Education

Rensselaer Center for Open Source (RCOS) talk on Fedora

RPI Center for  Open Source talk

So a couple of weeks ago, as I mentioned previously, I made a couple of trips out to my alma-mater Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY.

First, my co-worker John and I ran the Red Hat booth at the RPI Spring 2010 Career Fair. We were there for a little over four hours and by the end of it I had all but lost my voice. As one might expect at a school like RPI, every person who came up to speak to me (except for a biology major) knew exactly what Linux was, and the majority of them ran or had at least tried Linux themselves. Ben Boeckel, a current RPI student as well as Fedora contributor, dropped by so I got to say hi to him at the career fair as well.

A couple of days later I drove back out to RPI to give a talk on how to get involved in Fedora at the Rensselaer Center for Open Source meeting. Professor Mukkai Krishnamoorthy, one of the directors of RCOS and a much-beloved RPI CS professor, made all the arrangements for the talk. Now, the Rensselaer Center for Open Source is an initiative to support RPI students in researching and developing free & open source software (a list of the students’ current and past projects is behind the link.) I really wish this opportunity had existed while I was a student! :) The mission of the initiative as put by alumni Sean O’Sullivan who provided the funding necessary to start it:

We have a duty to our fellow man to improve life on this planet. While technology has always been a huge enabler in improving quality of life, we now are at a point where, through open software and open content, these improvements can come at close to zero cost, opening up opportunities to all… particularly in Third World situations, but also in government and consumer applications, open source solutions can cut through economic, political, and social divides, and enable people to simply get the job done. This center at Rensselaer may very well become a model for accomplishing this.

So, what a great group to talk to – what an opportunity! It seems like the RCOS mission and Fedora’s values have a lot in common. So, I had a little under an hour to talk about Fedora. There were around 50 folks in the audience, mostly RPI computer science students. I had a box of swag to give out (thanks to John Rose and the NA Ambassadors!) – two T-shirts, 40 Fedora discs, pens, buttons, etc. I set out all of the swag except for the t-shirts on a table before the talk and had the students come up and grab what they wanted – making sure they had the right arch media. Then at the beginning of my talk, we decided I would give the two t-shirts to the two folks who were the first to ask good questions.

The talk was thankfully very interactive – I was reminded of why I had loved RPI so much, because of the students – their curiosity, willingness to speak up, and their smarts made giving the talk a lot of fun! :) The students asked really good questions. We didn’t get through all the slides but I think that’s okay, the side-discussions we had were worth it. Here’s how the talk broke down:

RPI Center for  Open Source talk

  • What is Fedora? I talked about Fedora’s mission statement – why we make it in the first place – and how Fedora is both an operating system and a community of folks who put that operating system together. The main point I kept bringing up here is how we always try to work with upstream, and why forking off in most cases causes problems.
  • Why Fedora? Here I tried to focus on what makes Fedora different than other Linux distros. I walked through the four foundations of Fedora with examples of how we exemplified each. At the beginning of this section of the talk I noticed I was starting to lose folks (I’m not the best speaker but I’ve learned to be more mindful of the audience) so I told them they should wake up and to help them do that I was going to make them answer questions! One question I asked was about what kinds of things Fedora does to make sure it’s legally redistributable. We ended up having a good conversation on software freedom, codecs, patents, etc. and folks definitely perked up as I kept asking questions.
  • What kinds of projects happen in Fedora? – this section was really a survey of arbitrarily-selected groups within Fedora, with a listing of some of the current projects that team was focused on (or at least, as the wiki indicated they were working on. :) ) We were running out of time at this point and the next section was way more important, so we really blew through it quickly.
  • Get started! – I put together four steps to get started becoming a Fedora contributor – and a couple of students asked about this in the earlier parts of the talk so I was glad I had this section prepared:
    1. Get an account
    2. Find a team and a task
    3. Stay connected to the community – read planet Fedora and post on there! Tell folks what you are doing!
    4. Ask questions! Don’t be afraid!

I was really happy to see how many women were in attendance. I was also pleased at how many questions the students asked. One question that came up which provided some comedic value – a student asked, “Hey, does RPM still suck?”

