So as most of you probably know Mark Shuttleworth just announced that they will be switching to GNOME 3 and Wayland again for Ubuntu. So I would like to on behalf of the Red Hat Desktop and Fedora teams to welcome them and say that we look forward to keep working with great Canonical and Ubuntu people like Allison Lortie and Robert Ancell on projects of shared interest around GNOME, Wayland and hopefully Flatpak.
It is worth mentioning that even as we been competing with Unity and Ubuntu we have also been collaborating with them, most recently on working with them to integrate the features they wanted from GNOME Software like the user reviews, but of course now sharing a bigger set of technologies collaboration will be even easier.
I am personally happy to see this convergence of efforts happening because I have for a long time felt that the general level of investment in the Linux desktop has not been great enough to justify the plethora of Linux desktops out there, so by now having reached a position where Canonical, Endless, Red Hat and Suse again share one desktop technology stack and along with consulting companies like Centricular, CodeThink, Collabora and Igalia helping push parts of the stack forward we are at least all pulling in the same direction.
This change should also make life easier for ISV who now have a more clear target if they want to try to integrate their UI with the Linux desktop as ‘the linux desktop’ becomes a more meaningful term with this change.
And to state the obvious, we will continue our effort around Fedora Workstation to continue to lead on innovation and engineering and setting the direction for where Desktop Linux goes in the future.
So there is a thread on Hacker News based on a question from a Canonical employee asking for feedback on what people want from the next version of Ubuntu. I always try to read such threads even when they are not about Fedora or Red Hat. I fact I often read such articles and threads about non-Linux systems too to help understand what people are looking for and thus enable us to prioritize what we do with Fedora Workstation even better.
Over the last few years I do feel we managed to nail down what the major pain points are and crossed them out one by one or gotten people assigned to work on them. So a lot of the items people asked for in that thread we already have in Fedora Workstation or have already in our roadmap. So I thought it would be nice to write them up and maybe encourage people to take a look at Fedora Workstation if you haven’t done so already. The list below is my trying to go through the long thread and pick up important and recurring topics, so I hope I got most of them, but if I missed something feel free to add a comment and I will try to answer.
1. Handling of DPI scaling and HiDPI
This has been something we been working on for quite a while. I think we where the first distribution to implemented general HiDPi and put a lot of engineering time into updating Wayland and GNOME to make it happen. That said things are not perfect yet. But we are working on resolving those. Jonas Ådahl and Rui Matos are currently trying to resolve the two main issues we still see. The first item is non-integer UI scaling. Currently we only offer integer scaling meaning that we only offer 2x scaling. This is to much however so we are working on a solution to offer fractional scaling like 1.5 for instance. We are certain to have that ready for Fedora Workstation 27, but there is a small hope we can finalize it already for Fedora Workstation 26. The other item is dealing with applications relying on XWayland because they do not support DPI scaling across two or more monitors, unlike native Wayland applications. We are dealing with that in two ways, one being working with upstreams to get their applications Wayland native like the work we been doing with LibreOffice and Firefox. We are also trying to come up with a scaling solution for XWayland using applications, but we haven’t been able to come up with a solution there yet.
2. Multitouch gestures like 3-finger swipe to change workspace.
This is another item we have put significant effort into. Over the last few years we made sure that we went from almost no touch support in the desktop to now supporting touch throughout the stack. The one big remaining item that was holding items like proper gestures back is that until kernel 4.12 is out the Synaptics touchpads are using PS/2. This causes only 2 touches to be reported, which is not great when you want 3 fingers gestures. With the new kernel, we will be using a different bus for those Synaptics touchpads, and we will have proper 5 fingers support. Benjamin Tissoires on our team has spent 4 years to get this code upstream but it’s finally here. We plan on backport this code to Fedora Workstation 26. Of course application developers will need to make use of the infrastructure in their applications for this feature to be fully realized everywhere.
