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.
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.
One thing however which you would only discover if you start digging into the 7.2 update is that its the first time in RHEL history that we are doing a full scale desktop update in a point release. We shipped RHEL 7.0 with GNOME 3.8 and in RHEL 7.2 we are updating it to GNOME 3.14. This brings in a lot of new major features into RHEL, like the work we did on improved HiDPI support, improved touch and gesture support, it brings GNOME Software to RHEL, the improved system status area and so on. We plan on updating the desktop further in later RHEL 7.x point releases.
This change of policy is of course important to the many RHEL Workstation customers we have, but I also hope it will make RHEL Workstation and also the CentOS Workstation more attractive options to those in the community who have been looking for a LTS version of Fedora. This policy change gives you the rock solid foundation of RHEL and the RHEL kernel and combines it with a very well tested yet fairly new desktop release. So if you feel Fedora is moving to quickly, yet have felt that RHEL on the other hand has been moving to slowly, we hope that with this change to RHEL we have found a sweet compromise.
We will of course also keep doing regular applications updates in RHEL 7.x, just like we started with in RHEL 6.x. Giving you up to date versions of things like LibreOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird and more.
So yesterday, the 10th of November, was the official launch day of the Steam Machines. The hardware are meant to be dedicated game machines for the living room taking advantage of the Steam ecosystem, to take on the Xbox One and PS4.
But for us in the Linux community these machines are more than that, they are an important part of helping us break into a broader market by paving the way for even more games and more big budget games coming to our platform. Playing computer games is not just a niche, it is a mainstream activity these days, and not having access to games on our platform has cost us quite a few users and potential contributors over the years. I have for instance met a lot of computer science students who ended up not using Linux as the main operating system during their studies simply due to the lack of games on the platform. Instead Linux got de-regulated to that thing in a VM only run when you needed it for an assignment.
Steam for Linux and SteamOS can and will be important pieces of breaking through that. SteamOS and the Steam Macines are also important for the Linux community for another reason. They can help funnel more resources from hardware companies into Linux drivers and support. I know for instance that all the 3 major GPU vendors have increased their Linux drivers investments due to SteamOS.
So I want to congratulate Valve on the launch of the first Steam Machines and strongly recommend everyone in the community to get a Steam machine for their home!
People who have had a good chance to test the hardware has recommended me to get one of the Alienware SteamOS systems, so I am passing that recommendation onwards.
As a sidenote we are also working on a few features in Fedora Workstation to make it a better host for Steam and Steam games. This includes our work on the GL Dispatch and Optimus support as covered in a previous blog and libratbag, our new library for handling gaming mice under Linux. And finally we are working on a few bug fixes in Fedora to make it an even better host for the Steam client related to C++ ABI issues.
Another major piece of engineering that I have covered that we did for Fedora Workstation 23 is the GTK3 port of LibreOffice. Those of you who follow Caolán McNamaras blog are probably aware of the details. The motivation for the port wasn’t improved look and feel integration, there was easier ways to achieve that, but to help us have LibreOffice deal well with a range of new technologies we are supporting in Fedora Workstation namely: Touch support, Wayland support and HiDPI.
That ongoing work is now available in Fedora Workstation 23 if you install the ‘libreoffice-gtk3’ package. You have to install this using a terminal and dnf as this is a early adopter technology, but we would love as many as possible for you to try and report any issues you have either to the upstream LibreOffice bugzilla or the Fedora bugzilla against the LibreOffice component. Testing of how it works under X and how it works under Wayland are both more than welcome. Be aware that it is ‘tech preview’ technology so you might want to remove the libreoffice-gtk3 package again if you find that it hinders your effective use of LibreOffice. For instance there is a quite bad titlebar bug you would exprience under Wayland that we hope to fix with an update.
If you specifically want to test out the touch support there are two features implemented so far, both in Impress. One is to allow you to switch slides in Impress by a swiping gesture and the second is long press, you can bring up the impress slide context menu with it and switch to e.g. drawing mode. We would love feedback on what gestures you would like to see supported in various LibreOffice applications, so don’t be shy about filing enhancement bug reports with your suggestions.
HiDPI it wasn’t a primary focus of the porting effort it has to be said, but we do expect that it should also make improving the HiDPI support in LibreOffice further easier. Another nice little bonus of the port is that the GTK Inspector can now be used with LibreOffice.
