Issue #20 June 2006

Fedora fun at the Summit


If you haven't been living under a rock, you've probably read something about the Red Hat Summit held a few weeks ago in Nashville, Tennessee. Hopefully you also know a little something about the Fedora™ Project, which is the rapidly developing, innovation-driven seed for many of the technologies presented and discussed at the Summit. In some cases these technologies appeared under cover of the somewhat more conservatively dressed Red Hat® Enterprise Linux®, but nevertheless Fedora was close to ubiquitous at the conference. I packed up my family[1] and drove the 600+ miles from Virginia to the mesmerizingly sprawling complex of the Gaylord Grand Opryland Resort to see how Fedora was represented at the forefront of Linux technology and as a vanguard for continued open source innovation.

Attendees have variously joked about how the Summit is something you visit in between great gala parties and hoisting copious amounts of your beverage of choice. And, of course, plenty of merriment ensued nightly thanks to the generous support of Red Hat and their sponsor partners. But the Summit was also a unique opportunity to see our volunteer community's efforts put to practical use in venues ranging from small consulting businesses to the largest IT companies in the world. Beyond that, through programs such as One Laptop Per Child, I was able to see how our contributions, as well as those of the larger open source community, will ultimately impact the lives of tens of millions of school-age children throughout the world. Of course, our community, like any, begins with a meeting of minds, and a coming together of people, which is part of the Summit, too.

On the evening folks arrived for the Summit, many of us shuttled out to the Grand Old Opry for some tasty barbecue and mingling with fellows. The party was complemented by plentiful bottles labeled "Open Sauce," and a ragtag cover band of copious amplification and dubious talent that was splendidly vivisecting AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" and reanimating it as a kind of shambling bluegrass zombie. Fleeing the carnage, I ran into many of the folks whose names are always popping up on mailing lists, press releases, and weblogs concerning the Fedora community. But what I wasn't prepared for was the number of Red Hatters, outside developers, and other individuals who were passionate about Fedora, to whom I was either introduced by common acquaintances, or simply chatted while orbiting one of the numerous bar stands.

One of them, Todd Barr, Director of Enterprise Marketing at Red Hat, took me rather by surprise with his enthusiasm for our community and the platform. He mentioned that he'd been using Linux for some time, but my recollection--a bit hazy, as it was, due to the excessive consumption of either guitar squonkage or alcohol, maybe a bit of both--is that he pointed out that he considered himself a "lot less of a geek" than the engineering types at the company, in terms of his tendency to tinker with its inner workings. Nevertheless, Barr went on to say, Fedora Core 5 was the most fun he'd ever had using an operating system and showing off cutting-edge Linux functionality to the people he meets and deals with. This from a marketing guy? I was impressed, and of course I enjoyed the confirmation of not-very-secret information that "all the cool people in the company run Fedora." I reflected on the prospect of the user groups into which Fedora will ultimately penetrate, such as rank computer novices and the mythical "Grandma."

Red Hat principals weren't the only Fedora lovers at the Summit, however. Several times during the conference, I ran into an acquaintance who runs a solutions company specializing in open source technologies, and whom I first met at FUDCon Boston 2006. Although his firm has a number of commercial partners both inside and outside the Linux sphere, he is also very excited about getting people and resources in his company engaged with the Fedora community because he recognizes the ultimate benefits of that collaboration. As the development of Fedora helps drive innovation that is free and open to anyone for use and contribution, it also delivers that innovation back to commercial offerings, which in turn drive interest in the business on which his shop thrives. It's a sort of "deep partnership" opportunity where he can have a direct impact on the vitality of the products on which he stakes his business.

As with any technology conference, revitalizing business partnerships was key to the proceedings, and it was interesting to see the first signs of Fedora's visibility in those interchanges. Energizing keynote presentations kicked off each day at the conference, and by the time you read this, you should be able to view and download several of them. The first Fedora name-dropping came when Red Hat director of quality engineering Tom Kincaid announced that the company would be submitting its new software testing initiative through the Fedora Project Board. Red Hat believes this will not only encourage community input to develop the tools, but also the continued growth of transparent and open standards for producing robust sets of application software. You may have already seen part of this initiative in the release of Dogtail, a GUI test and automation framework.

