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Red Hat Frees Fedora, Calls For Commons

Number one Linux distributor Red Hat wrapped up its user conference in New Orleans this week by "freeing" its Fedora community Linux project and calling for the creation of a software patents commons.

Mark Webbink, deputy general counsel at Red Hat, said Red Hat would create the Fedora Foundation in order to manage the Fedora Project.

The intent is to move copyright ownership of contributed code and development work to the Foundation. According to Red Hat, the move will assure broader community involvement in Fedora-sponsored projects. Red Hat is expected to continue to offer "substantial" engineering and financial support to the project.

Red Hat created the Fedora Project in 2003 after it discontinued its Red Hat Linux product line. The move freed the company to focus its efforts on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, its flagship product.

Fedora is intended to be a hobbyist Linux distribution with a faster release cycle and a more bleeding edge feel to open source technologies.

Since its inception, Fedora has served as a testing ground for new technologies (like SELinux) that eventually make their way into Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Fedora is currently one of the fastest growing Linux distributions. Between September 2004 and March 2005, Fedora's presence on Web servers grew by 122 percent, according to Internet stats firm Netcraft.

But Webbink's emancipation of Fedora from Red Hat appeared to catch some Fedora community insiders off guard. At least one Fedora community member (who didn't want to be identified for this article) said the news appeared to be a tightly kept secret between Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik and Webbink. Apparently, community members were not given the heads up prior to the announcement hitting the wires Friday.

As of presstime, the details of the structure and organization of the proposed Fedora Foundation had not been posted to the Fedora Website or made public.

"Hopefully this will allow more leadership and steering to come from the community members, who have invested tremendous time and have contributed immensely to the project thus far," the Fedora community member told

"It will also make it easier for outsiders to use Fedora as a platform for some other projects and of course as in every controversial decision there are skeptics."

Gary Hein, vice president and service director for application platform strategies at the Burton Group, said he was skeptical of Red Hat's intentions with the Fedora Foundation.

"I guess I'd like to hear directly from Red Hat why they're spinning Fedora out. I don't think the fact that Fedora has been so closely aligned to Red Hat has been a bad thing," Hein told "I've never seen any evidence to support that someone wouldn't contribute to Fedora because they're too close to Red Hat.

"The skeptic in me is wondering: Are they doing it because they want to distance themselves from it as a resource and profitability issue -- which would be a concern," Hein continued. "I don't see that there was another compelling reason to do this from a partnership or community involvement issue."

A Red Hat spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment.

Red Hat's Webbink today also called for the creation of a Software Patent Commons, similar in concept to the popular Creative Commons. The proposed Software Patent Commons would enable the free collaboration of software developers while reducing concerns over patents.

Patents are not equal to innovation, Webbink said as part of the announcement. "More often, innovation occurs despite patents. What we observe today in the software industry is the use of patents to maintain market share, even where that market share has been obtained by anticompetitive means. We need to move away from a system of software patents compromised by trivial, incremental enhancements that block innovation, to a system that is aimed at rewarding substantial innovation."

IBM, Novell and recently Nokia have all offered up some of their patents for open source development use. Each of the company's efforts is separate, however, and not part of any sort of coordinated industry approach.

"We've seen a lot of companies opening their patents for open source, but we haven't seen a single aggregation point," Burton Group's Hein said.

"Now I hope what Red Hat is doing with the Software Patent Commons becomes that single aggregation point. I think it would be good to hear if SUN, Novell or others would use it as well."