Entries Tagged 'Fedora' ↓

Why hasn’t The Year of the Linux Desktop happened yet?

Having spent 20 years of my life on Desktop Linux I thought I should write up my thinking about why we so far hasn’t had the Linux on the Desktop breakthrough and maybe more importantly talk about the avenues I see for that breakthrough still happening. There has been a lot written of this over the years, with different people coming up with their explanations. My thesis is that there really isn’t one reason, but rather a range of issues that all have contributed to holding the Linux Desktop back from reaching a bigger market. Also to put this into context, success here in my mind would be having something like 10% market share of desktop systems, that to me means we reached critical mass. So let me start by listing some of the main reasons I see for why we are not at that 10% mark today before going onto talking about how I think that goal might possible to reach going forward.

Things that have held us back

  • Fragmented market
  • One of the most common explanations for why the Linux Desktop never caught on more is the fragmented state of the Linux Desktop space. We got a large host of desktop projects like GNOME, KDE, Enlightenment, Cinnamon etc. and a even larger host of distributions shipping these desktops. I used to think this state should get a lot of the blame, and I still believe it owns some of the blame, but I have also come to conclude in recent years that it is probably more of a symptom than a cause. If someone had come up with a model strong enough to let Desktop Linux break out of its current technical user niche then I am now convinced that model would easily have also been strong enough to leave the Linux desktop fragmentation behind for all practical purposes. Because at that point the alternative desktops for Linux would be as important as the alternative MS Windows shells are. So in summary, the fragmentation hasn’t helped for sure and is still not helpful, but it is probably a problem that has been overstated.

  • Lack of special applications
  • Another common item that has been pointed to is the lack of applications. We know that for sure in the early days of Desktop Linux the challenge you always had when trying to convince anyone of moving to Desktop Linux was that they almost invariably had one or more application they relied on that was only available on Windows. I remember in one of my first jobs after University when I worked as a sysadmin we had a long list of these applications that various parts of the organization relied on, be that special tools to interface with a supplier, with the bank, dealing with nutritional values of food in the company cafeteria etc. This is a problem that has been in rapid decline for the last 5-10 years due to the move to web applications, but I am sure that in a given major organization you can still probably find a few of them. But between the move to the web and Wine I don’t think this is a major issue anymore. So in summary this was a major roadblock in the early years, but is a lot less of an impediment these days.

  • Lack of big name applications
  • Adopting a new platform is always easier if you can take the applications you are familiar with you. So the lack of things like MS Office and Adobe Photoshop would always contribute to making a switch less likely. Just because in addition to switching OS you would also have to learn to use new tools. And of course along those lines there where always the challenge of file format compatibility, in the early days in a hard sense that you simply couldn’t reliably load documents coming from some of these applications, to more recently softer problems like lack of metrically identical fonts. The font for example issue has been mostly resolved due to Google releasing fonts metrically compatible with MS default fonts a few years ago, but it was definitely a hindrance for adoption for many years. The move to web for a lot of these things has greatly reduced this problem too, with organizations adopting things like Google Docs at rapid pace these days. So in summary, once again something that used to be a big problem, but which is at least a lot less of a problem these days, but of course there are still apps not available for Linux that does stop people from adopting desktop linux.

  • Lack of API and ABI stability
  • This is another item that many people have brought up over the years. I think I have personally vacillated over the importance of this one multiple times over the years. Changing APIs are definitely not a fun thing for developers to deal with, it adds extra work often without bringing direct benefit to their application. Linux packaging philosophy probably magnified this problem for developers with anything that could be split out and packaged separately was, meaning that every application was always living on top of a lot of moving parts. That said the reason I am sceptical to putting to much blame onto this is that you could always find stable subsets to rely on. So for instance if you targeted GTK2 or Qt back in the day and kept away from some of the more fast moving stuff offered by GNOME and KDE you would not be hit with this that often. And of course if the Linux Desktop market share had been higher then people would have been prepared to deal with these challenges regardless, just like they are on other platforms that keep changing and evolving quickly like the mobile operating systems.

  • Apple resurgence
  • This might of course be the result of subjective memory, but one of the times where it felt like there could have been a Linux desktop breakthrough was at the same time as Linux on the server started making serious inroads. The old Unix workstation market was coming apart and moving to Linux already, the worry of a Microsoft monopoly was at its peak and Apple was in what seemed like mortal decline. There was a lot of media buzz around the Linux desktop and VC funded companies was set up to try to build a business around it. Reaching some kind of critical mass seemed like it could be within striking distance. Of course what happened here was that Steve Jobs returned to Apple and we suddenly had MacOSX come onto the scene taking at least some air out of the Linux Desktop space. The importance of this one I do find exceptionally hard to quantify though, part of me feels it had a lot of impact, but on the other hand it isn’t 100% clear to me that the market and the players at the time would have been able to capitalize even if Apple had gone belly-up.

  • Microsoft aggressive response
  • In the first 10 years of Desktop linux there was no doubt that Microsoft was working hard to try to nip any sign of Desktop Linux gaining any kind of foothold or momentum. I do remember for instance that Novell for quite some time was trying to establish a serious Desktop Linux business after having bought Miguel de Icaza’s company Helix Code. However it seemed like a pattern quickly emerged that every time Novell or anyone else tried to announce a major Linux desktop deal, Microsoft came running in offering next to free Windows licensing to get people to stay put. Looking at Linux migrations even seemed like it became a goto policy for negotiating better prices from Microsoft. So anyone wanting to attack the desktop market with Linux would have to contend with not only market inertia, but a general depression of the price of a desktop operating systems, and knowing that Microsoft would respond to any attempt to build momentum around Linux desktop deals with very aggressive sales efforts. So in summary, this probably played an important part as it meant that the pay per copy/subscription business model that for instance Red Hat built their server business around became really though to make work in the desktop space. Because the price point ended up so low it required gigantic volumes to become profitable, which of course is a hard thing to quickly achieve when fighting against an entrenched market leader. So in summary Microsoft in some sense successfully fended of Linux breaking through as a competitor although it could be said they did so at the cost of fatally wounding the per copy fee business model they built their company around and ensured that the next wave of competitors Microsoft had to deal with like iOS and Android based themselves on business models where the cost of the OS was assumed to be zero, thus contributing to the Windows Phone efforts being doomed.

