Fall 2008 Guest - IRC Chat with Paul Frields

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This is a log of a Guest IRC Chat with Paul Frields, the Fedora Project Leader, held on September 11, 2008. Most of the students in the audience are in the LUX Program. The section headers are for rough navigation only -- they may not exactly line up with questions and answers due to overlap/lag.


[17:08] <ctyler> Ok, we're about to start an online "Guest Chat" with the Fedora Project Leader, Paul W. Frields (nick stickster). This is an experimental format, so bear with us!

[17:08] <ctyler> The first part of this chat will be in interview format: I'll ask some questions of Paul to set the background. After that, we'll have a general Q&A.

[17:08] <ctyler> I'm not planning to use the "voice" capabilities of IRC, so everyone can talk as usual -- but let's keep it fairly orderly. To make a comment during the Interview, or to indicate that you want to ask a question during the Q&A, I encourage you to use "/me comment" (e.g., "/me has a question about jobs in open source").

[17:08] * bombshelter13 greets the room.

[17:09] <ctyler> Any questions before we start?



[17:09] <ctyler> Paul, thank you for joining us!

[17:09] <ctyler> Would you begin by telling us about yourself and how you got involved with the Fedora project.

[17:09] <stickster> Hi everybody

[17:09] <stickster> I'm the Fedora Project Leader, employed full time by Red Hat, Inc.

[17:10] <JamesB__> Hi.

[17:10] <stickster> That basically makes me accountable for the entire project both to Red Hat and the community at large

[17:10] <stickster> I started in that position with Red Hat in February of this year.

[17:10] <stickster> Before that, I was a volunteer with the Fedora Project for about 4.5 years.

[17:10] * ctyler puts Paul's smiling face on the screen

[17:11] |<-- bombshelter13 has left irc.freenode.net (Client Quit)

[17:11] <stickster> ctyler: pssst... you used the Clive Owen headshot, right?

[17:11] -->| bombshel1er13 (n=bombshel@matrix.senecac.on.ca) has joined #seneca

How did you start?

[17:11] <ctyler> stickster: What part of the Fedora project did you start with?

[17:11] * ctyler used the User:pfrields page

[17:11] <stickster> I started with Documentation around 2003. Somewhere I have the link to my first message there, which I think was in November 2003.

FPL Responsibilities

[17:12] <ctyler> As the Fedora Project Leader, what are your responsibilities?

[17:12] <ctyler> (Besides guarding the codes to the Fedora Orbiting Laser)

[17:12] <stickster> I've also done some software package maintenance, and I've worked with Marketing, Artwork, Websites, and so forth.

[17:13] <stickster> As the FPL, it's my job to ensure low barriers to entry for the larger community, and to ensure smooth functioning between the internal processes of Red Hat and the external processes of Fedora.

[17:13] <stickster> I also chair the Fedora Project Board (or just "Fedora Board"), which is the topmost body of governance in the Fedora Project.

Relationship between Red Hat and Fedora

[17:14] <ctyler> Pefect segue to the next question -- You work for Red Hat, but spend all of your time working on Fedora. What is the relationship between the two entities?

[17:14] |<-- ashughes has left irc.freenode.net (Read error: 113 (No route to host))

[17:16] <stickster> The Fedora Project is a community-powered, 100% free and open source project. We receive a lot of contributions from inside Red Hat, but our contributors include many volunteers as well. Red Hat sponsors this work because the software that Fedora produces is used as the basis for a commercially supported product, Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Size of the Fedora community

[17:16] <ctyler> How many contributors/community members are there?

[17:16] <stickster> It's hard to put an exact number on it, because people have different levels of engagement with Fedora.

[17:17] <stickster> But we have at this point close to 12,000 members in our Fedora Account System.

[17:17] <stickster> A significantly smaller number are active contributors -- between 1,000 and 2,000..

[17:18] <ctyler> That's a lot of contributors to manage!

[17:18] <stickster> That includes engineers inside Red Hat, who probably make up about 1/4 - 1/3 of the total number. The rest are interested volunteers.

Working "in" a community

[17:18] <ctyler> What does it mean to work "in" a community? How is working in Open Source different from the rest of the computing industry?

[17:18] <stickster> Working in open source can take many forms.

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[17:18] <ctyler> E.g., the Red Hat people working on Fedora work for Red Hat but also work "within" the Fedora community

[17:19] <stickster> There are companies like Red Hat that hire open source contributors, essentially funding their work because it ultimately benefits the company too.

[17:19] <stickster> But the difference is that Red Hat *collaborates* largely with the greater external open source community.

[17:19] <stickster> Red Hat engineers who are working on a product

[17:19] <stickster> do not have to maintain secrecy about their work

[17:20] <stickster> or protect it with NDAs, generally speaking.

