Between the upcoming Fedora 21 release, involvement in Red Hat's Project Atomic, its planned re-structuring under Fedora.next, and its new leader, Matthew Miller, the Fedora Project has a lot going on lately. All of the upheaval is a sign that the distribution is doing what it must to stay relevant in the new world of distributed, scale-out computing, says Miller who took over as project leader  earlier this month after his predecessor Robyn Bergeron announced her departure in May.
Technologists tend to overlook the role of traditional Linux distributions in innovation as they flock to the next big thing, Miller argues. But many distributions – Fedora included – are doing cutting-edge work that forms the foundation on which the newest computing layers are built (attend his talk at LinuxCon North America in Chicago, Aug. 20-22, for more on this topic.)
“The problems that distros were trying to solve a decade ago largely are seen as not only solved, but kind of boring,” said Miller, a longtime Fedora community member and system administrator who joined Red Hat in 2012. “All of the open source excitement seems to be about applications and orchestration layers above the base OS.”
Miller aims to bring more attention, and importance, to the operating system and, more specifically, the Fedora project by focusing more on its role as a platform for innovation in the cloud, and any other new technologies that may arise in the future. To do this, the Fedora project structure needs to be more agile and adaptable, allowing for more experimentation, as well as more welcoming to new contributors, Miller says.
“What I want is for Fedora to be flexible enough that we're still relevant, useful, and interesting as we go forward,” Miller said.
Thus, big changes are underway for the distribution. It's an incremental evolution initiated by Fedora.next, the project's long-term planning process which has been underway for more than a year.
Miller has been active in the process from the start and is now responsible for implementing it. But it has been, and must continue to be, a largely community-driven transformation, he says.
First Visible Changes in Fedora 21
While Fedora is traditionally a desktop distribution, it also has a contingent of “crazy but awesome” sysadmins running it on production servers who are eager to see the project evolve for the cloud, Miller said. The initial installation has a lot of default settings and features that are now at odds with the minimal images needed to make use of containers and clouds, for example. Other open source communities would also like to see the distribution become more enterprise friendly as the faster moving, more experimental upstream version to Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
Fedora 21 will be the first tangible step in this direction with the release split into three variations: cloud, server and desktop. They'll all be built out of a shared repository and have the same release schedule. But the repackaging will allow for more targeted development for the various uses of the distribution, as well as create safe areas for experimentation.
Fedora Cloud, for example, is focused on making fundamental improvements to the OS guest image. It will become a better base for running clusters of Docker images on top of cloud platforms such as OpenStack. Developers can also more easily test new technologies such as Project Atomic tools for deploying container-based applications on Linux.
“As we go forward, we're following the emerging technologies around deployment, orchestration, and management of containerized applications, and I expect to see that evolve quickly in Fedora's cloud offerings,” Miller said.
Meanwhile Fedora Server is putting together an almost push-button deployment of a database server. And Fedora Workstation will be packaged to accommodate software developers building server side and client applications.
“Fedora in general works as the innovation area (for Red Hat distributions). We look at all the things happening in the open source world and combine them and put them out,” Miller said. “We want to continue to do that in cloud areas as well.”
More fundamental long-term changes
Longer term, the community has planned changes to the base design group, which oversees the main repository for all of the other versions, as well as the creation of a Fedora playground repository, and a more welcoming mailing list for newcomers.
The creation of the Server, Workstation and Cloud products means the Base Design group will mostly focus on basic improvements, Miller says. But pressure from other areas will increase over the next few releases and the group's mission will become more urgent and defined.
“For example, right now on the devel mailing list there's a discussion over whether the ARM architecture can really be considered an equal when a couple of dozen packages don't build,” Miller said. “When we have a more defined distinction between the Base and the rest of the collection of packages, we can better focus development effort, and also better communicate to users what we're promising will work and which areas are more "best-effort.”
Better communication, in general, is also a long-term goal for the project. One of the Fedora community's four core values is the “friends” foundation, defined as welcoming all skill levels, finding consensus and honoring all contributions. But developers tend to adhere to this more at project conferences than in online interactions, Miller says.
“Some of our mailing lists are downright hostile, and that has to change, especially because it doesn't actually reflect the reality of our community as a whole,” he said.
The new Fedora Magazine  site, launched last year, is one effort to help improve project communication (and also a great place for new people to help out.) Establishing a Fedora playground, or a repository with fewer guidelines and lower barriers for contributions, will also help get more people involved. This will be an experimental feature in Fedora 21 that will become more established over time.
“Right now people can't get it into Fedora until (their code is) perfect,” Miller said. “Maybe over the course of 2-3 years (Fedora playground) will draw in more participants. People can make more mistakes and learn and ramp up into being contributors.”