  • Piracy
  • One of the big aspirations of the Linux community from the early days was the idea that a open source operating system would enable more people to be able to afford running a computer and thus take part in the economic opportunities that the digital era would provide. For the desktop space there was always this idea that while Microsoft was entrenched in North America and Europe there was this ocean of people in the rest of the world that had never used a computer before and thus would be more open to adopting a desktop linux system. I think this so far panned out only in a limited degree, where running a Linux distribution has surely opened job and financial opportunities for a lot of people, yet when you look at things from a volume perspective most of these potential Linux users found that a pirated Windows copy suited their needs just as much or more. As an anecdote here, there was recently a bit of noise and writing around the sudden influx of people on Steam playing Player Unknown: Battlegrounds, as it caused the relatively Linux marketshare to decline. So most of these people turned out to be running Windows in Mandarin language. Studies have found that about 70% of all software in China is unlicensed so I don’t think I am going to far out on a limb here assuming that most of these gamers are not providing Microsoft with Windows licensing revenue, but it does illustrate the challenge of getting these people onto Linux as they already are getting an operating system for free. So in summary, in addition to facing cut throat pricing from Microsoft in the business sector one had to overcome the basically free price of pirated software in the consumer sector.

  • Red Hat mostly stayed away
  • So few people probably don’t remember or know this, but Red Hat was actually founded as a desktop Linux company. The first major investment in software development that Red Hat ever did was setting up the Red Hat Advanced Development Labs, hiring a bunch of core GNOME developers to move that effort forward. But when Red Hat pivoted to the server with the introduction of Red Hat Enterprise Linux the desktop quickly started playing second fiddle. And before I proceed, all these events where many years before I joined the company, so just as with my other points here, read this as an analysis of someone without first hand knowledge. So while Red Hat has always offered a desktop product and have always been a major contributor to keeping the Linux desktop ecosystem viable, Red Hat was focused on the server side solutions and the desktop offering was always aimed more narrowly things like technical workstation customers and people developing towards the RHEL server. It is hard to say how big an impact Red Hats decision to not go after this market has had, on one side it would probably have been beneficial to have the Linux company with the deepest pockets and the strongest brand be a more active participant, but on the other hand staying mostly out of the fight gave other companies a bigger room to give it a go.

  • Canonical business model not working out
  • This bullet point is probably going to be somewhat controversial considering I work for Red Hat (although this is my private blog my with own personal opinions), but on the other hand I feel one can not talk about the trajectory of the Linux Desktop over the last decade without mentioning Canonical and Ubuntu. So I have to assume that when Mark Shuttleworth was mulling over doing Ubuntu he probably saw a lot of the challenges that I mention above, especially the revenue generation challenges that the competition from Microsoft provided. So in the end he decided on the standard internet business model of the time, which was to try to quickly build up a huge userbase and then dealing with how to monetize it later on. So Ubuntu was launched with an effective price point of zero, in fact you could even get install media sent to you for free. The effort worked in the sense that Ubuntu quickly became the biggest player in the Linux desktop space and it certainly helped the Linux desktop marketshare grow in the early years. Unfortunately I think it still basically failed, and the reason I am saying that is that it didn’t manage to grow big enough to provide Ubuntu with enough revenue through their appstore or their partner agreements to allow them to seriously re-invest in the Linux Desktop and invest in the kind of marketing effort needed to take Linux to a less super technical audience. So once it plateaued what they had was enough revenue to keep what is a relatively barebones engineering effort going, but not the kind of income that would allow them to steadily build the Linux Desktop market further. Mark then tried to capitalize on the mindshare and market share he had managed to build, by branching out into efforts like their TV and Phone efforts, but all those efforts eventually failed.
    It would probably be an article in itself to deeply discuss why the grow userbase strategy failed here vs why for instance Android succeeded with this model, but I think the short version goes back to the fact that you had an entrenched market leader and the Linux Desktop isn’t different enough from a Mac or Windows desktops to drive the type of market change the transition from feature phones to smartphones was.
    And to be clear I am not criticizing Mark here for the strategy he choose, if I where in his shoes back when he started Ubuntu I am not sure I would have been able to come up a different strategy that would have been plausible to succeed from his starting point. That said it did contribute to even further push the expected price of desktop Linux down and thus making it even harder for people to generate significant revenue from desktop linux. On the other hand one can argue that this would likely have happened anyway due to competitive pressure and Windows piracy. Canonicals recent focus pivot away from the desktop towards trying to build a business in the server and IoT space is in some sense a natural consequence of hitting the desktop growth plateau and not having enough revenue to invest in further growth.
    So in summary, what was once seen as the most likely contender to take the Linux Desktop to critical mass turned out to have taken off with to little rocket fuel and eventually gravity caught up with them. And what we can never know for sure is if they during this run sucked so much air out of the market that it kept someone who could have taken us further with a different business model from jumping in.

