Entries Tagged 'General' ↓

PipeWire Hackfest

So we kicked off the PipeWire hackfest in Edinburgh yesterday. We have 15 people attending including Arun Raghavan, Tanu Kaskinen and Colin Guthrie from PulseAudio, PipeWire creator Wim Taymans, Bastien Nocera and Jan Grulich representing GNOME and KDE, Mark Brown from the ALSA kernel team, Olivier Crête,George Kiagiadakis and Nicolas Dufresne was there to represent embedded usecases for PipeWire and finally Thierry Bultel representing automotive.

The event kicked off with Wim Taymans presenting on current state of PipeWire and outlining the remaining issues and current thoughts on how to resolve them. Most of the first day was spent on a roadtable discussion about what are and should be the goals of PipeWire and what potential tradeoffs there would be going forward. PipeWire is probably a bit closer to Jack than PulseAudio in design, so quite a bit of the discussion went on how that would affect the PulseAudio usecases and what is planned to ensure PipeWire works very well for consumer audio usecases.

Personally I ended up spending quite some time just testing and running various Jack apps to see what works already and what doesn’t. In terms of handling outputing audio with Jack apps I was positively surprised how many Jack apps I was able to make work (aka output audio) using PipeWire instead of Jack, but of course we still have some gaps to cover before PipeWire is ready as a drop-in Jack replacement, for instance the Jack session management protocol needs to be implemented first.

The second day we outlined the areas that need work before we are ready to replace PulseAudio and came up with the following list:

  • Mixers – This is basically dealing with hardware mixers. Arun and Wim started looking at a design for this during the hackfest.
  • PulseAudio services – This is all the things in PulseAudio that is not very suitable for putting inside PipeWire. The idea is instead to put them in a separate daemon. This includes things like network streaming, ROAP, DBus apis and so on.
  • Policy/Session handling – We plan to move policy and session handling out of PulseAudio to make it easier for different usecases to set their own policies. PipeWire will still provide some default setup, but the idea here is to have a separate daemon(s) to provide this. Bastien Nocera started prototyping a setup where he could create policy and session handling using Lua scripting.
  • Filters
  • Bluetooth – Ensuring we have great bluetooth support with PipeWire. We would want to move Bluetooth handling to its own daemon, and not have it inside like in PulseAudio to allow for more flexibility with various embedded bluetooth stacks for instance. This could also mean looking at the Linux Bluetooth stack more widely as things are not ideal atm, especially from a security viewpoint.
  • Device reservation – We expect to replace Jack and PulseAudio in steps, starting with PulseAudio. So dealing well with hardware reservation is important to allow people to for instance keep running Jack alongside PipeWire until we are ready for full replacement.
  • Stream Monitoring – Important feature from Jack and PulseAudio that still needs implementing to allowing monitoring audio devices and streams.
  • Latency handling – Improving ways we can deal with hardware latency in for instance consumer devices such as TVs

It is still a bit hard to have a clear timeline for when we will be ready to drop in PipeWire support to replace PulseAudio and then Jack, but we feel the Wayland migration was a good example to follow where we held off doing the switch until we felt comfortable the move would be transparent to most users. There will of course always be corner cases and bugs, but we hope that in general people agree that the Wayland transition was done in a responsible manner and thus could be a good example to follow for us here.

We would like to offers big thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring travel for some of the community attendees and to Collabora for sponsoring dinner for all attendees the first night.

If you want to take a look at PipeWire, Wim updated the wiki page with PipeWire build intructions to be up-to-date. The hackfest attendees tested them out so we are sure they work, just be aware that you want the ‘Work’ branch and not the Master branch, as that is the one where all the audio work is happening. The Master branch is the video focused branch we use in Fedora for desktop remoting support in browsers and VNC under Wayland.

Supporting developers on Patreon (and similar)

For some time now I been supporting two Linux developers on patreon. Namely Ryan Gordon of Linux game porting and SDL development fame and Tanu Kaskinen who is a lead developer on PulseAudio these days.

One of the things I often think about is how we can enable more people to make a living from working on the Linux desktop and related technologies. If your reading my blog there is a good chance that you are enabling people to make a living on working on the Linux desktop by paying for RHEL Workstation subscriptions through your work. So a big thank you for that. The fact that Red Hat has paying customers for our desktop products is critical in terms of our ability to do so much of the maintenance and development work we do around the Linux Desktop and Linux graphics stack.

