[Interview] Jared Smith - Fedora Project Leader

By Nash David Published Date
12 - Nov - 2011
| Last Updated
12 - Nov - 2011
[Interview] Jared Smith - Fedora Project Leader

Jared Smith has been associated with the Fedora Project for several years and currently is the Project Leader. In an exclusive interview with devworx, he spoke on Fedora 16, the btrfs filesystem, other Linux projects and more! Jared said his role is all about bridging the gap between the Fedora user community, developers and Red Hat. To Red Hat as a company, he represents the Fedora community, while to the Fedora community, he represents Red Hat. That way, the bridges of communication always stay open in the community side as well as the corporate side.

Jared Smith, Fedora Project Leader

Fedora primarily targets the lay user, while Red Hat focusses on the enterprise sector. Are these boundaries getting blurry now, with enterprise plugins and modules available for Fedora?

Well, in Fedora, our target audience is a tech savvy end user, a consumer who knows what Linux is, and is technical enough to be able to self support and find other users to help them if they have issues. We're not against trying out enterprise level stuff in Fedora because there are people who use Fedora in the enterprise, but that is not our primary focus. Our primary focus is more on the end user, beginning with collaborating, someone who would want to contribute and give back to the open source community.

So Fedora is an old player in the Linux space, and recently Ubuntu has emerged as a popular distro. How do you regard that and what is your response to that?

I guess the most important point is to set the perspective on it. I don't see Ubuntu as the enemy out there. Ubuntu really has the same goal as us out there, and that is use free software and make the world a better place. And so, Ubuntu, Fedora and many of the other distros out there are more like brothers and sisters rather than competitors. We can divide our own share of the pie, but quite honestly we're all interested in the rest of the pie than what we have as our share. I think it's very healthy to have different distributions, different preferences and different options. It gives people freedom! You know there is some healthy competition between Fedora, Ubuntu, OpenSuse and some other distros, but instead of it being as Fedora vs. Ubuntu vs. OpenSuse, it should be Fedora and the other distros vs. the rest of the world. That's how we view it. Quite honestly, competition does keep everyone on their toes. It makes them evolve and stay competitive. So it's a healthy thing.

More on Gnome and support cycles, on Page 2



Tell us about Gnome 3. Fedora was the first to adopt Gnome 3, while Ubuntu took another path. Could share some insights there?

So Gnome 3 is really interesting. We were the first major Linux distribution to ship Gnome 3 as the default desktop, and it was not without controversy. That means, we have always strived to have a healthy relationship, not just with the Gnome community but also with KDE and other desktops such as XFCE. We want to have a strong relationship with these communities and we trust these communities to judge when is the right time to make major changes. I have been in open souce circles from when we moved from Gnome 1 to Gnome 2 and that was a very big change. However, software is an interative thing and at times you got to learn from lessons. So I think Gnome 3 was very innovative and different. It broke the mould. Until then, for the good or for the worse, until Gnome 3, a lot of the desktop environments simply emulated what you'd find in a Microsoft Windows or OS X kind of environment. You have to give credit to the Gnome team for breaking that mould. They have come up with a desktop that is new, innovative and very intuitive.

For those of us who have been using Linux for a long time, we may find it difficult to do away with the muscle memory as they say. However, new users find that desktop very appealing and very easy to learn than a Gnome 2 desktop. But yes, it hasn't been without controversy with some of the other distributions such as Ubuntu choosing to go another path with Unity as the desktop. As far as the numbers go, the number of downloads for Fedora 15 have been higher than Fedora 14, and so I wouldn't say we've lost numbers. Yes we may have lost some individual contributors, but then they have moved to newer desktop environments. Similarly, we've have newer people coming in and saying they'd like to work with Fedora because they're unhappy with the Unity desktop environment. So at the end, a mass exodus is also a mass gain. It's healthy. I'd also like to add that Fedora 16 (released just after this interview) has Gnome 3.2 which includes refinements and updates to Gnome 3 after listening to feedback they got Fedora, OpenSuse and some of the other open source distros and users.

What are the reasons for controversies surrounding Gnome?

Part of it is due to the fact that Gnome developers made a very conscious decision to make less knobs and switches that you can change - less configurations. They wanted to make something that was so easy to use, to have your way around that you wouldn't have to tweak around with 12000 different things. For example, right now they took out theme-ing. They took out screensavers, and so one to name a few. So there was a lot of choice in tuning and tweaking that was possible earlier. So it was done with the goal of simplification, but it comes at a cost.