  • Original device manufacturer support
  • THis one is a bit of a chicken and egg issue. Yes, lack of (perfect) hardware support has for sure kept Linux back on the Desktop, but lack of marketshare has also kept hardware support back. As with any system this is a question of reaching critical mass despite your challenges and thus eventually being so big that nobody can afford ignoring you. This is an area where we even today are still not fully there yet, but which I do feel we are getting closer all the time. When I installed Linux for the very first time, which I think was Red Hat Linux 3.1 (pre RHEL days) I spent about a weekend fiddling just to get my sound card working. I think I had to grab a experimental driver from somewhere and compile it myself. These days I mostly expect everything to work out of the box except more unique hardware like ambient light sensors or fingerprint readers, but even such devices are starting to land, and thanks to efforts from vendors such as Dell things are looking pretty good here. But the memory of these issues is long so a lot of people, especially those not using Linux themselves, but have heard about Linux, still assume hardware support is a very much hit or miss issue still.

What does the future hold?

So any who has read my blog posts probably know I am an optimist by nature. This isn’t just some kind of genetic disposition towards optimism, but also a philosophical belief that optimism breeds opportunity while pessimism breeds failure. So just because we haven’t gotten the Linux Desktop to 10% marketshare so far doesn’t mean it will not happen going forward. It just means we haven’t achieved it so far. One of the key identifies of open source is that it is incredibly hard to kill, because unlike proprietary software, just because a company goes out of business or decides to shut down a part of its business, the software doesn’t go away or stop getting developed. As long as there is a strong community interested in pushing it forward it remains and evolves and thus when opportunity comes knocking again it is ready to try again. And that is definitely true of Desktop Linux which from a technical perspective is better than it has ever been, the level of polish is higher than ever before, the level of hardware support is better than ever before and the range of software available is better than ever before.

And the important thing to remember here is that we don’t exist in a vacuum, the world around us constantly change too, which means that the things that blocked us in the past or the companies that blocked us in the past might no be around or able to block us tomorrow. Apple and Microsoft are very different companies today than they where 10 or 20 years ago and their focus and who they compete with are very different. The dynamics of the desktop software market is changing with new technologies and paradigms all the time. Like how online media consumption has moved from things like your laptop to phones and tablets for instance. 5 years ago I would have considered iTunes a big competitive problem, today the move to streaming services like Spotify, Hulu, Amazon or Netflix has made iTunes feel archaic and a symbol of bygone times.

And many of the problems we faced before, like weird Windows applications without a Linux counterpart has been washed away by the switch to browser based applications. And while Valve’s SteamOS effort didn’t taken off, it has provided Linux users with access to a huge catalog of games, removing a reason that I know caused a few of my friends to mostly abandon using Linux on their computers. And you can actually as a consumer buy linux from a range of vendors now, who try to properly support Linux on their hardware. And this includes a major player like Dell and smaller outfits like System76 and Purism.

And since I do work for Red Hat managing our Desktop Engineering team I should address the question of if Red Hat will be a major driver in taking Desktop linux to that 10%? Well Red Hat will continue to support end evolve our current RHEL Workstation product, and we are seeing a steady growth of new customers for it. So if you are looking for a solid developer workstation for your company you should absolutely talk to Red Hat sales about RHEL Workstation, but Red Hat is not looking at aggressively targeting general consumer computers anytime soon. Caveat here, I am not a C-level executive at Red Hat, so I guess there is always a chance Jim Whitehurst or someone else in the top brass is mulling over a gigantic new desktop effort and I simply don’t know about it, but I don’t think it is likely and thus would not advice anyone to hold their breath waiting for such a thing to be announced :). That said Red Hat like any company out there do react to market opportunities as they arise, so who knows what will happen down the road. And we will definitely keep pushing Fedora Workstation forward as the place to experience the leading edge of the Desktop Linux experience and a great portal into the world of Linux on servers and in the cloud.

So to summarize; there are a lot of things happening in the market that could provide the right set of people the opportunity they need to finally take Linux to critical mass. Whether there is anyone who has the timing and skills to pull it off is of course always an open question and it is a question which will only be answered the day someone does it. The only thing I am sure of is that Linux community are providing a stronger technical foundation for someone to succeed with than ever before, so the question is just if someone can come up with the business model and the market skills to take it to the next level. There is also the chance that it will come in a shape we don’t appreciate today, for instance maybe ChromeOS evolves into a more full fledged operating system as it grows in popularity and thus ends up being the Linux on the Desktop end game? Or maybe Valve decides to relaunch their SteamOS effort and it provides the foundation for a major general desktop growth? Or maybe market opportunities arise that will cause us at Red Hat to decide to go after the desktop market in a wider sense than we do today? Or maybe Endless succeeds with their vision for a Linux desktop operating system? Or maybe the idea of a desktop operating system gets supplanted to the degree that we in the end just sit there saying ‘Alexa, please open the IDE and take dictation of this new graphics driver I am writing’ (ok, probably not that last one ;)

And to be fair there are a lot of people saying that Linux already made it on the desktop in the form of things like Android tablets. Which is technically correct as Android does run on the Linux kernel, but I think for many of us it feels a bit more like a distant cousin as opposed to a close family member both in terms of use cases it targets and in terms of technological pedigree.

As a sidenote, I am heading of on Yuletide vacation tomorrow evening, taking my wife and kids to Norway to spend time with our family there. So don’t expect a lot new blog posts from me until I am back from DevConf in early February. I hope to see many of you at DevConf though, it is a great conference and Brno is a great town even in freezing winter. As we say in Norway, there is no such thing as bad weather, it is only bad clothing.

Some predictions for 2018

So I spent a few hours polishing my crystal ball today, so here are some predictions for Linux on the Desktop in 2018. The advantage of course for me to publish these now is that I can then later selectively quote the ones I got right to prove my brilliance and the internet can selectively quote the ones I got wrong to prove my stupidity :)

Prediction 1: Meson becomes the defacto build system of the Linux community

Meson has been going from strength to strength this year and a lot of projects
which passed on earlier attempts to replace autotools has adopted it. I predict this
trend will continue in 2018 and that by the end of the year everyone agrees that Meson
has replaced autotools as the Linux community build system of choice. That said I am not
convinced the Linux kernel itself will adopt Meson in 2018.

