Spherical Cows

Yesterday the results of the Fedora 18 release name election were announced.
Fedora 18 is going to be called Spherical Cow.
Wait, what? Yes, Spherical Cow.
“/doh” by Hobvias Sudoneighm (striatic on Flickr), used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.
Tatica broke the news about the Fedora 18 release name in Vienna to Emichan and me and we have been discussing it tonight. We all have some concerns with it.

Spherical Cows Falling Flat

Fellow Fedorans, don’t you think this has gone a step too far now? We don’t want to Fedora to be a joke, right? What message are we sending about Fedora with these kinds of names? Even if we had the best, most amazing artwork ever paired with a flawless user experience, don’t you think a name like ‘Spherical Cow’ makes it seem as if we as a community don’t care about Fedora or that we don’t believe Fedora is something to be taken seriously? If we believe in free software and we want users to adopt it, how can we convince them to take it seriously with names like this?
“Beefy Miracle,” as Tatica pointed out, has been a challenge for Spanish-speaking Fedora Ambassadors to explain to potential Fedora users at events. Ambassadors are asked quite frequently what the differences are between Fedora and other Linux OSes. Traditionally, the answer has been that Fedora is more for professionals and that it’s a serious distro that takes a progressive stance towards adopting new technology. Whether or not you agree with this answer, it is certainly undermined by silly names, putting our ambassadors in an odd position.
Now, Beefy Miracle, while very much a Fedora community inside-joke and very silly, has had a devout following for a long time and is part of the history of Fedora itself, and he has served as the generic face of Fedora in the generic-logos package. So, I think the extra effort for supporting Beefy Miracle is something that many Ambassadors, including Tatica, do not mind.
But Spherical Cow? Really? What does “Spherical Cow” have to do with Fedora? Where are the “Spherical Cow” devotees? Where is the connection to our community? I don’t see it.
Beefy Miracle aside, we don’t believe that we should have wacky names every release. Furthermore, our names are random and follow a complex and hard-to-understand “is-a” test that causes confusion to pretty much anybody who tries to join in the naming process:

  • The complex and non-obvious “is-a” rule makes the naming process seem rather exclusive and difficult, discouraging new participants.
  • Since so many folks suggesting names don’t understand the “is-a” rule, a lot of names are suggested that can’t be used, creating a lot of work for the folks running the naming process in checking and rejecting the names that don’t fit.
  • The names, for the most part, require some explanation and even with explanation, they are difficult to understand. A community with inside jokes you don’t understand doesn’t feel very welcoming. It’s okay to have inside jokes; what’s wrong is to externalize those inside jokes at the level of the release name which is currently publicized fairly widely.
  • The end result is a stream of random names that are completely unrelated, without any common thread or sense about them:
    • Yarrow
    • Tettnang
    • Heidelberg
    • Stentz
    • Bordeaux
    • Zod
    • Moonshine
    • Werewolf
    • Sulphur
    • Cambridge
    • Leonidas
    • Constantine
    • Goddard
    • Laughlin
    • Lovelock
    • Verne
    • Beefy Miracle
    • Spherical Cow

sad panda
“Sad Panda” by maalokki on Flickr), used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

We’re Not Alone

I don’t think Tatica, Emichan, and myself are alone in this thinking. There was a lot of support for our position in a Fedora advisory-board list thread last month. Here are some highlights from that thread:

  • Seth Vidal said:

    I think we should drop the naming process altogether. For the following reasons:
    1. the names do not serve any use
    2. the names are a waste of time and effort to administer the process
    3. no one remembers the names.
    4. the names are potentially divisive.

  • Bruno Wolff said:

    I don’t think the ‘is a’ process has resulted in consistant good pools of names.

  • David Nalley said:

    Now that we’ve had Zod and Beefy Miracle – is there really any point continuing?

  • Jaroslav Reznik said:

    The perception of the name inside the project, the core people (for us, Beefy Miracle has something magical and you can imagine Bacon!) will be different compared to outside ones. For them it could be more difficult to understand it – some people could be offended (even we don’t see reason), some people who understand fun would be just laughing, some would be angry…
    So I don’t think we have a problem inside our community but that *outside* perception could actually sound not the way we wanted it.