[17:20] <stickster> Instead, they are free to engage with outside contributors

[17:20] <humph> stickster: that's a key point, and one that many students don't get. Can you say more about making a career out of doing pure open source? (i.e., it not all being "people in their basement")

[17:20] <stickster> which results in a larger audience for the project

[17:20] <stickster> and presumably a better final product.

[17:20] <stickster> humph: Very good point

[17:21] <stickster> That's right

[17:21] <stickster> There's a lingering view of Linux being a bunch of overweight science fiction fans cobbling away in Mom's basement, drinking energy drinks and eating donuts.

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[17:21] <stickster> I, for one, don't like science fiction that much.

[17:21] <stickster> And I usually keep the donuts in the kitchen.

[17:22] <samer> lol

[17:22] <AaronMT> haha

[17:22] <humph> :)

[17:22] <stickster> Companies are starting to enthusiastically embrace open source

[17:22] <stickster> because it (1) brings them closer to the customer's needs

[17:22] <stickster> and (2) uses methodologies that provide a higher-performing, more interoperable product.

Direction of the Fedora project

[17:23] <ctyler> stickster: Can you tell us a bit about the directions and priorities for the Fedora project over the next short while (couple of releases)?

[17:23] <stickster> Not every company, of course, completely embraces the open source mindset.

[17:23] * stickster thinks he'll start doing "<eof/>"

[17:23] <bombshel1er13> good call

[17:23] <stickster> Oh, <eof/>

[17:23] <stickster> ctyler: Sure

[17:24] * ctyler was about to suggest the same, sorry for the timing issues

[17:24] <stickster> Not at all

[17:24] <stickster> I don't have any direct input or management over the RHEL processes, for example...

[17:24] <stickster> but certainly I've seen rumblings in the press about an eventual RHEL 6

[17:25] * ctyler was focusing on Fedora direction, not RHEL

[17:25] <stickster> Right, but we also acknowledge that a major downstream from us can affect our direction too

[17:26] <stickster> So that's something I'm eager to see at work, since I haven't been managing the project long enough to have experienced it before.

[17:26] <stickster> We'll be working on the Fedora side toward a better engagement with new contributors

[17:26] <stickster> Luke Macken, one of our security and infrastructure geniuses,

[17:27] <stickster> is working on plans for task queuing that will provide a brand-new contributor with easy ways to make substantial contributions in a very short time.

[17:27] <stickster> Our infrastructure team is working on a fairly detailed "playbook" on bootstrapping open source infrastructure,

[17:28] <stickster> which could be used by other open source startups, volunteer projects, and businesses looking to engage the free and open source software (FOSS) community

[17:29] <stickster> We are looking at bringing some of the concepts learned from the online social networking boom into a more unified web portal experience

[17:29] <stickster> And of course, as always the technical side of the distribution will continue to gather the latest features from the many upstream communities that are part of Fedora

[17:29] <stickster> <eof/?

[17:29] <stickster> oops <eof/>

[17:29] -->| fardad (n=fardad@CPE0015e9772999-CM0014e88eeb56.cpe.net.cable.rogers.com) has joined #seneca

[17:30] * stickster breaks in again

[17:30] <stickster> sorry, forgot some other things

[17:30] <stickster> We are working on more extensive and powerful translation tools that extend collaboration into many upstream communities, for an arbitrarily large number of projects

[17:30] <stickster> And

[17:31] <stickster> I've also heard of late that we are finally going to be doing some more thorough investigation of content management systems to give us easier ways to collect and publish documentation for our community.

[17:31] <stickster> (for real) --> <eof/>


[17:31] <ctyler> I'd like to (cautiously) open this up for questions. So that we don't overlap too many threads, I suggest that if you want to ask a question you type "/me ?" and I'll queue up the names. If you have a comment on the current question, go ahead and type :-)

RHEL and Fedora: Which is upstream?

[17:31] * scarter4 was wondering if fedora is upstream from red hat, or if red hat is upstream from fedora. Historically Red Hat came first, but fedora seems to be upstream from red hat... how does that work?

[17:32] <stickster> scarter4: Very good question.

[17:32] <stickster> scarter4: Originally, years ago (pre-Fedora), Red Hat made a product called just Red Hat Linux.

[17:33] <stickster> It was sold off the web site, and also in stores -- you could walk into a Circuit City or a Best Buy (or <fill_in_Canadian_equivalent_sorry/>) and pick it up for aobut USD 40.

[17:33] <stickster> However, this was not a very profitable model.

[17:33] <stickster> Red Hat found that they did better selling services and solutions to enterprise-class businesses

[17:33] <stickster> So they revamped their model, and split it --

[17:34] <stickster> Now Red Hat sells a commercial product, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (sometimes called RHEL)

[17:34] <stickster> and they sponsor a community project, Fedora, which produces a Linux distributions for hobbyists, developers, enthusiasts, and so forth.