Prediction 2: Rust puts itself on a clear trajectory to replace C and C++ for low level programming

Another rising start of 2017 is the programming language Rust. And while its pace of adoption
will be slower than Meson I do believe that by the time 2018 comes to a close the general opinion is
that Rust is the future of low level programming, replacing old favorites like C and C++. Major projects
like GNOME and GStreamer are already adopting Rust at a rapid pace and I believe even more projects will
join them in 2018.

Prediction 3: Apples decline as a PC vendor becomes obvious

Ever since Steve Jobs died it has become quite clear in my opinion that the emphasis
on the traditional desktop is fading from Apple. The pace of hardware refreshes seems
to be slowing and MacOS X seems to be going more and more stale. Some pundits have already
started pointing this out and I predict that in 2018 Apple will be no longer consider the
cool kid on the block for people looking for laptops, especially among the tech savvy crowd.
Hopefully a good opportunity for Linux on the desktop to assert itself more.

Prediction 4: Traditional distro packaging for desktop applications
will start fading away in favour of Flatpak

From where I am standing I think 2018 will be the breakout year for Flatpak as a replacement
for gettings your desktop applications as RPMS or debs. I predict that by the end of 2018 more or
less every Linux Desktop user will be at least running 1 flatpak on their system.

Prediction 5: Linux Graphics competitive across the board

I think 2018 will be a breakout year for Linux graphics support. I think our GPU drivers and API will be competitive with any other platform both in completeness and performance. So by the end of 2018 I predict that you will see Linux game ports by major porting houses
like Aspyr and Feral that perform just as well as their Windows counterparts. What is more I also predict that by the end of 2018 discreet graphics will be considered a solved problem on Linux.

Prediction 6: H265 will be considered a failure

I predict that by the end of 2018 H265 will be considered a failed codec effort and the era of royalty bearing media codecs will effectively start coming to and end. H264 will be considered the last successful royalty bearing codec and all new codecs coming out will
all be open source and royalty free.

Looking back at Fedora Workstation so far

So I have over the last few years blogged regularly about upcoming features in Fedora Workstation. Well I thought as we putting the finishing touches on Fedora Workstation 27 I should try to look back at everything we have achieved since Fedora Workstation was launched with Fedora 21. The efforts I highlight here are efforts where we have done significant or most development. There are of course a lot of other big changes that has happened over the last few years by the wider community that we leveraged and offer in Fedora Workstation, examples here include things like Meson and Rust. This post is not about those, but that said I do want to write a post just talking about the achievements of the wider community at some point, because they are very important and crucial too. And along the same line this post will not be speaking about the large number of improvements and bugfixes that we contributed to a long list of projects, like to GNOME itself. This blog is about taking stock and taking some pride in what we achieved so far and major hurdles we past on our way to improving the Linux desktop experience.
This blog is also slightly different from my normal format as I will not call out individual developers by name as I usually do, instead I will focus on this being a totality and thus just say ‘we’.

