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Feature: Fedora/Red Hat

New Fedora Chair plans to remove obstacles for volunteers

By Bruce Byfield on February 26, 2008 (7:00:00 PM)

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"The job is to remove obstacles in the way of the community," says Paul W. Frields, speaking about his new position as Fedora Chair. After only a few weeks in the position, Frields is still learning his way around and getting to know his colleagues, but already this vision is a common refrain in his comments, underlying all his comments about what he hopes the Fedora project will achieve while he is coordinating its efforts.

Frields is the second person to chair the project, replacing Max Spevack, who recently stepped down to focus on other interests in Fedora. The chair is also automatically the Fedora Project Leader. The chair is appointed by Red Hat, the Fedora distro's sponsor, and is a Red Hat employee, but the selection process "is also informed by the board," Frields says. He says that it would be next to impossible for someone who did not believe in the free and open source (FOSS) ethos or had an autocratic style of leadership to enjoy the support of either the Fedora board or community.

Paul W. Frields, Fedora ChairIn many ways, Frields is well-suited for the position. A computer hobbyist since he was eight, Frields has been using Fedora and Red Hat Linux, its predecessor, for years in scientific and forensic work. Seeing "an opportunity to give something back," he joined the Fedora project in November 2003 -- only two months after the project's start -- and has been active ever since as a package maintainer, and working with the documentation, release notes, art work, and marketing teams. He has also been a Fedora ambassador, evangelizing for Fedora in particular and FOSS in general in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Since 2006 he has been a Fedora Board member as well, rounding off an unusually thorough view of the entire project.

Frields feels that Fedora has come into its own in the last few years. "When Fedora first started in 2004," he says, "a lot of people looked at it as a successor to Red Hat Linux, as following in its footsteps, and very much with the company in the driver seat. But it has become clear that the distribution now is really run as a partnership." In particular, he credits Spevack with overseeing the merger of the Core and Extra repositories, which removed the distinction between packages maintained by Red Hat employees and those maintained by community volunteers, and with promoting the growth of FUDCon, Fedora's community conference, for each new release.

In fact, Fedora has so clearly come into its own that, according to Frields, Fedora 8, the current release, was known among Red Hat employees as "the community distro. That was their very loving way of referring to the fact that we had built a community around the distribution, and that it had really blossomed."

Full speed ahead

Now that Fedora has established itself as a community, Frields says, his main strategy for the community is "to carry that spirit forward, and make sure that we are pushing the boundaries by making the community in charge of every part of Fedora."

Considering Frields' varied experience in the project, it is unsurprising that one of his main goals is "lowering barriers for contributors" -- in particular, for non-programmers. "I want to try to grow those communities and scale them up with the number of developers," Frields says. Finding non-programmers and keeping them involved is a problem that he sees affecting most FOSS projects, but "I want to see Fedora leading the way."

The problem, as Frields sees it, is not that the steps to become a community member are not well-documented in the project wiki. He sees the problem as too many technical steps that have to be undertaken manually. He would like to see the process automated, so that less technically-oriented people could volunteer more easily.

"Someone should be able to walk up to the Fedora booth at a conference anywhere in the world," he says, "and, using the Internet connection there, join the Fedora project, get a wiki space for themselves, an email address, and a Web page, and all of those things that we would normally associate with a presence online, and bring them into our world gently, without them having to perform a lot of onerous command-line tasks."

In addition, Frields notes that "The idea that there ought to be an official mentorship program is growing." However, Frields' is concerned that the project may not have the necessary core of experienced members for a mentorship program to succeed yet. While he is still making up his mind on the subject, he seems inclined to put off such a program.

Another area that Frields hopes to see an improvement during his tenure is in "the global face of Fedora." Despite the fact that Fedora has worldwide contributors, Frields believes that, "Right now, we tend to have a somewhat North American-centric view overall." He especially hopes to increase participation in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Asian-Pacific regions, all of which statistics show as having high concentrations of Fedora users.

So far as language is a problem, he hopes that Transifex, a new Web system to streamline localization, may help provide an answer. However, Frields suggests that the problem is not primarily one of language. He notes that Fedora already has many contributors for whom English is a second language, but who have few difficulties in active participation.

Instead, he would like to see a renewed effort to expand the Fedora Ambassadors program in those regions where the distribution is already popular. "The details are still being worked out as we speak," Frields says, "but that's going to be happening very strongly this year. A lot [of the effort] is simply messaging about what people and companies can do with Fedora."

Still drinking from the fire hose

Frields does not rule out other priorities. He stresses, though, that he is still setting into the job.

"A lot of people will tell you that coming to a company like Red Hat is a little like drinking from a fire hose," he says. "And it's definitely been that way for me. And I've enjoyed every minute of it."

So far, the main surprise for Frields in his new role is "the deep passion that everyone has about open source, including the management types. This is something that is really built into the culture of Red Hat. I've been told about it before, but I think I wasn't really prepared to see it at work and to see how it informs all the decision-making. And I've also seen people's dedication to ethical behavior. I think that, when you have that attitude at the very top, it finds its way down to everyone in the company."

