One of the thing we are working hard at currently is ensuring you have the codecs you need available in Fedora Workstation. Our main avenue for doing this is looking at the various codecs out there and trying to determine if the intellectual property situation allows us to start shipping all or parts of the technologies involved. This was how we were able to start shipping mp3 playback support for Fedora Workstation 25. Of course in cases where this is obviously not the case we have things like the agreement with our friends at Cisco allowing us to offer H264 support using their licensed codec, which is how OpenH264 started being available in Fedora Workstation 24.
As you might imagine clearing a codec for shipping is a slow and labour intensive process with lawyers and engineers spending a lot of time reviewing stuff to figure out what can be shipped when and how. I am hoping to have more announcements like this coming out during the course of the year.
So I am very happy to announce today that we are now working on packaging the codec known as AC3 (also known as A52) for Fedora Workstation 26. The name AC3 might not be very well known to you, but AC3 is part of a set of technologies developed by Dolby and marketed as Dolby Surround. This means that if you have video files with surround sound audio it is most likely something we can playback with an AC3 decoder. AC3/A52 is also used for surround sound TV broadcasts in the US and it is the audio format used by some Sony and Panasonic video cameras.
We will be offering AC3 playback in Fedora Workstation 26 and we are looking into options for offering an encoder. To be clear there are nothing stopping us from offering an encoder apart from finding an implementation that is possible to package and ship with Fedora with an reasonable amount of effort. The most well known open source implementation we know about is the one found in ffmpeg/libav, but extracting a single codec to ship from ffmpeg or libav is a lot of work and not something we currently have the resources to do. We found another implementation called aften, but that seems to be unmaintaned for years, but we will look at it to see if it could be used.
But if you are interested in AC3 encoding support we would love it if someone started working on a standalone AC3 encoder we could ship, be that by picking up maintership of Aften, splitting out AC3 encoding from libav or ffmpeg or writting something new.
I started writing this blog entry at the end of January, but kept delaying publishing it due to waiting for some cool updates we are working on. But I decided today that instead of keep pushing the 2016 review part back I should just do this as two separate blog entries. So here is my Fedora Workstation 2016 Summary
We did two major releases of Fedora Workstation, namely 24 and 25 each taking is steps closer to realising our vision for the future of the Linux Desktop. I am really happy that we finally managed to default to Wayland in Fedora Workstation 25. As Jonathan Corbet of LWN so well put it: “That said, it’s worth pointing out that the move to Wayland is a huge transition; we are moving away from a display manager that has been in place since before Linus Torvalds got his first computer”.
Successfully replacing the X11 system that has been used since 1987 is no small feat and we have to remember many tried over the years and failed. So a big Thank You to Kristian Høgsberg for his incredible work getting Wayland off the ground and build consensus around it from the community. I am always full of admiration for those who manage to create these kind of efforts up from their first line of code to a place where a vibrant and dynamic community can form around them.
And while we for sure have some issues left to resolve I think the launch of Wayland in Fedora Workstation 25 was so strong that we managed to keep and accelerate the momentum needed to leave the orbit of X11 and have it truly take on a life of its own.
Because we have succeeded not just in forming a community around Wayland, but with getting the existing linux graphics driver community to partake in the move, we managed to get the major desktop toolkits to partake in the move and I believe we have managed to get the community at large to partake in the move. And we needed all of those 3 to join us for this transition to have a chance to succeed with it. If this had only been about us at Red Hat and in the Fedora community who cared and contributed it would have gone nowhere, but this was truly one of those efforts that pulled together almost everyone in the wider linux community, and showcased what is possible when such a wide coalition of people get together. So while for instance we don’t ship an Enlightenment spin of Fedora (interested parties would be encouraged to do so though) we did value and appreciate the work they where doing around Wayland, simply because the bigger the community the more development and bug fixing you will see on the shared infrastructure.
A part of the Wayland effort was the new input library Peter Hutterer put out called libinput. That library allowed us to clean up our input stack and also share the input code between X and Wayland. A lot of credit to Peter and Benjamin Tissoires for their work here as the transition like the later Wayland transition succeeded without causing a huge amount of pain for our users.