  • Wayland – We been the biggest contributor since we joined the effort and have taken the lead on putting in place all the pieces needed for actually using it on a desktop, including starting to ship it as our primary offering in Fedora Workstation 25. This includes putting a lot of effort into ensuring that XWayland works smoothly to ensure full legacy application support.
  • Libinput – A new library we created for handling all input under both X and Wayland. This came about due to needing input handling that was not tied to X due to Wayland, but it has even improved input handling for X itself. Libinput is being rapidly developed and improved, with 1.9 coming out just a few days ago.
  • glvnd – Dealing with multiple OpenGL implementations have been a pain under Linux for years. We worked with NVidia on this effort to ensure that you can install multiple OpenGL implementations on the system and have your system be able to use the correct one depending on which GPU and driver you are using. We keep expanding on this solution to cover more usecases, so for Fedora Workstation 27 we expect to bring glvnd support to XWayland for instance.
  • Porting Firefox to GTK3 – We ported Firefox to GTK3, including making sure it works under Wayland. This work also provided the foundation for HiDPI support in Firefox. We are the single biggest contributor to Firefox Linux support.
  • Porting LibreOffice to GTK3 – We ported LibreOffice to GTK3, which included Wayland support, touch support and HiDPI support. Our team is one of the major contributors to LibreOffice and help the project forward on a lot of fronts.
  • Google Drive integration – We extended the general Google integration in GNOME 3 to include support for Google Drive as we found that a lot of our users where relying on Google Apps at their work.
  • Flatpak – We created Flatpak to lead the way in moving desktop applications into their own namespaces and containers, resolving a lot of long term challenges for desktop applications on Linux. We expect to have new infrastructure in place in Fedora soon to allow Fedora packagers to quickly and easily turn their applications into Flatpaks.
  • Linux Firmware Service – We created the Linux Firmware service to provide a way for Linux users to get easy access to UEFI firmware on their linux system and worked with great vendors such as Dell and Logitech to get them to support it for their devices. Many bugs experienced by Linux users over the years could have been resolved by firmware updates, but with tooling being spotty many Linux users where not even aware that there was fixes available.
  • GNOME Software – We created GNOME Software to give us a proper Software Store on Fedora and extended it over time to include features such as fonts, GStreamer plugins, GNOME Shell extensions and UEFI firmware updates. Today it is the main Store type application used not just by us, but our work has been adopted by other major distributions too.
  • mp3, ac3 and aac support – We have spent a lot of time to be able to bring support for some of the major audio codecs to Fedora like MP3, AC3 and AAC. In the age of streaming supporting codecs is maybe of less importance than it used to be, but there is still a lot of media on peoples computers they need and want access to.
  • Fedora Media Creator – Cross platform media creator making it very easy to create Fedora Workstation install media regardless of if you are on Windows, Mac or Linux. As we move away from optical media offering ISO downloads started feeling more and more outdated, with the media creator we have given a uniform user experience to quickly create your USB install media, especially important for new users coming in from Windows and Mac environments.
  • Captive portal – We added support for captive portals in Network Manager and GNOME 3, ensuring easy access to the internet over public wifi networks. This feature has been with us for a few years now, but it is still a much appreciated addition.
  • HiDPI support – We worked to add support for HiDPI across X, Wayland, GTK3 and GNOME3. We lead the way on HiDPI support under Linux and keep working on various applications to this date to polish up the support.
  • Touch support – We worked to add support for touchscreens across X, Wayland, GTK3 and GNOME3. We spent significant resources enabling this, both on laptop touchscreens, but also to support modern wacom devices.
  • QGNOME Platform – We created the QGNOME Platform to ensure that Qt applications work well under GNOME3 and gives a nice native and integrated feel. So while we ship GNOME as our desktop offering we want Qt applications to work well and feel native. This is an ongoing effort, but for many important applications it already is a great improvement.
  • Nautilus improvements. Nautilus had been undermaintained for quite a while so we had Carlos Soriano spend significant time on reworking major parts of it and adding new features like renaming multiple files at ones, updating the views and in general bring it up to date.
  • Night light support in GNOME – We added support for automatic adjusting the color and light settings on your system based on light sensors found in modern laptops. This integrated functionality that you before had to install extra software like Red Shift to enable.
  • libratbag – We created a library that enable easy configuration of high end mice and other kind of input devices. This has led to increased collaboration with a lot of gaming mice manufacturers to ensure full support for their devices under Linux.
  • RADV – We created a full open source Vulkan implementation for ADM GPUs which recently got certified as Vulkan compliant. We wanted to give open source Vulkan a boost, so we created the RADV project, which now has an active community around it and is being tested with major games.
  • GNOME Shell performance improvements – We been working on various performance improvements to GNOME Shell over the last few years, with significant improvements having happened. We want to push the envelope on this further though and are planning a major performance hackfest around Shell performance and resource usage early next year.
  • GNOME terminal developer improvements – We worked to improve the features of GNOME Terminal to make it an even better tool for developers with items such as easier naming of terminals and notifications for long running jobs.
  • GNOME Builder – Improving the developer story is crucial for us and we been doing a lot of work to make GNOME Builder a great tool for developer to use to both improve the desktop itself, but also development in general.
  • Pipewire – We created a new media server to unify audio, pro-audio and video. First version which we are shipping in Fedora 27 to handle our video capture.
  • Fleet Commander – We launched Fleet Commander our new tool for managing large Linux desktop deployments. This answer a long standing call from many of Red Hats major desktop customers and many admins of large scale linux deployments at Universities and similar for a powerful yet easy to use administration tool for large desktop deployments.

I am sure I missed something, but this is at least a decent list of Fedora Workstation highlights for the last few years. Next onto working on my Fedora Workstation 27 blogpost :)

Fleet Commander ready for takeoff!

Alberto Ruiz just announced Fleet Commander as production ready! Fleet Commander is our new tool for managing large deployments of Fedora Workstation and RHEL desktop systems. So get our to Albertos Fleet Commander blog post for all the details.

AAC support will be available in Fedora Workstation 27!

So I am really happy to announce another major codec addition to Fedora Workstation 27 namely the addition of the codec called AAC. As you might have seen from Tom Callaways announcement this has just been cleared for inclusion in Fedora.

For those not well versed in the arcane lore of audio codecs AAC is the codec used for things like iTunes and is found in a lot of general media files online. AAC stands for Advanced Audio Coding and was created by the MPEG working group as the successor to mp3. Especially due to Apple embracing the format there is a lot of files out there using it and thus we wanted to support it in Fedora too.

What we will be shipping in Fedora is a modified version of the AAC implementation released by Google, which was originally written by Frauenhoffer. On top of that we will of course be providing GStreamer plugins to enable full support for playing and creating AAC files for GStreamer applications.

Be aware though that AAC is a bit of an umbrella term for a lot of different technologies and thus you might be able to come across files that claims to use AAC, but which we can not play back. The most likely reason for that would be that it requires a AAC profile we do not support. The version of AAC that we will be shipping has also be carefully created to fit within the requirements for software in Fedora, so if you are a packager be aware that unlike with for instance mp3, this change does not mean you can package and ship any AAC implementation you want to in Fedora.

I am expecting to have more major codec announcements soon, so stay tuned :)

Launching Pipewire!

In quite a few blog posts I been referencing Pipewire our new Linux infrastructure piece to handle multimedia under Linux better. Well we are finally ready to formally launch pipewire as a project and have created a Pipewire website and logo.Pipewire logo

To give you all some background, Pipewire is the latest creation of GStreamer co-creator Wim Taymans. The original reason it was created was that we realized that as desktop applications would be moving towards primarly being shipped as containerized Flatpaks we would need something for video similar to what PulseAudio was doing for Audio. As part of his job here at Red Hat Wim had already been contributing to PulseAudio for a while, including implementing a new security model for PulseAudio to ensure we could securely have containerized applications output sound through PulseAudio. So he set out to write Pipewire, although initially the name he used was PulseVideo. As he was working on figuring out the core design of PipeWire he came to the conclusion that designing Pipewire to just be able to do video would be a mistake as a major challenge he was familiar with working on GStreamer was how to ensure perfect audio and video syncronisation. If both audio and video could be routed through the same media daemon then ensuring audio and video worked well together would be a lot simpler and frameworks such as GStreamer would need to do a lot less heavy lifting to make it work. So just before we starting sharing the code publicaly we renamed the project to Pinos, named after Pinos de Alhaurín, a small town close to where Wim is living in southern Spain. In retrospect Pinos was probably not the worlds best name :)

Anyway as work progressed Wim decided to also take a look at Jack, as supporting the pro-audio usecase was an area PulseAudio had never tried to do, yet we felt that if we could ensure Pipewire supported the pro-audio usecase in addition to consumer level audio and video it would improve our multimedia infrastructure significantly and ensure pro-audio became a first class citizen on the Linux desktop. Of course as the scope grew the development time got longer too.

