NEW ORLEANS—Red Hat Inc. has decided to hand over control of the open-source Fedora Project, creating the new Fedora Foundation to manage the project.
Mark Webbink, the deputy general counsel at Red Hat, of Raleigh, N.C., will make the announcement during a talk at the Red Hat Summit here early Friday morning.
Until now the Fedora Project, which Red Hat describes as an “openly-developed project designed by Red Hat, open for general participation, led by a meritocracy, following a set of project objectives,” has been dominated by Red Hat staffers, with the technical lead and the steering committee all being Red Hat employees.
“The goal of The Fedora Project is to work with the Linux community to build a complete, general purpose operating system exclusively from open source software. Development will be done in a public forum … By using this more open process, we hope to provide an operating system more in line with the ideals of free software and more appealing to the open source community,” the Fedora Project Web site says.
But it appears that Fedora has not been all that appealing to developers, many of whom have questioned how Red Hat, as a commercial vendor of Linux software and support, could also control the project.
“We feel that we are now at a point where we need to give up absolute control. We built our company on the competence of the open-source community and its time for us to continue to manifest that,” Webbink told eWEEK in an exclusive interview before his talk.
Fedora, including the just-released Fedora Directory Server and all other components, would remain licensed under the GNU GPL (General Public License and would be placed under the control of the Foundation.
While Red Hat would continue to play a significant role and some of its staff are likely to help maintain some key aspects of the project, the Fedora Foundation would have its own board and drive its own agenda at that point, Webbink said.
He said that while all the details have not yet been worked out, he expects the election of the board to be an open process initially. The Foundation will pull in key people in the open-source community “who we think will approach the task with a degree of fairness and seriousness that we hope the Foundation will continue to have,” he said.
Webbink also admitted that there had been some dissatisfaction about Red Hats control of the project and said the move might make the company feel more confident that its contributions would be better used and become more widely available.
But the formation of the Fedora Foundation was not a token gesture, he stressed. While Red Hat is a publicly traded company and can not just respond to whatever the open-source community wants it to do, he said, “we are not negating our roots and this takes us back to that community. We dont take this lightly. Community is a fundamental part of our DNA and they are vitally important to us.”
Asked if there was any Fedora technology or patented technology that would not be available to the community, Webbink said there was not at this point, but “as we go forward, non-technology-related things like business method patents we register will not be available to the community.”
The Fedora Directory server also has an exception under the GPL that allows proprietary plug-ins, he said.
But not everyone is convinced. A developer at the Summit, who asked not to be named, told eWEEK he was concerned that the Fedora Foundation could end up like Suns Java Community Process, with Red Hat remaining firmly in control.
Stacey Quandt, an analyst for the Robert Frances Group who was also attending the Summit, said that community participation in Fedora was still evolving.
She also questioned whether the move was a genuine attempt by Red Hat to try to convince more developers to get involved in the Fedora community, or if it was a ruse to grow the market for Red Hat Linux.
But Red Hat CEO Matt Szulik told eWEEK that the move strengthened Red Hats commitment to Fedora. “Every single engineer in the company works on Fedora,” he said. He added that this would “absolutely continue going forward. Its the DNA of the company.”
Szulik said there were some structural reasons to hand Fedora over to the Foundation, but “we have always placed our intellectual property out to the public under the GPL license.
“This move brings a sense of orderliness and highlights the strategic importance of our relationship with the open-source community. It also brings global coherence and we want to make sure that we dispel, by better association, the notion that Fedora isnt strategic or that Red Hat is not committed to it,” he said.