How important is the desktop support cycle? How long do you think is the ideal duration of a typical support cycle?

That's an interesting question, and it's something that's been asked ever since Fedora has spun off from Red Hat Linux close to 7 years ago now. Well, it's actually hard to say. It's hard to actually put a number on how many people are actually deploying the latest Linux on their deskop. Personally speaking for myself, and not as part of a community, I would say, anything more often than a couple of times a year for the desktop is too often; and anything slower than two or three years is too slow. So there's some middle ground there, a sweet spot that's probably appropriate. Fedora hasn't spent too much effort on desktop update cycles. We have release cycles every six months. There are people who choose to deploy every single update, while some others choose not to. So at 13 months of a cycle, we work towards requiring people to update only once a year.

How does a newbie decide on which desktop environment to use?

Well one of the things we do at Fedora is that we have spins, which is a flavour of the distro with different desktop environment. So we have one for LXDE, XFCE, and others. So users can download these, try them and choose whether they prefer a particular flavour. And then on the DVD we pass on these flavours that can be tried out. You don't have to install them. You could just boot right off the DVD.

What is your take on the secure boot issue?

Oh well lots of rumbling on secure boot. So secure boot is kind of a double edged sword. From the security perspective people need to have absolute confidence that from the time the PC boots up and until it is in the operating system, there's nothing tampering along the way, nor listening to key strokes. So there's an understandable goal there. That people are concerned about security. Unfortunately, some people are taking that and equating it to lack of control over your own hardware. So if an operating system vendor says no you can't boot a different operating system, then that's an issue.

And we've seen much of the controversy with Microsoft Windows 8 and UEFI stuff has had that fear in mind. What happens if I buys a PC and I am unable to install Linux on it because Microsoft or any other vendor says so? So there's an understandable concern. Secure boot is important for the people who want it, and how we go about that and the technical details. Key exchanges and may be certificate authorities and how is the best way to set it up. How we go about that is going to take some time to work out the technical stuff. Working with equipment manufacturers, hardware manufacturers, people who make the BIOSes, OEMs, it's kind of uncharted territory right now. From what I know most OEMs would give customers the opportunity to choose via some kind of menu or jumper on the motherboard so that they don't get locked.

So people would have a choice?

Personally for me, secureboot is good as long as I have a choice to decide. Because the user is in the best position to determine whether this is something they want or don't.

Tell us about btrfs. Would it be the default filesystem in Fedora? Is it ready yet?

btrfs is a new file system in the Linux space. Historically, Fedora and most other distros have supported the EXT2, EXT3 and EXT4 filesystems. btrfs, also known as "butter"fs tends to go in a little different direction focussing on a different kind of rules and roles and tooling than the EXT file system. It's been in experimnetal mode for quite sometime now. It was proposed as a Fedora 16 feature and even as the default file system. That was contingent on some of the tooling and error recovery and system check tools. It was determined that those tools are not quite there yet. However, the filesystem by itself is ready to be deployed in production use. So we're going to wait a cycle or two to see how those catch up. Probably we'll wait for Fedora 17 to see if those tools are ready. We'll wait and see whether we should wait for Fedora 17 or Fedora 18.

Would it be called "Beefy Miracle"?

Well, we have a release name for each of our cycles. Let me go into the historical bit for a while because it's quite interesting by itself. Before even Fedora existed when there was only Red Hat Linux, the installer for Red Hat Linux was called Anaconda, and when Anaconda was installing all packages on your system, used to diplay all these messages on your screen. One of them was supposed to look like a message from the movies. The kind that says buy yourself some soda and some pop corn while your Linux is being installed. There was also a little hot dog and a little refrigerator in there. Someone noticed that hot dog, and about four or five years ago Fedora made a decision to let users make a remix of the distro. At the time, this was internal, but we at Fedora felt we wanted people to be able to do such customisations too, and be able to create their own operating system based on Fedora. At the same time, we didn't want anyone to infringe on the Fedora trademarks and so we put up a set of generic graphics that people could use and replace with their own. So we had a choice to create something that was generic and boring or something that nobody in their right mind would ever want to use. So we used this hot dog picture (called Beefy Miracle) and used it in the generic graphics. Since then it has been a half kept secret and joke within the community. So when ever we had to decide the release name, we had elections and this name keeps popping up. It happened for Fedora 15, it happened for Fedora 16 and now for Fedora 17 also it has been suggested. So Fedora 17 will be called Beefy Miracle.