Another major usecase for Pipewire for us was that we knew that with the migration to Wayland we would need a new mechanism to handle screen capture as the way it was done under X was very insecure. So Jonas Ådahl started working on creating an API we could support in the compositor and use Pipewire to output. This is meant to cover both single frame capture like screenshot, to local desktop recording and remoting protocols. It is important to note here that what we have done is not just implement support for a specific protocol like RDP or VNC, but we ensured there is an advaned infrastructure in place to support any protocol on top of. For instance we will be working with the Spice team here at Red Hat to ensure SPICE can take advantage of Pipewire and the new API for instance. We will also ensure Chrome and Firefox supports this so that you can share your Wayland desktop through systems such as Blue Jeans.

Where we are now
So after multiple years of development we are now landing Pipewire in Fedora Workstation 27. This initial version is video only as that is the most urgent thing we need supported for Flatpaks and Wayland. So audio is completely unaffected by this for now and rolling that out will require quite a bit of work as we do not want to risk breaking audio on your system as a result of this change. We know that for many the original rollout of PulseAudio was painful and we do not want a repeat of that history.

So I strongly recommend grabbing the Fedora Workstation 27 beta to test pipewire and check out the new website at Pipewire.org and the initial documentation at the Pipewire wiki. Especially interesting is probably the pages that will eventually outline our plans for handling PulseAudio and JACK usecases.

If you are interested in Pipewire please join us on IRC in #pipewire on freenode. Also if things goes as planned Wim will be on Linux Unplugged tonight talking to Chris Fisher and the Unplugged crew about Pipewire, so tune in!

Red Hat Graphics team looking for another engineer

So our graphics team is looking for a new Senior Software Engineer to help with our AMD GPU support, including GPU compute. This is a great opportunity to join a versatile and top notch development team who plays a crucial role in making sure Linux has up-to-date and working graphics support and who are deeply involved with most major new developments in Linux graphics.

Also as a piece of advice when you read the job advertisement remember that it is very rare anyone can tick all the boxes in the requirement list, so don’t hesitate to apply just because you don’t fit the description and requirements perfectly. For example even if you are more junior in terms of years you could still be a great candidate if you for instance participated in GPU related Google Summer of Code projects or just as a community contributor. And for this position we are open to candidates from around the globe interested in working as remotees, although as always if you are willing or interested in joining one of our development offices in either Boston-USA, Brisbane-Australia or Brno-Czech Republic that is a plus of course.

So please check out the job advertisement forSenior Software Engineer and see if it could be your chance to join the worlds premier open source company.

Running Wayland on the Nvidia driver

I know many of you have wanted to test running Wayland on NVidia. The work on this continues between Jonas Ådahl, Adam Jackson and various developers at NVidia. It is not ready for primetime yet as we are still working on the server side glvnd piece we need for XWayland. That said with both Adam Jackson looking at this from our side and Kyle Brenneman looking at it from NVidia I am sure we will be able to hash out the remaining open questions and get that done.

In the meantime Miguel A. Vico from NVidia has set up a Copr to let people start testing using EGLStreams under Wayland. I haven’t tested it myself yet, but if you do and have trouble make sure to let Miguel and Jonas know.

As a sidenote, I am heading off to GUADEC in Manchester tomorrow and we do plan to discuss efforts like these there. We have team members like Jonas Ådahl flying in from Taiwan and Peter Hutterer flying in from Australia, so it will be a great chance to meet core developers who are far away from us in terms of timezone and geographical distance. GUADEC this year should be a lot of fun and from what I hear we are going to have record level attendance this year based early registration numbers, so if you can make it Manchester I strongly recommend joining us as I think this years event will have a lot of energy and a lot of interesting discussions on what the next steps are for GNOME.

Fedora Workstation 26 is out

We managed to get Fedora Workstation 26 out the door this week which I am very happy about. In some ways it was far from our most splashy release as it mostly was about us improving on already released features, like improving the Wayland support and improving the Flatpak support in GNOME Software and improving the Qt integration into GNOME through the QtGNOME platform.

One major thing that is fully functional now though and that I have been testing myself extensively is being able to easily install the NVidia binary driver. If you set up the repository from Negativo17 you should be able to go install the Nvidia driver either using dnf on the command line or by searching for NVidia in GNOME Software, and just install it without any further work thanks to all the effort we and NVidia have been putting into things like glvnd. If you have a workstation with an NVidia card I would say that you have a fully functional system at this point without any hacks or file conflicts with Mesa.

For hybrid graphics laptops this also just works, with the only caveat being that your NVidia card will be engaged at all times once you do this, which is not great for your battery life. We are working to improve this, but it will take some time as it both requires us re-architecting some older parts of the stack and get the Nvidia driver updated to support the new solution.

We do plan on listing the NVidia driver in GNOME Software soon without having to manually setup the repository, so soon we will have a very smooth experience where the Nvidia driver is just a click in the Software store away for our users.

Another item of interest here for the discerning user is that if you are on the NVidia binary driver you will be using X and not Wayland. The reason for this as I have stated in previous blog posts too is that we still have some major gaps on the Wayland side when it comes to dealing with the binary NVidia driver. The biggest one here is that XWayland OpenGL applications doesn’t work, something the team is hard at work trying to resolve. Also the general infrastructure for dealing with hybrid graphics under Wayland is not there yet, but we are working on that too. We have a top notch team looking at the issues here, including Adam Jackson, Jonas Ådahl and Olivier Fourdan, so I am sure we will close this gap as soon as techically possible.

