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Fedora goals coming into focus

January 26, 2011

This article was contributed by Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier.

Fedora is getting closer to defining its long term goals. Board member Máirín Duffy posted a summary of the first draft of goals on January 11, with an invitation to comment on the goals on the blog or on the advisory board mailing list.

One might think that the Fedora Project has sufficiently defined what it is and what it's doing. The project has defined objectives, a mission statement, vision statement, core values, and has identified its target audience.

Fedora's vision statement gives a broad idea of what the project is about, and the core values (a.k.a. "four foundations") help briefly state what informs the vision. In this case, "freedom, friends, features, first," which (with the vision) helps provide a fairly decent "elevator pitch" to describe Fedora and for teams within the project to consider when making decisions. default offering.

Say what you will about Fedora, but you can't fault the project for being overly vague. But being precise is the point. All of this is part of Fedora's strategic planning effort, something that is lacking from many open source projects. During a discussion of Fedora's mission statement in October of 2009, Mike McGrath expressed the problem that many were seeing with Fedora at the time:

Right now Fedora is a place for everyone to just come and do whatever they want which is harming us in the long term. There's plenty of room for everyone in the Linux universe. I understand that by narrowing our focus we might lose some contributors who disagree with our values and mission. But that's better than not having one and having volunteers work against each other because they joined The Fedora Project thinking it was one thing only to find it's something else.

Having a clear mission statement and values also enables the project to move forward without being distracted with activities that aren't part of its scope — like worrying about using Fedora for infrastructure services when long term supported releases are not an objective. Rather than being drawn into an (overly) long debate about what Fedora "should be" it's possible to point to the project's objectives — which do not in any way encourage a long term support release. It also enables Fedora to prioritize its resources. As former Fedora Project Leader Paul Frields wrote during the target audience discussion, "having an audience in mind, we as a community can prioritize resources, and at the same time make it possible for people who want to concentrate on other audiences to build community around those efforts."

Fedora has been wrestling with these issues for some time, and there has been some unease expressed by some members of the Fedora community that the board is espousing its view of what Fedora should be rather than what the community wishes Fedora to be. Greg DeKoenigsberg addressed this by saying "the Fedora leadership should stake out positions that they believe to be correct, and should work to mobilize resources that move us in those directions... [while guaranteeing] the freedom for dissenting community members to move in their own directions."

A long list of goals

With all of the other strategic items in place, it is now up to the board to define goals for the next few releases; they now have a working list to consider. The initial list includes 15 goals that have been culled by the board from proposals out of the larger Fedora community. Much of the discussion happened took place back in November on the advisory-board list.

Initially the call for goals was for the "next 3-4 releases," but that seems to have been cut down to the next two releases over the intervening months. The goals are to move Fedora closer to the vision statement for Fedora, which is:

The Fedora Project creates a world where free culture is welcoming and widespread, collaboration is commonplace, and people control their content and devices.

The final list includes improving and simplifying communication in the Fedora community, improving communication within the project, recruiting uncommon skillsets into Fedora, and improving the developer experience within Fedora. Some of the goals seem to describe things Fedora already does well. Goal 14, "Evaluate late-breaking technologies for inclusion/interaction with Fedora," for instance, seems to be well underway already. Others, like the goals around communication, could be combined into a single goal. It does seem that, like many FOSS projects, Fedora finds communication within and without the project to be a continual source of difficulty.

A set of 15 goals, of course, is far too many to be practical, so the board is trying to reduce the list of goals to five goals for the next two releases. The board has settled on its five, being:

  • Goal #1: Improve and simplify collaboration in the Fedora Community.
  • Goal #2: Improve and encourage high-quality communication in the Fedora Community.
  • Goal #4: It is extraordinarily easy to join the Fedora community and quickly find a project to work on.
  • Goal #11: Expand global presence of Fedora among users & contributors.
  • Goal #12: Improve education & skill sharing in community.

So far, there's been very little discussion on the advisory-board mailing list, but there has been discussion among some of the subgroups in Fedora. For example, the Fedora Ambassadors Steering Committee (FAMSCo) brainstormed ahead of meeting with the board to offer their suggestions on which goals should be chosen. The board and FAMSCo seem to have mind-melded, as they share the exact same list of five goals.

Fedora's Engineering Steering Committee (FESCo) has also met and discussed the goals and agreed on three goals. The first two (Improve and simplify collaboration in the Fedora Community, Improve and encourage high-quality communication in the fedora community) mirror the board and FAMSCo. The third, unsurprisingly for the engineering committee, is to improve the developer experience in Fedora.

All of the goals that have been put forward so far seem perfectly reasonable. Goal #1, for example, would put emphasis on improving Fedora's governance structure and carries a suggestion that the Fedora board meet in person at least once per year. Goal #2 overlaps with #1, and both carry a suggestion about creating a calendaring solution for Fedora. (Also, perhaps, highlighting the absence of a decent FOSS calendaring solution.)

More feedback will trickle in before the final goals are set, but it looks likely that improving communication and collaboration will be the primary goals for the next two releases. It's important to note that the goals are only suggestions and, as the wiki states "to help people who want to work on several things to prioritise their time."

Coming up with a mission and goals for a large distribution is not easy. This is particularly true of a project with a corporate sponsor shifting from an closed development model to open, and a mixture of paid and unpaid contributors. Consider the efforts of the openSUSE Project to define its strategy. The effort has been in process now since 2009, and is still being worked on, with no target date for completion.

The goals will be a hot topic at the upcoming FUDCon in Tempe, Arizona from January 29 through 31. There will be a session on the goals led by Duffy and the board members present, and a governance hackfest where the goals will likely be discussed as well. Fedora, thankfully, is at the tail end of the process. The question now becomes how well the various subgroups in Fedora will adhere to the goals — and whether they'll actually lead to success.

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