That said I do feel we need more venues than just employment by companies such as Red Hat and this is where I would love to see more people supporting their favourite projects and developers through for instance Patreon. Because unlike one of funding campaigns repeat crowdfunding like Patreon can give developers predictable income, which means they don’t have to worry about how to pay their rent or how to feed their kids.

So in terms of the two Patreons I support Ryan is probably the closest to being able to rely on it for his livelihood, but of course more Patreon supporters will enable Ryan to be even less reliant on payments from game makers. And Tanu’s patreon income at the moment is helping him to spend quite a bit of time on PulseAudio, but it is definitely not providing him with a living income. So if you are reading this I strongly recommend that you support Ryan Gordon and Tanu Kaskinen on Patreon. You don’t need to pledge a lot, I think in general it is in fact better to have many people pledging 10 dollars a Month than a few pledging hundreds, because the impact of one person coming or going is thus a lot less. And of course this is not just limited to Ryan and Tanu, search around and see if any projects or developers you personally care deeply about are using crowdfunding and support them, because if more of us did so then more people would be able to make a living of developing our favourite open source software.

Update: Seems I wasn’t the only one thinking about this, Flatpak announced today that application devs can put their crowdfunding information into their flatpaks and it will be advertised in GNOME Software.

Some thoughts on smart home technology

A couple of Months ago we visited IKEA and saw the IKEA Trådfri smart lighting system. Since it was relatively cheap we decided to buy their starter pack and enough bulbs to make the recessed lights in our living rooms smartlight. I got it up and running and had some fun switching the light hue and turning the lights on and off from my phone.
A bit later I got a Google Assistant speaker at Google I/O and the system suddenly became somewhat more useful as I could control the lights by calling out to the google assistant. I was also able to connect our AC system thermostats to the google assistant so we could change the room temperature using voice commands.
As a result of this I ended up reading up on smart home technologies and found that my IKEA hub and bulbs was conforming to the ZigBee standard and that I should be able to buy further Zigbee compatible devices from other vendors to extend it. So I ordered a Zigbee compatible in-wall light switch from GE and I also ordered a Zigbee compatible in-ceiling switch from a company called Nue through Amazon. Once I got these home and tried to get them up and running I found that my understanding was flawed as there are two Zigbee standards, the older Zigbee HA and the newer Zigbee LightLink. The IKEA stuff is Zigbee LightLink while at least the GE switch was Zigbee HA and thus the IKEA hub could not control it. So I ended up ordering a Samsung SmartThings hub which supports Zigbee HA, Zigbee LL and the competing system called Z-Wave. At which point I got both my IKEA lights and my two devices working with it.
In the meantime I had also gotten myself a Google Assistant compatible portable aircon from FrigidAire for my home office (no part of main house) and a Google Assistant compatible fire alarm from Nest for the same office space.

So having lived in my new smarter home for a while now what are my conclusions? Well first of all that we still have some way to go before this is truly seamless and obvious. I consider myself a fairly technical person, but it still took quite a bit of googling for me to be able to get everything working. Secondly a lot of the smart home stuff feel a bit gimmicky in the end. For instance the Frigidaire portable air conditioner integration with the Google Assistant is more annoying than useful. It basically requires me to start by asking to talk to Frigidaire and then listen to a ton of crap before I can even start trying to do anything. As for the lights we do actually turn them on and off quite a bit using the voice commands (at least I try to until I realize my wife has disconnected the google assistant in order to use its cable to charge her phone :). I also realized that while installing and buying the in-wall switches are a bit more costly and complicated than just getting some smart bulbs it does work a lot better as I can then control the lights using both voice and switch. Because the smart bulbs can not be turned on using voice if you have a normal switch turned off (obviously, but not something I thought about before buying). So getting something like the IKEA bulbs is a nice and cheap way to try this stuff out I don’t see it as our long term solution here. The thermostat we haven’t controlled or queried once since I did the initial testing of its connection to Google assistant.

All in all I have to say that the smart home tech is cute, but it is far from being essential. I might end up putting in more wall switches for the light going forward, but apart from that, having smart home support in a device is not going to drive my purchasing decisions. Maybe as the tech matures and becomes more mainstream it will also become more useful, but as it stands it mostly solves first world problems (although of course there are real gains here for various accessibility situations).

