mspevack at redhat.com
Wed Apr 5 02:55:32 UTC 2006
To my fellow Fedora community members:
As many of you are aware, FUDCon Boston is this Friday. One of the most
important topics that we will be discussing there is the future of the
Fedora Project, specifically with regard to the Fedora Foundation.
I'd like to ask you all to read the document that follows this note. It
reviews Red Hat's intentions in initially announcing the Fedora
Foundation, and outlines the problems that have led us to the decision to
move in a different direction. It also discusses the plan that we are
implementing instead, and the steps that we are taking to ensure that the
Fedora Project continues to thrive and grow.
It is as complete, honest, and transparent as we can make it. If you feel
that there are places in which it lacks those qualities, call us on it,
and we will respond.
This document represents the work of many people both inside of Red Hat
and within the Fedora community. It is a long read, but a very worthwhile
So take a look, read, digest, and share your thoughts. I look forward to
discussing this in great detail on email, and also with as many of you as
possible in person at LinuxWorld and at FUDCon over the next few days.
Many of Red Hat's most active Fedora folks will be at those two shows, so
please come and talk with us.
Last June, Red Hat announced its intention to launch the Fedora
Foundation. We've had a lot of smart people working hard to make this
Foundation happen, but in the end, it just didn't help to accomplish our
goals for Fedora. Instead, we are restructuring Fedora Project, with
dramatically increased leadership from within the Fedora community.
The next obvious question -- "Why no Foundation?" -- deserves a detailed
WHY NO FOUNDATION?
When we announced the Foundation, it was with a very specific purpose, and
in a very specific context. The announcement was made by Mark Webbink,
who has been the intellectual property guru at Red Hat for a long time
now. His stated goal for the Foundation: to act as a repository for
patents that would protect the interests of the open source community.
Once we announced the intention to form a Foundation, people inside and
outside of Red Hat were interested in working beyond the stated purpose --
an intellectual property repository -- and instead saw this new Foundation
as a potential tool to solve all sorts of Fedora-related issues. Every
Fedora issue became a nail for the Foundation hammer, and the scope of the
Foundation quickly became too large for efficient progress.
A team moved forward to create the Foundation itself. We created the
legal entity, came up with some very basic and flexible bylaws, and
appointed a board to run it temporarily. This all happened pretty
quickly, because this was the easy part. We had articles of incorporation
in September 2005.
Then came the hard part: articulating the precise responsibilities of the
Foundation. This conversation took months, but ultimately it came back
around, again and again, to a single question: "What could a Fedora
Foundation accomplish that the Fedora Project, with strong community
leadership, could not accomplish?"
So here, in order, were the possible answers to that question -- and why
we found, in every single case, that the Fedora Foundation was not the
ONE: The Fedora Foundation could be an entity for the development of an
open source patent commons.
This was the obvious starting place, and what we actually announced. One
of the lurking concerns of the open source community is the threat of
software patents. The Fedora Foundation could have been an ideal
repository for defensive patents. We envisioned soliciting patentable
ideas from businesses and/or individuals, paying for the prosecution of
these patents, and then guaranteeing open source developers the
unrestricted right to code against these patents using a similar mechanism
to the Red Hat patent promise.
What we weren't counting on was the rapid progress of the Open Invention
Network (http://www.openinventionnetwork.com/press.html), which serves a
similar purpose for businesses in a much more compelling way. Without
going into too much detail, it became clear to us that OIN is going to be
the 800-pound gorilla in the patent commons space, and we were eager to
OK, so much for soliciting patents from businesses. What about
individuals? If we were to focus the Fedora Foundation's efforts on
soliciting patentable ideas from individuals, how many could we get? Our
gut decision: not many. Most developers who actually work for a living
have agreements with their employers that prevent them from pursuing
patents independently. Many university students who pursue patents are
required to grant them to the university.
After putting a lot of work into the idea of a Fedora Foundation patent
commons, in the end it just didn't seem compelling. So we shelved the
TWO: The Fedora Foundation could act as a single point of standing for
The Free Software Foundation serves this purpose for the GNU projects.