And this is also our approach for Flatpak which for us forms a crucial tandem with Wayland and the future of the Linux desktop. To ensure the project is managed in a way that is open and transparent to all and allows for different groups to adapt it to their specific usecases. And so far it is looking good, with early adoption and trials from the IVI community, traditional Linux distributions, device makers like Endless and platforms such as Steam. Each of these using the technologies or looking to use them in slightly different ways, but still all collaborating on pushing the shared technologies forward.
We managed to make some good steps forward in our effort to drain the swamp of Desktop Linux land (only unfortunate thing here is a certain Trump deciding to cybersquat on the ‘drain the swamp’ mantra) with adding H264 and mp3 support to Fedora Workstation. And while the H264 support still needs some work to support more profiles (which we unfortunately did not get to in 2016) we have other codec related work underway which I think will help move the needle on this being a big issue even further. The work needed on OpenH264 is not forgotten, but Wim Taymans ended up doing a lot more multimedia plumbing work for our container based future than originally planned. I am looking forward to share more details of where his work is going these days though as it could bring another group of makers into the world of mainstream desktop Linux when its ready.
Another piece of swamp draining that happened was around the Linux Firmware Service, which went from strength to strength in 2016. We had new vendors sign up throughout the year and while not all of those efforts are public I do expect that by the end of 2017 we will have most major hardware vendors offering firmware through the service. And not only system firmware updates but things like Logitech mice and keyboards will also be available.
Of course the firmware update service also has a client part and GNOME Software truly became a powerhouse for driving change during 2016, being the catalyst not only for the firmware update service, but also for linux applications providing good metadata in a standardized manner. The Appstream format required by GNOME Software has become the de-facto standard. And speaking of GNOME Software the distribution upgrade functionality we added in Fedora 24 and improved in Fedora 25 has become pretty flawless. Always possible to improve of course, but the biggest problem I heard of was due to versioning issue due to us pushing the mp3 decoding support for Fedora in at the very last minute and thus not giving 3rd party repositories a reasonable chance to update their packaging to account for it. Lesson learnt for going forward
These are just of course a small subset of the things we accomplished in 2016, but I was really happy to see the great reception we had to Fedora 25 last year, with a lot of major new sites giving it stellar reviews and also making it their distribution of the year. The growth curves in terms of adoption we are seeing for Fedora Workstation is a great encouragement for the team and helps is validate that we are on the right track with setting our development priorities. My hope for 2017 is that even more of you will decide to join our effort and switch to Fedora and 2017 will be the year of Fedora Workstation! On that note the very positive reception to the Fedora Media Writer that we introduced as the default download for Fedora Workstation 25 was great to see. Being able to have one simple tool to use regardless of which operating system you come to us from simplifies so much in terms of both communication on our end and lowering the threshold of adoption on the end user side.
So, in Fedora Workstation 24 we added H264 support through OpenH264. In Fedora Workstation 25 I am happy to tell you all that we are taking another step in improving our codec support by adding support for mp3 playback. I know this has been a big wishlist item for a long time for a lot of people so I am really happy that we are finally in a position to fulfil that wish. You should be able to download the mp3 plugin on day 1 through GNOME Software or through the missing codec installer in various GStreamer applications. For Fedora Workstation 26 I would not be surprised if we decide to ship it on the install media.
Fo the technically inclined out there, our initial enablement is through the mpeg123 library and corresponding GStreamer plugin. The main reason we choose this library over all the others available out there was a combination of using the same license as GStreamer (lgpl v2) and being a well established library used by a lot of different applications already. There might be other mp3 decoders added in the future depending on interest in and effort by the community. So get ready to install Fedora Workstation 25 when its released soon and play some tunes
P.S. To be 110% clear we will not be adding encoding support at this time.
When we started the Fedora Workstation effort one thing we wanted to do was to drain the proverbial swamp of make sure that running Linux on a laptop is a first rate experience. As you see from my last blog entry we have been working on building a team dedicated to that task. There are many facets to this effort, but one that we kept getting asked about was sorting out hybrid graphics. So be aware that some of this has been covered in previous blog entries, but I want to be thorough here. So this blog will cover the big investments of time and effort we are putting into Wayland and X Windows, GNOME Shell and Nouveau (the open source driver for NVidia GPU hardware).
A big part of this story is also that we are trying to make it easier to run the NVidia binary driver on Fedora in general which is actually a fairly large undertaking as there are a lot challenges with trying to do that without requiring any manual configuration from the user and making sure it works fully in the hybrid graphics usecase. This is one of the most requested areas of improvement for Fedora. Many users are trying to run Fedora on their existing laptops or other hardware. Rather than allow this gap to be a reason for people to not run Fedora, we want to provide a better experience. Of course users will have the freedom to make their own choice about installing these drivers, using information provided by Software.
