Fedora and the art of creating an inclusive community

It takes all kinds to make a community, as we learn from Fedora.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
4 min read

Earlier this year Fedora got a new community project leader. In February 2008 Paul Frields replaced Max Spevack, bringing a different perspective to Fedora's community management. Paul, you see, is not a developer. Nor is he based in Raleigh (Red Hat's headquarters). His background with Fedora has been mostly on the documentation side, and he's been working remotely.

This gives Paul an interesting perspective on Fedora and its community, and how Fedora connects with Red Hat.

I spent a half-hour with Paul today and probed into Fedora and the art of community, as well as some of the innovations in the pipe for Fedora 9.

What is your background? How did you get involved in Fedora?

I started with Fedora in the documentation group in 2003. After working in documentation I moved into packaging (Fedora Extras), art work, marketing, translation, and other areas of Fedora (mostly "collateral" groups). I'm not a hard-core software developer. I've tended to get involved in all the other areas of Fedora.

This gives me hope as a non-developer that there's room for people like me in an open-source project....

Obviously, a big portion of Fedora is software development. But there's a whole host of other activities going on as well. In Fedora I've discovered big pockets of people like me: artists, writers, translators, evangelists, etc. In a project like this, there's a place for all these people, and not solely developers. The fact that I was recognized for my non-development work is a testament to the great things that non-developers can do within Fedora and within open-source projects.

Fedora is about enabling the democratization of content. Our community reflects this.

In many open-source companies (and certainly at proprietary software companies), there's a tension between the open-source version of the product and the proprietary or for-sale version of the product. Red Hat, however, doesn't seem to view Fedora as a risk....

The support within Red Hat for Fedora is widespread, deep, and very principled. It goes to the heart of explaining how Red Hat feels about free and open-source software. Red Hat definitely hasn't tried to shackle Fedora's potential. My marching orders are to continue to foster it and grow it into an even more exceptional project.

One aspect of my role is to work with the Fedora community to ensure that there is communication between Fedora and Red Hat. It's not to try to hold back Fedora to benefit Red Hat. My job is not to get in the middle of any communication [between Fedora and Red Hat] and slow it down, but rather to just make sure it happens.

What are the big things to watch for in Fedora 9 and your near-term roadmap?

There are several interesting things to watch for, both technology and community/project-oriented:

  • Free IPA. This is very interesting if you're an enterprise-y type of person. Basically, it allows an administrator to quickly install, setup, and administer one or more IPA servers for centralized authentication and identity management.
  • PackageKit. "PackageKit is a system designed to make installing and updating software on your computer easier. The primary design goal is to unify all the software graphical tools used in different distributions."
  • Func. A new platform for secure systems management. Because it's written in Python it's very extensible.
  • VirtManager Policy Kit - Allows regular desktop users to make better use of virtualization.

We don't make a secret of anything that we're working on. You can track everything we're working on through our wiki.

There are also a lot of interesting community/project things going on. Transifex is a cool tool for facilitation localization. If you have a pet project that you're interested in having someone within or outside Fedora localize, you can submit it no matter what source management system it uses on the back-end. Those communities can immediately start working on it. From the project page:

"Translators can use Fedora Web-based tools to contribute directly to any upstream project, large or small, through one translator-oriented Web interface. Developers of projects with no existing translation community can easily reach out to Fedora's established community for translations. In turn, the latter can reach out to numerous projects related to Fedora to easily contribute translations."

Again, the Fedora community revolves around software, but there is more room in the community than simply for developers. Others can and do play important roles.

I have to ask: just how good is Fedora's documentation? Does Red Hat have to pay everyone to write it since documentation is not "sexy?"

Because documentation tends to not be viewed as sexy, documentation does tend to lag in open source. But for Fedora 9 we actually are quite far along in our documentation. Yes, we're always happy to have more contributors, but we have a pretty robust documentation team, and have added significantly to the team in the past twelve months.

Very few of our people come from Red Hat documentation. This may change as we're working with that team on Publican. [Publican makes it easy to "get started with writing documentation in DocBook format and getting that documentation packaged up correctly."]

Any parting words?

Our main goal over the next 12 to 18 months is to lower the bar to contributing to Fedora. We have a good environment for this already, but we want to make it even easier to get involved, whatever one's talents.

You can follow Paul's work with the Fedora Project at Fedora's project and community page.