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?

DevConf.cz 2015: Useful Info

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I just returned from FOSDEM (will have to write about it when I have more time) and DevConf.cz is just a few days away, so I jumped into the final preparations right from the airport. Are you going to DevConf.cz? Here is some useful info:

  • Venue – I have spoken to several people who were completely surprised that DevConf.cz was not going to be at the campus of FI MUNI, but at the campus of FIT BUT. You can find instructions how to get to the new venue on the conference website. So make sure you’re going to the right place ;-)
  • Streaming – can’t make it to DevConf.cz? No problem! We most likely will stream all six talk tracks. The stream will be available on our Youtube channel. It will also be linked on the conference website. The program starts at 8am UTC every day. If you miss the stream, no worries, recordings will be available on our channel as videos immediately.
  • Party – the conference is not just about talks and workshops. There will be a conference party on Friday. Again in Klub Fléda. You can get a ticket at the Red Hat booth at the venue during Friday. Make sure you’ll get it early enough because the limit is 600 people and we can’t exceed it because of safety limits of the club. Speakers and volunteers won’t need to get a ticket because their badges will serve as such.
  • Apps – you can have the schedule and important info in your pocket. We’ve created apps for Android, Blackberry 10, SailfishOS, just look up for them in respective catalogs. We’ve also created a DevConf.cz guide for Guidebook.com apps. You will find a schedule and important and useful info in it, all for offline usage.
  • Lightning talks – got an idea for a talk? You still have a chance to talk at DevConf.cz 2015, you can propose a lightning talk in the morning, people will vote during the day, and those with most votes will be picked for the last hour of the schedule.
  • Refreshment – besides your brain you also need to feed your stomach at the conference. We will have refreshment at the venue again so that you won’t die of hunger if you stay there listening to talks all day long. As a response to demand, we will have Club Mate (not for free, but for very reasonable price)! At the campus, there will be a nice cafe open if you’d like to have better coffee, some dessert, or beer (they have great beer Richard from a local microbrewery). If you want a full meal, there are several good restaurants within 100m from the campus including a really good Thai place.

See you in Brno!

Django Girls Workshop at DevConf.cz 2015

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One of the events that is co-hosted with DevConf.cz 2015 this year is Django Girls Workshop. It’s organized for females who want to learn to code websites using the Django framework. It takes place in our lovely Red Hat lab on the campus of Faculty of Information Technologies of Brno University of Technology on the 5th of February, one day prior the conference.

It has free admission and thanks to sponsors (Red Hat and ElasticSearch), you can even get financial aid to travel to Brno and get accommodation. The deadline for registration is on January 15th, so don’t hesitate and sign up!

Fedora at DevConf.cz 2015

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DevConf.cz 2015 is just three weeks away, and the schedule was announced a few days ago. There are 150 talks and workshops in three days and Fedora plays an important role in it, especially on the last day which is mostly devoted to Fedora and thus called Fedora Day. Let’s look at which Fedora-focused talks the schedule offers:

Fedora Atomic – Collin Walters
Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop – Christian Schaller
Vagrant for your Fedora – Tomáš Hrčka, Josef Stříbrný
Using Fedora as a base for the IoT revolution – Peter Robinson
Fedora: State of the Project – Matthew Miller
CentOS for Fedora – Karanbir Singh
Fedora Workstation Roadmap – panel discussion with the Workstation working group
Automation with Fedora in Taskotron – Tim Flink
Google, ownCloud and your Fedora Workstation – Debarshi Ray
Bodhi2, MirrorManager2, progit, FAS3, anitya, the-new-coolness… What’s going on in Fedora infra? – Pierre-Yves Chibon
Fedora Server – getting back to roots – Stephen Gallagher
Fedora Release Engineering Today – Dennis Gilmore
Life of a Fedora Cloud image – Kushal Das
Discuss environment and stacks in Fedora – Honza Horák
SCE wide system assessment for upgrading Fedora – Petr Hráček
Fedora Council Joint Session – panel discussion with the Council members
Packaging Workshop – Matthias Runge

 And these are just talks that are focused on Fedora, there are much more talks that are on technologies which are very related to Fedora. So don’t hesitate and come to join us in Brno on Feb 6-8th!

F21 Release Party in Brno

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I finally found time to write a blogpost about our F21 release party in Brno office of Red Hat. It took place on the release date – December 9th. It was, as always, well attended. It’s hard to estimate the total number of attendees, but it was definitely over 100. Unfortunately, F21 DVDs had not arrived yet, but we still had other swag for people to take: Fedora product stickers, Fedora logo stickers, case badges, badges, pins, flyers,…

It was also the first time when we had all presentations in English. The event is primarily aiming at the Czech community, so it was always in Czech, but there are quite a few foreigners in Brno office and one of them asked if the presentations could be in English and because no one objected, we switched to English.

IMG_1429

Me demoing Fedora Workstation

I delivered the first presentation. It was on Fedora Workstation. I didn’t have any slides, and demoed all changes GNOME right away. The next presentation was by Petr Hracek who spoke on how to set up Android Studio via DevAssistant in Fedora 21. Then Dan Vrátil and Jan Grulich spoke about KDE Plasma 5 which you won’t find in Fedora 21, but you can easily try it from Copr and it will be included in F22. The last talk was by Fedora program manager Jaroslav Řezník who spoke about the recent changes in governance: Fedora Council, working groups, and also about “products” themselves. Too bad I didn’t find anyone in our office who could talk on Fedora Server, there were quite a few people interested in that.

Audience

Audience

Pictures were taken by Jiri Folta and you can find more of them in his G+ album.

Let’s Plan Events in EMEA!

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At EMEA FAD in Leverkusen, we started planning events and activities in EMEA for the fiscal year 2016 (starts on March 1, 2015). Right after that, I asked others, who couldn’t attend the FAD, to provide their input. Today, I put it all together on a new wiki page that should help us organize events where we want to promote Fedora in the next year.

I’d like to make the event planning more sophisticated. In the last two years, we’ve made a really good job in budgeting. We know where we will be and how much it will cost. Now, I’d like to add something more, so that we know why we will be there, what impact it will have, and if it’s somewhat aligned with the overall strategy of the Fedora Project.

That’s why the list of events on the wiki page is much more detailed than it ever was. And it’s not a closed list, you can still add an event if you want to go represent Fedora there and need support from us (even if you don’t need support, we still appreciate if you add the event, we’d like to know where Fedora is present). Based on this table, we will create a budget for the next year, and based on this budget, we will get money from Red Hat for events and activities in EMEA, so if you apply now it’s much easier to provide you with some funding because once the budget is finished we have to cover anything else from reserves and leftovers and those are very limited.

The new planning should also discover our shortcomings and help us work on them. So far, we, for example, don’t have any events planned outside Europe (nothing in Africa and Middle East :-( ). The only well-covered region is the Central Europe. We don’t cover the Balkans (Former Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria) at all, no events in the Baltic countries, just two in Scandinavia. No events is such large countries as France, Poland, or Spain. We’re also too focused on traditional Linux/FOSS events where the audience usually already knows us and we don’t go to events that are a bit of our comfort zone, but our target audience is there (events for developers, makers,…).
I hope we will improve this a lot in FY2016.

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