Hybrid graphics is the term used for when you have a laptop with two GPUs, usually one Intel and one NVidia GPU, but there are also some laptops available which comes with Intel/AMD CPU + AMD GPU. The purpose of hybrid graphics is to have your (Intel) Integrated GPU be your ‘day to day GPU’ for running your desktop yet not drawing to much power, but then if you want to for instance play a game on your system you can activate your secondary GPU which got a lot more power, but which also draws more electricity.
What complicated this even more was the fact that most users who wanted to use this setup wanted to use it in combination with the binary NVidia driver, in order to get top performance from their second GPU, which is not surprising since that is the whole point of switching to it. The main challenge with this was that the Mesa and binary NVidia driver both provided an OpenGL implementation that due to the way things works in the X Window System ended up overwriting each other, basically breaking the overwritten driver. The solution for this was a system called Bumblebee which employed some clever hacks to work around this issue, but Bumblebee is a solution to a problem we shouldn’t have to begin with.
Of course dealing with the OpenGL stack wasn’t the only challenge here. For instance different display outputs ended up being connected to different GPUs, with one of the most common setups being that the internal screen is connected to your Intel GPU and your external HDMI and DisplayPort connections are connected to your NVidia or AMD GPU. One some systems there where hardware connectors allowing you to display using either GPU to any screen, but a setup we see becoming more common is that the drivers for both card needs to be initialized in all cases, allowing the display connected GPU to slave itself to the other GPU to allow rendering on one GPU and displaying on the other. Within Mesa this is fairly straightforward to handle, so if both Intel and NVidia as rendering using Mesa things are fairly straightforward. What makes this a lot more challenging here is the NVidia binary driver, so once you install the binary driver we need to find a way to bridge and interoperate between these two stacks.
And of course that is just the highlights, like anything complex like this there are a long laundry list of items from the point where you can checkbox having a feature to it working really well and seamless.
What to expect in Fedora Workstation 25
Lets start with a word of caution here, we are working on a tight deadline here to get all the pieces lined up, so I can not be 100% sure what will make it for the day of release. What we are confident about though is that we will have all the low level plumbing sorted so that we can improve this over the course of the Fedora 25 lifecycle. As always I hope the community will join us in testing and developing this, to ensure we have even the corner cases worked out for Fedora Workstation 26.
The initial step we took and this is quite some time ago was that Dave Airlie worked on making sure we could handle two GPUs within the Mesa stack. As a bit of wordplay on the NVidia solution being called Optimus the open source Mesa solution was named Prime. This work basically allowed you to use Mesa for your Intel card and use Mesa (Nouveau) for your NVidia card and launch applications on the NVidia card while the screen was connected to the Intel card. You can choose which one is used by setting the DRI_PRIME=1 environment variable.
The second step was Adam Jackson collaborating with NVidia on something called libglvnd. Libglvnd stands for GL Vendor Neutral Dispatch and it is basically a dispatch layer that allows your OpenGL calls to be dispatched to more than one OpenGL implementation. Nvidia created this specification and have been steadily working on supporting it in their binary driver, but Adam Jackson stepped up to help review their patches and work on supporting glvnd in the Mesa drivers. This means that for Fedora Workstation 25 you should for the first time ever be able to have both the binary NVidia driver and Mesa installed without any file conflicts. So the X server now has the infrastructure to route your OpenGL call to the correct stack when that DRI_PRIME variable is set. That said there is a major catch here, due to the way things currently work once the NVidia binary driver is installed it expects to be rendering the screen all the time. So we need for the short term to figure out a way to allow it to do that, and in the long run we need to work with NVidia to figure out how the Intel open source driver can collaborate with the Nvidia driver to allow us to only use the Intel driver at times (to save on power for instance). We are still pushing hard on trying to have the short term fix in place, but as I write this we haven’t fully nailed this down yet.
The third step is work that Ben Skeggs has been doing on dealing with the monitor handling here, which includes adding MST support to Nouveau, because a lot of external ports and docking stations have not been working with these hybrid graphics setups due to the external screens all being routed through the NVidia chip. These patches just got accepted upstream and we will be including them in Fedora Workstation 25.