3. Battery life
This is something we realize is a major issue and it has been on our agenda for a long time. It is a really hard issue to resolve because it is tied into a lot of things outside of control, like hardware used and in some cases third party drivers. That said, as many of you might know we recently set up a Laptop team here inside the bigger Red Hat desktop team and battery life is one of their top priorities. Christian Kellner is our point man on battery life and he has taken over the GNOME Battery bench tool that was originally created by Owen Taylor when we starting looking at battery life. He is currently working on improving GNOME battery bench and talking to hardware vendors to figure out what we can do. We are also actively speaking with NVidia to ensure that we can provide good battery life for hybrid graphics users when the binary NVidia driver is installed. We hope to agree with them on interfaces that should allow us to provide top notch battery life for such systems, but we are beholden to changes in the binary drivers to make that happen so it is also an example of the limits of what we can do on our own here.
4. UEFI issues
There where people on the Hacker News thread talking about issues with UEFI. Once again this is an area where we have a dedicated engineer assigned to UEFI and making sure it works great. In fact Peter Jones who is our UEFI point man is on the UEFI standards commitee doing ongoing work to ensure the standard is open source friendly and well supported by Linux. It is also worth mentioning that we created the Linux Vendor Firmware Service to make updating UEFI firmware and easy process. So if you see firmware updates offered in GNOME Software for your laptop or other devices that is because of the work we put into this service. We expect to have most of the major vendors signed up by the end of the year, so if your system is currently not supported that is hopefully a temporary thing. So this is both something that works well under Fedora and RHEL due to having someone dedicated to the effort and it is another example us doing the heavy lifting to make things actually happen.
5. We got Wayland
A lot of people in the thread asked about Wayland support and well, we got Wayland! And this is another area where we dedicated serious engineering resources to it and are continuing to do so. For instance in addition to the above mentioned multi-DPI system work we are working on items such as HDR (High dynamic range) and next generation hybrid graphics support in Wayland. We are also working with NVidia to ensure their binary driver works well with Wayland.
6. Something like Redshift
Some time ago we picked up on the growing popularity of tools such as Redshift and f.lux and this was another often repeated request in that Hacker News thread. Well we once again invested our resources into this and thus in the newly released GNOME 3.24 there is built in support for this feature, called Night Light. We drove this feature work and it will of course be available alongside GNOME 3.24 in Fedora Workstation 26.
7. Improved GPU driver update
This is another item we be spending significant time and resources on. We have a team dedicated to work on the linux graphics stack, which includes people like the graphics subsystem kernel maintainer and RADV creator Dave Airlie, Nouveau maintainer Ben Skeggs, core X, Mesa and Wayland dev Adam Jackson, Freedreeno creator and maintainer Rob Clark and more. This team is pushing the linux graphics stack forward alongside their colleagues at Intel, AMD and NVidia. The one thing we recently been working on for instance is dealing with the NVidia binary driver which has been a pain for a long time due to the file level conflict with Mesa. We didn’t want to do a workaround or hack, so what we did was work with NVidia on their glvnd proposal to make that a reality. This included supporting glvnd in Mesa in addition to the NVidia driver, but also working with the OS level tools to ensure fallbacks and autodetection worked fine. We got the basics of glvnd support already in Fedora and are polishing it up. Hans de Goede who took over that work from Adam Jackson has recently be working with the fine folks at rpmfusion and negativo17 to make sure we have some good packages available taking full advantage of his work, and thus enabling easy install and upgrade of these drivers. We are also planning to start offering a COPR with the latest and greatest Mesa drivers going forward to ensure you can always have the latest drivers available if you want to test and try them out.
8.Improved printer support
Even in this digital work printing is still important and thus we got people dedicated to this task too. So Marek Kasik is working on ensuring we keep CUPS working well and Felipe Borges recently wrote a blog entry talking about the redesigned printer control panel. So this is another area we are spending serious resources on and continuously trying to improve.
9. Improve Bluetooth
Bastien Nocera on our team is probably the person who has done the single most to make sure desktop bluetooth is working at all. We decided to boost that effort by having Christian Kellner work on this too, so he has been working on patches for various bluetooth related issues with Bastien providing guidance and code review. We are also working on coming up with some kind of bluetooth testing harness to allow us to catch regressions more easily and verify support on new hardware. Christian focus currently is improving the handling of Bluetooth Audio.