Warming up for Fedora Workstation 28

Been some time now since my last update on what is happening in Fedora Workstation and with current plans to release Fedora Workstation 28 in early May I thought this could be a good time to write something. As usual this is just a small subset of what the team has been doing and I always end up feeling a bit bad for not talking about the avalanche of general fixes and improvements the team adds to each release.

Thunderbolt
Christian Kellner has done a tremendous job keeping everyone informed of his work making sure we have proper Thunderbolt support in Fedora Workstation 28. One important aspect for us of this improved Thunderbolt support is that a lot of docking stations coming out will be requiring it and thus without this work being done you would not be able to use a wide range of docking stations. For a lot of screenshots and more details about how the thunderbolt support is done I recommend reading this article in Christians Blog.

3rd party applications
It has taken us quite some time to get there as getting this feature right both included a lot of internal discussion about policies around it and implementation detail. But starting from Fedora Workstation 28 you will be able to find more 3rd party software listed in GNOME Software if you enable it. The way it will work is that you as part of the initial setup will be asked if you want to have 3rd party software show up in GNOME Software. If you are upgrading you will be asked inside GNOME Software if you want to enable 3rd party software. You can also disable 3rd party software after enabling it from the GNOME Software settings as seen below:

GNOME Software settings

GNOME Software settings

In Fedora Workstation 27 we did have PyCharm available, but we have now added the NVidia driver and Steam to the list for Fedora Workstation 28.

We have also been working with Google to try to get Chrome included here and we are almost there as they merged for instance the needed Appstream metadata some time ago, but the last steps requires some tweaking of how Google generates their package repository (basically adding the appstream metadata to their yum repository) and we don’t have a clear timeline for when that will happen, but as soon as it does the Chrome will also appear in GNOME Software if you have 3rd party software enabled.

As we speak all 3rd party packages are RPMs, but we expect that going forward we will be adding applications packaged as Flatpaks too.

Finally if you want to propose 3rd party applications for inclusion you can find some instructions for how to do it here.

Virtualbox guest
Another major feature that got some attention that we worked on for this release was Hans de Goedes work to ensure Fedora Workstation could run as a virtualbox guest out of the box. We know there are many people who have their first experience with linux running it under Virtualbox on Windows or MacOSX and we wanted to make their first experience as good as possible. Hans worked with the virtualbox team to clean up their kernel drivers and agree on a stable ABI so that they could be merged into the kernel and maintained there from now on.

Firmware updates
The Spectre/Meltdown situation did hammer home to a lot of people the need to have firmware updates easily available and easy to update. We created the Linux Vendor Firmware service for Fedora Workstation users with that in mind and it was great to see the service paying off for many Linux users, not only on Fedora, but also on other distributions who started using the service we provided. I would like to call out to Dell who was a critical partner for the Linux Vendor Firmware effort from day 1 and thus their users got the most benefit from it when Spectre and Meltdown hit. Spectre and Meltdown also helped get a lot of other vendors off the fence or to accelerate their efforts to support LVFS and Richard Hughes and Peter Jones have been working closely with a lot of new vendors during this cycle to get support for their hardware and devices into LVFS. In fact Peter even flew down to the offices one of the biggest laptop vendors recently to help them resolve the last issues before their hardware will start showing up in the firmware service. Thanks to the work of Richard Hughes and Peter Jones you will both see a wider range of brands supported in the Linux Vendor Firmware Service in Fedora Workstation 28, but also a wider range of device classes.

Server side GL Vendor Neutral Dispatch
This is a bit of a technical detail, but Adam Jackson and Lyude Paul has been working hard this cycle on getting what we call Server side GLVND ready for Fedora Workstation 28. Currently we are looking at enabling it either as a zero-day update or short afterwards. so what is Server Side GLVND you say? Well it is basically the last missing piece we need to enable the use of the NVidia binary driver through XWayland. Currently the NVidia driver works with Wayland native OpenGL applications, but if you are trying to run an OpenGL application requiring X we need this to support it. And to be clear once we ship this in Fedora Workstation 28 it will also require a driver update from NVidia to use it, so us shipping it is just step 1 here. We do also expect there to be some need for further tuning once we got all the pieces released to get top notch performance. Of course over time we hope and expect all applications to become Wayland native, but this is a crucial transition technology for many of our users. Of course if you are using Intel or AMD graphics with the Mesa drivers things already work great and this change will not affect you in any way.