The fourth step has been work that Hans de Goede has been doing around Prime, fixing the modesetting driver and fixing cursor handling with hybrid graphics. In some sense the work Hans has been doing, and check his blog entry linked, is part of that washlist I talked about, the many smaller items that needs to work smoothly for this to go from ‘checkbox works’ to ‘actually works’. He is also working with the DNF team to allow us to control the kernel updates if you use the binary NVidia driver, meaning that we will only bump up your kernel driver when we have the binary NVidia driver module ready too. If for any reason the binary Nvidia driver doesn’t work we want to have graceful fallback to Nouveau.
Fifth step has been Jonas Ådahls work on enabling the binary NVidia driver for Wayland. He has put together a set of patches to be able to support NVidias EGLStreams interface, which means that starting from Fedora Workstation 25 you will be able to use Wayland also with NVidias binary driver.
You can see his work in progress patches here. Jonas will also be looking at implementing hybrid graphics support in Wayland, so we ensure that also for this usecase Wayland is on par with X for Fedora Workstation 26.
The sixth step has been work done by Bastien Nocera to ensure we expose this functionality in the user interface. The idea is that you should be able to configure on a per application basis which GPU they are being launched on. It also means that you can now get all your GPU information in the GNOME about screen also when you have dual-GPU systems. More details in his blog post here.
The seventh step is the work that Simone Caronni from Negativo17 has been doing on working with us on packaging the binary NVidia driver in a way that makes all this work. You can find his repo here on Negativo17, but Simone has also been working with Kalev Lember and Richard Hughes to ensure the driver show up correctly in GNOME Software once you have the repository enabled.
The plan is to offer the driver in Fedora Workstation 25 as third party software, but we haven’t yet made the formal proposal due to wanting to be sure we ironed out all important bugs first, both on our side and on NVidia side.
So as you can see from all of this there are a lot of components involved and since we are trying to support both X and Wayland with all of this the job hasn’t exactly been easy. There are for sure some things that will not be ready in time for Fedora Workstation 25, for instance if you want to use the binary NVidia driver we will not be able to make that work with XWayland. So native Wayland applications will be fine, including games using SDL on top of Wayland, but due to how the stack is architected we haven’t gotten around to implementing bridging OpenGL from Xwayland down to the binary NVidia driver. With Nouveau it should work however. This corner case we will have to figure out for Fedora Workstation 26, but for now we have decided that if we detect a Optimus system we will default you to X instead of Wayland.
So we have two jobs openings in the Red Hat desktop team. What we are looking for is people to help us ensure that Fedora and RHEL runs great on various desktop hardware, with a focus on laptops. Since these jobs require continuous access to a lot of new and different hardware we can not accept applications this time for remotees, but require you to work out of out office in Munich, Germany. We are looking for people with people not afraid to jump into a lot of different code and who likes tinkering with new hardware. The hardware enablement here might include some kernel level work, but will more likely involve improving higher level stacks. So for example if we have a new laptop where bluetooth doesn’t work you would need to investigate and figure out if the problem is in the kernel, in the bluez stack or in our Bluetooth desktop parts.
This will be quite varied work and we expect you to be part of a team which will be looking at anything from driver bugs, battery life issues, implementing new stacks, biometric login and enabling existing features in the kernel or in low level libraries in the user interface.
You can read more about the jobs at the jobs.redhat.com. That link lists a Senior Engineer, but we also got a Principal Engineer position open with id 53653, but that one is not on the website as I post this, but should hopefully be very soon.
Also if you happen to be in the Karlsruhe area or at GUADEC this year I will be here until Sunday, so you could come over for a chat. Feel free to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in meeting up.
This is a very exciting day for me as two major projects I am deeply involved with are having a major launch. First of all Fedora Workstation 24 is out which crosses a few critical milestones for us. Maybe most visible is that this is the first time you can use the new graphical update mechanism in GNOME Software to take you from Fedora Workstation 23 to Fedora Workstation 24. This means that when you open GNOME Software it will show you an option to do a system upgrade to Fedora Workstation 24. We been testing and doing a lot of QA work around this feature so my expectation is that it will provide a smooth upgrade experience for you.
