FUDCon APAC 2015 in Pune

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I had the pleasure to attend my second FUDCon APAC, in Pune, India this time. I arrived the day before the conference at the airport in Bombay where I met Tuan. After four tiring hours, we arrived to Pune and met Kushal.

My contribution to the conference was a keynote on Fedora Workstation. I found out just a couple of days before the conference that my talk had been selected as a keynote. That is why I changed my presentation last minute, I removed slides with technical details, so that it’s understandable for general audience. I also didn’t speak about Fedora Workstation specifically, but about (Linux) desktop problems in general and how we’re trying to solve them in Fedora Workstation. I think the talk went pretty well and received a lot of questions in Q&A at the end of the keynote and later during hallway conversations. The most frequent complaint of users was lack of multimedia support, so I added it to my presentation, and explained that it’s not really a technical issue, and that we’re working hard to make it better, and that we might see a significant improvement in Fedora 23.

Me giving the keynote, photo is courtesy of Kushal Das.

Me giving the keynote, photo is courtesy of Kushal Das.

I also really enjoyed other keynotes, especially the one by Tenzin Chokden who has worked on adding Tibetan translations to Fedora.

I also achieved other things:

  • participated in the discussion about the location for the next FUDCon APAC.
  • shared with APAC ambassadors what is our system for swag production and distribution in EMEA.
  • attended a key-signing party and got my GPG key signed by Harris Pillay, Dennis Gilmore, Jared Smith and others.
  • met a lot of Fedora contributors from India and people from Pune office of Red Hat.
  • agreed with Ryan Lerch that we would create a repository of artworks for Fedora swag production (yay!)

I’m staying in India for a few more days. I and Dennis Gilmore went to the historical center of Pune on Monday and to highlands near Pune yesterday.

I’d like to thank Fedora Project for providing me with accommodation during the conference and taking care of me (it was my first conference where they arranged a pick-up at the airport for me!). My big thanks go to the whole organizing team and especially Kushal who has been a great host to us.

I’ve moved from Google back to Jabber

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Yesterday I finally did what I had been planning for some time – moved from Google (Talk) back to Jabber. I started using Gtalk many years ago because at that time it was the most reliable XMPP service around and it had online history.

But Google has moved to closed Hangouts and recently announced that they would discontinue the XMPP compatibility. It hasn’t taken place yet, but the compatibility is getting worse and worse. I can’t add contacts from other Jabber servers, don’t receive their requests. If they send me a message, it’s not delivered to the mobile app etc. I have had enough.

Because I’m running Google services on my own domain, the move was pretty simple. I just changed DNS records and moved my contact list. I sometimes really regret that Jabber has not been widely adopted. I really love the idea of just moving your account to a different provider if you’re not satisfied with the current one. Almost zero vendor lockin. If I disappeared from your contact list, you may need to add me again. My account is jiri [] eischmann [] cz. It’s hosted by my friend who runs aerohosting.cz and offers Jabber as an additional service as well as e.g. OwnCloud.

Although I use Jabber, I really like Telegram and I now consider it as my primary instant messaging. It’s the only service from the new wave of IM networks which has a fully open protocol and it’s pretty secure. And I do think it’s also in other aspects better than other IMs such as Messenger, Hangouts, or Whatsapp.

I have also been planning to move my email from Gmail. It won’t be so simple there because I’ve got two more accounts there. I will have to move tens of thousands of emails, and I also will have to disable the accounts somehow internally because otherwise Gmail would keep delivering emails to my old account, I suppose.

Time to revisit how we’re doing updates?

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Fedora 22 is out and it’s again the most quality release we’ve ever released. Our quality assurance is improving and on the developer side, we’re also trying to do our best heavily using ABRT retrace server to prioritize bugs that affect many users. Unfortunately while the quality of releases itself is improving, the quality of updates that follow the release is not.

There are still too many regressions. I’ve installed Fedora on computers of my relatives and they’re happy with it, but sadly I can’t let them do updates themselves because there is still a high risk that they might end up with a broken system. I update their systems myself and always check whether everything is working when I pay them a visit. If we want to attract a larger user base, average users can’t be afraid to update their systems.