If you are contemplating giving Fedora a try I think the items above illustrate one thing very strongly and that is how many of these issues we are the primary force behind, so by using Fedora you are not only getting access to them first and at the same time have some assurance that the integration work has been done right, but you are also supporting the effort of moving these technologies forward and also putting yourself in a position to more directly interact with the engineers working on these and a long slew of other important technologies in the desktop and beyond. And our efforts are not just limited to writing code, like for example our current effort to clear the legal hurdles blocking Linux systems from supporting various media codecs. So if you haven’t already I strongly suggest you go to the Get Fedora website and grab our convenient Fedora installer or an ISO image. And as I said initially if you have other pressing items I didn’t cover here, feel free to post a comment and I will be happy to try to answer any questions I get.
One of the thing we are working hard at currently is ensuring you have the codecs you need available in Fedora Workstation. Our main avenue for doing this is looking at the various codecs out there and trying to determine if the intellectual property situation allows us to start shipping all or parts of the technologies involved. This was how we were able to start shipping mp3 playback support for Fedora Workstation 25. Of course in cases where this is obviously not the case we have things like the agreement with our friends at Cisco allowing us to offer H264 support using their licensed codec, which is how OpenH264 started being available in Fedora Workstation 24.
As you might imagine clearing a codec for shipping is a slow and labour intensive process with lawyers and engineers spending a lot of time reviewing stuff to figure out what can be shipped when and how. I am hoping to have more announcements like this coming out during the course of the year.
So I am very happy to announce today that we are now working on packaging the codec known as AC3 (also known as A52) for Fedora Workstation 26. The name AC3 might not be very well known to you, but AC3 is part of a set of technologies developed by Dolby and marketed as Dolby Surround. This means that if you have video files with surround sound audio it is most likely something we can playback with an AC3 decoder. AC3/A52 is also used for surround sound TV broadcasts in the US and it is the audio format used by some Sony and Panasonic video cameras.
We will be offering AC3 playback in Fedora Workstation 26 and we are looking into options for offering an encoder. To be clear there are nothing stopping us from offering an encoder apart from finding an implementation that is possible to package and ship with Fedora with an reasonable amount of effort. The most well known open source implementation we know about is the one found in ffmpeg/libav, but extracting a single codec to ship from ffmpeg or libav is a lot of work and not something we currently have the resources to do. We found another implementation called aften, but that seems to be unmaintaned for years, but we will look at it to see if it could be used.
But if you are interested in AC3 encoding support we would love it if someone started working on a standalone AC3 encoder we could ship, be that by picking up maintership of Aften, splitting out AC3 encoding from libav or ffmpeg or writting something new.
I started writing this blog entry at the end of January, but kept delaying publishing it due to waiting for some cool updates we are working on. But I decided today that instead of keep pushing the 2016 review part back I should just do this as two separate blog entries. So here is my Fedora Workstation 2016 Summary
We did two major releases of Fedora Workstation, namely 24 and 25 each taking is steps closer to realising our vision for the future of the Linux Desktop. I am really happy that we finally managed to default to Wayland in Fedora Workstation 25. As Jonathan Corbet of LWN so well put it: “That said, it’s worth pointing out that the move to Wayland is a huge transition; we are moving away from a display manager that has been in place since before Linus Torvalds got his first computer”.
Successfully replacing the X11 system that has been used since 1987 is no small feat and we have to remember many tried over the years and failed. So a big Thank You to Kristian Høgsberg for his incredible work getting Wayland off the ground and build consensus around it from the community. I am always full of admiration for those who manage to create these kind of efforts up from their first line of code to a place where a vibrant and dynamic community can form around them.
And while we for sure have some issues left to resolve I think the launch of Wayland in Fedora Workstation 25 was so strong that we managed to keep and accelerate the momentum needed to leave the orbit of X11 and have it truly take on a life of its own.