The second major milestone is that we do feel Wayland is now in a state where the vast majority of users should be able to use it on a day to day basis. We been working through the kinks and resolving many corner cases during the previous 6 Months, with a lot of effort put into making sure that the interaction between applications running natively on Wayland and those running using XWayland is smooth. For instance one item we crossed off the list early in this development cycle was adding middle-mouse button cut and paste as we know that was a crucial feature for many long time linux users looking to make the switch. So once you updated I ask all of you to try switching to the Wayland session by clicking on the little cogwheel in the login screen, so that we get as much testing as possible of Wayland during the Fedora Workstation 24 lifespan. Feedback provided by our users during the Fedora Workstation 24 lifecycle will be a crucial information to allow us to make the final decision about Wayland as the default for Fedora Workstation 25. Of course the team will be working ardently during Fedora Workstation 24 to make sure we find and address any niggling issues left.
In addition to that there is also of course a long list of usability improvements, new features and bugfixes across the desktop, both coming in from our desktop team at Red Hat and from the GNOME community in general.
There was also the formal announcement of Flatpak today (be sure to read that press release), which is the great new technology for shipping desktop applications. For those of you who have read my previous blog entries you probably seen me talking about this technology using its old name xdg-app. Flatpak is an incredible piece of engineering designed by Alexander Larsson we developed alongside a lot of other components.
Because as Matthew Garret pointed out not long ago, unless we move away from X11 we can not really produce a secure desktop container technology, which is why we kept such a high focus on pushing Wayland forward for the last year. It is also why we invested so much time into Pinos which is as I mentioned in my original annoucement of the project our video equivalent of PulseAudio (and yes a proper Pinos website is getting close :). Wim Taymans who created Pinos have also been working on patches to PulseAudio to make it more suitable for using with sandboxed applications and those patches have recently been taken over by community member Ahmed S. Darwish who is trying to get them ready for merging into the main codebase.
We are feeling very confident about Flatpak as it has a lot of critical features designed in from the start. First of all it was built to be a cross distribution solution from day one, meaning that making Flatpak run on any major linux distribution out there should be simple. We already got Simon McVittie working on Debian support, we got Arch support and there is also an Ubuntu PPA that the team put together that allows you to run Flatpaks fully featured on Ubuntu. And Endless Mobile has chosen flatpak as their application delivery format going forward for their operating system.
We use the same base technologies as Docker like namespaces, bind mounts and cgroups for Flatpak, which means that any system out there wanting to support Docker images would also have the necessary components to support Flatpaks. Which means that we will also be able to take advantage of the investment and development happening around server side containers.
Flatpak is also heavy using another exciting technology, OSTree, which was originally developed by Colin Walters for GNOME. This technology is actually seeing a lot of investment and development these days as it became the foundation for Project Atomic, which is Red Hats effort to create an enterprise ready platform for running server side containers. OStree provides us with a lot of important features like efficient storage of application images and a very efficient transport mechanism. For example one core feature OSTree brings us is de-duplication of files which means you don’t need to keep multiple copies on your disk of the same file, so if ten Flatpak images share the same file, then you only keep one copy of it on your local disk.
Another critical feature of Flatpak is its runtime separation, which basically means that you can have different runtimes for some families of usecases. So for instance you can have a GNOME runtime that allows all your GNOME applications to share a lot of libraries yet giving you a single point for security updates to those libraries. So while we don’t want a forest of runtimes it does allow us to create a few important ones to cover certain families of applications and thus reduce disk usage further and improve system security.
Going forward we are looking at a lot of exciting features for Flatpak. The most important of these is the thing I mentioned earlier, Portals.
In the current release of flatpak you can choose between two options. Either make it completely sandboxed or not make it sandboxed at all. Portals are basically the way you can sandbox your application yet still allow it to interact with your general desktop and storage. For instance Pinos and PulseAudios role for containers is to provide such portals for handling audio and video. Of course more portals are needed and during the the GTK+ hackfest in Toronto last week a lot of time was spent on mapping out the roadmap for Portals. Expect more news about Portals as they are getting developed going forward.
I want to mention that we of course realize that a new technology like Flatpak should come with a high quality developer story, which is why Christian Hergert has been spending time working on support for Flatpak in the Builder IDE. There is some support in already, but expect to see us flesh this out significantly over the next Months. We are also working on adding more documentation to the Flatpak website, to cover how to integrate more build systems and similar with Flatpak.