I asked him, “Well, why do you think it sucks?”

He replied, “Dependency hell!”

“Hmm… I haven’t had issues with that in a long time. When was the last time you used an RPM-based distro?” I asked.

“Red Hat Linux 6.”

“I must have been in middle school back then…. I think a lot has changed in that time period!” I responded and everyone laughed.

Does RPM suck? I’ve not had any issues with it in a long time. I heard someone say, “‘You know I always heard it sucked but I never really tried it.'” It’s kind of sad perceptions like this linger for so long, but I guess it means we need to have these discussions to make sure folks know where we’re really at.

Anyway, 6 or 7 folks came up to me afterwards so I was there talking to folks for about 30 minutes afterwards. I ran out of all of the swag I brought except for a few 32-bit live media discs (everyone wanted 64-bit.)

Here are my slides – they are licensed CC-BY-SA 3.0:

By the way, if you want to follow the RCOS student projects, they have a project dashboard (the dashboard itself is an RCOS project as well!, thanks to Graylin Kim for the link). You can also follow the students’ blogs at the RCOS blog planet, http://rcos.cs.rpi.edu/.

(Thanks to my colleague Jon Orris for coming by to show his support and for taking the photos of the talk!)

About Máirín Duffy

Máirín is a principal interaction designer at Red Hat. She is passionate about software freedom and free & open source tools, particularly in the creative domain: her favorite application is Inkscape. You can read more from Máirín on her blog at blog.linuxgrrl.com.

Discussion

16 thoughts on “Rensselaer Center for Open Source (RCOS) talk on Fedora

  1. Great blog post, Mo, and a great talk. There’s a lot of new content in your talk that makes me realize that it’s past time to update CommArch’s general “what is Fedora” talk and spread that out to all Ambassadors, etc.

    Posted by Max | February 19, 2010, 9:52 pm
  2. For the record, RPM did indeed have problems with dependency hell in those days. This was one of several factors that led me to abandon RedHat Linux 7.0 for Debian 2.2. Sometime between that release and RHEL4/FC3 (the next release I actually used), RedHat began using RPM’s automatic requires/provides feature religiously, and the dependency hell vanished. I’ve been using RHEL and Fedora since then and never had a dependency problem, unless I tried to use 3rd-party packages that were built with AutoReqProv: no for some unfathomable reason.

    Posted by syskill | February 19, 2010, 10:17 pm
  3. Hey Máirín,

    Thanks for coming to talk with us at RPI. Professor Moorthy has been really good at getting people out in the field to come up to talk with us. He cannot be thanked enough.

    As for the talk, I really appreciated the talk about the legal and licensing issues involved in Fedora. Not all open licenses are equal or even comparable. Additionally, I swiped one of the 64-bit Fedora CDs and will definitely give it a shot on my new computer (Ubuntu user currently).

    Finally, I noticed that you include a link to “Planet RCOS”. We actually have a more complete listing of the projects with links to repositories and blogs (as well as an aggregate soon to support feeds) called the dashboard. The dashboard is actually one of our active projects this semester as well, so its sure to see feature improvement as well.

    You can find it @ http://dashboard.rcos.cs.rpi.edu

    Once again, thank you for stopping by.

    ~Graylin

    Posted by Graylin Kim | February 19, 2010, 11:49 pm
    • Thanks Graylin, it was my pleasure to talk to you guys. I added a Moorthy shout-out ‘cuz he totally deserves it, and I linked to the project dashboard too. Actually, the dashboard is quite awesome, and I’m thinking it might be nicer than the project listing we have at http://fedorahosted.org! Maybe we could use it…?

      Anyway be sure to let me know how you like Fedora and don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions!

      Posted by mairin | February 20, 2010, 12:03 am
      • I’ve passed your request on to our lead developer on the dashboard (Eric Allen) and the rest of the center. Hopefully you’ll hear something from us in the near future.

        P.S. I’ll keep you posted on Fedora.

