Red Hat lets go of Fedora Linux

The company creates the Fedora Foundation to encourage further outside development of its free Fedora software.

Red Hat is changing course again with its free Fedora version of Linux, announcing Friday that it will turn over copyrights and development work to an outside entity called the Fedora Foundation.

Red Hat once had just one version of Linux, but beginning in 2002 it split the product into the commercially supported Red Hat Enterprise Linux and the free and fast-moving Fedora. But the company struggled to meet the original Fedora goal of attracting widespread outside involvement.

Given that Red Hat treated Fedora as a proving ground to rapidly mature features it wanted to add into RHEL, it's not a surprise programmers saw it as a Red Hat project. But the Raleigh, N.C.-based company is making concrete moves to help Fedora stand on its own.

The establishment of the foundation comes on the eve of a new version of the software. Fedora Core 4 is due to ship Monday, bringing broader processor support, the Xen software for running multiple operating systems on one computer, version 4 of the GCC compiler, and other features.

A vibrant Fedora project is important to Red Hat, and not just as a way to build improvements fed into RHEL. It also stands to boost Red Hat's image as a company that cooperates with others in open-source programming, fill the pipeline of new RHEL customers, and keep Red Hat at the center of open-source operating system work in the face of rivals such as Gentoo and OpenSolaris.

For example, in recent months, Red Hat has opened access to the Fedora source-code repository so others can contribute code more easily. It also has been working to provide servers that automatically build Fedora from its underlying source code so new bugs can be found quickly on a variety of computers.

The latest step is the Fedora Foundation, which, instead of Red Hat, will maintain copyright of code contributed to Fedora, Red Hat's deputy general counsel, Mark Webbink, said Friday at the company's first user conference. "Red Hat will still provide substantial financial and engineering support, but this move will assure broader community involvement in Fedora-sponsored projects," the company said in a statement.

Webbink also said Red Hat is creating what it calls a Software Patent Commons to encourage sharing of patents. The company has spoken against software patents and permits its own patented technology to be used in any open-source project.

"We need to move away from a system of software patents compromised by trivial, incremental enhancements that block innovation to a system that is aimed at rewarding substantial innovation," Webbink said in a statement. "Patents are not equal to innovation. More often, innovation occurs despite patents."

And in what appears to be a thinly veiled jab at rival Microsoft, Webbink added, "What we observe today in the software industry is the use of patents to maintain market share, even where that market share has been obtained by anticompetitive means."

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