Flatpak
Flatpaks basically already work, but we have kept focus this time around on to fleshing out the story in terms of the so called Portals. Portals are essentially how applications are meant to be able to interact with things outside of the container on your desktop. Jan Grulich has put in a lot of great effort making sure we get portal support for Qt and KDE applications, most recently by adding support for the screen capture portal on top of Pipewire. You can ready more about that on Jan Grulichs blog. He is now focusing on getting the printing portal working with Qt.

Wim Taymans has also kept going full steam ahead of PipeWire, which is critical for us to enable applications dealing with cameras and similar on your system to be containerized. More details on that in my previous blog entry talking specifically about Pipewire.

It is also worth noting that we are working with Canonical engineers to ensure Portals also works with Snappy as we want to ensure that developers have a single set of APIs to target in order to allow their applications to be sandboxed on Linux. Alexander Larsson has already reviewed quite a bit of code from the Snappy developers to that effect.

Performance work
Our engineers have spent significant time looking at various performance and memory improvements since the last release. The main credit for the recently talked about ‘memory leak’ goes to Georges Basile Stavracas Neto from Endless, but many from our engineering team helped with diagnosing that and also fixed many other smaller issues along the way. More details about the ‘memory leak’ fix in Georges blog.

We are not done here though and Alberto Ruiz is organizing a big performance focused hackfest in Cambridge, England in May. We hope to bring together many of our core engineers to work with other members of the community to look at possible improvements. The Raspberry Pi will be the main target, but of course most improvements we do to make GNOME Shell run better on a Raspberry Pi also means improvements for normal x86 systems too.

Laptop Battery life
In our efforts to make Linux even better on laptops Hans De Goede spent a lot of time figuring out things we could do to make Fedora Workstation 28 have better battery life. How valuable these changes are will of course depend on your exact hardware, but I expect more or less everyone to have a bit better battery life on Fedora Workstation 28 and for some it could be a lot better battery life. You can read a bit more about these changes in Hans de Goedes blog.

An update on Pipewire – the multimedia revolution

We launched PipeWire last September with this blog entry. I thought it would be interesting for people to hear about the latest progress on what I believe is going to be a gigantic step forward for the Linux desktop. So I caught up with Pipewire creator Wim Taymans during DevConf 2018 in Brno where Wim is doing a talk about Pipewire and we discussed the current state of the code and Wim demonstrated a few of the things that PipeWire now can do.

Christian Schaller and Wim Taymans testing PipeWire with Cheese

Christian Schaller and Wim Taymans testing PipeWire with Cheese

Priority number 1: video handling

So as we said when we launched the top priority for PipeWire is to address our needs on the video side of multimedia. This is critical due to the more secure nature of Wayland, which makes the old methods for screen sharing not work anymore and the emergence of desktop containers in the form of Flatpak. Thus we need PipeWire to help us provide appliation and desktop developers with a new method for doing screen sharing and also to provide a secure way for applications inside a container to access audio and video devices on the system.

There are 3 major challenges PipeWire wants to solve for video. One is device sharing, meaning that multiple applications can share the same video hardware device, second it wants to be able to do so in a secure manner, ensuring your video streams are not highjacked by a rogue process and finally it wants to provide an efficient method for sharing of multimedia between applications, like for instance fullscreen capture from your compositor (like GNOME Shell) to your video conferencing application running in your browser like Google Hangouts, Blue Jeans or Pexip.

So the first thing Wim showed me in action was the device sharing. We launched the GNOME photoboot application Cheese which gets PipeWire support for free thanks to the PipeWire GStreamer plugin. And this is an important thing to remember, thanks to so many Linux applications using GStreamer these days we don’t need to port each one of them to PipeWire, instead the PipeWire GStreamer plugin does the ‘porting’ for us. We then launched a gst-launch command line pipeline in a terminal. The result is two applications sharing the same webcam input without one of them blocking access for the other.