With this attitude, Frields concludes, "I think there's a heck of a lot that Red Hat is going to achieve in the next couple of years -- and that won't hurt Fedora, either. Our place is the community and it always will be -- it's not about one company donating resources, but what a community can do together. But I think that when our community has a partner like Red Hat, the horizons are very wide for us."

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Linux.com.

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New Fedora Chair plans to remove obstacles for volunteers

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 218.189.139.3] on February 27, 2008 07:49 AM
I have a request, somehow on-topic, the Fedora project website/wiki and well as general Fedora color theme is really 'feels cold' as much as i love fedora its color theme is not warm and welcoming.

Please implement some sort of warmer colors, anything but 'cold blue' warm blue would be just fine too, lets learn something from M$, and Ubuntu!

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Re: New Fedora Chair plans to remove obstacles for volunteers

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 80.254.147.36] on February 27, 2008 08:29 AM
The colours are fine as they are. You should just change your attitude. Stop being gay.

Also, how is changing the colour of a wiki learning something from Microsoft or Ubuntu! One is a corrupt company while the other uses the colour brown!! Now, in England the colour brown became a sort of fashion with all sorts of clothing in this colour. Well, all the people who bough into this fad look awful. Brown is an awful, drab colour

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Re(1): New Fedora Chair plans to remove obstacles for volunteers

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.12.20.5] on February 28, 2008 02:27 PM
"""
You should just change your attitude. Stop being gay.
"""

Well... thanks for letting us know, early on, how childish your post was going to be, anyway.

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Re: Brown is an awful, drab colour

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 218.189.139.3] on March 07, 2008 04:46 AM
meh..

you have some issues man. brown is the color of most man in this world, i cant see how it can be an awful color.

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New Fedora Chair plans to remove obstacles for volunteers

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.203.203.89] on February 28, 2008 03:03 PM
I hope he succeeds. I started with Red Hat 5.2, and continued with Fedora Core 1 and 3. Around this time an upstream ISP asked me if I would go CentOS, which I did for a dedicated server. Then I noticed that Fedora's yum channels were slow, and FC6 was terrible, just terrible -- the yum deps would break, and it was hard to find a package. I felt like a hamster on a treadmill with all the upgrades.

CentOS has essentially taken over the non-paying RH server segment. I tried to install Fedora 8 on my new laptop, it was a big disappointment. The screen was not detected, the sound did not work, and the kernel would freeze when I loaded a win32 wireless driver with ndiswrapper. Ubuntu (Gutsy 7.10) worked much better -- I was able to get my screen going. The sound didn't work until I did something with apt and backports-something. ndiswrapper ran beautifully.

I still use CentOS for my servers as I have been using a RH environment for 9 years. One customer even insisted on buying a real RH5 license for the box in his photocopier room (I found RH5's updating mechanism slower than the CentOS yum channels, but otherwise it was fine).

A few weeks ago I tried to install from source all of the packages, ie apache 2.2, mysql 5, php 5, suphp 0.62, etc) that I use in shared hosting servers as a web hosting ISP (ISPs don't generally use pre-built binary packages because they are not optimized for performance on the target platform, and custom security patches cannot be applied). I had to find the equivalent libraries (ie 'apt-get install libbz2-dev' instead of 'yum install bzip2-devel' but otherwise the environment compiled the apps perfectly (a similar experience on SUSE would not have been nearly as smooth, I think).

There is no advantage for me to switch my servers to Ubuntu. After all, most of the world's production Linux servers still run RH servers and the sysadmin docs reflect that. However, Ubuntu is unquestionably a better desktop distro, as it combines recent tech with stability and full feature set. And it does the server mission fine. RH is a good server but a weak desktop. This make me wonder if Ubuntu will move from the desktop to the server and displace RH completely.

I visited a university campus recently where I saw 2 Linux laptops in use (granted, I was in the CS dept.). They were running Ubuntu. My guess is that in 5 years they'll use the RH server at work while rolling their eyes. In 10 years they'll be senior enough to enforce their preference and force Ubuntu.

I would prefer that RH won the war. However, it seems clear that the way to do that is to improve the desktop experience to prevent the competition from using it as a backdoor to eventual server dominance.

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New Fedora Chair plans to remove obstacles for volunteers

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 196.37.192.137] on February 28, 2008 08:03 PM
I hope they take a look at quality issues. That should be at the top of the list, before adding to the distro, perfect what is there already. I have been using fedora 8 for a while now, and its a splash better than previous versions, however yum is just awful, that is most notable, but there are a couple of other things that also ruin the desktop slightly. I still prefer it over Ubuntu, however it does seem they are taking the lead, would hate to see fedora fall behind because of unpolished distros.

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New Fedora Chair plans to remove obstacles for volunteers

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 203.81.192.54] on February 29, 2008 05:09 PM
Well, I would like to put such questions and suggestions on Fedora List, so your voice can reach the whole Fedora Community.

Regards,
Mustafa Qasim
Fedora Lover

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