What is your take on the ZFS filesystem? Would it be available on GPL?

So ZFS was a filesystem by Sun Microsystems primarily for Solaris, before they got bought over by Oracle. ZFS has been a revolutionary filesystem, especially with regards to scalability, accessibility and in the event of drive failures in scenarios where multiple copies of data spread across multiple disc and in scenarios quite similar to a RAID filesystem. Unfortunately for the good or for the worse, Sun chose the licensing that they chose for ZFS. So currently it won't be under GPL. There are some I think who are combining ZFS with the Linux kernel and they come up and say don't worry about the licences and it's all fine, but I'll like to take a conservative view here and wait. ZFS is owned by Oracle and is under the CDDL licence. btrfs has better write speeds, better performance than EXT4 especially when you're doing journalling and those sorts of activities. Also it handles scalability better in terabyte drives. Keep an eye on btrfs for the next year or two!

More on btrfs on Page 3...



How long do you think you have for mainstream adoption of btrfs?

Well I think it will be very mainstream, very popular in the next year, year and a half. I expect in the next year it would certainly be the default filesystem in Fedora.

There are certain other distros such as CentOS that use similar package managers by Red Hat. With such options, what is the incentive of using Red Hat Enterprise Linux?

If you purely look at what cost am I paying and what packages am I getting, then for some it really makes sense to go for a CentOS. Red Hat's value proposition is not in paying for the distro or packages, you're paying for the service, the updates, the support that come with it. It's not just the bits and the bytes. It's the certification that comes with Red Hat.

With Gnome 3 and also with Unity, the way the interface was designed seemed to have a focus on tablets and mobile devices. Is Fedora interested in such devices?

As of now there is no current plan within Fedora that suggests we go look at Fedora on mobiles or Fedora on tablets. We've taken a step back and taken a broader view at it and we want Fedora to work on all types of processors out there even on mobile phones and tablets.

So you are also looking at ARM processors?

Yes, we have taken the effort to ensure that Fedora is running on the ARM processor. ARM v5, v7, you name it Fedora will be working on it. Just last week there was an announcement of the new ARM v8 and 64-bit processors. Within Fedora we have a group that takes special interest in ARM projects of all shapes and sizes.

So you see ARM servers coming out soon?

Oh yes, absolutely.

How long do you see that happening?

Well HP just made an announcement that they've got a project going on. They're also working very closely with the Fedora development team. I think the mainstream hardware is probably still a year or two out, especially the 64-bit side. However on the 32-bit side you'll see servers really soon.

What are the advantages of such a configuration?

The biggest thing is just efficiency. Both from a power standpoint and density. They draw much less power and can also be packaged more efficiently. For a typical ARM server, they're looking at packing somewhere between 96 to over 150 cores per rack mount server. You just don't get that kind of density in conventional servers such as blades.

Thank you for taking the time out to share your perspective on Fedora. Is there anything you would like to share with our audience.

Thank you very much. I think you have a very passionate community here in India and also a great team. There's so much opportunity here in India. Not just because the software is free, but also because it is open and they can see how it works and distribute.

How could our community get involved in the Fedora community?

If you go to join.fedoraproject.org on the web, we show people how to get started. Whether it's as a developer, or a contributor, someone who could do documentation, translation to Indian languages, marketing, setting up events, the opportunities are immense. It's just not about writing some code. India has such a large number of languages and so translation and internationalisation alone has a lot of work in it. We would love people to join and get involved in the community.

How about members of devworx? How could they get involved?

Well, for developers, fedora comes with all the tools needed to contribute. It comes with the IDE, the documentation and all that you would need.

What kind of skills do you look for in a developer to contribute to Fedora?

From a programmers standpoint, get to know the tools, whether it's the IDEs, or the compilers or that sort of thing. From a community standpoint, come join our community. Join our mailing lists and IRC channels. If you go to lists.fedoraproject.org, there's a whole list of groups. It's called devel@lists.fedoraproject.org. This is where all the Fedora developers talk about what they're developing on. If they have question or a problem, they could discuss it here. The IRC channel is #fedora-devel. This is available on freenode.

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