Installing flatpaks gets easier in Fedora 25

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A lot of users complained that installing flatpaks was too difficult. And they were right, just look at the installation instructions on the Flatpak download page at LibreOffice.org. But that was never meant to be the final user experience.

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Richard Hughes integrated Flatpak support into GNOME Software and the Red Hat desktop apps team worked with him to make sure it works well with apps we’ve already packaged for Flatpak. And this is the result. As you can see installing LibreOffice for Flatpak is now a matter of a couple of clicks with GNOME Software 3.22.2 in Fedora 25:

 

Flatpak allows you to generate a .flatpak bundle which includes the app and all the necessary info for installation of the app and setting up its repo for future updates. You can also create a .flatpakref file which doesn’t contain the app, but all the installation info and the app is downloaded during the installation. This format is also supported by GNOME Software now. LibreOffice offers a .flatpak bundle because it’s more similar to what users are used to from Windows and macOS.

As you can see on the video, installing .flatpak bundles is a matter of downloading the file and opening it directly with GNOME Software or double-clicking it. There is one prerequisite though. You need to have a repo of the runtime the app requires enabled which I had because I had been using the GNOME runtime for other apps already. Installation of runtimes is being streamlined as well. As a runtime provider, you can ship .flatpakrepo file which includes necessary info for setting up the repo and is as easy to install as .flatpak and .flatpakref. For Fedora Workstation we’re currently considering to enable repos of most common runtimes by default, so users would not have to deal with them at all, the required runtimes would get installed automatically with the app.

OpenAlt 2016

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OpenAlt, a traditional open source conference in Brno, took place last weekend. I gave talks on Wayland and Flatpak, and organized a Fedora booth.

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Originally, I planned to give a talk on Flatpak only, but then the organizers came to me if I could find someone who could give a talk on the status of Wayland because people ask for it. And because I couldn’t find anyone else, I had to do the talk myself. OpenAlt was promoted live on Czech Television (something like BBC) and the Wayland talk was featured as one of the hot talks for which people should attend OpenAlt.

Both talks were in the main hall and both attracted quite a lot of people although Wayland was more popular in the end. Both topics also stirred quite a lot of interest and many people came to me afterwards to discuss the topics more in detail. LinuxEXPRES.cz has already released an article based on information from my Flatpak talk.

There were other interesting desktop-related talks. Dan Vrátil, an ex-member of our team, gave a talk about the history of KDE and he ran the presentation on KDE 1 (in Fedora 25), so he literally went back in time🙂

Jan Holešovský talked on LibreOffice Online and Katarina Brehens on LibreOffice adoption in Germany.

Brno is a stronghold of Fedora mainly due to large presence of Red Hat, so OpenAlt is a lot about meeting our current users. We had some Fedora winter hats and t-shirts for them. Many users were happy to hear that Fedora 25 has much better and currently probably the best-among-distributions support for switchable graphics cards and much easier way to install nVidia drivers.

I had an interesting chat with a guy from sledovanitv.cz, a local startup providing TV streaming. He mentioned that they originally wanted to install Fedora on their laptops, but WiFi didn’t work (missing Broadcom drivers) and they gave up. So we definitely have another major hardware PITA in line to fix.

We also organized the 4th Linux Desktop Meetup. This time on Friday as “OpenAlt Edition”. And we had a special guest from Mozilla CZ who gave a talk on what’s going on in the Mozilla community. Some of the stuff was really exciting and Mozilla guys are interested in participating in future meetups even though they live in a different city.

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GNOME 3.22/KDE Plasma 5.8 release party in Brno

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Last Thursday, we organized a regular Linux Desktop Meetup in Brno and because two major desktop environments had had their releases recently we also added a release party to celebrate them.

The meetup itself took place in the Red Hat Lab at FIT BUT (venue of GUADEC 2013) and it consisted of 4 talks. I spoke on new things in GNOME 3.22, our KDE developer Jan Grulich spoke on new things in Plasma 5.8, then Oliver Gutierrez spoke on Fleet Commander and the last talk was given by Lucie Karmova who is using Fedora as a desktop in a public organization and shared her experiences with the Linux desktop.

meetup

After the talks, we moved to the nearby Velorex restaurant to celebrate the releases. The whole event attracted around 25 visitors which is definitely above the average attendance of our meetups. Let’s see if we can get the same number of people to the meetup next month.