        Posted by Graylin Kim | February 20, 2010, 4:38 am
  4. If you want to see the latest in “RPM sucks” meme, take a look at the four days old meego-dev mailing list: around 200 messages in the “RPM vs. DEB” thread. The war expanded to other fronts but it’s been eye-opening to see the passion people have for these things… Apparently the packaging format is a reason to join or leave a community for some people :)

    Posted by jku | February 20, 2010, 5:23 am
  5. > everyone wanted 64-bit

    Time to make 64-bit the default download? :-)

    Posted by Kevin Kofler | February 20, 2010, 6:30 am
    • It’s a really tough call. Outside of netbooks(which is a completely separate device category to me) how many retail desktops/laptops being sold in the last 2 years are not 64bit?

      Our own iso download stats are going to be skewed in favor of the default so its difficult to feel confident in what they are saying.

      But even for F12 x86 is still more than twice the unique mirrormanager activity that 64 is…dropping from a factor of 2.6 f11 to about 2.1 in f12. If we get the UUID stuff added to yum and we can get a better feel of distinct clients sharing the same ip address..we might find that 64bit is being used more heavily in those situations. I’d say that if we can show that the measurable factor of client usage drops down to below a ratio 1.5 it’s probably a very good call.

      The real problem will continue to be how to avoid angering people who get 64bit by mistake once its the default.
      -jef

      Posted by jef spaleta | February 20, 2010, 5:17 pm
  6. Your .odp eez veeeeeeeezually pleeeeeeazing. I’ve been looking for a good template that doesn’t make my eyes cry; if you have a basic template for this, can you share? :)

    (PS. You should file this under [[Presentations]] for sharing goodness on the wiki! :D)

    Posted by dagny87 | February 20, 2010, 11:00 am
  7. Funny how i got back to rpm from debian world exactly because of the dependency, binary breaking hell that the debian world was. The dependency hell basically meant endless forced upgrades and almost daily user-space changes that hard-core geek loves, but normal users can’t tolerate. No wonder almost all ISV ships their software in rpm format.

    Posted by Benjamin | February 20, 2010, 12:30 pm
  8. i enjoyed the rpm question ! you’re a ui designer type person right? so maybe this makes sense to you: i am currently using debian based distros, and my biggest killer ap is aptitude. i don’t know why i like the interface as much as i do, but i do ! when aptitude becomes available for fedora, i would be sold. it would be great to see the love that you put into gtk applied to curses! thanks !

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aptitude_(software)

    Posted by James | February 22, 2010, 11:18 am
  9. I’m going to crosspost this to the Teaching Open Source planet (http://teachingopensource.org/index.php/Planet), which is full of professors who might be interested in their students seeing a similar presentation – this is awesome, Mo.

    In particular, I’m a fan of how you sketch out the broad outlines of a space (“look at the wide range of things you can do in Fedora!”) and then show examples of how to dive into details in a few of them (specific projects in specific teams).

    And of Tatica’s little characters. I’m a fan of those too. :)

    Posted by mchua | February 22, 2010, 5:44 pm
  10. I’m a ’04 RPI CS alum too, and I wish RCOS existed during my time there as well, although I didn’t switch to Linux full time until the month after graduation. Maybe it would’ve prodded me to jump earlier. Anyway, glad you did this, it looks like it went over well.

    Also this RCOS Dashboard is fantastic, well done.

    Posted by Dave Foster | February 23, 2010, 3:41 pm
  11. Perhaps it’s a small comfort, but this article has made me decide to put some time aside and give Fedora a chance. I’ve been a solid ubuntu/debian/deb person for 3 years running (Actually since I got started with linux.) and had always slinked away from any rpm distro’s. I suppose it’s about time for me to give it a real shot! :)

    Posted by William Chambers | February 23, 2010, 8:26 pm
  12. Hi Máirín,

    I was one of the women at the RCOS meeting. I’m an Ubuntu user, and to be honest I’m not very familiar with the business structure of Canonical. But you definitely impressed me with your lecture on Fedora and RedHat, so I picked up a copy of the 64-bit version and will give it a try when I get a chance. The Fedora project definitely does seem like something I’d be interested in working on in the future (although not this semester, RCOS and another research project are just about all I can handle right now).

    Anyway, thanks for coming to the meeting,
    ~Cihan

    Posted by Cihan Caglayan | February 23, 2010, 9:21 pm

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