April 11, 2006

FUDCon and folding the Fedora Foundation

Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

BOSTON, MASS. -- Last Friday, after the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, I sat in on the fifth Fedora User and Developer Conference (FUDCon) at the Boston University School of Management. Some of the buzz in the halls concerned Red Hat's announcement of the end of the Fedora Foundation (about which more in a moment), but there were some good talks too.

Fedora founder Warren Togami's "Welcome to Fedora" talk dealt with the history of Fedora, and how Fedora operates. Togami spent a fair amount of time emphasizing how important Fedora is to Red Hat's business, and trying to dispel the notion that Fedora is only a "perpetual beta" for Red Hat's enterprise products. This was tricky, since Fedora is a perpetual beta for Red Hat's enterprise products. However, Togami tried to emphasize the importance of Fedora to Red Hat's business, and also talked about how Fedora has a wider scope than simply being a beta. Togami also discussed Red Hat's intentions to increase community involvement in Fedora Core and to allow direct contributions to Fedora. Increased community involvement is something that Red Hat has been promising for a long time, so it will be interesting to see what Red Hat actually delivers, and when.

The future of Fedora

Jeremy Katz was originally slated to discuss Xen, but decided to change the discussion topic to what's coming in Fedora Core 6. As far as I'm concerned, this was a change for the better, since I was curious to hear what the Fedora folks were planning for the next release.

Unfortunately, a great deal of discussion focused on the Fedora release schedule rather than the actual features that would be added or changed in the next release. Attendees tossed around several ideas about extending or changing the release cycle from six months to nine months, but the general consensus was that Fedora should stay on a six-month schedule to stay in sync with GNOME, X.org, and other projects that tend to release on a six-month cycle.

If the tentative schedule holds, it looks like FC6 test 1 should be released around June 7, and a final FC6 release should be available around September 20, though those dates are subject to revision.

After the schedule discussion settled down, Katz and the audience brainstormed on possible features for FC6, including an FC live CD, support for Apple's Intel Macs, improvements to configuration tools, putting the Fedora Directory Server in the Fedora core or extras repositories, and a number of other new features and improvements.

A few attendees asked about the possibility of having a single installer CD, or having partition resizing in the installer -- both of which seemed to be shot down at the meeting. Katz suggested that it would take too much developer time to add partition resizing in the installer.

Though it's possible to do a minimal install using a single Fedora CD or the first two CDs, a few folks were hoping to have a single install CD like Ubuntu's. Apparently, the reason this isn't likely is because the Fedora Project wants the installation CDs to provide a "self-hosting" environment, which isn't possible using a single CD.

Fedora Foundation folded

I would have liked to have stayed to the end of the show for Max Spevack's "The State of the Fedora" talk, where Spevack was supposed to talk about the Foundation and the new Fedora leadership model, but I had to leave after the lunch break to catch my plane back home. However, I did have a chance to sit down the day before with Red Hat's Community Development Manager Greg DeKoenigsberg to discuss the end of the foundation and what Red Hat plans to do going forward.

The Foundation was originally meant to be repository for patents to help protect open source, and eventually morphed into what Spevack called "a potential tool to solve all sorts of Fedora-related issues."

"Every Fedora issue became a nail for the Foundation hammer, and the scope of the Foundation quickly became too large for efficient progress."

According to DeKoenigsberg, the Open Invention Network (OIN) came along after the Foundation was announced and filled the role the Foundation was supposed to hold with regards to software patents.

Then the question of forming the Foundation as an independent, non-profit organization became something of a problem, since the majority of support for Fedora comes from Red Hat, and non-profit organizations should not receive more than one-third of their support from a single source. It was unlikely that Fedora would become self-sustaining. The colocation and bandwidth costs for Fedora alone are more than $1 million, according to DeKoenigsberg.

Another reason that the Foundation idea was scrapped is that it's not in Red Hat's interests for the Fedora Foundation to operate independently of Red Hat. According to Spevack's announcement:

Red Hat *must* maintain a certain amount of control over Fedora decisions, because Red Hat's business model *depends* upon Fedora. Red Hat contributes millions of dollars in staff and resources to the success of Fedora, and Red Hat also accepts all of the legal risk for Fedora. Therefore, Red Hat will sometimes need to make tough decisions about Fedora. We won't do it often, and when we do, we will discuss the rationale behind such decisions as openly as we can -- as we did with the recent Mono decision.

But just because Red Hat has veto power over decisions, it does not follow that Red Hat wants to use that power. Nor does it follow that Red Hat must make all of the important decisions about Fedora. In fact, effective community decision making is one of the most direct measures of Fedora's success.

In place of the Foundation, Red Hat has reformed a Fedora Project Board, which will include community members and Red Hat employees to guide the direction of the Fedora Project. The board starts out with nine members, five from Red Hat and four from the community, and a Red Hat-appointed chairman with veto power but no vote on the board.

Spevack will be chairman of the board, and Red Hat employees Bill Nottingham, Elliot Lee, Chris Blizzard, Rahul Sundaram, and Katz will represent Red Hat on the board. Rex Dieter, Paul W. Frields, and Seth Vidal are the community members announced thus far by Red Hat. DeKoenigsberg says that the company has approached a fourth community member, and was waiting for his decision as of last week.

Beyond the "bootstrap board," DeKoenigsberg says most of the details of the Fedora Project's governance model have not been ironed out just yet. He did say that he expected that the board would be term-limited with alternating terms so that the board would always have experienced members serving.

It's also yet to be decided how the board members will be chosen, but DeKoenigsberg says that he expects that at least some of the members will be elected by the community -- and it will need to be decided what set of community members are allowed to vote.

DeKoenigsberg says that he expects the board to work on opening up Fedora Core to allow contributions from outside of Red Hat engineering, because there's no need for Red Hat engineering to control those packages. "If you look at Core, there's not more than 10 to 20% that Red Hat cares about at any given time." For example, MySQL or Vim could easily be maintained by developers outside of Red Hat engineering. However, Red Hat may want to manage packages that are part of the bleeding edge, in areas where Red Hat is trying to get software ready for enterprise releases, such as Xen.

Since much of the structure for the Fedora Project Board is up in the air, DeKoenigsberg says that they should be releasing regular updates, and posting minutes of their meetings so that other members of the Fedora community can see what's being done.

Future FUDCons

Overall, FUDCon had a nice community feel to it, very casual, with lots of enthusiastic Fedora users and developers were in attendance. I was disappointed I couldn't attend some of the later sessions, particularly the MIT OpenCourseWare session and the MythTV session.

If you couldn't make it to FUDCon Boston 2006, don't fret -- it won't be the last one this year. The FUDCon organizers are already planning a FUDCon for August 18 in San Francisco after the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo there.


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