  • Seth Vidal also said:

    I stopped participating or caring in the names a long time ago and from asking around to some of my peers, I’m not alone.

  • Jason Brooks said:

    Names can be useful, but Fedora hasn’t made much use of them.

I think my favorite quote from the thread is from Matthias Clasen:

I agree – the naming thing started as a fun game, then it got ‘standardized’, and now it is just one more process that has stopped to be either fun or useful. Apart from the problems that Seth has listed, others have pointed out that the expected connection of the release name to the artwork is more often than not problematic.
Time to reevaluate and come up with something fresh and fun that we can do for each release.

Along this line, a suggestion from mario juliano grande balletta:

My only suggestion, based on being new with Fedora, and still full of energy and excitment to work with all of you, is simply stay positive, focus on the fun, smile, find ways to agree, look for the good, insist on being happy, focus on the new, and make changes!

Well, come on then! Let’s do this as a community, okay? We agree with many of the sentiments in the thread that having a release number without any kind of name is a bit cold, especially as our version numbers climb higher and higher. The recent release naming process election results suggest you may feel similarly:

  • 550 Fedorans are in favor of keeping the release name, but potentially exploring a new process for developing it.
  • 384 Fedorans do not support keeping release names.

A Proposal to Move Forward

Here is our (Emichan, Tatica, and me) suggestion for moving forward on this:

  1. As a community, let’s propose different schemes along which we can come up with release names moving forward (Fedora 19 and beyond.) These schemes should result in nice names that won’t be quickly exhausted and will reflect on Fedora positively in some way. Let’s take until June 1 to do this.
  2. Once we’ve had a sufficient period of time to come up with naming schemes, let’s decide on the naming scheme we want to use together as a community.
  3. For Fedora 19, we can follow a naming process very similar to the one we follow today. The only difference: there is no “is-a” rule for vetting names. The names are instead vetted for adherence to our selected naming scheme, as well as vetted by the entire community for suitability / non-offensiveness, by the Board, and by the Red Hat legal team as well.

We have a wiki page we’ve started with Feodra naming theme suggestions. Please submit your ideas to it.


  1. Joe Buck says:

    I’ve run Fedora since release 1, and I’ve never known or cared what the names were; they are so random that there’s no way to remember. The code names are an utter waste of time and money. Drop them and save the effort. Let the code name of Fedora 19 be Fedora Nineteen.
    Alternatively, pick a scheme that automatically generates a whole series of codenames, so you don’t have to keep spending resources on vetting names and running elections. My employer uses letters (19th release would be “S”) and has done so long enough that the alphabet has wrapped. Actually, at one time a code name that began with the specific letter was chosen but that was dropped eventually as too much trouble.
    Or use the elements. My wife and I declared our 19th anniversary our “banana-versary” because element 19 is potassium: an element will give you lots of associations to use in art work.

  2. Well said and thank you very much.
    I fail to see any actual history of “BM” in fedora, the link you provided has no facts and is essentially propoganda. I wish “real” information was available. What irritated me the most with the selection of “BM” as the code name was the end run around the “is a” rule buy using a previous selection failure as the “is a” connection. I have actually felt for several releases that we should just drop the names, your suggestions in this post however have ignited a glimmer of hope. Again, thank you very much.
    — Bob

    1. mairin says:

      There is a long history of Beefy Miracle in Fedora, talk to the Anaconda team if you don’t understand it. The link I provided shows the original installer ransom note graphics Beefy appeared in.

      1. I like your suggestions for a new naming scheme. Personally I’m not sure yet how feel about not having a release name altogether. Even though I don’t see that as a bad idea, having a name somehow sounds more cozy or community-like IMHO. 🙂
        IMHO again, Bob has a point about how “clever” an act getting BM is-a rule compliant was. I get that it has a history and has a enthusiastic following. But getting a once rejected name by being clever is sure to leave some people unhappy. Now that the notion of being-clever-is-ok has been established, I’m not surprised its come to the Spherical Cow.
        In fact I could have bet right after BM was accepted, that the next name would be,
        1) odd (trying to meet the is-a rule) and
        2) clever (if its good enough for…)
        3) enough common ground (lot of people who learned science ever have heard the joke at least once) and perhaps finally for a
        4) touche
        We are finally here and therefore there’s no point of talking about what could’ve been. But I believe your suggestions provide a good way to go forth without making a big deal out of this, specially after the vote has got more support to keep release names.
        PS: my own dislike for the name BM stems from how awkward it gets to explain why the release name of my favourite OS is “Beefy Miracle” with a hot dog for a mascot to other people, specially to people who are just hearing about Open Source/Linux/etc., specially to vegetarians and specially as a vegetarian. But you already know how that it. 🙂

