For a large number of users, developers and contributors, ‘Fedora’ is a Linux-based operating system that provides them with access to the latest free and open source software in a stable, secure and easy-to-manage form. Fedora is both an epicentre of innovation in free and open source software (FOSS), and a community where developers and enthusiasts come together to advance FOSS.
The Fedora community includes software developers, artists, systems administrators, Web designers, translators, writers and speakers, making it the most vibrant community to be a part of.
The Indian community
There has always been a strong user base of Fedora right from the early days of Fedora Core 1. Over a period of five years in which Fedora saw a release of 10 versions, the community in India has also evolved. From being mere consumers/users of the operating system, there has been an organic transformation into a community of active participants and contributors. An increase in the number and forms of contribution has also helped to ideate about the focus and objectives of the community in India.
As a result of the increasing number of members, there is an active set of discussion forums on the mailing list and the IRC channel. This has enabled an exponential growth in Fedora’s reach, adding to the word-of-mouth growth of its users and contributors in India.
The initial momentum to participate in the Fedora Project arose from the need to localise the operating system and relevant content into Indian languages. Thus, there has always been an active Indic localisation community around Fedora, and their stellar contributions can be seen in the recent release of Fedora 10.
Thus, although Indic localisation was the primary driver, the larger goal has always been to increase the quantum and quality of contributions to the Fedora project. A set of smaller objectives has been put in place to achieve the goal. To get a quick overview, let’s put the tasks into the following three categories:
- Infrastructure: For a significant number of potential contributors, the unavailability of bandwidth limits access to the Fedora binaries and source. To ensure media availability, the FreeMedia program (coordinated in India by Siddharth Upmanyu) works with the Fedora Ambassadors (coordinated in India by Susmit Shannigrahi) to put in place a system combining Ambassadors and local contacts, who would be geographically dispersed to be able to accept requests from users and contributors and provide the media.Linux and IT magazines that carry Fedora media with their issues also contribute to this process because of the subscription numbers that allow a larger number of Fedora media to be available for use.
- People: The most important aspect about the Fedora community has been the people who participate in it. The community in India has been organising classroom sessions on IRC, and sometimes talks to mentor the new contributors. Nurturing a community begins by guiding people to contribute, and there are ways for everyone to become a contributor to the Fedora project. Especially in India, contributors have been actively talking with students who are interested in working within the Fedora project as part of their summer projects and internships. Students who want to contribute to Fedora and get to see their code being used by a large segment of the user community should start ideating on #fedora-india (on irc.freenode.net) or on the Fedora-India mailing list (on listman.redhat.com).The Fedora Ambassadors, developers, and language maintainers have taken the lead in building up the community and handholding contributors through the initial days. They also collaborate with LUGs and similar user groups to conduct workshops and orientation sessions by which users can be guided to use a desktop like Fedora.
- Presence: To reach out to the new users and contributors, the Fedora Project needs to be present at events. And, the best way to reach out to students is to get Fedora Ambassadors and developers talking at various college and university tech events—about the cool ways to become a participant in the Fedora Community. Besides the well-known events that dot the Indian FOSS conference landscape, making Fedora’s presence felt at smaller conferences and workshops makes it easier to express the ways in which one can participate in the Fedora project.
There are lots of opportunities within the Fedora project that allow an interested contributor to pick up the required skills and begin contributing. Some of them relate to bug fixes within the OS, some include creating tools for ideas that have been put on a wish list. These could be of special interest to students, who get to learn about the fundamental building blocks of computer science theory as part of their curriculum.
Participating in a FOSS project like Fedora teaches them skills that would come in handy once they start their careers in the software industry. Writing code, understanding peer reviews, participating in virtual development teams, building up communication skills, and understanding the nuances of licensing are competencies that would stand them in good stead. More importantly, the collaborate-to-innovate nature of FOSS contributions would make them into better developers and contributors. And, since their contributions are out in the open on publicly-available source control systems, they end up having a portfolio of work that can be put on their CVs.
A significant number of Fedora contributors from India are available on the IRC channel #fedora-india. And these are the folks who can guide the students to appropriate tasks. It does require some level of initial handholding while learning skills that go into producing FOSS. But once the initial skills are picked up, it is just a matter of interest and competence. There are projects on FedoraHosted that require contributors across a variety of disciplines—code, documentation, localisation, artwork, bug triaging, bug fixing, etc.
In recent times, members of the community have also put up interesting projects like Indian On-Screen Keyboard (iok), Review-o-Matic, and Translation-Filter, which provide an opportunity for new contributors to join right in. All these projects are available via FedoraHosted.
In the coming years, the plan for the Fedora community in India is to work towards making it diverse and more passionate. A small set of indicators allows anyone to gauge the health and direction of a ‘community’. These range from regular meetings, both in person and over virtual media like IRC, to estimating the quantum of innovation that is being contributed. A community requires a sense of ‘everyday trust’ to be nurtured. More so because it is a collection of a large number of personalities who share a common passion.
To keep the creative spark alive, the best thing to do is to set well-publicised goals and achieve them. Having a public roadmap and a tracking mechanism keeps everyone motivated with a sense of achievement. Additionally, it should also be easy to join a community and become an active participant in the process. Removing the barriers to initial contributions while addressing various concerns is also an important aspect.
The #fedora-india IRC channel on irc.freenode.net and the fedora-india mailing list on listman.redhat.com are the primary means of getting in touch with and becoming part of the Fedora community in India.