openSUSE community votes on name change – but not to what….

The openSUSE project is in the midst of asking stakeholders to vote on a name change – though what the new name might be is not clear.

The openSUSE community has recently been pondering whether to reconstitute itself as a new legal entity such as a foundation. This has prompted discussion over the status of the openSUSE name and trademarks – unsurprisingly given that SUSE and the SUSE logo are trademarks of SUSE LLC, the commercial company that champions the project and its open source operating system.

The page detailing the vote gives a comprehensive list of reasons to keep the current name. These include the potential loss of brand recognition earned over years, and contributors’ attachment to the current name – and branding. 

It also notes that a name change could give the impression the relationship between the project and the company are “strained”. Practically, it would mean “a lot of work will be required to rename domains, OBS projects and metadata, GitHub namespace, packages trademarks, etc”, while rebranding would require “tremendous amount of communication (and money)… to establish the new brand name.”

Worryingly for some perhaps, “Changing the project name will make current openSUSE swag (T-shirts, mugs, stickers, etc) obsolete.” (Yes, you might think there’s a thriving market for obsolete branded products, but we’ve yet to hear of any devs, or indeed journalists, retiring on the proceeds of a mountain of T-shirts, mugs and stress balls they’ve accrued over the years.)

Reasons to change the name include openSUSE being often typed or pronounced incorrectly, while the “distinction” between SUSE and openSUSE can confuse newcomers. Also, they note, “The Free Software Foundation (FSF) complains about the looseness of the term ‘open’.”

Lastly, there is the argument that if there is to be a new legal structure, now is the time to change the name.

Community members are offered a simple yes or no as to whether to change the name, and have until November 7 to make their choice.

That all seems admirably simple, though it still leaves open the whole problem of choosing what the new name should actually be. Which, based on the experience of other communities, or indeed countries, who’ve embarked on major change triggered by an apparently straightforward yes or no vote  is where the real fun and games starts.