We thought that the Fedora Foundation might successfully serve the same
purpose for Fedora projects. Have you ever noticed that the GNU projects
all require contributors to assign copyright to the FSF? That's because
there's this legal idea called "standing" that matters deeply to lawyers
and judges. Here's a little skit that helps to explain why standing is
BAILIFF: Come to order for case Z-38-BB-92. Plaintiff is Small Software
Project. Defendant is Great Big Computer Corporation.
JUDGE: OK, have a seat, folks. The docket is busy today, and I've got a
doctor's appointment in two hours. Plaintiff, what's this all about?
PLAINTIFF'S COUNSEL: Well, your honor, there's this license called the GPL
that the defendant is *totally* violating. Basically, they stole the
plaintiff's code and put it into their software program.
DEFENDANT'S COUNSEL: Hold it right there. Your Honor, plaintiff doesn't
have standing in this case. There's 100 different developers that wrote
this code, and the plaintiff only represents six of them. Plaintiff
clearly doesn't even have the legal right to sue us, Your Honor.
JUDGE: Looks like this case could be Pretty Hard, and this whole
"standing" thing gives me a perfect excuse not to think about it.
Counsel, get back to me when you've got the other 94 plaintiffs.
So, standing is a big concern. In the world of lawyers, it's one of the
big potential unknowns around defending open source projects, especially
projects that have lots of contributors.
The obvious problem with establishing standing in this way, though, is
that a single entity *must* own *everything* in your project. That's why
the FSF *requires* copyright assignment.
What Fedora projects currently exist where copyright assignment makes
Well... none, as it turns out. Let's look at some of the current Fedora
projects as examples.
At present, the two most successful Fedora projects are Core and Extras --
which, together, basically constitute a big Linux distribution. And what
is a distribution? Ideally, it's a high-quality repackaging and
integration of content owned by others. That's the whole point. In such
cases, copyright assignment makes no sense at all.
Then there's the Fedora Documentation project, which produces
documentation and makes it available under the Open Publication License
(http://opencontent.org/openpub/) without options. Given the liberal
nature of this license, it just doesn't seem all that useful to ask
contributors to assign copyright for defense of these works.
Then there's the Fedora Directory Server, which Red Hat purchased and open
sourced. No question who holds standing there; it's Red Hat. The time
may come when the Fedora Directory Server project is ready to incorporate
lots of changes from the community, but until that time comes, the
question of copyright assignment is pretty much a theoretical question.
Which is what a lot of this comes down to -- the question of legal
standing is either an open or theoretical question at best, and probably
better left to an organization such as the FSF that focuses a great deal
more attention on these types of questions.
Put another way: we have a finite amount of resources to make Fedora
better. How much of that cash should be going to expensive lawyers --
especially if Red Hat already has lawyers who have a strong incentive to
defend Fedora, should such a defense prove to be necessary?
So the Fedora Foundation didn't seem compelling as a mechanism for
copyright assignment, either.
THREE: The Fedora Foundation could act as an entity for funding
Fedora-related activities that Red Hat didn't have great interest in
Funny thing, that. We asked some of our closest friends this question:
"Would you donate to an independent Fedora Foundation?" The answers were
very interesting, and ran the gamut. Some people were incredibly
enthusiastic: "We'd love to give money!" Some were neutral: "Thanks, but
we'd rather contribute code." And some were less enthusiastic: "Red Hat
is a successful, profitable company. Why are you asking *me* for money?"
Here's another funny thing: if you choose to incorporate as a non-profit
entity in the United States, then you subject yourself to a number of
rigorous IRS tax tests. One of these tests is the "public support test."
If you say you're a public charity, well by golly, you have to prove it.
If, within four years, you aren't collecting fully one third of your money
from public sources, then you're not actually a public charity.
People are always shocked when we tell them how many resources Red Hat
puts into Fedora. If we were to make the Fedora Foundation a truly
independent entity, then we'd have to track every dime of that expense as
"in-kind contributions". That means we'd have to track:
* The cost of bandwidth for distributing Fedora to the world;
* Every hour that Red Hat engineers spend working on Fedora, whether that
is the actual writing of code, release engineering, testing, etc.;
* Legal expenses of running a Foundation;
* Administrative expenses of running a Foundation.