The other big item we have for Fedora Workstation 26 is going to be the formal launch of the Fleet Commander project, with a fully functional release and proper website. We hope to get that set up for next week, so I will blog more about it then. It is a really cool piece of technology which should make deploying Fedora and RHEL in large orgainzations a lot simpler.

As a sidenote, we received our first HDR capable monitor in the office this week, a Dell Ultrasharp UP2718Q. We have another one already ordered and we should be bringing in more in the next Months. This means we can finally seriously kick off figuring out the plumbing work and update the userland stack to have full HDR support under Linux for both media creation and consumption.

Fedora Workstation 26 and beyond

Felt it been to long since I did another Fedora Workstation update. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how we can best spend our resources to produce the best desktop possible for our users, because even though Red Hat invests more into the Linux desktop than any other company by quite a margin, our resources are still far from limitless. So we have a continuous effort of asking ourselves if each of the areas we are investing in are the right ones that give our users the things they need the most, so below is a sampling of the things we are working on.

Improving integration of the NVidia binary driver
This has been ongoing for quite a while, but things have started to land now. Hans de Goede and Simone Caronni has been collaboring, building on the work by NVidia and Adam Jackson around glvnd. So if you set up Simones NVidia repository hosted on negativo17 you will be able to install the Nvidia driver without any conflicts with the Mesa stack and due to Hans work you should be fairly sure that even if the NVidia driver stops working with a given kernel update you will smoothly transition back to the open source Nouveau driver. I been testing it on my own Lenovo P70 system for the last week and it seems to work well under X. That said once you install the binary NVidia driver that is what your running on, which is of course not the behaviour you want from a hybrid graphics system. Fixing that last issue requires further collaboration between us and NVidia.
Related to this Adam Jackson is currently working on a project he calls glxmux. glxmux will allow you to have more than one GLX implementation on the system, so that you can switch between Mesa GLX for the Intel integrated graphics card and NVidia GLX for the binary driver. While we can make no promises we hope to have the framework in place for Fedora Workstation 27. Having that in place should allow us to create a solution where you only use the NVidia driver when you want the extra graphics power which will of course require significant work from Nvidia to enable it on their side so I can’t give a definite timeline for when all the puzzle pieces are in place. Just be assured we are working on it and talking regularly to NVidia about it. I will let you know here as soon as things come together.

On the Wayland side the Jonas Ådahl is working on putting the final touches on Hybrid Graphics support

Fleet Commander ready for take-off
Another major project we been working on for a long time in Fleet Commander. Fleet Commander is a tool to allow you to manage Fedora and RHEL desktops centrally. This is a tool targeted at for instance Universities or companies with tens, hundreds or thousands of workstation installation. It gives you a graphical browser based UI (accessible through Cockpit) to create configuration profiles and deploy across your organization. Currently it allows you to control anything that has a gsetting associated with it like enabling/disabling extensions and setting configuration settings in GTK+ and GNOME applications. It allows you to configure Network Manager settings so if your updating the company VPN or proxy settings you can easily push those changes out to all user in the organization. Or quickly migrate Evolution email settings to a new email server. The tool also allows you to control recommended applications in the Software Center and set bookmarks in Firefox. There is also support for controlling settings inside LibreOffice.

All this features can be set and controlled on either a user level or a group level or organization wide due to the close integration we have with FreeIPA suite of tools. The data is stored inside your organizations LDAP server alongside other user information so you don’t need to have the clients connect to a new service for this, and while it is not there in this initial release we will in the future also support Active Directory.

The initial release and Fleet Commander website will be out alongside Fedora Workstation 26.

PipeWire
I talked about PipeWire before, when it was still called Pinos, but the scope and ambition for the project has significantly changed since then. Last time when I spoke about it the goal was just to create something that could be considered a video equivalent of pulseaudio. Wim Taymans, who you might know co-created GStreamer and who has been a major PulseAudio contributor, has since expanded the scope and PipeWire now aims at unifying linux Audio and Video. The long term the goal is for PipeWire to not only provide handling of video streams, but also handle all kinds of audio. Due to this Wim has been spending a lot of time making sure PipeWire can handle audio in a way that not only address the PulseAudio usecases, but also the ones handled by Jack today. A big part of the motivation for this is that we want to make Fedora Workstation the best place to create content and we want the pro-audio crowd to be first class citizens of our desktop.

At the same time we don’t want to make this another painful subsystem transition so PipeWire so we will need to ensure that PulseAudio applications can still be run without modification.

We expect to start shipping PipeWire with Fedora Workstation 27, but at that point only have it handle video as we need this to both enable good video handling for Flatpak applications through a video portal, but also to provide an API for applications that want to do screen capture under Wayland, like web browser applications offering screen sharing. We will the bring the audio features onboard in subsequent releases as we also try to work with the Jack and PulseAudio communities to make this a joint effort. We are also working now on a proper website for PipeWire.

Red Hat developer integration
A feature we are quite excited about is the integration of support for the Red Hat developer account system into Fedora. This means that you should be able to create a Red Hat developer account through GNOME Online accounts and once you have that account set up you should be able to easily create Red Hat Enterprise Linux virtual machines or containers on your Fedora system. This is a crucial piece for the developer focus that we want the workstation to have and one that we think will make a lot of developers life easier. We where originally hoping to have this ready for Fedora Workstaton 26, but atm it looks more likely to hit Fedora Workstation 27, but we will keep you up to date as this progresses.