[17:34] <stickster> Fedora is the leading-edge distribution, where the advanced development occurs, so it is the upstream.

[17:35] <stickster> At some point, Red Hat "snapshots" Fedora (in a manner of speaking)

[17:35] <stickster> and does some extra work, testing, and quality assurance to meet the needs of its customers, and releases that as the commercial product.

[17:35] <stickster> So Fedora is not an alpha, beta, or a "test phase" of RHEL.

[17:36] <stickster> It is a separate distribution whose features sometimes (not always) find their way into RHEL.

[17:36] <stickster> <eof/>

[17:36] * pdirect question

[17:36] * AaronMT wants to know who is currently funding Red Hat/Fedora?

Deadlines in an Open Source project?

[17:36] <ctyler> pdirect: go ahead

[17:37] <pdirect> how is a "deadline" expressed/enforced in an opensource project?

[17:37] <stickster> pdirect: We publish a schedule in advance for each release.

[17:37] * melsdaly ?

[17:38] <stickster> Fedora is released once every six months or so.

[17:38] <stickster> The time based schedule keeps us moving quickly and integrating the latest features, which suits our target audience.

[17:39] <stickster> The scheduled release date dictates things like feature freezes (after which we don't put any new features in), string freezes (so translators can get bits of text translated in time), documentation publishing, and so forth

[17:39] <stickster> <eof/>

Who funds Red Hat?

[17:39] <stickster> AaronMT: Red Hat is a publicly traded company

[17:39] <ctyler> Question from AaronMT was: who is currently funding Red Hat/Fedora?

[17:39] <stickster> AaronMT: RHT is the symbol on the NYSE.

[17:40] <stickster> <eof/>

Future Fedora CMS?

[17:40] <ctyler> melsdaly: go ahead

[17:40] <melsdaly> wondering what CMS products Fedora might be looking at

[17:40] |<-- AaronMT has left irc.freenode.net (Read error: 104 (Connection reset by peer))

[17:41] <stickster> melsdaly: I don't believe the proposal or evaluation process has started yet, but I do know that Fedora's website and documentation teams will be working on that process

[17:41] <stickster> melsdaly: There certainly are many to choose from, including Plone, Drupal, and so forth.

[17:41] <melsdaly> thanks

[17:41] <stickster> <eof/>

[17:41] <ctyler> questions?

[17:42] * pdirect ?

Quality of upstream projects?

[17:42] <ctyler> pdirect: go ahead

[17:42] <pdirect> what if the quality of a submission is not good? is it left out of the distro?

[17:43] * ctyler suggests "submission" --> software "package"

[17:43] <stickster> pdirect: The meaning of "good" can vary from one person to another -- for example, we typically don't keep out a new piece of software just because it's still in progress.

[17:43] * selmys back to fedora philosophy

[17:43] <JamesB__> ?

[17:44] <stickster> pdirect: It largely depends on (1) how many people it's likely to affect, and (2) the need for it to be exposed to a wider audience for cultivation

[17:44] <stickster> pdirect: I think that is a relatively common POV across all Linux distributions.

[17:45] <stickster> excuse me, all *community* Linux distributions.

[17:45] <stickster> <eof/>

[17:45] * ctyler points to Debian, Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, Ubuntu as community distros

Fedora target audience?

[17:45] <ctyler> selmys: go ahead

[17:45] <selmys> ubuntu is intended for ordinary people, fedora for hobbyists, developers, enthusiasts, and so forth. ...

[17:45] <stickster> ctyler: And many others, Slackware, Blag, Linux Mint...

[17:46] <selmys> how and why was this chosen?

[17:46] <stickster> selmys: Not sure that's completely accurate.

[17:46] <stickster> Although it could be the most common way people describe different distros.

[17:46] <bombshel1er13> I resent being called 'ordinary' :)

[17:46] <ctyler> stickster: How do you view Fedora's position?

[17:47] <stickster> For instance, my wife is an ordinary person, yet she uses Fedora all the time.

[17:47] <selmys> I guess fedora using leading edge stuff that may not quite be ready

[17:47] <stickster> Actually, you'll find that the state of the software in Fedora, Ubuntu, and OpenSuSE, taken over average, is fairly even.

[17:47] * varinder ?

[17:47] <stickster> But, the question was...

[17:47] <stickster> How was this chosen.

[17:47] <selmys> and why

[17:48] <bombshel1er13> Was it chosen, or did it just come to be that way on it's own?

[17:48] * ctyler suggests letting stickster answer :-)

[17:48] <stickster> Fedora has a stated mission, which is to rapidly advance the state of free and open source software.

[17:48] <stickster> That mission implies specific objectives, such as "not producing a distribution with a very long lifecycle."

[17:49] <stickster> Because that long lifecycle would induce maintenance needs that then *prevent* advancement from happening.