IMHO our current updates setup doesn’t ensure the required quality. It’s pretty much a “one-size-fits-all” approach. The kernel, the most critical part of the system, needs the same number of + karmas as some small unimportant, self-contained utility. Updates of critical components get to users too quickly without much of testing. I’ve got updates-testing repo enabled, but whenever I find a (critical) regression it’s very often too late because the update already got +3 karma and made it to the stable updates. Yeah, I already have the “Missed the train” badge :)

While Bodhi is too fast for standard updates, it’s too slow for critical security fixes. Especially in older supported releases (F20 now). There are not many testers willing to test updates there. The active community are usually early adopters who jump on new releases early and a several-month-old release is history to them. Then security updates just get stuck in Bodhi waiting for stable karmas.

What to do with it? I truly believe we need batch updates. One pack of updates, say, once a month. We would collect updates in updates-testing for 3-4 weeks, then freeze it for a week, so that even the latest updates have some time to be properly tested (I can imagine the pack of updates gets some more structured testing like our releases do for example). This way, individual updates would get much more time to be tested and the monthly update could be tested as a whole. I believe it would improve the quality of updates and users would not be under the fire of updates (it’s actually one of frequent complaints that there are too many updates in Fedora).

I don’t see a lot of downsides there. Who’d like to get updates as soon as possible could still enable updates-testing. This actually could build an even bigger community of update testers which would again help improve the quality of updates.

Any security updates? It’s clear that they can’t wait for a month to reach the users. They will need their own process. But I think it’s clearer and clearer that they will need their own process in the current setup as well. Maybe pulling in the security team which would evaluate proposed security updates and if they approve them as critical they will get into some fast track?

I’m going to FUDCon APAC 2015!

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Last year, I was really impressed by the level of organization and atmosphere at FUDCon APAC that took place in Beijing, China which is why I decided to submit a talk for FUDCon APAC 2015, which is going to take place in Pune, India. And guess what! My talk was accepted!

I named the talk “Present and Future of Fedora Workstation”. I’m now part of the Red Hat desktop team and we have a lot of interesting stuff that has made it to F22 and even more interesting stuff that is planned for F23. So I’ll talk about all the goodness that is changing Fedora Workstation into the best desktop system for active and creative users (developers, writers, designers,…).

I’m arriving to Mumbai at 8:35am on June 25th. I’ve seen that some people have arrivals around that time, too. It’d be great to organize transportation to Pune together. After FUDCon, I’m taking a week of holidays and would like to check interesting places around, hope to see e.g. Goa before the proper rain season starts. India will be my 50th visited country and I’m looking forward to it.

See you in Pune!

Automatic Problem Reporting in F22

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I regularly go through most frequent problems reported to ABRT retrace server because it helps me prioritize bugs in Fedora that are assigned to my team. I think ABRT service is great for developers to prioritize their bugs + it helps collect much more data about the crash than an average user normally provides.

However,I’ve noticed a significant drop in number of reports in Fedora 22. It’s just two weeks before the final release when many early adopters are already running F22, but the difference in number of reports from F21 and F22 is huge: 64373:904.

12 days before F21 was released, we collected 16081 reports from this version. That’s almost 18x more. I don’t think we’re experiencing such a huge drop in adoption, so I investigated more…

…and learned that GNOME Control Center got a new privacy setting in F22: Problem reporting. And if you upgrade from Fedora 21 automatic crash reporting is disabled even though you had it enabled before the upgrade. To make it even more confusing if you go ABRT settings automatic reporting is enabled there. That’s because the setting in GNOME Control Center serves as a master setting that overrides settings in ABRT. So if you have upgraded to F22 and want to provide developers with very valuable data, please go to Control Center->Privacy->Problem Reporting and enable automatic reporting. Manual reporting is still possible from the ABRT app.

The ABRT team is working on a fix for this.

If you do a fresh installation, you should be able to allow automatic reporting in the Initial Experience after installation.

Instant Messaging in Fedora Workstation 2

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Last week I wrote about the suboptimal state of instant messaging in Fedora Workstation with some thoughts how it could be improved. I also asked Fedora users on Facebook and Google+ what IM clients they use. Especially in the case of Google+, I gathered votes from a number of people which is large enough to draw some conclusions.

I used different methods on FB and G+ because unlike G+ FB doesn’t support polls, so I asked people to submit their answers in comments. That grew much fewer answers, but people were not biased by pre-picked answers. Here are the results:

fb-clients-chartAs you can see there are pretty much just four IM clients that are widely used by Fedora users: Pidgin, Skype, Empathy, Telegram.