Because we have succeeded not just in forming a community around Wayland, but with getting the existing linux graphics driver community to partake in the move, we managed to get the major desktop toolkits to partake in the move and I believe we have managed to get the community at large to partake in the move. And we needed all of those 3 to join us for this transition to have a chance to succeed with it. If this had only been about us at Red Hat and in the Fedora community who cared and contributed it would have gone nowhere, but this was truly one of those efforts that pulled together almost everyone in the wider linux community, and showcased what is possible when such a wide coalition of people get together. So while for instance we don’t ship an Enlightenment spin of Fedora (interested parties would be encouraged to do so though) we did value and appreciate the work they where doing around Wayland, simply because the bigger the community the more development and bug fixing you will see on the shared infrastructure.
A part of the Wayland effort was the new input library Peter Hutterer put out called libinput. That library allowed us to clean up our input stack and also share the input code between X and Wayland. A lot of credit to Peter and Benjamin Tissoires for their work here as the transition like the later Wayland transition succeeded without causing a huge amount of pain for our users.
And this is also our approach for Flatpak which for us forms a crucial tandem with Wayland and the future of the Linux desktop. To ensure the project is managed in a way that is open and transparent to all and allows for different groups to adapt it to their specific usecases. And so far it is looking good, with early adoption and trials from the IVI community, traditional Linux distributions, device makers like Endless and platforms such as Steam. Each of these using the technologies or looking to use them in slightly different ways, but still all collaborating on pushing the shared technologies forward.
We managed to make some good steps forward in our effort to drain the swamp of Desktop Linux land (only unfortunate thing here is a certain Trump deciding to cybersquat on the ‘drain the swamp’ mantra) with adding H264 and mp3 support to Fedora Workstation. And while the H264 support still needs some work to support more profiles (which we unfortunately did not get to in 2016) we have other codec related work underway which I think will help move the needle on this being a big issue even further. The work needed on OpenH264 is not forgotten, but Wim Taymans ended up doing a lot more multimedia plumbing work for our container based future than originally planned. I am looking forward to share more details of where his work is going these days though as it could bring another group of makers into the world of mainstream desktop Linux when its ready.
Another piece of swamp draining that happened was around the Linux Firmware Service, which went from strength to strength in 2016. We had new vendors sign up throughout the year and while not all of those efforts are public I do expect that by the end of 2017 we will have most major hardware vendors offering firmware through the service. And not only system firmware updates but things like Logitech mice and keyboards will also be available.
Of course the firmware update service also has a client part and GNOME Software truly became a powerhouse for driving change during 2016, being the catalyst not only for the firmware update service, but also for linux applications providing good metadata in a standardized manner. The Appstream format required by GNOME Software has become the de-facto standard. And speaking of GNOME Software the distribution upgrade functionality we added in Fedora 24 and improved in Fedora 25 has become pretty flawless. Always possible to improve of course, but the biggest problem I heard of was due to versioning issue due to us pushing the mp3 decoding support for Fedora in at the very last minute and thus not giving 3rd party repositories a reasonable chance to update their packaging to account for it. Lesson learnt for going forward
These are just of course a small subset of the things we accomplished in 2016, but I was really happy to see the great reception we had to Fedora 25 last year, with a lot of major new sites giving it stellar reviews and also making it their distribution of the year. The growth curves in terms of adoption we are seeing for Fedora Workstation is a great encouragement for the team and helps is validate that we are on the right track with setting our development priorities. My hope for 2017 is that even more of you will decide to join our effort and switch to Fedora and 2017 will be the year of Fedora Workstation! On that note the very positive reception to the Fedora Media Writer that we introduced as the default download for Fedora Workstation 25 was great to see. Being able to have one simple tool to use regardless of which operating system you come to us from simplifies so much in terms of both communication on our end and lowering the threshold of adoption on the end user side.
So, in Fedora Workstation 24 we added H264 support through OpenH264. In Fedora Workstation 25 I am happy to tell you all that we are taking another step in improving our codec support by adding support for mp3 playback. I know this has been a big wishlist item for a long time for a lot of people so I am really happy that we are finally in a position to fulfil that wish. You should be able to download the mp3 plugin on day 1 through GNOME Software or through the missing codec installer in various GStreamer applications. For Fedora Workstation 26 I would not be surprised if we decide to ship it on the install media.
