Entries from May 2020 ↓

Into the world of Robo vacums and Robo mops

So this is a blog post not related to Fedora or Red Hat, but rather my personal experience with getting a robo vacuum and robo mop into the house.

So about two Months ago my wife and I decided to get a Robo vacuum while shopping at Costco (a US wholesaler outfit). So we brought home the iRobot Roomba 980. Over the next week we ended up also getting the newer iRobot Roomba i7+ and the iRobot Braava m6 mopping robot. Our dream was that we would never have to vacuum or mop again, instead leaving that to our new robots to handle. With two little kids being able to cut that work from our todo list seemed like a dream come through.

I feel that whenever you get into a new technology it takes some time with your first product in that category to understand what questions to ask and what considerations to make. For instance I feel a lot of more informed and confident in my knowledge about electric cars having owned a Nissan Leaf for a few years now (enough to wish I had a Tesla instead for instance :). I guess our experience with robot vacuums here is similar.

Anyway, if you are considering buying a Robot vacuum or mop I think the first lesson we learned is that it is definitely not a magic solution. You have to prepare your house quite a bit before each run, including obvious things like tidying up anything on the floor like the kids legos etc., to discovering that certain furniture, like the IKEA Poang chairs are mortal enemies with your robo vacuum. We had to put our chair on top of the sofa as the Roomba would get stuck on it every time we tried to vacuum the floor. Also the door mat in front of our entrance door kept having its corners sucked into the vacuum getting it stuck. Anyway, our lesson learned is that vacuuming (or mopping) is not something we can do on an impulse or easily on a schedule, as it takes quite a bit of preparation. If you don’t have small kid leaving random stuff all over the house all the time you might be able to just set the vacuum on a schedule, but for us that has turned out to be a big no :). So in practice we only vacuum at night now when my wife and I have had time to prep the house after the kids have gone to bed.

It is worth nothing that we only got one vacuum now. We got the i7+ after we got the 980 due to realizing that the 980 didn’t have features like the smart map allowing you to for instance vacuum specific rooms. It also had other niceties like self emptying and it was supposed to be more quiet (which is nice when you run it at night). However in our experience it also had a less strong vacuum, so we felt it left more crap on the floor then the older 980 model. So in the end we returned the i7+ in favour of the 980, just because we felt it did a better job at vacuuming. It is quite loud though, so we can hear it very loud and clear up on the second floor while trying to fall asleep. So if you need a quiet house to sleep, this setup is not for you.

Another lesson we learned is that the vacuums or mops do not work great in darkness, so we now have to leave the light on downstairs at night when we want to vacuum or mop the floor. We should be able to automate that using Google Home, so Google Home could turn on the lights, start the vacuum and then once done, turn off the lights again. We haven’t actually gotten around to test that yet though.

As for the mop, I would say that it is not a replacement for mopping yourself, but it can reduce the frequency of you mopping yourself and thus help maintain a nice clear floor for longer after you done a full manual mop yourself. Also the m6 is super sensitive to edges, which I assume is to avoid it trying to mop your rugs and mats, but it also means that it can not traverse even small thresholds. So for us who have small thresholds between our kitchen area and the rest of the house we have to carry the mop over the thresholds and mop the rest of the first floor as a separate action, which is a bit of an annoyance now that we are running these things at night. That said the kitchen is the one room which needs moping more regularly, so in some sense the current setup where the roomba vacuums the whole first floor and the braava mop mops just the kitchen is a workable solution for us. One nice feature here is that they can be set up to run in order, so the mop will only start once the vacuum is done (that feature is the main reason we haven’t tested out other brand mops which might handle the threshold situation better).

So to conclude, would I recommend robot vacuums and robot mops to other parents with you kids? I would say yes, it has definitely helped us keep the house cleaner and nicer and let us spend less time cleaning the house. But it is not a miracle cure in any way or form, it still takes time and effort to prepare and set up the house and sometimes you still need to do especially the mopping yourself to get things really clean. As for the question of iRobot versus other brands I have no input as I haven’t really tested any other brands. iRobot is a local company so their vacuums are available in a lot of stores around me and I drive by their HQ on a regular basis, so that is the more or less random reason I ended up with their products as opposed to competing ones.