Participation and contribution of test cases and code to this new initiative will be a key factor in driving the continued upward trajectory of confidence in open source software stacks. But it also goes without saying that another important factor will be the ability of the Fedora Project Board to use this opportunity to develop effective standards for evaluation of this and future initiatives submitted for inclusion under the Fedora umbrella. I had the good fortune to sit with Board chairman Max Spevack during the first day keynotes, and we agreed that this conference was an enormous opportunity for the Board and the Fedora community. There were four other Board members present at the Summit as well, so this was a topic that generated a lot of excitement.

The keynote by Dr. Richard Wirt, an Intel senior fellow and general manager of its Software and Solutions Group, tickled another Fedora fancy or two when he mentioned that Intel developers had standardized on Fedora for in-house development work. A lot of this work is closely tied to the exploding interest in virtualization and its use in strategically allocating hardware resources in ways that benefit customers in just about any sector. (Red Hat's Virtualization Resource Center presents a worthy overview of this topic.) Fedora's integration of Xen has undoubtedly fed the interest of hardware vendors like Intel and AMD whose long term strategies intimately involve virtualization.

Outside the doors of the Tennessee Ballroom and the keynote stage, Fedora was also running on quite a number of presenters' systems outside the "Emerging Technologies" track. Many presenters made a point of mentioning that Fedora was a great place for attendees to see today the technologies that would be appearing in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 toward the end of the year. Red Hat's Global Learning Services presented a number of hands-on learning labs throughout the conference featuring Fedora, including both "Introduction to FC5" and "Getting Started with Xen" sessions. The labs were fairly well attended, and run by typically first-rate Red Hat instructors such as Joshua Hoffman.

Of course, there was oodles of Fedora content available at the Summit, including a Fedora BoF run by Max Spevack and Jeremy Katz, Jeremy's talk on current and future direction for Fedora Core 6, and a talk on the state of Xen virtualization. Fedora community members asked and answered questions about:

  • The upcoming opening of Core and integration with Extras
  • Planned enhancements for Anaconda, the installation subsystem
  • Improved integration of the Fedora Directory Server subproject
  • The status of a Fedora Live CD
  • The importance of championing freedom vs. ease of use with regard to desktop functionality

By an unfortunate accident of timing, the build infrastructure for Fedora was changing during the week of the Summit. As a result, Jesse Keating's presentation on building the distribution was constrained to general issues, as opposed to discussing the minutiae of implementing that particular system. I expect that the next Summit will bring a great opportunity for him to talk more about this subject, as well as lessons learned from the process which he and his team members are currently going through.

Name-dropping, seeing the platform and community well represented in presentations, and discussion of the technical details of implementations in the distribution, however, were not the sole measures of relevance. As a member of the Fedora community, what I found most moving and energizing was less about the "what" and more about the "why." In his opening keynote, Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik shared a very personal and impassioned outlook on his company's overarching goals. These objectives have informed and powered the transformation of what was once the best-selling consumer Linux distribution into a vibrant community built around the most free and open computing platform in existence.

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At the same time, though, Szulik's (and Red Hat's) goals are far broader and more meaningful than promoting their particular branding of Linux, or Fedora, or even open source in general. Red Hat is ultimately focused, Szulik said, on making the world a better place, and he is convinced that fostering the open, collaborative, and transparent process of democratizing content is an important contribution to that end. As a Fedora community member, I wondered what could be more relevant to that process than a completely free and open computing platform.

When I ran into Szulik in the partner pavilion shortly before that keynote, he half-jokingly asked me what he should say. (I use the word "half-jokingly" because if you've seen the speech, you will probably understand Szulik eschews Teleprompter conceits in favor of a more engaging, personable style.) This was my first Summit, so, caught off guard and not knowing what to expect in any case, I guilelessly responded, "Something inspiring."

Needless to say, I was not disappointed.

[1]I want to thank my wife, who, throughout the Summit, shepherded our two young children on numerous outings--some educational, some entertaining, and others simply distracting--making it possible for me to make effective use of my time there. I also want to thank the chairman of the Fedora Project Board, Max Spevack, for making it possible for me to attend.

About the author

Paul W. Frields is an engineer with a background in digital forensics and investigation who has taught Linux to hundreds of technical and law enforcement professionals. He spends part of his spare time working on odds and ends for the Fedora Project, especially documentation. The other part is devoted to his wife and children, and his part-time work as a professional musician.