Google+ supports polls, so I created a poll where users could pick one of those answers: Empathy, Pidgin, KDE Telepathy, Other, or “I don’t use a desktop client”. Over 1200 users voted which is significantly more than on Facebook and gives a good statistical sample. And the results?

gplus-clients-chartPidgin is a clear winner, winning by a larger margin than among FB users. What is also interesting is the number of people who don’t use IM desktop clients any more – 37 %. This group is probably over-represented in this poll because it’s obvious that G+ users will favor web tools more than others since Google is such a proponent of web apps. I also asked users to add the name of their favorite IM client in the comments under the poll if it’s not among given options. And these are the results:

gplus-clients-othersEven though I was asking about desktop clients, most people voted for Hangouts which is not surprising on Google+. Some of them even consider Hangouts a desktop app because the Chrome app can partly behave that way. Telegram is also very popular among Fedora users on Google+.

And some conclusions?

Empathy – in both surveys Empathy lost to Pidgin which is not a good score for a default client. If alternative clients are more popular than the default one, then the default one is not doing a good job. Based on the comments, what people don’t like about Empathy is that how it behaves in GNOME 3. Transforming it into a single window would probably solve most of the complaints, but in the long run Empathy would need much more than that and is anyone interested in developing it? Now, it’s totally dead upstream.

Pidgin – is the most popular IM client among Fedora users even though it was ousted from the position of the default client many years ago. People don’t seem to be very enthusiastic about it, it hasn’t seen any higher development activity for years, but it’s still the best what we have according to most users. Going back to Pidgin as the default client would probably be the safest option. Unlike Empathy, it doesn’t have integration with GNOME Online Accounts, but apparently it’s not a significant inconvenience for users if they still prefer Pidgin to Empathy. However, in the long run we will hit problems that are related to very little upstream development activity – no GTK 3 port, no Wayland support, no HiDPI support etc.

KDE Telepathy & Kopete – I was quite surprised that KDE clients got so few votes. KDE is not as popular as GNOME among Fedora users, but it has a sizable user base. Does this mean that KDE users don’t use desktop IM clients any more or do they prefer Pidgin? In comments, I found several users saying that they use Pidgin in KDE.

Telegram – I was really surprised by the popularity of Telegram. I personally don’t know anyone who uses it, but it looks like it could be the new #1 IM service for open source enthusiasts as Jabber was in the last decade. It’s the only (at least a bit popular) modern IM service that is trying to be open and focused on privacy. It has a Linux desktop app written in Qt. You can find it in Copr although it’s not packaged very well and the app is missing an icon. I’m not sure how easy it would be for the package to make it into the official repositories. The website says they’re using slightly modified Qt which could make it difficult. There is also a plugin for Pidgin which doesn’t support advanced features, but works well for simple chat communication (again available in Copr). If we pick Pidgin as the default browser again, we should have this plugin pre-installed since Telegram seems to be becoming more and more popular.

Skype – ended second among Fedora users on Facebook. This IM service seems to be very popular even after a decade of its existence. Skype can’t be included in Fedora due to its license, but they provide an RPM package and it’s pretty easy to install it. Its protocol is closed, so we can’t really have support for it in open source clients, but maybe we can do a better job in integrating it to the desktop since it’s so popular among our users?

Hangouts – another popular closed service. Well, it’s not closed completely. Google still allows users to connect via XMPP, but you won’t get the advanced features and according to their plans they want to drop XMPP support anyway. So looks like the only way to give users Hangouts in the future will be the Chrome web app. Integrating web apps is in our Fedora Workstation tasklist. So things like converting Chrome Rich Notifications into standard desktop notifications, or installing the most popular Chrome web apps directly in Software would be worth looking into.

Facebook Chat/Messenger – no one really mentioned Facebook Chat which now has its own app – Messenger. People probably still don’t see it as a standalone service or don’t consider it a desktop app in any way (unlike Hangouts). However, it’s probably the most popular IM service nowadays. It still supports XMPP, but AFAIK they’re planning to drop it as well. Until then it works well with both Empathy and Pidgin. But after they drop XMPP, we won’t have many choices left. Maybe we could at least provide the web app messenger.com through Software?

