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Fedora is a test bed for RHEL, but it is also a community undertaking. Red Hat sponsors Fedora, and Red Hat engineers contribute to the development of Fedora, but Fedora as a community is closer in spirit to the original GNU/Linux distributions of the nineties, which were a home for free software and a playground for those who wished to experiment and learn, and to push the limits of technology.

A prime example of this philosophy in action was SELinux, which was introduced to Fedora Core 2, and has since been adopted by other Linux distributions. "SELinux is one of the major technology changes which could not have happened without an open source community," claimed Tiemann. "The fact that Fedora was able to be that community is testimony to the people from the Fedora project."

SELinux comprised a number of patches/security enhancements made by the US National Security Administration (NSA). "One thing that I have seen time and time again is that people settle on open source when they have literally exhausted every other option," noted Tiemann. "The way that commercial economics work against traditional proprietary security is such that no amount of money fixes that problem..."

Fedora prides itself on being an autonomous meritocracy, where the measure of your worth is the quality of your contribution and the honest appraisal of your peers. Red Hat fosters the autonomy and freedom of its community of users and developers, and takes snapshots of Fedora as the basis for its commercial product. The community gets together at irregular FUDCons, Fedora User & Developer Conferences.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux is a derivative of Fedora, which doesn't mean it is the same as any particular release of Fedora, but that each release of RHEL is based on a snapshot of Fedora with some features enhanced and some removed, and compatibility with the APIs used by ISVs is modified/rationalised.

Fedora's role is to challenge and break new ground, using exclusively free software, and to act as a prototype for technologies that may later be incorporated in RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) or any other Linux distribution. This doesn't mean that Fedora is first with everything that matters, just that it tries to be. It also doesn't mean that Red Hat exercises control over the developer process.

Your GNU Support

Fostering open source communities is an important part of being an "open source" company, and reflects the fear Red Hat listed as part of its S-1 filing with the SEC prior to its IPO in 1999 – "that the open-source community might stop supporting Red Hat if the company becomes too overtly commercial."

The mutual faith between Red Hat and its upstream communities is a large part of its commercial success, and it is no coincidence that Red Hat is not only the largest contributor to the Linux kernel, Xorg, GNOME, and many other free software projects, but has released proprietary software it has acquired through acquisition, and in some cases, has rescued the software from becoming proprietary. Red Hat may be a billion dollar company but its business is selling free software, and Fedora is a reminder of its roots in the community.

From the beginning Red Hat's policy has been to release all code, acquired or developed in-house, as free and open source software. Joe Buck recounts that when Red Hat acquired Cygnus Solutions in the immediate aftermath of Red Hat's IPO, Cygnus had been "trying to go proprietary" in search of its own IPO. "Red Hat saved Cygnus by buying them; they immediately transitioned all of the proprietary Cygnus offerings to open source."

Similarly, Red Hat open sourced the GFS filesystem, LVM2 and associated clustering tools after buying Sistina for 31 million dollars in 2003, and released Netscape's directory server as the open source Fedora/Red Hat directory Server after acquiring the software for 25 million dollars. JBoss and KVM, acquired through the purchase of JBoss Inc and Qumranet, and all the associated software, such as the SPICE desktop virtualisation protocol have since been released under unambiguous free software licences. Anyone can pick them up, repackage or support them.

From an understanding "that the open source community might stop supporting Red Hat if the company becomes too overtly commercial" has come the advantage upon which Red Hat has built its commercial success. Releasing the code under free software licences encourages participation from developers. Allowing the code a home in Fedora takes it to places it would not otherwise go. Fedora is not just the proving ground for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, but a vehicle for the ideas and synergies that have made Red Hat a company that other companies want to do business with. Free software is a two way street. What Red Hat loses in giving software away, it gets back in contributions from others. The fate of Red Hat is intertwined with the fortunes of Fedora, and vice versa. Community is about openness and transparency, or it is nothing.

On the move

Since the last release of Fedora the position of Fedora Project leader has passed from Jared Smith to Robyn Bergeron. The imminent release of Beefy Miracle promises the usual rush of features for enterprise and home users to play with.

Perhaps the best known under the hood change is the /usr/ merge by which all the files currently stored in /bin/, /sbin/, /lib/ and /lib64/ will be moved to their counterpart directories under /usr/ and symlinks for the old directories will be created. The rationale is that merging the directories increases compatibility and reduces complexity, placing all operating system components on one volume/partition, which simplifies other tasks. A full explanation is given here.

Rob Landley gives an account of how the split first occurred in 1971 when Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie upgraded from a PDP-7 to "a PDP-11 with a pair of RK05 disk packs (1.5 megabytes each) for storage."

"When the operating system grew too big to fit on the first RK05 disk pack (their root filesystem) they let it leak into the second one, which is where all the user home directories lived (which is why the mount was called /usr). They replicated all the OS directories under there (/bin, /sbin, /lib, /tmp...) and wrote files to those new directories because their original disk was out of space. When they got a third disk, they mounted it on /home and relocated all the user directories to there so the OS could consume all the space on both disks and grow to THREE WHOLE MEGABYTES."

"Of course they made rules about 'when the system first boots, it has to come up enough to be able to mount the second disk on /usr, so don't put things like the mount command in /usr/bin or we'll have a chicken and egg problem bringing the system up. Fairly straightforward. Also fairly specific to v6 UNIX of 35 years ago."

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