Practical Technology

for practical people.

Red Hat keeps its grip on Fedora


Red Hat Inc. announced on April 4th that the Fedora Project is going to stay under Red Hat’s control, instead of going to the Fedora Foundation as it had previously announced.

Red Hat’s Community Development Manager Greg DeKoenigsberg explained that the Fedora Foundation was not going to take charge of the operating system, after all. Instead, Red Hat was retaining some “control over Fedora decisions, because Red Hat’s business model *depends* upon Fedora.”

This brings to mind the way Sun keeps control of Java through its Java Community Process partners.

This is also not what Red Hat said it was doing in June 2005, when it announced that it was forming the Foundation to take charge of Fedora development. At that time, Mark Webbink, Red Hat’s deputy general counsel, said, “We feel that we are now at a point where we need to give up absolute control. We built our company on the competence of the open-source community and it’s time for us to continue to manifest that.”

By August, Red Hat’s Foundation plans were a little clearer. The new organization was to provide funding for filing patents covering inventions of open source developers; to support copyright assignments to assure compliance with open source licenses; and to provide organizational structure for Fedora volunteers.

So, what happened?

Max Spevack, the Fedora Project Leader, explained in a public message that, “We’ve had a lot of smart people working hard to make this Foundation happen, but in the end; it just didn’t help to accomplish our goals for Fedora.”

“When we announced the Foundation, it was with a very specific purpose, and in a very specific context, said Spevack, “to act as a repository for patents that would protect the interests of the open source community.”

It was only later, Spevack continued, that “people inside and outside of Red Hat were interested in working beyond the stated purpose — an intellectual property repository — and instead saw this new Foundation as 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 Spevack, even after the Foundation was incorporated in September, no one had successfully articulated “the precise responsibilities of the Foundation. This conversation took months, but ultimately it came back around, again and again, to a single question: ‘What could a Fedora Foundation accomplish that the Fedora Project, with strong community leadership, could not accomplish?'”

Red Hat concluded that there wasn’t anything the Foundation would do better. Spevack goes over all the reasons why it wouldn’t work well for its original intellectual property purposes, and why it would have trouble legally making a go of it as a non-profit group.

At the end of the day though, Spevack wrote, “The simple and honest answer: 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.”

Nevertheless, Spevack insists, “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.”

As a nod to the community, Fedora will now be governed by the Fedora Project Board. In turn, this will be made up of nine board members: five Red Hat members, four Fedora community members, and a Red Hat appointed chairman, who has veto power over any decision.

Spevack will be the first chairman. The Fedora Project Board’s Red Hat members are Jeremy Katz, Bill Nottingham, Elliot Lee, Chris Blizzard, and Rahul Sundaram. From the community, the members will be Seth Vidal, Paul W. Frields, Rex Dieter, and a fourth board member to be named as soon as possible.

Most fundamental administration matters have not been set up yet. Spevack wrote, “A lot of the key governance details — term length, board composition, election or appointment process — have yet to be resolved. One of the first responsibilities of the new board will be to work with the Fedora community to answer these questions.”

The community, however, seems indifferent to who’s running the show. As one active Fedora user put it on the Fedora Forum Website, “As long as Fedora is still being developed and supported as well as them keeping the standards up I’m not too fussed about how the managing body is structured.”

The few Fedora users who bothered to comment on the matter, agreed. “If it doesn’t effect to Fedora development then it’s fine,” wrote another Fedora user.

On the technical side, the Fedora Project is sticking to its six-month release schedule. For those of you keeping score, that means we should see Fedora Core 6 in late September.

This new version “may” include a live CD, Intel Mac support, and better configuration tools, and might also include Fedora Directory Server in the Fedora core. It won’t, however, have a single installer CD or installer-based partition resizing.

Leave a Reply