And last, but not least Richard Hughes has been making sure we have great Flatpak support in Software in Fedora Workstation 24 ensuring that as an end user you shouldn’t have to care about if your application is a Flatpak or a RPM.
That said the plugin is of limited use today for a variety of reasons. The first being that the plugin only supports the Baseline profile. For those not intimately familiar with what H264 profiles are they are
basically a way to define subsets of the codec. So as you might guess from the name Baseline, the Baseline profile is pretty much at the bottom of the H264 profile list and thus any file encoded with another profile of H264 will not work with it. The profile you need for most online videos is the High profile. If you encode a file using OpenH264 though it will work with any decoder that can do Baseline or higher, which is basically every one of them.
And there are some things using H264 Baseline, like WebRTC.
But we realize that to make this a truly useful addition for our users we need to improve the profile support in OpenH264 and luckily we have Wim Taymans looking at the issue and he will work with Cisco engineers to widen the range of profiles supported.
Of course just adding H264 doesn’t solve the codec issue, and we are looking at ways to bring even more codecs to Fedora Workstation. Of course there is a limit to what we can do there, but I do think we will have some announcements this year that will bring us a lot closer and long term I am confident that efforts like Alliance for Open Media will provide us a path for a future dominated by royalty free media formats.
But for now thanks to everyone involved from Cisco, Fedora Release Engineering and the Workstation Working Group for helping to make this happen.
When we set of to do the Fedora Workstation we had some clear idea about where we wanted to take it, but we also realized there was a lot of cleaning up needed in our stack to make our vision viable. The biggest change we felt was needed to enable us was the move towards using application bundles as the primary shipping method for applications as opposed to the fine grained package universe that RPMS represent. That said we also saw the many advantages the packages brought in terms of easing security updates and allowing people to fine tune their system, so we didn’t want to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. So we started investigating the various technologies out there, as we where of course not alone in thinking about these things. Unfortunately nothing clearly fit the bill of what we wanted and trying to modify for instance Docker to be a good technology for running desktop applications turned out to be nonviable. So we tasked Alex Larsson with designing and creating what today is known as xdg-app. Our requirements list looked something like this (in random order):
a) Easy bundling of needed libraries
b) A runtime system to reduce the application sizes to something more manageable and ease providing security updates.
c) A system designed to be managed by a desktop session as opposed to managed by sysadmin style tools
d) A security model that would let us gradually move towards sandboxing applications and alleviate the downsides of library bundling
e) An ability to reliably offer online updates of applications
f) Reuse as much of the technology created by others as possible to lower maintenance overhead
g) Design it in a way that makes supporting the applications cross multiple distributions possible and easy
h) Provide a top notch developer story so that this becomes a big positive for application developers and not another pain point.
As we investigated what we needed other requirements become obvious, like the need to migrate from X to Wayland in order to build a modern composited windowing system that renders using GL, instead of an aging one that has a rendering interface that is no longer used for the most part, and to be able to provide the level of system security we wanted. There was also the need to design new systems like Pinos for handling video and add new functionality to PulseAudio for dealing with sandboxed applications, creating libinput to have great input handling in Wayland and also let us share the input subsystem between X and Wayland. And of course we wanted our new packaging system tightly integrated into GNOME Software so that install, updating and running these applications became smooth and transparent to the user.
This would be a big undertaking and it turned out to be an even bigger effort than we initially thought, as there was a lot of swamp draining needed here and I am really happy that we have a team capable of pulling these things off. For instance there is not really many other people in the Linux community other than Peter Hutterer who could have created libinput, and without libinput there is no way Wayland would be a viable alternative to X (and without libinput neither would Mir which is a bit ironic for a system that was created because they couldn’t wait for Wayland :).
So going back to the title of this blog entry I feel that we are now finally exiting what I think of as Phase 1, even if we never formally designated it as such, of our development roadmap. For instance we initially hoped to have Wayland feature complete in a Fedora 22 timeframe, but it has taken us extra time to get all the smaller details right, so instead we are now having what we consider the first feature complete Wayland ready with Fedora Workstation 24. And if things go as we expect and hope that should become our default system starting from Fedora Workstation 25. The X Window session will be shipping and available for a long time yet I am sure, but not defaulting to it will mark a clear line in the sand for where the development focus is going forward.
