Politics in the open source world

Two projects dear to my heart – OpenOffice.org and The Fedora Project. Two projects filled with endless politics. A brief history – OOo is fairly well established, 3 odd years in the running, established leadership for groups, and so on; a project that still has many Sun employees and community folk working hand-in-hand.

Contrast that to the Fedora Project – based on the well-established RHL, about 8 months in the running, no established leadership outside of Red Hat, and some community working hand-in-hand, but not being pleased. Since its in its infancy, this can be allowed for to some degree, but this has to be remedied as quickly as possible.

OOo works by having a governing body, the Community Council; there are elected members both from Sun and the community, and they meet regularly. We also have the Sun/OOo joint marketing folk, as some would notice on CC’s to the marketing list. Fedora has a great Leadership Draft (currently at II) that mkj wrote before he left. There’s a Technical Lead (aka Community Manager in OOo terms), a Steering Committee (this is to make sure RH still looks good – equivalent to the Sun members in the CC). So what we’re really lacking is a visible Technical Committee, aka a release team (by GNOME standards); OOo makes decisions based on what Hamburg say as well as what the CC says.

The Fedora leadership guidelines are clear, I guess all we need are leaders. OpenOffice.org’s one, while clear, still leaves room for dispute, again to be solved by the CC. This is where the Fedora leadership stands out – you’re not a “leader” forever, so participate, as its “not a lifetime appointment” – we need to make that clear with OOo, but I’m sure we’re learning. So, the Fedora Project ought to start learning:

  1. Leadership – we need the members of the technical committee, release team and merge team to step up and be officially recognised – this way doing things becomes easier. Currently its just disorganised and haphazard. This must be done in accordance with FC2 otherwise the community will lose interest in Fedora’s stability as an open source project. We need the leader to be more active – the Community Manager @ OOo definitely is.
  2. CVS access – its never easy, and Sun/OOo worked this out by having folks sign legal documents, known as the Joint Copyright Assignment. I think Fedora contributors won’t mind signing this (though a hat or two will make it come under fire), as Red Hat might want to use some of the stuff in RHEL. Time frame for this could be assigned during FC2 or right after FC2 gets released, so that the “leaders” can be seen doing some work.
  3. Repositories – we need Extras/Alternatives sorted as well. There is a lack in direction for this at the moment, and it should be announced before FC3 at the latest.
  4. PR/Marketing – Fedora is not a dumping ground for broken software; this mindset has to change. Remember, its not “live Rawhide” for RHEL – new technologies yes, but high quality software – the objectives make a lot of sense. We need to market this correctly, as even some RH employees think Fedora is the “beta testing ground” at RH (I met one in person that said this to me outright). Fedora cares about the desktop too, really.

Other issues like getting a build system, QA of packages, fiddling with internal RFE’s can be again solved when the leadership is out. At least there will be a voice, a voice representating the community.. And as luck might have it, just after its third year of existence, Sun decided to support OpenOffice.org officially – this is a step that Red Hat might take, rather than creating an entirely new (cheaper) desktop system.

We’re all learning, and as a community we’re growing. Let’s make something good out of this and show our strength.

Note: Dealing with the individual developers is a joy! Everyone at RH is very friendly, and those working on Fedora just plainly rock. So a kudos to all of them out there. (this applies for Sun’s developers on OOo too!) This is just a call to make the Fedora project better and make things clearer so that the general community thinks seriously about Fedora. We’re meant to be a mature project, so we’re maturing over time.

And in OOo’s case, we should heed advice that leadership isn’t a lifetime job. You own a project today, tomorrow it can be someone else’s. C’est la vie.

  • Mike MacCana

    A good example of contributions: a fellow wrote man pages for all of /etc/sysconfig a while back, and they’ve been sitting in bugzilla for half a year waiting for someone to review them and incorporate them.

    Meanwhile, as a near full-time trainer for RH in Melbourne, I’m training customers who wonder why we don’t have man pages for our distro-specific config files.


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