Issue #14 December 2005

Fedora Ambassadors Program takes flight

When Red Hat announced the formation of the Fedora™ Project two years ago, there were a lot of unanswered questions. The stated goal was straightforward: to produce a stable, free, cutting-edge Linux distribution in partnership with the Fedora community. The path towards that goal, however, was less clear, with a number of bumps along the way.

The Fedora landscape has changed dramatically in those two years. Now, with several successful community projects underway, the Fedora community is turning its attentions towards education and outreach with the establishment of the Fedora Ambassadors project.

Successful open source projects typically attract a wide array of supporters. Some of these supporters are developers, but most are users who appreciate the technology and the freedom of open source. For those who don't choose to write code, though, it can be an uphill battle to contribute actively to the success of their favorite open source projects. The Fedora Ambassadors project was formed in part to take advantage of the desire of Fedora users worldwide to contribute in other ways—to educate the public about the benefits of Linux and open source software in general, and about Fedora in particular.

Since the project's inception in November, Fedora has attracted more than 40 ambassadors in 19 countries around the world. The immediate goal of the project is to ensure a Fedora presence at every major open source show in 2006. The more general goal of the Ambassadors project is to act as an official avenue for communication between organizations, groups, governments, and NGOs and all the stakeholders across the Fedora universe. Individual ambassadors have their own goals as well, and the Ambassadors project exists to provide support for these goals.

Thomas Chung, the ambassador for Southern California, has been involved in the Fedora community for two years as the maintainer of fedoranews.org. His initial involvement was fairly typical of first-time community contributors. "All I wanted was to create a personal web site with my own Linux HOWTOs," says Thomas, "but then I realized the need for a community site for the Fedora Project where anyone could post their HOWTOs and stories." Thomas expects his involvement in the Fedora Ambassadors project to allow him greater insights into the activities of the Fedora community worldwide. He will also be meeting with Fedora users at SCALE, the Southern California Linux Expo in Los Angeles, in early February.

One of the hot issues in open source development is software patents. Some distributions license some of these patents; other distributions choose to test the limits of these software patents. Fedora chooses deliberately to avoid all technologies with potential patent issues. The best example of this choice is the absence of MP3 technologies in Fedora; instead, Fedora actively promotes the use of the Ogg media formats. Chitlesh Goorah, a student in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France, explains the appeal of this choice to him. "When I adopted Fedora Core as an operating system for the first time," says Chitlesh, "it had a big impact on my experience with computers. I feel that Fedora was made for me. Since Fedora endorses open source software only, it got my vote of support."

The Fedora Ambassadors project has also attracted its share of hackers, like Behdad Esfahbod. Behdad participated in Google's Summer of Code project, developing preload, an adaptive readahead daemon that predicts which user applications should be preloaded for faster startup times. Behdad is also active in the GNOME community; he is a candidate for the GNOME board. Involved as he is with these efforts, he also sees his involvement with the Fedora Ambassadors project as crucial. "If you ask why Fedora," says Behdad, "it's because I think we are the most polished and professional distro." Behdad is based out of Toronto, and is particularly interested in seeing more of the users in his area involved in the Fedora community. "I'd like to see more people around here calling themselves Fedora contributers or even developers," he says. "Currently it's more like there are Fedora users around here. In my opinion, there should not be a separate users and developers community."

Of course, some people are just natural ambassadors—like Jack Aboutboul, who was a Fedora ambassador even before there was a Fedora project. "Personally," says Jack, "I always make it a priority to meet people, wherever I go and whatever I do. Thats what open source is all about; not code, but people. So around 1999 or 2000 I met [Red Hat engineer] Spot Callaway at LinuxWorld in New York City. I knew him from the #redhat channel on the openprojects IRC server. We had some fun in the city that week, and over some time he got me involved in more direct contribution." By Jack's estimation, he has spoken on Fedora's behalf, officially and unofficially, at over a dozen major trade shows. "I always get to both US LinuxWorld Expos, so thats 8 right there. Then there are the local LUG expos and random shows. It's something like 3 or 4 a year, overall. On top of that I've done the quintessential 'Welcome to Fedora' presentation about 50 times to various groups."

Working as an ambassador takes time, though, and many of the ambassadors already lead very busy lives. Thomas Chung, for example, is a software engineer for Lockheed Martin, working at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. "I've always been fascinated by how the open source community works," says Thomas, "and I wanted to get involved to help any way I could. I think by joining the Fedora Ambassadors project I can be more active and help more people than I could imagine—even though I have a busy full time day job like many of us do."

Jack Aboutboul agrees. "You need to champion and advocate for what you believe in," he says. "I'm sure that everyone on the planet has a million and one things on their plate, but truth be told, that's the essence of community—individual contribution towards the greater good."

Acting as an ambassador doesn't always have the same kind of clear payoff that writing code does, but it does have its rewards. Jack tells the story of one of these moments. "There is this one particular sushi bar in San Francisco which is visited by a number of Fedora contributors every time they are on the West Coast. On our last trip there, we realized that the music system in the sushi bar was running Fedora. So it turns out the great atmosphere in the place was due in part to us. On that particular night, the sushi tasted a little bit sweeter!"

For more information on how to join the Fedora Ambassadors Project, visit the Fedora Project wiki at http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Ambassadors.