Last, but not least I’d like to thank the Desktop QA team of Red hat for sponsoring the food and drinks at the release party.

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Ease of 3D Printing in Fedora

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We had a Fedora booth at LinuxDays 2016 in Prague and one of our attractions was  Miro Hrončok‘s 3D printer Lulzbot Mini. Because Miro was busy helping organize the conference he just left the printer at the booth and I had to set it up myself. And it really surprised me how easy it is to 3D print using Fedora. Basically what I had to do was:

  1. installing Cura from the official repositories,
  2. plugging the printer into a USB (automatically connected due to Miro’s udev rules),
  3. starting Cura, choosing the model of the printer and material I’m going to print with,
  4. opening a file with the 3D model I wanted to print,
  5. hitting the “Print” button and watching the printer in action.

Fedora has been known to be the best OS for 3D printing already for some time, mainly due to the work of Miro (he packaged all the available open source software for 3D printing, prepared udev rules to automatically connect to 3D printers etc.), but I was still surprised how easy it is to 3D print with Fedora these days. It really took just a couple of minutes from a stock system to start of the actual printing. It’s almost as simple as printing on papers.
There is still room for improvements though. Some 3D printing apps (Cura Lulzbot Edition is one of them) are available in the official repositories of Fedora, but don’t have an appdata file, so they don’t show up in GNOME Software. And it would also be nice to have “3D Printing” category in GNOME Software, so that the software is more discoverable for users.

Meeting users, lots of users

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Every year, I introduce Fedora to new students at Brno Technical University. There are approx. 500 of them and a sizable amount of them then installs Fedora. We also organize a sort of installfest one week after the presentation where anyone who has had any difficulties with Fedora can come and ask for help. It’s a great opportunity to observe what things new users struggle with the most. Especially when you have such a high number of new users. What are my observations this year?

  • I always ask how many people have experience with Linux (I narrow it down to GNU/Linux distributions excluding things like Android). A couple of years ago, only 25-30% of students raised their hands. This year, it was roughly 75% which is a significant increase. It seems like high school students interested in IT are more familiar with Linux than ever before.
  • Linux users tend to have strong opinions about desktops (too thick or thin title bars, too light or dark theme, no minimize button etc), but new users coming from Windows and MacOS don’t care that much. We give students Fedora Workstation with GNOME and receive almost no complains about the desktop from them, and literally zero questions how to switch to another desktop.
  • The most frequent question we receive is why they have multiple Fedora entries in GRUB. Like many other distributions, Fedora keeps three last kernels and allows you to boot with them via entries in GRUB. When you install Fedora, there is just one entry, but with kernel updates you get the second and then third. And new users are completely puzzled by that. One guy came and told us: “I’ve got two Fedora entries in the menu, I’m afraid I’ve installed the OS twice accidentally, can you help me remove the second instance?” Hiding the menu is not a solution because most students have dualboots with Windows and switching between OSes is a common use case for them. But we should definitely compress the Fedora entries into one somehow.
  • Hardware support evergreen are discrete graphics cards. They’re still not natively supported by Linux and you can find them on most laptops these days and laptops of students are not an exception. So this is currently the most frequent hardware support problem we get installing Fedora. Someone brought a Dell Inspiron 15 7000 series where Fedora didn’t boot at all (other distributions fail on this model, too).
  • Another common problem are Broadcom wireless cards. It’s easy to solve if you know what to do and have a wired connection. But some laptops don’t even have ethernet sockets any more. With one laptop, we ended up connecting to WiFi via phone and tethering with the laptop via a microUSB-USB cable.
  • Installation of Fedora is simple. A couple of clicks, several minutes and you’re done. But only if everything goes ideally. Anaconda handles the typical scenario “Installing Fedora next to Windows” well, but there was a student who had a relatively new Lenovo laptop with MBR and 4 primary partitions (MBR in 2016?!) which effectively prevents you from installing anything on the disk unless you want to lose a Windows recovery partition because MBR can’t handle more than 4 primary partitions. Someone had a dualboot of Windows and Hackintosh which is also in “not-so-easy” waters as well. It also shows how difficult life Linux installer developers have, you can cover most common scenarios, but you can’t cover all possible combinations laptop vendor or later users can create on disks.
  • We’ve also come a conclusion that it’s OK to admit that the hardware support in Linux for the laptop model is not good enough and offer the student an installation in a virtual machine in Windows. You can sometimes manage to get it working, but you know it’s likely to fall apart with the next update of kernel or whatever. Then it’s more responsible to recommend the student virtualization.