GNOME Chat – some people also suggested that we drop Empathy and create a new app that should be part of the GNOME core apps. It would be based on Telepathy, so nothing like building it from scratch. It would fit very well to GNOME 3 (unlike Empathy) and it wouldn’t suffer from problems of Pidgin (Wayland, HiDPI support,…). There are even some designs and even some existing code, but no one has touched it for two years. So it hasn’t really stirred a lot of interest among GNOME contributors.

It all comes down to a question whether we want to provide one well integrated client that supports several IM services and whether it will even be possible in the future because the most popular services are closed or going to be closed, or whether we should give up our client and rather focus on supporting and integrating those dedicated, very often closed source clients. I always preferred to have one integrated tool for all IM networks, but the world seems to be going the other direction.

Instant Messaging in Fedora Workstation

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Instant messaging in Fedora Workstation is suboptimal. The current default IM client – Empathy – doesn’t work very well. It’s an app that was designed for GNOME 2 and is not a good citizen in GNOME 3. Mainly because of its multi-window nature. Having a separate roster window makes sense if the app uses a status icon, and when you close the roster window, it stays online, and you can always bring it back from the status icon. Empathy used to work that way, but in GNOME 3 status icons were declared deprecated. Empathy now doesn’t have the status icon and if you close the roster window, it goes offline, so if you want to stay online, you need to have a roster window floating around all the time.

So fix it, you would say. The problem with Empathy is that no one really wants. The app hasn’t seen any significant development for several years. The original author – Collabora – is not interested in developing it any more and no one else wants to pick up the development. Mostly because the app has quite complicated architecture.

The only advantage of Empathy was integration into the Shell. You could reply directly in notifications and you had all the current chats in the systray, so you didn’t have to use the app, which itself didn’t really fit in GNOME 3. But the latter feature was removed in GNOME 3.16, the Shell doesn’t have the systray panel, that hosted the chats, any more.

Because Empathy no longer has any user experience advantages and its development prospects are zero, we’ve been thinking about replacing it with something else. Pretty much the only other GTK+ IM client with support for a wide range of networks is Pidgin which used to be the default client before it was replaced by Empathy. Would it be a viable option? Here are some of my findings:

  • While Empathy has zero development, I really can’t say that Pidgin has any vital development. If you look at its stats at OpenHub, you’ll find out that there has been pretty small activity in the last couple of years, and it’s definitely declining.
  • Pidgin can run in a single window mode due to a plugin which I built in Copr if anyone is interested in trying it out.
  • It relies on the systray status icon and I don’t think it will be very simple to get rid of it.
  • There is a Pidgin integration extension for GNOME Shell, but in 3.16 it only shows notifications (it doesn’t show the content of the messages in notification, you can’t reply in notifications) and provides contacts for desktop search (not a in transparent way because Pidgin is not recognized as a search source and you don’t find it in search settings). Overall, the plugin is not very useful any more.
  • Pidgin is not integrated with GNOME Online Accounts. It’s kinda lame that you let users connect to their online accounts and then the default IM client doesn’t know about it and they have to do it again in its settings.
  • Pidging is not integrated with Contacts app.
  • Pidgin is a GTK+ 2 app. The developers started working on the GTK+3 port 6 years ago. Although most problems seem to be solved, the last update is two years old. Looking at the development pace, I’m not sure it will ever happen. Without GTK+3, you can’t run on Wayland, you can’t reasonably support HiDPI monitors. It simply doesn’t make Pidgin a good fit for a modern system Fedora Workstation wants to be.

Simply going back to Pidgin would not really help much long term. Right now, it’s probably a better client than Empathy, with at least some development activity. On the other hand, it doesn’t integrate well with GNOME, it doesn’t support modern technologies. So for Fedora it’d be a short-term solution if we decided to give up IM completely eventually which might be the case after all.

Pidgin in single-window mode.

Pidgin in single-window mode

Instant messaging networks are nowadays walled gardens. Several years ago, the open source community was using Jabber and it looked like we might get some interoperability and openness in popular IM networks as well. XMPP looked promising. This trend has completely reversed lately. Not only do we have more closed networks with their dedicated clients (Whatsapp, Viber,…), but the adoption of Jabber, the only truly open IM network, has been declining. I’m still a heavy user of integrated desktop IM clients, but I hear more and more often that people don’t care about IM integration into the desktop and rather chat in the web browser (Messenger, Hangouts,…).

What about you? Is well-integrated IM in Fedora still important to you or you don’t care any more?

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