Fractional scaling for HiDPI systems
Fedora Workstation has been leading the charge in supporting HiDPI on Linux and we hope to build on that with the current work to enable fractional scaling support. Since we introduced HiDPI support we have been improving it step by step, for instance last year we introduced support for dealing with different DPI levels per monitor for Wayland applications. The fractional scaling work will take this a step further. The biggest problem it will resolve is that for certain monitor sizes the current scaling options either left things to small or to big. With the fractional scaling support we will introduce intermediate steps, so that you can scale your interface 1.5x times instead of having to go all the way to 2. The set of technologies we are developing for handling fractional scaling should also allow us to provide better scaling for XWayland applications as it provides us with methods for scaling that doesn’t need direct support from the windowing system or toolkit.

GNOME Shell performance
Carlos Garnacho has been doing some great work recently improving the general performance of GNOME Shell. This comes on top of his earlier performance work that was very well received. How fast/slow GNOME shell is often a subjective thing, but reducing overhead where we can is never a bad thing.

Flatpak building
Owen Taylor has been working hard on putting the pieces in place for start large scale Flatpak building in Fedora. You might see a couple of test flatpaks appear in a Fedora Workstation 26 timeframe, but the goal is to have a huge Flatpak catalog ready in time for Fedora Workstation 27. Essentially what we are doing is making it very simple for a Fedora maintainer to build a Flatpak of the application they maintain through the Fedora package building infrastructure and push that Flatpak into a central Flatpak registry. And while of course this is mainly meant to be to the benefit of Fedora users there is of course nothing stopping other distributions from offering these Flatpak packaged applications to their users also.

Atomic Workstation
Another effort that is marching forward is what we call Atomic Workstation. The idea here is to have an immutable OS image kinda like what you see on for instance Android devices. The advantage to this is that the core of the operating system gets tested and deployed as a unit and the chance of users ending with broken systems decrease significantly as we don’t need to rely on packages getting applied in the correct order or scripts executing as expected on each individual workstation out there. This effort is largely based on the Project Atomic effort, and the end goal here is to have a image based OS install and Flatpak based applications on top of it. If you are very adventerous and/or want to help out with this effort you can get the ISO image installer for Atomic Workstation here.

Firmware handling
Our Linux Firmware project is still going strong with new features being added and new vendors signing on. As Richard Hughes recently blogged about the latest vendor joining the effort is Logitech who now will upload their firmware into the service so that you can keep your Logitech peripherals updated through it. It is worthwhile pointing out here how we worked with Logitech to make this happen, with Richard working on the special tooling needed and thus reducing the threshold for Logitech to start offering their firmware through the service. We have other vendors we are having similar discussions and collaborations with so expect to see more. At this point I tend to recommend people get a Dell to run Linux, due to their strong support for efforts such as the Linux Firmware Service, but other major vendors are in the final stages of testing so expect more major vendors starting to push firmware updates soon.

High Dynamic Range
The next big thing in the display technology field is HDR (High Dynamic Range). HDR allows for deeper more vibrant colours and is a feature seen on a lot of new TVs these days and game consoles like the Playstation 4 support it. Computer monitors are appearing on the market too now with this feature, for instance the Dell UP2718Q. We want to ensure Fedora and Linux is a leader here, for the benefit of video and graphics artists using Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux. We are thus kicking of an effort to make sure this technology mature as quickly as possible and be fully supported. We are not the only ones interested in this so we will hopefully be collaborating with our friends at Intel, AMD and NVidia on this. We hope to have the first monitors delivered to our office within a few weeks.

Codecs
While playback these days have moved to streaming where locally installed codecs are of less importance for the consumption usecase, having a wide selection of codecs available is still important for media editing and creation usecases, so we want you to be able to load a varity of old media files into you video editor for instance. Luckily we are at a crossroads now where a lot of widely used codecs have their essential patents expire (mp3, ac3 and more) while at the same time the industry focus seems to have moved to royalty free codec development moving forward (Opus, VP9, Alliance for Open Media). We have been spending a lot of time with the Red Hat legal team trying to clear these codecs, which resulted in mp3 and AC3 now shipping in Fedora Workstation. We have more codecs on the way though, so this effort is in no way over. My goal is that over the course of this year the situation of software patents being a huge issue when dealing with audio and video codecs on Linux will be considered a thing of the past. I would like to thank the Red Hat legal team for their support on this issue as they have had to spend significant time on it as a big company like Red Hat do need to do our own due diligence when it comes to these things, we can’t just trust statements from random people on the internet that these codecs are now free to ship.

Battery life
We been looking at this for a while now and hope to be able to start sharing information with users on which laptops they should get that will have good battery life under Fedora. Christian Kellner is now our point man on battery life and he has taken up improving the Battery Bench tool that Owen Taylor wrote some time ago.

QtGNOME platform
We will have a new version of the QtGNOME platform in Fedora 26. For those of you who have not yet heard of this effort it is a set of themes and tools to ensure that Qt applications runs without any major issues under GNOME 3. With the new version the theming expands to include the accessibility and dark themes in Adwaita, meaning that if you switch to one of these themes under GNOME shell it will also switch your Qt applications over. We are also making sure things like cut’n paste and drag and drop works well. The version in Fedora Workstation 26 is a big step forward for this effort and should hopefully make Qt applications be first class citizens under your Fedora Workstation desktop.

Wayland polish
Ever since we switched the default to Wayland we have kept the pressure up and kept fixing bugs and finding solutions for corner cases. The result should be an improved Wayland experience in Fedora Workstation 26. A big thanks for Olivier Fourdan, Jonas Ådahl and the whole Wayland community for their continued efforts here. Two major items Jonas is working on for instance is improving fractional scaling, to ensure that your desktop scales to an optimal size on HiDPI displays of various sizes. What we currently have is limited to 1x or 2x, which is either to small or to big for some screens, but with this work you can also do 1.5x scaling. He is also working on preparing an API that will allow screen sharing under Wayland, so that for instance sharing your slides over video conferencing can work under Wayland.