So as we quickly approach the Fedora Workstation 23 release I been running Wayland exclusively for over a week now. Despite a few glitches it now works well enough for me to not have to switch back into the X11 session anymore.
There are some major new features coming in Fedora Workstation 23 that I am quite excited about. First and foremost it will be the first release shipping with our new firmware update system supported. This means that if your hardware supports it and your vendor uploads the needed firmware to lvfs you can update your system firmware through GNOME Software. So no more struggling with proprietary tools or bootable DVDs. So while this is a major step forward in my opinion it will also be one of those things ramping up slowly, as we need to bring more vendors onboard and also have them ship more UEFI 2.5 ready systems before the old ‘BIOS’ update problems are a thing of the past. A big thanks goes to Richard Hughes and Peter Jones for their work here.
Another major feature that we spent a lot of time to get right is the new Google Drive backend for the file manager. This means that as long as you have internet access you can manage your google drive files through Nautilus along with all your other local and remote file systems. I know a lot of Fedora users are wither using Google drive personally or as part of their work, so I think this is a major new feature we managed to land. A big thanks to Debarshi Ray for working on this item.
Thirdly we now have support for ambient light sensors support. This was a crucial step in our ongoing effort to improve battery life under Fedora and can have very significant impact on how long your battery lasts. It is very easy to keep running the screen with more backlight than you actually need and thus drain your battery quickly, so with this enabled you might often squeeze out some extra hours of your battery. A big thanks to Bastien Nocera and Benjamin Tissoires for their work on this feature.
And finally this is the first release where we are shipping our current xdg-app tech preview as part of Fedora, instead of just making it available in a COPR. So for those of you who don’t know, xdg-app is our new technology for packaging desktop applications. While still early stage it provides a way for software developers to package their software in a way that is both usable across multiple distributions and with improved security through the use of the LXC container technology. In fact as we are trying to make this technology as usable and widely deployed as possible Alexander Larsson is currently trying to work with the Open Container Initiative to make xdg-apps be OCI compliant.
This is important for a multitude of reasons, but mainly xdg-app fills an important gap in the container technology landscape, because while Docker and Rocket are great for packaging server software, there is no real equivalent for the desktop. The few similar efforts that has been launched are usually tied to a specific distribution or operating system, while xdg-app aims to provide the same level of cross system compatibility for desktop applications that Docker and Rocket offers for server applications.
Fedora Workstation 24
Of course with Fedora Workstation 23 almost out the door we have been reviewing our Fedora Workstation tasklist to make sure it reflects what we currently have developers working on and what we expect to be able to land in Fedora Workstation 24. And let me use this opportunity to remind community members that if you are working on a cool feature for Fedora Workstation 24, make sure to let the Workstation working group know on the Fedora Desktop mailing list, so that we can make sure your feature gets listed and tracked in the tasklist too.
Anyway, I sent out this email to the working group this week, to outline what I see on the horizon in terms of major Fedora Workstation features lined up for 24.
You can get the full details in the email, and the tasklist has also been updated with these items, but I want to go into a bit more details on some of them.
xdg-app for world domination
As some of you might be aware of, Christian Hergert, of GNOME Builder fame, recently joined our team. Christian will be doing a lot of cool stuff for us, but one thing he has already started on is working with Alexander Larsson to make sure we have a great developer story for xdg-app. If we want developers to adopt this technology we need to make it dead simple to create your own xdg-app packages and Christian will make sure that GNOME Builder supports this in a way that makes transitioning your application into an xdg-app becomes something you can do without needing to read a long howto. We hope to have the initial fruits of this labour ready for Fedora Workstation 24.
Another big part of this of course is the work that Richard Hughes and Kalev Lember are doing on GNOME Software to make sure we have the infrastructure in place to be able to install and upgrade xdg-apps. As we expect xdg-apps to come from a wide variety of sources as opposed to the current model of most things being in a central repository we need to develop good ways for new sources to be added and help users make more informed choices about the software they are installing. Related to this we are also looking at how we can improve labeling of the applications available,
to make it easier to make your decisions based on a variety of criteria. The current star system in GNOME Software is not very obvious in what it tries to convey so we will try looking at better ways to do this kind of labeling and what information we want to be able to provide through it.
Another major item is what I blogged about before is our effort to finally make dealing with the binary graphics drivers less of a pain. I wrote a longer blog post about this before, but to summarize we want to make sure that if you need to install the binary drivers this is a simple operation that doesn’t conflict with your installation of Mesa and also that if you have an Optimus enabled laptop, it is easy and pleasant to use.