As an intellectual exercise, let's ignore all of those numbers for now
except for bandwidth. Back in the day, when Red Hat would release a
distro, we would regularly get angry calls from network admins at big
datacenters, complaining that we were eating all of their bandwidth. If
you ever meet any of our IT guys over a beer, be sure to ask them about
the time we melted a switch at UUNet.
The demand for Fedora is every bit as high, and the March 20 release of
Fedora Core 5 was no exception. So let's take a conservative guess and
say that the bandwidth cost for distributing Fedora comes to $1.5 million
a year. Yes, even though we have BitTorrent trackers and Fedora mirror
That means that a public Fedora Foundation would have to raise $750k in
public funds -- remember the one-third public support test -- every single
year, just to pay for *bandwidth*, assuming no growth and no other
So what would happen, under such a scenario, if Red Hat were to decide to
spend more money on Fedora? Because that's exactly what Red Hat wants to
There were alternatives to the public charity angle. We could have set up
a private operating foundation, and we explored this avenue -- but then it
wouldn't really be an independent entity. It would be a shell. The fact
that Red Hat would still likely bear the legal risk of Foundation
decisions, and the complication of raising public funds, made any 501(c)
In short: the fund raising burden for a truly independent Fedora
Foundation would be terrifying. So the Fedora Foundation clearly wasn't
compelling as a fund raising entity -- if anything, it represented an
impediment to building a better Fedora Project.
FOUR: The Fedora Foundation could provide mechanisms for more community
participation in key decision-making processes.
>From the day the Fedora Project was started over two years ago, it's been
our goal to build these mechanisms, Foundation or no Foundation. How
successful have we been?
Initially, we had some problems. In the last year, though, we've had some
pretty clear successes. The Fedora Extras project is a good example here.
When we officially launched it in February 2005 at FUDCon Boston, we put
together a steering committee that consisted of a pretty even mix of Red
Hat and community packagers. At FUDCon Germany last summer, we
strengthened the group with more European members. Earlier this year, we
successfully handed off leadership of the committee to a community member.
Red Hat continues to provide logistical and legal support, but Fedora
Extras policy is determined by the community.
So what happens when the Fedora Extras Steering Committee (also known as
FESCO) runs into difficulty? Well, they escalate the issue to "the
Board." And who is "the Board?" It's been the people running the Fedora
Foundation -- but it's also been the people running the Fedora Project.
Whenever "the Board" had been asked to make a decision, there's been no
practical distinction between "Project" and "Foundation."
What *is* vital, whether we're talking about "The Foundation" or "The
Project," is the actual presence of community members on the board -- but
more on that later.
FIVE: The Fedora Foundation could serve as a truly independent entity,
providing the ability for Fedora to grow separately from Red Hat's
This is the real heart of the matter. This is what some people want to
see: a more independent Fedora. This is The Question That Must Be
The simple and honest answer: Red Hat *must* maintain a certain amount of
control over Fedora decisions, because Red Hat's business model *depends*
upon Fedora. Red Hat contributes millions of dollars in staff and
resources to the success of Fedora, and Red Hat also accepts all of the
legal risk for Fedora. Therefore, Red Hat will sometimes need to make
tough decisions about Fedora. We won't do it often, and when we do, we
will discuss the rationale behind such decisions as openly as we can -- as
we did with the recent Mono decision.
But just because Red Hat has veto power over decisions, it does not follow
that Red Hat wants to use that power. Nor does it follow that Red Hat
must make all of the important decisions about Fedora. In fact, effective
community decision making is one of the most direct measures of Fedora's
The most important promise about Fedora -- once free, always free -- still
stands. We aim to set the standard for open source innovation. A truly
open Fedora Project is what makes that possible.
THE NEW FEDORA PROJECT LEADERSHIP MODEL
Since Fedora's inception two years ago, a diverse global community has
developed around Fedora -- and, as in any open source project, natural
leaders have emerged. The time has come to reward some of these leaders
with the opportunity to define the direction of the Fedora Project at the
Therefore, we've reconstituted the Fedora Project Board to include these
community leaders directly.
Initially, there are nine board members: five Red Hat members and four
Fedora community members. This Board is responsible for making all of the
operational decisions of the greater Fedora project, including decisions
about budget and strategic direction.
