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Editor's Note: Red Hat Hangs On to Its Fedora

Jun 03, 2005, 23:30 (11 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

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By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

It was a little surprising to see the announcement from Red Hat regarding its relinquishing of control of the Fedora Project to the newly formed Fedora Foundation. A little.

After all, Red Hat has a long history of trying to reach out to the development community. Bus tours, political rallies, and even gospel choirs. But, despite their status as the largest commercial vendor of Linux (or, as some would say, because of it), Red Hat has always had trouble attracting developers.

This is a real problem for any commercial open source vendor. If you don't have the bodies, then getting work done takes that much longer. If it gets done at all. What is interesting to note is that one of the reasons why the Fedora Project was started in this first place was to--you guessed it--attract more developers to the Red Hat banner.

So, has the Fedora Project failed Red Hat's expectations? On a technical side, I doubt it. But as a development community, Red Hat seems to think there could be more. Acknowledging that they might be the reason why people are shying away from Fedora. I would me interested in seeing the data that drew them to that conclusion. Not that I doubt that this was a demotivating factor, but I wonder if it was also the fact that developers aren't shying away from Red Hat/Fedora so much as they were gravitating to Debian GNU/Linux and its myriad of very successful and popular offshoots.

The Debian Project has taken off like gangbusters of late, with popular descendants like Ubuntu, Xandros, Libranet, Kanotix, and so on really capturing the user community's collective fancy. That collective energy has to be something that Red Hat would love to harvest.

It has been suggested that this is Red Hat's first step in casting off the community and focusing inward on its enterprise Linux product line. This would certainly appeal to the whole "Red Hat is proprietary"/"Red Hat will fork" crowd. I can't wholly rule this out, because Red Hat is facing some serious commercial competition from Novell with its SUSE and Ximian lines, and maybe Red Hat believes that inward focus is just what the haberashser ordered.

But the outcome I am leaning towards is one that sees, really, no change at all.

Fedora, if you recall, is meant to be the testbed for the RHEL products. If Red Hat gives up real control, then it could be hard to keep Fedora in line with Red Hat's long term development goals. What if, as a fanciful hypothetical, the new Fedora Foundation decided to drop all x86 support and work only on PPC and x64? Boy, would that be a gasket blower.

More realistically, there could be any number of smaller changes in direction that the Fedora Project could take that could potentially stymie Red Hat's development efforts.

Now, here's the thing: Red Hat will have to ride along with those changes and fork out its RHEL snapshots based on the new Foundation-based Fedora (just as Netscape does with Mozilla and Sun does with OpenOffice.org). But let's be serious: Red Hat will still know where the Fedora train is going, even if someone else is driving. CEO Matthew Szulik's own works to eWeek seem to bear this out: "Every single engineer in the company works on Fedora."

If that continues to be the case, then no matter who leads the Foundation, Red Hat will still have effective control over the Fedora product. Unless, of course, there is a huge influx of developers, larger than Red Hat expects.

Red Hat's move today could probably make a lot of people more comfortable with Fedora. But I don't think anyone's going to forget who's still pulling the strings.

Time will tell if my thinking has merit, but I don't think that this announcement will turn out to be such a big change after all.