Issue #22 August 2006

The Fedora message

by Max Spevack


The Fedora™ Project isn't just about the open source community working with Red Hat, and it isn't just about the Linux kernel and an application layer. Those of us involved with Fedora strive to run the project as a model for conducting yourself, conducting business, and collaboration. The core tenets of the Fedora Project reflect the philospohy that the whole is much larger than the sum of its parts.

I believe that the underlying concepts of open source, honesty, and transparency embraced by the Fedora Project are applicable to any discipline. That's the end goal and what motivates me every day: the hope that the ideas that are so well known to the open source and Linux communities will continue to become more and more mainstream, until eventually we've revolutionized the entire way that the world looks at problems and issues. I believe that it's inevitable, but I'm curious to see the pace at which the inevitable arrives.

Over the last few weeks, I've had several different experiences along these lines that I'd like to share.

The first was a few lines that I read in Red Hat's 2006 Annual Report to shareholders, from a routine SEC filing back in May:

"The Fedora Project is a collection of open source community software projects, which Red Hat sponsors, that relate to Fedora Core, an open source Linux-based operating system, and Fedora Extras, a set of ancillary open source software applications. The community of developers that participate in the Fedora Project use and contribute to Fedora Core and Fedora Extras, resulting in publicly available software that combines newer, less-developed technologies with more mature ones.... Thus, we are able to use the Fedora Project as a proving ground and virtual laboratory for new technology that we can draw upon for inclusion in our enterprise technologies."

Now that's some formal language, but its main point is to describe the Fedora Project from the engineering perspective. In this case, the Fedora message is one of the Linux community and Red Hat working together in an open development lab, the goal of which is the rapid progress of free and open source software.

Setting aside code for a minute, I'd like to mention a conversation that I had a few days ago. I'm a real joy to take car trips with. Invariably, some topic will come up that is tangentially related to open source or copyright or digital technology in general (you know, issues likely to be mentioned on Slashdot). I'll seize upon the opportunity to expound upon the goodness of openness by default and the dangers of proprietary and closed ways of thinking. I'm sure my trapped companions appreciate these fine lessons.

This particular conversation began by trying to explain the One Laptop Per Child program. From there (though clearly I'm forgetting a few twists and turns), it moved to the topic of DVR and TiVo, and whether or not it's "right" for networks to push for technology that stops people from fast forwarding through commercials. We also discussed proprietary file formats, and the adoption of the Open Document Format by various governments.

As you can see, none of this is directly tied to the Fedora Project, but it represents the ideals that Fedora contributors work toward every day.

The Fedora Project Board holds firm to its mandate that the software we ship follow the motto of "once free, always free." In this, we are remaining true to the same fundamental benefits that lawmakers in Massachusetts have found in open formats.

When the Fedora mailing lists spawn long threads about the recurring decision not to ship software that supports mp3 files and DVDs, (due to the proprietary nature of those codecs) that's the same conversation as the TiVo/DVR example linked above.

We're talking the same talk. Information wants--or needs, perhaps--to be free. Why? Each project or idea has a different answer, but the question is always worth asking.

Finally, I'd like to mention Red Hat High, a week-long camp held last month. We taught 53 young students about the power of collaboration and technology--the Open Source Way, educational style. I was asked to speak. How could I demonstrate the benefits of sharing and openness in their work?

I chose to introduce them to Wikipedia. In preparation for my talk, I created a stub article for Red Hat High. During the presentation, I explained to the students that all I could do was get the entry started, because they were far more qualified to fill in the details. They were experiencing it, and their voices should be the ones heard. I explained that this basic idea is what makes wikis work. Each student can add their expertise to the article, creating an end result that is far greater than what any single student could produce.

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Synergy, collaboration, sharing of ideas--call it whatever you like, but it represents the fundamental building blocks that run projects, make decisions, and communicate ideas. If you can convince people--not just by telling them, but by letting them participate and judge for themselves--then today's open source methodologies could be tomorrow's systems of government. And that would truly be revolutionary.

That's the future. And that's the Fedora message. We live it in our code, we live it in the way we hold our meetings and make decisions, and we live it in the way that we report on what we're doing. The best ideas win, no matter where they come from.

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About the author

Max Spevack is the Fedora Project Coordinator at Red Hat.