  3. Leif says:

    Your suggestion for a stronger correlation between codenames is bang on. It’s a fun guessing game as to what the next will be if there’s a strong/fun theme.

  4. rrix says:

    It’s all fun and games ’til the joke’s no longer fun, then DELETE FREAKING EVERYTHING? Seems a little over the top since you have been one of His Holiness’s biggest advocates since we started pushing for the release name back at FUDCon Tempe.

    1. mairin says:

      Where are we suggesting delete everything here? Did you not read the paragraph describing why Beefy is sanctioned and Spherical is too far?

  5. I just feel really alienated by Beefy Miracle since I’m a vegetarian. I’ve considered switching back to Ubuntu just because of the name.

  6. More than that, though, I feel like the extremely in-jokey nature of all these names says something about the Fedora community: That it’s run by insiders, for insiders, and if you’re not in on the joke you might as well not exist.

    1. I voted for BM the first time it came up on the basis that it’s only the release name and no-one cares about release names anyway, so it doesn’t _matter_ if it’s an ‘inside joke’. (It’s more of an anaconda inside joke than a Fedora one anyway, really.)

  7. Andrew says:

    Really, Ms Fox? I’ve been a vegetarian 21 years and only find it mildly off-putting. Certainly not enough to make me consider another distro on that basis. I’ll just not use the code name, kinda like always 🙂
    I can’t say I’ve ever seen the point of publicity for the code name. As far as I can see, it’s entire purpose in life is as an in-joke. Not just Fedora’s code name, but any code name.
    In the case of spherical cows in particular, I have to say that it’s the first Fedora code name I can recall personally enjoying, and I suspect many other members of the community will enjoy it as well. The many variants of the joke referenced on the Wikipedia page were told widely amongst the math, CS, and physics students I knew in my undergrad days, usually with our own discipline as the but of the joke. For me, it has a familiar happy feel. YMMV and I’d still get behind eliminating publicity for the code names.

  8. Personally, in my head, I never think of a particular install of fedora as the codename, it is always the number itself.
    Does having a codename actually give us anything over just using a number?
    If all the the codename is really used for is for (when it can be) basis of the theme for the artwork in a release, then maybe we should just vote on an artwork theme for each release?

    1. mairin says:

      It’s not really required for the artwork at all. The codename gives us something to remember a release by beyond just a number and gives a release a personality, which I do think is reasonable.

  9. Seriously it’s gone too far this time. This one is going to be offensive to some and I won’t vote on these ‘jokes’ going forward.

    1. Beefy miracle was way more offensive to a lot more folks really. That isn’t the point anymore.

  10. Ok, since I was the one who run into Mo and Em room last night with sorta crisis, I think I would like to comment on everything.
    I think the problem is not to remove codenames. Whether or not they are fun, if fedora-outsiders doesn’t get it (because explain them a name might be a way to connect us), is more about making ourselves this question “what does the codenames represent for us?” – I really find cool to have a codename, and I even think that have something funny as codename can “break the ice” in a conversation with a new user; but I consider that there is a difference between a fun name and a completely random “just to fill something” name.
    I will give you an example: I completely understand meaning of “Beefy Miracle”, however, there is not a proper translation in spanish, so the way I explain it to new users in my talks is “is because we like bacon, and think about a miraculous hotdog that make us happy”… and people smile after that, but… how am I suposed to explain for the next 6 months how a “spherical cow” can be related to Fedora? I think would be easier to say “when we see a lot of code, is like getting high and we see -pink flying elephants-” (doesn’t that make more sense???)
    I don’t think we are doing things right/wrong (that’s not the way I evaluate things) is just that, if we want to do something, we should do it because it matters. Is not about how crazy a name can be, is not about how fun it can be, is not critizice how weird will be to explain it; is about give things a meaning. What if we just take names of the national flowers worldwide? or take names of meteorites? or just take the word “hat” and translate it into all languages? There are plenty of options, and I’m sure that if you’re reading this long comment you will agree with me (or i hope so :D) that the problem is not having a name.
    Maybe I freaked out too much last night, but maybe I’m right. I don’t think we should change “this” codename, because it was already selected… but we seriously should evaluate how to do the “fun things” without looking like juvenile idiots. We are a worldwide community… think about that, please.