In addition to the nine board members, there is also be a chairman
appointed by Red Hat, who has veto power over any decision. It's our
expectation that this veto power will be used infrequently, since we're
all aware of the negative consequences that could arise from the use of
such power in a community project.
The chairman of the Fedora Project is Max Spevack. Max has been with Red
Hat since 2004, previously as a QA engineer and QA team lead for Red Hat
Network. He is a member of the Fedora Ambassadors steering committee, and
has been a Linux user since 1999.
The Fedora Project board members from Red Hat are Jeremy Katz, Bill
Nottingham, Elliot Lee, Chris Blizzard, and Rahul Sundaram.
Jeremy Katz is a Red Hat engineer. He is the longtime maintainer for
Anaconda, and a founding member of the Fedora Extras steering committee.
Bill Nottingham joined Red Hat in May of 1998, working on projects ranging
from the initial port of Red Hat Linux to ia64, booting and hardware
detection, multilib content definition and fixing, and is currently doing
work related to stateless Linux. He's also been involved in various
technical lead details, such as package CVS infrastructure and
distribution content definition.
Elliot Lee has been a software engineer at Red Hat since 1996. His open
source contributions include release engineering for Fedora Core,
co-founding the GNOME project, and maintaining assorted open source
libraries and utilities. He is a founding member of the Fedora Extras
steering committee. Elliot current leads the Fedora infrastructure team,
making it easier and enjoyable for contributors to get more done.
Chris Blizzard is an engineering manager for Red Hat. He has served on
the board of the Mozilla Foundation, and is currently leading the One
Laptop Per Child project for Red Hat.
Rahul Sundaram is a Red Hat associate based in Pune, India. He is a
longstanding contributor to multiple Fedora projects, a Fedora Ambassador
for India, and a member of the Fedora Ambassadors steering committee.
The Fedora Project board members from the community are Seth Vidal, Paul
W. Frields, Rex Dieter, and a fourth board member to be named as soon as
Seth Vidal is the project lead for yum, which is one of the key building
blocks for software management in Fedora. He also maintains mock, the
basis for the Fedora Extras build system. He is a founding member of the
Fedora Extras steering committee, and he was one of the people chiefly
responsible for the first ever release of Fedora Extras packages in 2005.
Seth is also the lead administrator of the infrastructure at
fedoraproject.org, which includes the Fedora project wiki, RSS feed
aggregator, and bittorrent server.
Paul W. Frields has been a Linux user and enthusiast since 1997, and
joined the Fedora Documentation Project in 2003, shortly after the launch
of Fedora. As contributing writer, editor, and a founding member of the
Documentation Project steering committee, Paul has worked on a variety of
tasks, including the Documentation Guide, the Installation Guide, the
document building infrastructure, and the soon-to-emerge RPM packaging
toolchain. Paul is also a Fedora Extras package maintainer.
Rex Dieter works as Computer System Administrator in the Mathematics
Department at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. Rex is a KDE advocate
and founded the KDE Red Hat project. He is also an active contributor to
Fedora Extras. Rex lives in Omaha, Nebraka, with his wife, 2 children,
and 4 cats.
It's true that a lot of the key governance details -- term length, board
composition, election or appointment process -- have yet to be resolved.
One of the first responsibilities of the new board will be to work with
the Fedora community to answer these questions.
Red Hat has been supporting a free Linux distribution for over ten years,
and Red Hat will *always* support a free Linux distribution. We want to
work together with the Fedora community to make Fedora better. We want a
Fedora that is a true partnership between Red Hat and the community. We
want to build effective models to make that partnership real. We want to
see the folks at MySQL managing MySQL in Fedora. We want to see the folks
from kde.org managing KDE in Fedora. We want to see the folks at Planet
CCRMA managing audio production applications in Fedora. We want Fedora to
be a launching pad not just for open source software, but for open content
of all kinds. We want the Fedora Project to be a way to fill the
community with high quality software and content, and we want to empower
the Fedora community to innovate in ways we'd never even considered.
The new Fedora Project Board has a strong mandate to make these things
happen, and has the full support of Red Hat. We ask that you, the members
of the Fedora community, give them your full support as well, and we thank
you for all the support you've given us so far. We would not have made it
nearly this far without your patience, your friendship, and your tireless
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