GNOME is not the default for Fedora Workstation

We recently had a Fedora AMA where one of the questions asked is why GNOME is the default desktop for Fedora Workstation. In the AMA we answered why GNOME had been chosen for Fedora Workstation, but we didn’t challenge the underlying assumption built into the way the question was asked, and the answer to that assumption is that it isn’t the default. What I mean with this is that Fedora Workstation isn’t a box of parts, where you have default options that can be replaced, its a carefully procured and assembled operating system aimed at developers, sysadmins and makers in general. If you replace one or more parts of it, then it stops being Fedora Workstation and starts being ‘build your own operating system OS’. There is nothing wrong with wanting to or finding it interesting to build your own operating systems, I think a lot of us initially got into Linux due to enjoying doing that. And the Fedora project provides a lot of great infrastructure for people who want to themselves or through teaming up with others build their own operating systems, which is why Fedora has so many spins and variants available.
The Fedora Workstation project is something we made using those tools and it has been tested and developed as an integrated whole, not as a collection of interchangeable components. The Fedora Workstation project might of course over time replace certain parts with other parts over time, like how we are migrating from X.org to Wayland. But at some point we are going to drop standalone X.org support and only support X applications through XWayland. But that is not the same as if each of our users individually did the same. And while it might be technically possible for a skilled users to still get things moved back onto X for some time after we make the formal deprecation, the fact is that you would no longer be using ‘Fedora Workstation’. You be using a homebrew OS that contains parts taken from Fedora Workstation.

So why am I making this distinction? To be crystal clear, it is not to hate on you for wanting to assemble your own OS, in fact we love having anyone with that passion as part of the Fedora community. I would of course love for you to share our vision and join the Fedora Workstation effort, but the same is true for all the other spins and variant communities we have within the Fedora community too. No the reason is that we have a very specific goal of creating a stable and well working experience for our users with Fedora Workstation and one of the ways we achieve this is by having a tightly integrated operating system that we test and develop as a whole. Because that is the operating system we as the Fedora Workstation project want to make. We believe that doing anything else creates an impossible QA matrix, because if you tell people that ‘hey, any part of this OS is replaceable and should still work’ you have essentially created a testing matrix for yourself of infinite size. And while as software engineers I am sure many of us find experiments like ‘wonder if I can get Fedora Workstation running on a BSD kernel’ or ‘I wonder if I can make it work if I replace glibc with Bionic‘ fun and interesting, I am equally sure we all also realize what once we do that we are in self support territory and that Fedora Workstation or any other OS you use as your starting point can’t not be blamed if your system stops working very well. And replacing such a core thing as the desktop is no different to those other examples.

Having been in the game of trying to provide a high quality desktop experience both commercially in the form of RHEL Workstation and through our community efforts around Fedora Workstation I have seen and experienced first hand the problems that the mindset of interchangeable desktop creates. For instance before we switched to the Fedora Workstation branding and it was all just ‘Fedora’ I experienced reviewers complaining about missing features, features had actually spent serious effort implementing, because the reviewer decided to review a different spin of Fedora than the GNOME one. Other cases I remember are of customers trying to fix a problem by switching desktops, only to discover that while the initial issue they wanted fix got resolved by the switch they now got a new batch of issues that was equally problematic for them. And we where left trying to figure out if we should try to fix the original problem, the new ones or maybe the problems reported by users of a third desktop option. We also have had cases of users who just like the reviewer mentioned earlier, assumed something was broken or missing because they where using a different desktop than the one where the feature was added. And at the same time trying to add every feature everywhere would dilute our limited development resources so much that it made us move slow and not have the resources to focus on getting ready for major changes in the hardware landscape for instance.
So for RHEL we now only offer GNOME as the desktop and the same is true in Fedora Workstation, and that is not because we don’t understand that people enjoy experimenting with other desktops, but because it allows us to work with our customers and users and hardware partners on fixing the issues they have with our operating system, because it is a clearly defined entity, and adding the features they need going forward and properly support the hardware they are using, as opposed to spreading ourselves to thin that we just run around putting on band-aids for the problems reported.
And in the longer run I actually believe this approach benefits those of you who want to build your own OS to, or use an OS built by another team around a different set of technologies, because while the improvements might come in a bit later for you, the work we now have the ability to undertake due to having a clear focus, like our work on adding HiDPI support, getting Wayland ready for desktop use or enabling Thunderbolt support in Linux, makes it a lot easier for these other projects to eventually add support for these things too.

Update: Adam Jacksons oft quoted response to the old ‘linux is about choice meme’ is also a required reading for anyone wanting a high quality operating system