    1. Toshio Kuratomi says:

      Spherical Cow is the punchline of a math/physics joke. Subject matter-wise, it’s probably closer to Fedora and easier to create a suitable interpretation of than Beefy Miracle. For instance, in the joke, the physicist reduces a complex problem down to a simple one so that they can more easily solve the problem. In Fedora, we take the complexity of putting together a Linux Distribution and make it simpler so it’s easier for an end user to do their work. There’s likely to be other ways to interpret this to be able to explain it to other people just as you invented the bacon comparison for Beefy Miracle.
      Both Beefy Miracle and Spherical Cow share the same problem. The reason that they were chosen is apparent to a relatively small number of people. (I’m willing to bet the set of math and physics people would outnumber the set of Anaconda Developers so Spherical Cow could be seen as a step forward in accessibility 😉
      As for changing the release naming process… yep, I do believe that we should work on that in the six months before the next release.

      1. Jef Spaleta says:

        Okay I haven’t been following the name game this time around at all…. because I’m really crazy busy doing my dayjob which is still technically physics.
        So the name announcement was indeed made me smirk as it really spoke to me directly. Do you have any idea how many spherical animals I’ve actually drawn on a blackboard at this point? But I can see how those who don’t cry when watching the Big Band Theory because its an eerily accurate documentary of their daily lifes would fail to appreciate the chosen release name for F18.
        And when I saw the name announcement the first thing I thought of as a slogan to spin was the simplification of reality meme. The hallmark of good physical model building..complexity reduction that lets you understand the most important physical processes. Perfect being the enemy of good. And well spherical cows are good enough sometimes. I would actually say that I probably revere the spherical cow as an idealize symbol of a very important concept of my chosen profession. I certainly don’t think “food” when I see spherical cow.
        And of course along those lines.. you can have Fedora 19 be Onion… because the other way to look at physical models of reality is like layers of onion ad you add complexity back in one layer at a time. Just saying.

  11. Fedora naming theme suggestions ?
    Roman Emperors is my suggestion …

  12. I think the names are an important part of the release cycle. Even the “closed source” companies (read as Microsoft or Symantec for example) use “codenames” in their betas.
    On that note, I also think that Canonical has a pretty good idea with Ubuntu. They use the next letter of the alphabet, and you have to come up with a name for it like Precise Pangolin (12.04) or Quirky Quatzal (12.10). Maybe that’s a path that Fedora should follow. You could either start from “A” with Fedora 19, or start with “S” (as it’s the 19th letter).
    Have a great day:)

  13. While I agree that “Spherical Cow” is completely ridiculous as a name for a Fedora release, I don’t think “Beefy Miracle” was any good either.
    (When I say this, I’m completely skipping how offensive the name is to devout Hindus, which make up most of India. I get the significance, and it doesn’t offend me, but I know folks who were downright unhappy with it even being a candidate.)
    I totally understand that “Beefy Miracle” is an inside joke but in all truth, it isn’t at all a good name for a Linux distribution. The idea behind “Beefy Miracle” was to show that Fedora is FUN (I really couldn’t think of another reason for the strong backing “Beefy Miracle” received), but I’m sure there are many other names that could have portrayed fun equally well, if not better. Since it won the election fair and square, well .., I support it.
    Now, other than being a code name, “Beefy Miracle” also did something else: “Beefy Miracle” stressed on the fact that a name, which is a “valid” candidate, will become the code name for a release if it gets the most votes. All it did was: carve “if you follow the rules, and win your votes, you get the codename” in stone. Keeping in line with this, “Sperical Cow” won the election and is therefore the next code name.
    Since it was chosen by the community, like “Beefy Miracle”, I will support it irrespective of how idiotic it is. I expect the entire community to do the same. If a majority folks have objections, how did it win in the first place?
    I was personally astonished at the options I was given to vote for. The list of names suggested for Fedora 18 has some really good names. The options that were given (I have no clue who decides this final list, but they need to get a life IMO) to choose from were RIDICULOUS x10000000. How did “Tandoori Chicken” even make it as a candidate? (Is it considered C00L, are we hipsters all of a sudden?) If we are going to be given candidates like these to choose from in the future, I’d rather prefer not to have a codename.