At the same time Xdg-app has started to come together nicely over the last few Months with a lot of projects experimenting with it and bugs and issues being quickly resolved. We also taking major steps towards bringing xdg-app into the mainstream by Alex now working on making Xdg-apps OCI compliant, basically meaning that xdg-apps conform to the Open Container Initative requirements defined by Opencontainers.org. Our expectation is that the next Xdg-app development release will include the needed bits to be OCI compliant. Another nice milestone for Xdg-app was that it recently got added to Debian, meaning that Xdg-apps should be more easily runable in both Fedora its downstreams and in Debian and its downstreams.
Another major piece of engineering that is coming to a close is moving major applications such as Firefox, LibreOffice and Eclipse to GTK3. This was needed both to get these applications able to run natively on Wayland, but it also enabled us to make them work nicely for HiDPI. This has also played out into how GTK3 have positioned itself which to be a toolkit dedicated to pushing the Linux desktop forward and helping that quickly adapt and adopt to changes in the technology landscape. This is why GTK3 is that toolkit that has been leading the charge on things like HiDPI support and Wayland support. At the same time we know some of the changes in GTK3 have been painful for application developers, especially the changes in how theming works, but with the bulk of the migration to using CSS for theming now being complete we expect that even for applications that use GTK3 in ‘weird ways’ like Firefox, LibreOffice and Eclipse, things should be stable.
Another piece of the puzzle we have wanted to improve is the general Linux hardware story. So since Red Hat joined Khronos last year the Red Hat Graphics team, with Dave Airlie and Adam Jackson leading the charge, has been able to participate in preparing the launch of Vulkan through doing review and we even managed to sneak in a bit of code contribution by Adam Jackson ensuring that there was a vendor neutral Vulkan loader available so that we didn’t end up in a situation where every vendor had to provide their own.
We have also been contributing to the vendor neutral OpenGL dispatcher. The dispatcher is basically a layer that routes an applications OpenGL rendering to the correct implementation, so if you have a system with a discrete GPU system you can for instance control which of your two GPUs handle a certain application or game. Adam Jackson has also been collaborating closely with NVidia on getting such a dispatch system complete for OpenGL, so that the age old problem of the Mesa OpenGL library and the proprietary NVidia OpenGL library conflicting can finally be resolved. So NVidia has of course handled the part in their driver and they where also the ones designing this, but Adam has been working on getting the Mesa parts completed. We think that this will make the GPU story on Linux a lot nicer going forward. There are still a few missing pieces before we have the discrete graphics card scenario handled in a smooth way, but we are getting there quickly.
The other thing we have been working on in terms of hardware support, which is still ongoing is improving the Red Hat certification process to cover more desktop hardware. You might ask what that has to do with Fedora Workstation, but it actually is a quite efficient way of improving the quality of Linux support for desktop hardware in general as most of the major vendors submit some of their laptops and desktops to Red Hat for certification. So the more issues the Red Hat certification process can detect the better Linux support on such hardware can become.
Another major effort where we have managed to cover a lot of our goals and targets is GNOME Software. Since the inception of Fedora Workstation we taken that tool and added functionality like UEFI firmware updates, codecs and font handling, GNOME Extensions handling, System upgrades, Xdg-app handling, users reviews, improved application metadata, improved handling of 3rd party repositories and improved general performance with the move from yum to hawkeye. And I think that the Software store has become a crucial part of what you expect of a desktop these days, with things like the Google Play store, the Apple Store and the Microsoft store to some degree defining their respective products more than the heuristics of the shell of Android, iPhone, MacOS or Windows. And I take it as an clear recognition of the great work Richard Hughes had done with GNOME Software that this week there is a special GNOME Software hackfest in London with participants from Fedora/Red Hat, Ubuntu/Canonical, Codethink and Endless.
So I am very happy with where we are at, and I want to say thank you to all long term Fedora users who been with us through the years and also say thank you and welcome to all the new Fedora Workstation users who has seen all the cool stuff we been doing and decided to join us over the last two years; seeing the strong growth in our userbase during this time has been a great source of joy for us and been a verification that we are on the right track.
I am also very happy about how the culmination of these efforts will be on display with the upcoming Fedora Workstation 24 release! Of course it also means it is time for the Fedora Workstation Working group to start planning what Phase 2 of reaching the Fedora Workstation vision should be
One of the things that makes me really happy in terms of the public reception to the Fedora Workstation is all the people calling out how stable and solid it is, as this was and is one of our big goals from the start of the Fedora Workstation effort.
