FOSDEM '09 is a free and non-commercial event organized by the community, for the community. Its goal is to provide Free and Open Source developers a place to meet.


Interview: Max Spevack

Max Spevack will give a talk about the Fedora Project at FOSDEM 2009.

Could you briefly introduce yourself? How does your day look like as a community manager for Red Hat?

I'm 29 years old. My university degree is in Computer Science. I've been working at Red Hat for about 4 1/2 years. From February 2006 - February 2008, I was the Fedora Project Leader, meaning that I was ultimately accountable for everything that happened in Fedora. Last February, I transitioned out of that role and together with Greg DeKoenigsberg formed the Community Architecture team within Red Hat. The purpose of the Community Architecture team is to ensure that Red Hat is the best possible citizen in the open source world that it can be, that the community building lessons that have made Fedora successful continue to be honed, and that other parts of Red Hat's business properly engage with open source communities as well. Fedora may be the best example of Red Hat working with the communities, but it shouldn't be the only one. Look at OLPC for example, and the work that Red Hat continues to do in that community.

What will your talk be about, exactly?

I'm planning on taking a look at Fedora 10 and the currently-in-development Fedora 11, examining some of the parts of those releases that are the most interesting, and talk about those features from the perspective of how they are developed in an open, community-friendly way.

What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk ? What do you expect?

I'm hopeful that the talk will show people the places where Fedora is being an innovative leader in open source work, and also encourage people to participate in the Fedora community, once they see how easy it is to make an impact, and the large number of opportunities that exist. I'm also hoping to show people that the Fedora community is a wonderful place to be if you are an open source developer, and to clearly demonstrate some of the innovations that have come out of Fedora in the past year or so.

The Fedora project has attended previous FOSDEM events and you were a speaker in 2007. How do you look back at it? Did you get a lot of feedback? What are the Fedora project's reasons to be at an event such as FOSDEM?

I was at FOSDEM in 2007, but not in 2008. However, the Fedora Project has been at FOSDEM for several years now. We really like this show, because it has a very developer and community feel to it. In the European event calendar, FOSDEM is one of the focus points that we plan around.

Can Fedora be valuable in an enterprise environment? In which corporate circumstances is it maybe better suitable than Red Hat Enterprise Linux and CentOS?

I think that when people look at the distributions that are in the Red Hat "family", they need to realize that the purpose of Fedora and the purpose of Red Hat Enterprise Linux are quite different from one another. Fedora's mission is to deliver its users the absolute best of what exists in the open source world today while Red Hat Enterprise Linux is meant to snapshot that best-available technology at a given snapshot in time and then guarantee to its subscribers maintenance and support for seven years.

I've heard of a few cases where an "enterprise" wants to be using Linux on the desktop, and wants to have the absolute latest GNOME, so they use Fedora. That's a perfectly valid use case for Fedora. But when people want the support guarantees and long lifecycles, they need to go with an enterprise distribution.

Does Fedora in your opinion play a broader role than being the upstream distribution of Red Hat Enterprise Linux?

Sure. I think I touched on it above, but Fedora is obviously a standalone distro in its own right. It just so happens to be the upstream of Red Hat Enterprise Linux -- and that is very important to Red Hat -- but there are millions of computers across the world that are using Fedora as an independent distro, and that is of course a wonderful thing.

With the majority of the Fedora packages maintained by community developers, does this generate conflicts between Red Hat and community people, for example when deciding on what features to implement in the next Fedora version?

So far, there haven't been any conflicts. John Poelstra manages the Fedora feature process, and he has done a wonderful job of implementing a transparent and consistent set of guidelines for getting a particular feature into Fedora. Whether the feature owner is a Red Hat engineer or a student in a dorm room, the process is the same. If you follow the process and the work is of proper quality, it gets in. If you don't, then you have to wait until the next release (which is only 6 months away).

What do you consider the biggest Fedora success stories? And looking back at the evolution of Fedora, what where the biggest breakthroughs?

When I started as the Fedora Project Leader in February of 2006, I had a few specific goals in mind that I wanted to achieve, which I felt would put Fedora on a successful course for the long-term future.

The first goal was to merge Fedora Core and Extras into one repository, which followed the Fedora Extras model (because that model had proved itself to be the right one).

The second was to get Fedora's infrastructure sorted out -- this involved hiring Mike McGrath as the Fedora Infrastructure Leader and getting Koji (the build system that turns source RPMs into binary RPMs) and Pungi (the compose tool that takes a bunch of binary RPMs and creates a distro) written. Jesse Keating (Fedora's Release Engineer) and Dennis Gilmore deserve a lot of credit for those tools. These tools also allowed for the idea of Fedora respins and Fedora remixes to take form, which Jeroen van Meeuwen and the "Fedora Unity" team had been working on for quite a while also.

Finally, I wanted to get Fedora's "Live" technology up to par (and surpassing) other distros. Jeremy Katz and David Zeuthen got the LiveCD technology to a suitable place, and along with Luke Macken, Fedora led the way in getting LiveUSB working. The LiveUSB Creator is now being used by other distributions than just Fedora, so this is a great success story.

Once all of that was done, I felt like it was time to bring in the next Fedora Project Leader, and that happened about a year ago when Paul Frields took over and I moved into my current role.

Where do you think the Fedora project will be in 2 or 3 years?

Well, I hope that Fedora continues to thrive, and that the community building techniques that we use in Fedora will continue to get better, and spread around the world. I hope that Fedora contributors take the processes and transparent methods that we use in our day to day work to whatever other walks of life they enter, and that over time the things that make open source communities successful will transform other parts of the world, especially government and finance.

Do you enjoy Amsterdam? Why did you relocate to the Netherlands?

Part of my job is to help grow and facilitate the Red Hat communities in Europe -- this includes Fedora, but also assisting other Red Hat folks with whatever they need from an open source and community evangelism point of view. It's been a wonderful opportunity to live and work outside of the United States for a while.

Amsterdam was chosen in part because it is very centrally located and it is easy to get to anywhere both in the city and in Europe without a car. It was partially chosen because Red Hat has an office nearby. It was partially chosen because there is a very low language barrier (I only speak English and Spanish), and it was partially chosen because I thought it would be a cool place to live!

Creative Commons License
This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium License.