Fo the technically inclined out there, our initial enablement is through the mpeg123 library and corresponding GStreamer plugin. The main reason we choose this library over all the others available out there was a combination of using the same license as GStreamer (lgpl v2) and being a well established library used by a lot of different applications already. There might be other mp3 decoders added in the future depending on interest in and effort by the community. So get ready to install Fedora Workstation 25 when its released soon and play some tunes
P.S. To be 110% clear we will not be adding encoding support at this time.
When we started the Fedora Workstation effort one thing we wanted to do was to drain the proverbial swamp of make sure that running Linux on a laptop is a first rate experience. As you see from my last blog entry we have been working on building a team dedicated to that task. There are many facets to this effort, but one that we kept getting asked about was sorting out hybrid graphics. So be aware that some of this has been covered in previous blog entries, but I want to be thorough here. So this blog will cover the big investments of time and effort we are putting into Wayland and X Windows, GNOME Shell and Nouveau (the open source driver for NVidia GPU hardware).
A big part of this story is also that we are trying to make it easier to run the NVidia binary driver on Fedora in general which is actually a fairly large undertaking as there are a lot challenges with trying to do that without requiring any manual configuration from the user and making sure it works fully in the hybrid graphics usecase. This is one of the most requested areas of improvement for Fedora. Many users are trying to run Fedora on their existing laptops or other hardware. Rather than allow this gap to be a reason for people to not run Fedora, we want to provide a better experience. Of course users will have the freedom to make their own choice about installing these drivers, using information provided by Software.
Hybrid graphics is the term used for when you have a laptop with two GPUs, usually one Intel and one NVidia GPU, but there are also some laptops available which comes with Intel/AMD CPU + AMD GPU. The purpose of hybrid graphics is to have your (Intel) Integrated GPU be your ‘day to day GPU’ for running your desktop yet not drawing to much power, but then if you want to for instance play a game on your system you can activate your secondary GPU which got a lot more power, but which also draws more electricity.
What complicated this even more was the fact that most users who wanted to use this setup wanted to use it in combination with the binary NVidia driver, in order to get top performance from their second GPU, which is not surprising since that is the whole point of switching to it. The main challenge with this was that the Mesa and binary NVidia driver both provided an OpenGL implementation that due to the way things works in the X Window System ended up overwriting each other, basically breaking the overwritten driver. The solution for this was a system called Bumblebee which employed some clever hacks to work around this issue, but Bumblebee is a solution to a problem we shouldn’t have to begin with.
Of course dealing with the OpenGL stack wasn’t the only challenge here. For instance different display outputs ended up being connected to different GPUs, with one of the most common setups being that the internal screen is connected to your Intel GPU and your external HDMI and DisplayPort connections are connected to your NVidia or AMD GPU. One some systems there where hardware connectors allowing you to display using either GPU to any screen, but a setup we see becoming more common is that the drivers for both card needs to be initialized in all cases, allowing the display connected GPU to slave itself to the other GPU to allow rendering on one GPU and displaying on the other. Within Mesa this is fairly straightforward to handle, so if both Intel and NVidia as rendering using Mesa things are fairly straightforward. What makes this a lot more challenging here is the NVidia binary driver, so once you install the binary driver we need to find a way to bridge and interoperate between these two stacks.
And of course that is just the highlights, like anything complex like this there are a long laundry list of items from the point where you can checkbox having a feature to it working really well and seamless.
What to expect in Fedora Workstation 25
Lets start with a word of caution here, we are working on a tight deadline here to get all the pieces lined up, so I can not be 100% sure what will make it for the day of release. What we are confident about though is that we will have all the low level plumbing sorted so that we can improve this over the course of the Fedora 25 lifecycle. As always I hope the community will join us in testing and developing this, to ensure we have even the corner cases worked out for Fedora Workstation 26.
The initial step we took and this is quite some time ago was that Dave Airlie worked on making sure we could handle two GPUs within the Mesa stack. As a bit of wordplay on the NVidia solution being called Optimus the open source Mesa solution was named Prime. This work basically allowed you to use Mesa for your Intel card and use Mesa (Nouveau) for your NVidia card and launch applications on the NVidia card while the screen was connected to the Intel card. You can choose which one is used by setting the DRI_PRIME=1 environment variable.