From the start we wanted to bury the old idea of Fedora being only for people who didn’t mind risking a lot of instability in return for being on the so called bleeding edge. We also wanted to bury the related idea that by using Fedora you where basically alpha testing highly unstable and unfinished software for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Yet at the same time we did want to preserve and build upon the idea that Fedora is a great operating system if you want to experience a lot of the latest and greatest new developments as they are happening. At first glance those two goals might seem a bit contradictory, but we decided that we should be able to do both by both adjusting our policies a bit and also by relying more on the Fedora retrace server as our bug fixing prioritization tool.
So in terms of policies the division of Fedora into a distinct server and workstation images and also the clearer separation of the spins, allowed us to start making decisions without worrying so much how they affected other usecases than our own. Because sometimes what from a user perspective seems like a bug or something being broken was non-workstation policy decisions getting in the way of the desktop behaving as expected, for instance firewall rules hindering basic desktop functions.
Secondly we incorporated a more careful approach into what and when we brought in new stuff, meaning we still try to keep on top of major upstream developments and be a leading edge system, but at the same time we do a little mental exercise for each decision to make sure its a decision that makes us ‘leading edge’ and not ‘bleeding edge’. And if we really want something in, but it isn’t 100% ready for prime time yet we do what we have done with Wayland or the GTK3 port of LibreOffice, we make it available as an option for early adopters, but we default to the safer choice while we work out the last wrinkles. (Btw, if you are interested in progress on Wayland, Kevin Martin, sent out an emailing with a link to a good Wayland development status just before the Holidays.
The final piece of the puzzle is regularly checking and identifying important bugs from the Fedora retrace server. Because like almost all developers we get way more bug reports than we realistically can ever address, so having the data from the retrace server allows us to easily identify the crashes that affect the most users, and just as importantly lets us filter out the bug reports that are likely caused by users installing weird stuff on their system. When we started using retrace various desktop modules tended to dominate the top 3 pages when sorting bugs based on count, but due to a continuous effort over the last few years desktop modules appearing in the top crashers list are few and far between and when they do appear we make sure to get fixes done quickly for them. So if you ever wonder if the data collected by these kind of systems are actually helping developers working on the software you use better, I can say that it is true for Fedora for sure.
That said I thought it could be interesting to explain a bit the challenges we have with tracking our progress in this area. So lets start by looking at a graph I pulled from the retrace server.
Looking at that graph one could say that it is clear that we have made great strides in improving system stability and I do believe that is the case, however the graphs doesn’t truly prove that inconclusively, they are just an indication. The reason they are not hard evidence is that there are a lot of things you need to take into consideration when reading them. First of all they are not adjusted based on total user population, which means that if you win or lose a lot of users between releases it can create an appearance of increased instability or decreased instability which is actually due to increase or decrease in user population, not in ‘how well does the system run on an individual users system’. So from what we see through other metrics our user population has been increasing since we launched the Fedora Workstation which means we shouldn’t be getting any ‘help’ in these graphs from a declining user population.
A second reason is that there are a lot of false positives being reported here, for instance we had an issue for a long while that the Intel graphics drivers generating a ton of this crash reports without it actually being crashes as such. So while they did represent bugs that should ideally be fixed they where not issues you might actually have noticed as a user of the system. So we spent some effort between Fedora Workstation 21 and Fedora Workstation 22 to reduce the amount of noise caused by this, which was an useful effort for us in terms of reducing noise in our retrace server, but from a user perspective it didn’t really make a tangible difference. And even with our efforts there are a still a lot of kernel issues showing up here which are not impacting users in a way that they are likely to perceive as the system being unstable.
A third item that might in a given release skewer the statistics is that we currently don’t differentiate between Fedora Workstation and spins in the statistics, which means that there might be issues caused by one of the spins generating a lot of bug reports against a module, but that might be a bug or an API usage issue that is not triggered by the Workstation edition and thus those items appearing or disappearing might affect the statistics, but as a user of the Fedora Workstation you would never experience it.
So keeping this is mind the retrace server is an important tool for us and one that at least gives us a decent indication of how we are doing with quality. But we can always do better so we will keep reviewing the reports we get through the ABRT and retrace systems and I also do strong recommend any application or library maintainers out there to look into what major issues are reported against their own modules.
Fedora, Red Hat, GStreamer and more
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