[17:49] <stickster> We also have had, for years, a very clear policy for dealing with upstream software communities

[17:50] <stickster> Which is that we try and minimize any Fedora-specific patching of software, because that practice artificially limits the audience for the changes

[17:50] <stickster> And prevents the upstream community from spreading the enhancements across all open source communities that use their software.

[17:51] <stickster> Finally

[17:51] <stickster> The mission also reflects the standard open source philosophy

[17:52] <stickster> of meritocracy

[17:52] <stickster> that is, people who contribute to the process, whether it's by triaging a bug, translating a string, or developing a new feature,

[17:53] <stickster> automatically gain a bigger voice in the process.

[17:53] <stickster> Which is fairly reflective of most human enterprise, I think

[17:53] <stickster> So in those ways, the mission dictates the target audience, and that mission has been the basis for our project's success for about 5 years now

[17:54] <stickster> <eof/>

Where to start hacking Fedora?

[17:54] <ctyler> JamesB__: go ahead

[17:54] <JamesB__> What's a good place for newbie to start hacking with Fedora? For instance, for Mozilla people often learn by working on extensions. Is there something of equivalent skill level in the Fedora world?

[17:54] <stickster> JamesB__: Good question!

[17:55] <stickster> JamesB__: I can think of several easy ways to contribute, that aren't code specific.

[17:55] <stickster> But in terms of code..

[17:56] <stickster> Our infrastructure and release engineering teams, for example, work on a fairly extensive codebase.

[17:56] <stickster> A lot of it is Python, which means fairly low barrier to entry, programming-wise

[17:56] <stickster> But keep in mind that whereas Mozilla is a project that primarily *produces* code, Fedora is a project that primarily *integrates* software products.

[17:56] <stickster> Which is not to say that we don't produce code too.

[17:57] <stickster> http://fedorahosted.org/ has many examples of that

[17:57] * ctyler say check that out ^

[17:57] <stickster> You can pick just about any of those projects that interest you and use them to jumpstart your career in open source contribution :-)

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[17:58] <stickster> For non-code contributions,

[17:58] <stickster> you could look at bug triaging,

[17:58] <stickster> documentation,

[17:58] <stickster> artwork,

[17:58] * scarter4 ?

[17:58] <stickster> ambassadors,

[17:58] <stickster> marketing,

[17:58] <stickster> or translation.

[17:58] <stickster> (for examples)

[17:58] <stickster> <eof/>

[17:58] <JamesB__> Thanks!

[17:59] * Slokunshialgo is wondering if the Fedora Project has created (directly or indirectly) any significant new technology or program

Other companies or organizations contributing to Fedora?

[17:59] <ctyler> varinder: go ahead

[17:59] <varinder> except from Red Hat is there any other company or organization contributing to Fedora ?

[17:59] <stickster> Yes, we have contributions coming from everyone from independent software vendors to governments to Fortune 500 companies.

[18:00] * ctyler notes we're almost out of time, and Paul has another commitment shortly

[18:00] <stickster> But the majority of our *funding* comes from Red Hat.

[18:00] <stickster> In the same way

[18:00] <stickster> as the relationship between

[18:00] <stickster> Novell <--> OpenSuSE

[18:00] <stickster> Canonical <--> Ubuntu

[18:00] <stickster> etc.

[18:01] <stickster> <eof/>

[18:01] <ctyler> Ok, Paul has to run

Technologies created by Fedora?

[18:01] <stickster> Slokunshialgo: Yes, Fedora has created a number of technologies

[18:01] <stickster> including Smolt, a hardware tracking database

[18:01] <stickster> And many of the Desktop technologies you see were created by people working on Fedora both inside and outside Red Hat

[18:02] <stickster> Anaconda, the installer used by many other distributions

[18:02] <stickster> There are numerous contributions Red Hat also makes to the entire FOSS ecosystem through Fedora

[18:02] |<-- heyqule has left irc.freenode.net (Remote closed the connection)

[18:02] <stickster> https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/RedHatContributions

[18:02] <stickster> ^^ a much larger listing which may surprise some of you

[18:03] <stickster> OK, I'm sorry to have to run, I'm late for a conference call


[18:03] <ctyler> Ok, we're out of time. You've probably noticed that stickster is usually present in this channel :-)

[18:03] <ctyler> Thank you Paul!

[18:03] <stickster> Thank you so much, Seneca students

[18:03] <pdirect> thx paul

[18:03] <stickster> and also Chris for having me here

[18:03] <scarter4> thanks alot!

[18:03] <stickster> I'm usually around on IRC Freenode and though I'm usually quite buried in work, I try to respond to everyone as soon as possible

[18:04] <Slokunshialgo> Thanks for your time

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[18:05] <bossanesta> thx you for your time, paul

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[18:05] * stickster drops URL

[18:05] <stickster> http://join.fedoraproject.org/