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Hey, Red Hat - Open-source help still lousy?

"Zealots" wanted

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OSBC It's been exactly a year since former Delta Airlines vice president turned Red Hat chief executive Jim Whitehurst criticized open-source vendors for doing a lousy job of getting customers involved in the community and projects.

Twelve months on, how are things looking?

Little has changed, judging by the general level of hand-wringing at this year's Open Source Business Conference (OSBC), but Whitehurst has kick started an effort inside Red Hat to find ways of getting customers to participate more actively in his own company's Linux and middleware projects.

Whitehurst told The Reg he's given one of Red Hat's former heads of learning services and global support the task of recruiting a team of "zealots" and building a program of customer engagement around its Linux and middleware.

The thinking is for a set of informal channels for ordinary system administrators in major customers such as Bank of America to contact the company and engage without needing to pick up the phone as, say, Bank of America's chief information officer (CIO) might.

It's a work in progress Whitehurst said, and - as yet - there's no date for delivery.

"It's how do we scale an engagement model that's not 'call somebody on the phone,' so when somebody wants to get involved there's a way to get involved," he said.

Meanwhile, Whitehurst said, there's a growing level of participation in Spacewalk, Red Hat's Linux systems management project.

"The majority of customers aren't engaged," Whitehurst had told the OSBC moments before speaking to The Reg. "Having a less programmatic way to engaging customers is something we are working on."

Whitehurst is taking a "softly softly" approach to engagement. He doesn't necessarily want a rash of code committers, rather cultivate feedback and contributions at different levels on a range of areas, such as that least loved of all subjects - writing documentation for code.

"I want to encourage people to get a little bit involved: give feedback, understand what's going on, help influence. Areas where you get code commits can come well down the path," he said.

Whitehurst reckoned that following last year's comments he'd "got a lot" of phone calls from people working on code who wanted help in building a community around it.

Such projects require a huge effort, but can happen.

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