Panel: Measuring Community Contributions (Liveblog)

Joe Brockmeier – OpenSUSE
Jono Bacon – Ubuntu
James Bottomley – Novell
Dan Frye – IBM
Karsten Wade – Fedora

* Don’t always associated “contribution” with “code”.
* People tend to contribute things that are of value to them – they are scratching their own itch.
* Measuring community is very new and is not an exact science. There’s still a lot to learn and we’re still making mistakes.
* Having a clear answer to “how do I get involved” is very important.
* The first mistake companies often make when they try to enter the Linux community is an attempt to push things upstream as-is and in a way that only benefit the company.
* Audience question: It seems most mainline kernel development comes from the developed world. Why isn’t more coming from India, China and other developing countries?
– Dan indicated that some IBM’ers are actually effectively contributing from BRIC countries, but admits that we can do a much better job here.
– Some of this is an infrastructure problem, which is already being worked on.
* Audience question: Is there a way to objectively measure contribution?
– Intuition is our starting point, but we’re moving toward reverse intuition.
– Fedora is using EKG –
– Every project focuses on different aspects and different items are important to them.
– Measuring community started out very informally, but as we mature we’re being much more rigorous and scientific in our measurements.
– Deciding _what_ to measure can be difficult.
– Measuring for the sake of measuring is senseless. Getting data that is useful is very important.
Audience question: is anyone measuring the way people are mentoring?
– Generally yes, but it’s vastly different for each project/community.


How badly is CentOS hurting Red Hat?

That’s the question asked in this article:

Why does Red Hat tolerate CentOS? The Community ENTerprise Operating System is an identical binary clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (minus the trademarks), compiled from the source code RPMs that Red Hat conveniently provides on its FTP site. It is also completely free, as in beer. CentOS provides no paid support, but it does track Red Hat updates and patches closely, and usually makes them available within a few hours or at most a few days of the upstream provider, which it refers to for legal reasons as “a prominent North American Enterprise Linux vendor.” Free support for CentOS can be found in numerous places around the web, and a few third parties offer modestly priced paid support for those who want it.

It’s easy to understand what CentOS is. The question is, how much business is it really taking away from Red Hat? The answer: probably more than you think. For a hint about what’s going on, check out this amazing comparative chart on Google Trends.

I used to think most CentOS users were either just fooling around and not really running production servers, or else were using it in small IT shops populated by Linux geeks with a do-it-yourself culture. But a recent conversation with a friend set me straight. (I published part of this conversation here.) My friend runs the web site of a big city daily newspaper. Although it’s not in the same league as the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, it serves tens of millions of page views per month and pumps a big time advertising revenue stream into the coffers of the media conglomerate that owns it. The site is managed by a small in-house team and runs on several dozen dual and quad Intel servers with a classic LAMP stack that includes Apache, Perl, MySQL and of course Linux.

Until fairly recently they ran this web site on an old version of Red Hat with essentially no outside support. But they found that the up-to-date versions of the applications in their stack didn’t run so well on Red Hat 7.3, so they decided they needed to upgrade to something more recent. Naturally the first thing they looked at was RHEL 4 (this started a while back), and then RHEL 5. But they freaked out when they saw Red Hat’s prices. $1,299 per year for 24×7 support on the two socket version of RHEL 5, or $2,499 for the unlimited socket version. True, if you cut back to 12×5 support those prices come down, dropping to $799 and $1499 respectively. But even if they run RHEL on a mix of two and four socket machines, they’re still looking at $50K per year minimum for the privilege of sticking the little red logo on their servers.
Bottom line? They decided to go with CentOS 5, which they are now rolling out to their production servers.

So, is CentOS hurting Red Hat? I don’t think so, in fact I’d say it’s actually helping Red Hat. You see, the company mentioned didn’t balk on Red Hat because of anything but price. That means if they didn’t move over to CentOS, they would have moved to Debian, or Ubuntu, or Suse… or insert some gratis distro or direct Red Hat competitor here. Now, with a CentOS base let’s say the company grows or needs to run an app that is only supported on RHEL/SLES. What distro do you think they are likely to pay for in that scenario.

It goes further than that, though. Many members of the CentOS community are also valued members of the Fedora community. Red Hat gets Open Source at a very fundamental level and sees the benefit of this. Also, with no free version of their enterprise product, CentOS serves as a way to get broader exposure and therefore enables additional gratis testing for many RHEL bits. In the end I see CentOS and RHEL as more complimentary then competitive. I know it doesn’t appear that way at first glance, but when you really look at the market each is serving, it becomes a little more clear.


Are people still having issues with iPods and Linux?

I ask this because, much to my surprise, this three year old post about the iPod working out of the box in Fedora gets a surprising number of views on a daily basis. All the requests are the result of web searches, which makes me wonder if people really are still having problems. There’s not a distribution I’ve tried in the last couple years where whatever mp3 player I plugged into it didn’t work out of the box immediately. Curious…


Enterprise Apps Header Red Hat Plans Linux Desktop Offering 'for the Masses'

Speaking of Linux on the Desktop, it looks like Red Hat is getting back into the Desktop Linux market. From the article:

Red Hat is planning a packaged Linux desktop solution that it hopes will push its Linux desktop offering to a far broader audience than exists for its current client solution.

“This will be a more comprehensive offering that will target markets like the small and medium-sized business [SMB] sector and emerging markets. Part of this strategy is to get the desktop more to the masses than our existing client is getting today. So there will be a different packaged solution for the masses coming down the pike,” he said.

Asked if part of the strategy is the mass consumer market, Cornier responded that Red Had has “no plans to go and sell this offering at Best Buy, if that’s what you mean by the mass consumer market. Customers will be able to download it and get a Red Hat Network subscription on the Web for it, which is what we feel is the distribution wave of the future anyway,” he said.

I’ve always thought Red Hat was missing an important part of the market by not offering a maintenance but no support option. That’s basically what RHL was. For my part, I still maintain that Fedora is not a viable option for the average Linux user. If you’re a developer it’s not bad (in fact I use it on both my main home desktop and my main work desktop), but the initial roll out was poor, the packaging paradigm keeps changing (I don’t mean at the RPM level, but at the Core+Extras flips that go on every couple version), the upgrades often break things and with Fedora Legacy gone the upgrade cycle is too fast for a non-enthusiast. I don’t mean this to mean that the project isn’t doing some absolutely awesome things as they are, it’s just that I think people try to do with Fedora things they shouldn’t (mainly, act like it’s RHL). If you can believe it, RH9 is still one of the most downloaded distro’s at LQ ISO. To me, that speaks volumes. The article was a bit light on details but I am looking forward to seeing what the product actually entails.

On the desktop note, I’ve really been meaning to try SLED and have heard some great things about it (although the patent deal did put my off a bit on installing it to be honest). I just haven’t had the chance though. Hopefully soon. They announced the SP1 beta at Brainshare, so now is as good a time as any. They also released this “Mac Guy” spoof, which is superbly done. On the distribution front, after hanging out with Jono a bit at SCALE I finally installed Ubuntu for the first time (on my laptop). Not bad at all and I’m interested to see how it survives a little use and an upgrade or two. The amount of quality choice we have in the Linux market today is truly phenomenal.