there to the default installation, such as Banshee, F-Spot, Tomboy, Gwibber, Pulse Audio, PackageKit, among many others! And since the distribution followed a rolling release cycle, users did not have to wait for a major release in order to get the very latest bits.
Even if DistroWatch's numbers weren't impressive, those who took the time to test drive the distribution fell in love with the community, package selection, and most likely the possibilities that the underlying Conary technology provided for those inclined to do a little packaging or package maintenance. If you were a GNOME user/fan and didn’t mind the small sized, hand picked repository of supported packages, then you’d probably feel right at home! Sure there were KDE, Xfce, Fluxbox, Openbox packages available but those were mostly supported by some of the core users who didn’t mind doing the heavy lifting.
Then came 2009 and with it the major financial crisis the shook many companies around the world, creating a massive layoff wave for most of the first quarter. Sadly, approximately 75% of the active developers that comprised Foresight's core developer base were part of the many casualties, including Ken Vandine, the heart and soul of the distribution! By late February these developers had already joined the ranks of companies such as Red Hat and Novell to do package and kernel management. Ken himself was quickly nabbed by Canonical to join their Desktop Experience Team, concluding then the completely dismemberment of the seasoned Foresight team!
Deprived of its core developers who were now devoting their time to working for their respective new companies, Foresight's run at being a bleeding edge distribution and being able to keep up with the release schedules of GNOME (and all of its dependencies) quickly spiraled down toward what looked like certain doom. AntÃ³nio “Doniphon” Meireles, second in charge of the distribution and holder of all the knowledge related to how all parts worked together became the sole guardian and maintainer of all packages. Have you ever tried to sync up and maintain all the modules that make up the X.org stack by yourself? How about making sure that every single package in the repository is properly compiled and linked to a newer version of Python?
Unfortunately for many of our loyal users expected point releases stopped from happening on time and deadlines were never met. Having been using Foresight Linux as my primary and only distribution for the last 3 years, I myself started to wonder if 2009 would mark the end of it all.
It took a few months for the remaining developers and users to get over the deep scars left from the massive exodus suffered early last year, but our user base proved to be very resilient and new developers stepped up to fill in the gaps. AntÃ³nio was still doing the heavy lifting but this new crop of developers took upon themselves to bring the distribution closer to its former shape.
Slowly but surely milestones were achieved and the development branch eventually caught up with the latest GNOME packages. As of 2 weeks ago the development branch was pretty stable and I believe that only a few minor issues with PolicyKit were blocking a new release. Some massive work has also been done to pave down the way for Foresight 3.0, a major move that will allow for a more modular platform that can be used to derive other distributions, leveraging the flexibility and functionality provided by Conary. Moreover, the “Boots" project was kicked off to bring a Fedora based distribution completely managed by Conary, which should free up the time our developers spend maintaining some of the more complex stacks of the operating system and let them focus on making your desktop “freaking cool!”
So to answer the original question posted by Thilo, “is Foresight Linux dead?" I can gladly say "Far from it!” I predict that the Foresight community will rally together in 2010 to get back to being the most GNOMEic and bleeding edge distribution out there! As the Foresight Community Manager I can honestly say that we have always been and will always be a niche distribution! We don’t have the man power that distributions such as Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva or OpenSuse have to provide the same level of documentation or user support. We obviously cannot afford to have the same depth of package variety in our repositories orÂ claim to have the expertise and time to resolve all issues that manage to get filed in our tracking system. But I can guarantee one thing: Foresight is here to stay!
If you want to try a revolutionary package management system and want to be part of a an exciting crew, come hang out with us on #foresight at Freenode. We will help you get started and I promise you that you’ll be able to contribute in no time.
Expect great things from Foresight Linux this 2010!