The second step was Adam Jackson collaborating with NVidia on something called libglvnd. Libglvnd stands for GL Vendor Neutral Dispatch and it is basically a dispatch layer that allows your OpenGL calls to be dispatched to more than one OpenGL implementation. Nvidia created this specification and have been steadily working on supporting it in their binary driver, but Adam Jackson stepped up to help review their patches and work on supporting glvnd in the Mesa drivers. This means that for Fedora Workstation 25 you should for the first time ever be able to have both the binary NVidia driver and Mesa installed without any file conflicts. So the X server now has the infrastructure to route your OpenGL call to the correct stack when that DRI_PRIME variable is set. That said there is a major catch here, due to the way things currently work once the NVidia binary driver is installed it expects to be rendering the screen all the time. So we need for the short term to figure out a way to allow it to do that, and in the long run we need to work with NVidia to figure out how the Intel open source driver can collaborate with the Nvidia driver to allow us to only use the Intel driver at times (to save on power for instance). We are still pushing hard on trying to have the short term fix in place, but as I write this we haven’t fully nailed this down yet.
The third step is work that Ben Skeggs has been doing on dealing with the monitor handling here, which includes adding MST support to Nouveau, because a lot of external ports and docking stations have not been working with these hybrid graphics setups due to the external screens all being routed through the NVidia chip. These patches just got accepted upstream and we will be including them in Fedora Workstation 25.
The fourth step has been work that Hans de Goede has been doing around Prime, fixing the modesetting driver and fixing cursor handling with hybrid graphics. In some sense the work Hans has been doing, and check his blog entry linked, is part of that washlist I talked about, the many smaller items that needs to work smoothly for this to go from ‘checkbox works’ to ‘actually works’. He is also working with the DNF team to allow us to control the kernel updates if you use the binary NVidia driver, meaning that we will only bump up your kernel driver when we have the binary NVidia driver module ready too. If for any reason the binary Nvidia driver doesn’t work we want to have graceful fallback to Nouveau.
Fifth step has been Jonas Ådahls work on enabling the binary NVidia driver for Wayland. He has put together a set of patches to be able to support NVidias EGLStreams interface, which means that starting from Fedora Workstation 25 you will be able to use Wayland also with NVidias binary driver.
You can see his work in progress patches here. Jonas will also be looking at implementing hybrid graphics support in Wayland, so we ensure that also for this usecase Wayland is on par with X for Fedora Workstation 26.
The sixth step has been work done by Bastien Nocera to ensure we expose this functionality in the user interface. The idea is that you should be able to configure on a per application basis which GPU they are being launched on. It also means that you can now get all your GPU information in the GNOME about screen also when you have dual-GPU systems. More details in his blog post here.
The seventh step is the work that Simone Caronni from Negativo17 has been doing on working with us on packaging the binary NVidia driver in a way that makes all this work. You can find his repo here on Negativo17, but Simone has also been working with Kalev Lember and Richard Hughes to ensure the driver show up correctly in GNOME Software once you have the repository enabled.
The plan is to offer the driver in Fedora Workstation 25 as third party software, but we haven’t yet made the formal proposal due to wanting to be sure we ironed out all important bugs first, both on our side and on NVidia side.
So as you can see from all of this there are a lot of components involved and since we are trying to support both X and Wayland with all of this the job hasn’t exactly been easy. There are for sure some things that will not be ready in time for Fedora Workstation 25, for instance if you want to use the binary NVidia driver we will not be able to make that work with XWayland. So native Wayland applications will be fine, including games using SDL on top of Wayland, but due to how the stack is architected we haven’t gotten around to implementing bridging OpenGL from Xwayland down to the binary NVidia driver. With Nouveau it should work however. This corner case we will have to figure out for Fedora Workstation 26, but for now we have decided that if we detect a Optimus system we will default you to X instead of Wayland.
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.
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.
Fedora, Red Hat, GStreamer and more
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