Anyway, there are some further items in the email I sent, but I will go more into detail about some of them at a later stage.
So I realized I hadn’t posted a Wayland update in a while. So we are still making good progress on Wayland, but the old saying that the last 10% is 90% of the work is definitely true here. So there was a Wayland BOF at GUADEC this year which tried to create a TODO list for major items remaining before Wayland is ready to replace X.
Proper menu positioning. Most visible user issue currently for people testing Wayland
Relative pointer/confinement/locking. Important for games among other things.
Kinetic scroll in GTK+
More work needed to remove all X11 dependencies (so that desktop has no dependency on XWayland being available.
Minimize main thread stalls (could be texture uploads for example)
Tablet support. Includes gestures, on-screen keyboard and more.
A big thank you to Jonas Ådahl, Owen Taylor, Carlos Garnacho, Rui Matos, Marek Chalupa, Olivier Fourdan and more for their ongoing work on polishing
up the Wayland experience.
So as you can tell there is a still lot of details that needs working out when doing something as major as switching from one Display system to the other, but things are starting to looking really good now.
One new feature I am particularly excited about is what we call multi-DPI support ready for Wayland sessions in Fedora 23. What this means is that if you have a HiDPI laptop screen and a standard DPI external monitor you should be able to drag windows back and forth between the two screens and have them automatically rescale to work with the different DPIs. This is an example of an issue which was relatively straightforward to resolve under Wayland, but which would have been a lot of pain to get working under X.
We will not be defaulting to Wayland in Fedora Workstation 23 though, because as I have said in earlier blog posts about the subject, we will need to have a stable and feature complete Wayland in at least one release before we switch the default. We hope Fedora Workstation 23 will be that stable and feature complete release, which means Fedora Workstation 24 is the one where we can hope to make the default switchover.
Of course porting the desktop itself to Wayland is just part of the story. While we support running X applications using XWayland, to get full benefit from Wayland we need our applications to run on top of Wayland natively. So we spent effort on getting some major applications like LibreOffice and Firefox Wayland ready recently.
Caolan McNamara has been working hard on finishing up the GTK3 port of LibreOffice which is part of the bigger effort to bring LibreOffice nativly to Wayland. The GTK3 version of LibreOffice should be available in Fedora Workstation 23 (as non-default option) and all the necessary code will be included in LibreOffice 5 which will be released pretty soon. The GTK3 version should be default in F24, hopefully with complete Wayland support.
For Firefox Martin Stransky has been looking into ensuring Firefox runs on Wayland now that the basic GTK3 port is done. Martin just reported today that he got Firefox running natively under Wayland, although there are still a lot of glitches and issues he needs to figure out before it can be claimed to be ready for normal use.
Another major piece we are working on which is not directly Wayland related, but which has a Wayland component too is to try to move the state of Linux forward in the context of dealing with multiple OpenGL implementations, multi-GPU systems and the need to free our 3D stack from its close ties to GLX.
This work with is lead by Adam Jackson, but where also Dave Airlie is a major contributor, involves trying to decide and implement what is needed to have things like GL Dispatch, EGLstreams and EGL Device proposals used across the stack. Once this work is done the challenges around for instance using the NVidia binary driver on a linux system or using a discreet GPU like on Optimus laptops should be a thing of the past.
So the first step of this work is getting GL Dispatch implemented. GL Dispatch basically allows you to have multiple OpenGL implementations installed and then have your system pick the right one as needed. So for instance on a system with NVidia Optimus you can use Mesa with the integrated Intel graphics card, but NVidias binary OpenGL implementatioin with the discreet Optimus GPU. Currently that is a pain to do since you can only have one OpenGL implementation used. Bumblebee tries to hack around that requirement, but GL Dispatch will allow us to resolve this without having to ‘fight’ the assumptions of the system.
We plan to have easy to use support for both Optimus and Prime (the Nouveau equivalent of Optimus) in the desktop, allowing you to choose what GPU to use for your applications without needing to edit any text files or set environment variables.
The final step then is getting the EGL Device and EGLStreams proposal implemented so we can have something to run Wayland on top of. And while GL Dispatch are not directly related to those we do feel that having it in place should make the setup easier to handle as you don’t risk conflicts between the binary NVidia driver and the Mesa driver anymore at that point, which becomes even more crucial for Wayland since it runs on top of EGL.
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