  14. I imagine your troubled dreams to look something like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9iIgQN5uZE
    Also! Met an east coast lady @LinuxFest, she said nice things about you.

  15. Paul says:

    I know that people already connected with Fedora may find those names funny or simply don’t care about it. But names are VERY important for desktop users and they usually don’t choose the distro that look unprofessional. The new Fedora release will be surely associated with a hot dog, as it’s even placed on official page. New concept isn’t much better.
    Let’s use them as codenames. Not important. Known only by those who are really interested. Don’t make them visible for outsiders, because they will make them keep being outsiders.

  16. […] soy el único que piensa así, y de hecho en este blog podréis encontrar una buena reflexión -en inglés- sobre la selección del nombre de Fedora 18 y […]

  17. Carlos-Xfce says:

    I’ve never used Fedore. I use Xubuntu and LMDE. I read the announce of the name in a blog. You’re right : it’s so ridiculous and funny ! I can’t stop laughing at “beefy miracle” and “spherical cows”, ha ha ha.
    You’re right. I’m from outside the Fedore community and, with a name like this, I can’t take you seriously. Sorry.

  18. I understand that it could be hard to find a relation between Fedora and the Spherical Cow… but to say that the relation between Pandas and Fedora is “Everyone loves Pandas”, I don’t think is fair enough 🙂 (I love Pandas)

  19. sojourner says:

    I like the code name “spherical cow”. I don’t like BM (Yuck!).
    I like code names in general and like them better than a bland “Fedora 19” and I like most of the names and can put up with a few which I don’t like. And whacky code names are okay with me (most of them anyway). I personally wouldn’t read much into a name.
    I find your proposal very sensible though. Hopefully it speeds up things and makes selection simple and fast.
    Had a look at the wiki…
    As a vegan, Beefy miracle would make me frown a bit, but not a cow itself. Fish names are similar.

  20. Mat says:

    Drop the names already … not only is it getting worse, I see it as a distraction and a waste of time and resources.
    I appreciate the work everyone does each release, but I really wish more time was spent improving the presentation of Fedora.
    Take Ubuntu for example, they have made huge strides in recent years from the installation process, theming & software centre (just to name a few). Their naming scheme is quirky but consistent.
    I can actually recommend Ubuntu to users and family members. Fedora I can’t anymore.
    As a long time Fedora user (FC1 – F16) it saddens me, but I’m off to Ubuntu 12.04 for a while as soon as my new SSD arrives.

  21. Mr. Magoo says:

    Spherical Cow happens to be a much better name than Beefy Miracle is. At least Spherical Cow doesn’t sound a lot like a bad porn movie 😀
    It also doesn’t upset the numerous people that would be offended by the killing of a cow to make a hot dog, either.

  22. Brian says:

    After a long stint of Kubuntu, I was ready to try something new and had been thinking Fedora (KDE or Scientific spin). But I can’t get past all this goofiness with these silly names. I don’t need my OS to be ‘fun’, I just want it to work well. This is just too embarrassing.
    I’m tired of distros looking like Candy Land with cartoonish default DEs and marketing presences full of corny juvenile humor. When I want fun, I can go find it on my own. When I’m doing work, I’m often dealing with some rather unpleasant issues, and I want to be able to take the tools I use seriously.
    I know it is supposed to be just a codename, but in the case of Beefy Miracle, it has also motivated the branding and marketing. Will this continue to be the case? How long until some graphic designer is asked to draw the zany cartoon Spherical Cow?
    It saddens me that I feel compelled to go looking for another distro now, but I just cannot support this, sorry.

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