Cheese and GStreamer pipeline running on Pipewiere

As you can see from the screenshot above it worked fine, and this was actually done on my Fedora Workstation 27 system and the only thing we had to do was to start the ‘pipewire’ process in a termal before starting Cheese and the gst-launch pipeline. GStreamer autoplugging took care of the rest. So feel free to try this out yourself if you are interested, but be aware that you will find bugs quickly if you try things like on the fly resolution changes or switching video devices. This is still tech preview level software in Fedora 27.

The plan is for Wim Taymans to sit down with the web browser maintainers at Red Hat early next week and see if we can make progress on supporting PipeWire in Firefox and Chrome, so that conferencing software like the ones mentioned above can start working fully under Wayland.

Since security was one of the drivers for the move to Wayland from X Windows we of course also put a lot of emphasis of not recreating the security holes of X in the compositor. So the way PipeWire now works is that if an application wants to do full screen capture it will check with the compositor through a dbus-api, or a portal in Flatpak and Wayland terminology, and only allows the permited application to do the screen capture, so the stream can’t be highjacked by a random rougue application or process on your computer. This also works from within a sandboxed setting like Flatpaks.

Jack Support

Another important goal of PipeWire was to bring all Linux audio and video together, which means PipeWire needed to be as good or better replacement for Jack for the Pro-Audio usecase. This is a tough usecase to satisfy so while getting the video part has been the top development priority Wim has also worked on verifying that the design allows for the low latency and control needed for Pro-Audio. To do this Wim has implemented the Jack protocol on top of PipeWire.

Carla, a Jack application running on top of PipeWire.


Through that work he has now verified that he is able to achieve the low latency needed for pro-audio with PipeWire and that he will be able to run Jack applications without changes on top of PipeWire. So above you see a screenshot of Carla, a Jack-based application running on top of PipeWire with no Jack server running on the system.

ALSA/Legacy applications

Another item Wim has written the first code for and verfied will work well is the Alsa emulation. The goal of this piece of code is to allow applications using the ALSA userspace API to output to Pipewire without needing special porting or application developer effort. At Red Hat we have many customers with older bespoke applications using this API so it has been of special interest for us to ensure this works just as well as the native ALSA output. It is also worth nothing that Pipewire also does mixing so that sound being routed through ALSA will get seamlessly mixed with audio coming through the Jack layer.

Bluetooth support

The last item Wim has spent some time on since last September is working on making sure Bluetooth output works and he demonstrated this to me while we where talking together during DevConf. The Pipewire bluetooth module plugs directly into the Bluez Bluetooth framework, meaning that things like the GNOME Bluetooth control panel just works with it without any porting work needed. And while the code is still quite young, Wim demonstrated pairing and playing music over bluetooth using it to me.

What about PulseAudio?

So as you probably noticed one thing we didn’t mention above is how to deal with PulseAudio applications. Handling this usecase is still on the todo list and the plan is to at least initially just keep PulseAudio running on the system outputing its sound through PipeWire. That said we are a bit unsure how many appliations would actually be using this path because as mentioned above all GStreamer applications for instance would be PipeWire native automatically through the PipeWire GStreamer plugins. And for legacy applications the PipeWire ALSA layer would replace the current PulseAudio ALSA layer as the default ALSA output, meaning that the only applications left are those outputing to PulseAudio directly themselves. The plan would also be to keep the PulseAudio ALSA device around so if people want to use things like the PulseAudio networked audio functionality they can choose the PA ALSA device manually to be able to keep doing so.
Over time the goal would of course be to not have to keep the PulseAudio daemon around, but dropping it completely is likely to be a multiyear process with current plans, so it is kinda like XWayland on top of Wayland.

Summary

So you might read this and think, hey if all this work we are almost done right? Well unfortunately no, the components mentioned here are good enough for us to verify the design and features, but they still need a lot of maturing and testing before they will be in a state where we can consider switching Fedora Workstation over to using them by default. So there are many warts that needs to be cleaned up still, but a lot of things have become a lot more tangible now than when we last spoke about PipeWire in September. The video handling we hope to enable in Fedora Workstation 28 as mentioned, while the other pieces we will work towards enabling in later releases as the components mature.
Of course the more people interesting in joining the PipeWire community to help us out, the quicker we can mature these different pieces. So if you are interested please join us in #pipewire on irc.freenode.net or just clone the code of github and start hacking. You find the details for irc and git here.

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.

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 :)

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.