Flock & GUADEC 2016

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The last two weeks were pretty busy for me because I travelled to two of my most favourite conferences – Flock and GUADEC.

Flock was held in Krakow this year, so the traveling was a sort of easy for me. Krakow is just 350 km from Brno which is about 3.5 hours by car. The conference was again organized in the hotel where almost everyone stayed. The same setup was already in Rochester last year and people appreciated it. It’s very convenient. You don’t have to travel to the venue, you can sneak out to have a nap, which is super useful if you’re fighting jet lag, and you can use hotel facilities such as a gym or swimming pool.

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I had one talk and one hackfest at Flock. The talk was about Fedora SWAG. I’m still quite a lot involved in SWAG production for the EMEA region and it was a pleasure to state that the things have improved since the last year and a lot of ideas we had at Flock in Rochester actually got implemented.
The hackfest I organized was about writing AppStream metadata for application add-ons. I started the initiative in December and since then dozens of add-ons appeared in GNOME Software because they got AppStream metadata. The hackfest was partly a workshop because it took me quite a while to explain everyone what to do to make an add-on appear in the default app catalog in Fedora. I also learned new things. Richard Hughes who is very involved in upstream AppStream and works on GNOME Software participated and I, for example, learned that the way I had added keywords in metadata XML files was wrong. And Richard learned that I was doing it wrong because it was not documented anywhere.

I also attended many other talks. Matthew Miller’s keynote on the state of Fedora Project was very informative. I’m happy to see Fedora grow and I’m especially happy that our team plays a big part in it (Workstation makes ~80% of all ISO downloads). My boss Christian Schaller had a talk on Workstation which was pretty interesting, but because my team is deeply involved in many of the Workstation initiatives there was not much new to me. I also enjoyed talk by Jonathan Dieter who has run Fedora on 100+ computers in a high school in Lebanon and it was very interesting to listen to what it takes to use Fedora in such a deployment. Jonathan also noted that he hasn’t had a single major issue with Fedora in the last 3-4 years. Improved quality of Fedora was a theme that repeated in many other talks.
What was the main topic of the conference was modularity. Langdon presented a progress of this initiative. I must say I knew very little about it and I was quite surprised that the planned solution is built around RPM rather around increasingly popular containers.
I also met Pawel Hajdan of the Google Chrome team. Conversations with him very very informative and interesting for other Red Hat desktop team members, too. We discussed AppStream metadata for Chromium, Chromium for Flatpak, Chrome on RHEL etc.

Just a couple of days after I returned home from Flock I travelled to GUADEC which is the primary conference for GNOME users and developers. I didn’t have any talk or workshop, but a couple of my reports spoke there. This time the traveling was a bit more difficult. We went by train, had to take 6 of them, and traveled 1000 km. But the whole Brno crew made it to Karlsruhe sound and safe.

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There were many talks by Endless people. I’m really happy that Endless increases its investment in GNOME. It’s always better to have several major corporate contributors. Endless also proves that it’s possible to build a different shell on the top of GNOME, make your own UX story and still use most of the GNOME components.

I really enjoyed Owen Taylor’s talk on Fedora Atomic Workstation. Read-only OS, all apps in containers, development environment separated from the system… tt will be a radical change, but with a lot of potential benefits. I also like that Owen already has a clear idea about it and an already working prototype.

On Monday, I attended a Flatpak BoF. I expected it’d be mostly about portals, but portals were mentioned just briefly. Most of the discussion was about some centralized Flatpak repository. Someone suggested something called FlatHub which would be a place for Flatpak repositories where developers can build and distribute their apps, something like Copr for Flatpak. This can’t be exposed to average users though. We want to avoid a mess of 10 builds of GIMP without guaranteed quality. So there needs to be something called FlatStore where only approved and trusted developers can distribute their apps. So only GIMP developers themselves would be able to distribute GIMP there. There were many practical obstacles discussed. Should we build everything on store servers or allow developers upload binaries (building some desktop apps could be very resource hungry), who should run such a store (GNOME Foundation, FreeDesktop.org, a company?), how distributions will accept something that is built outside their control etc.

I enjoyed all days of both conferences. Very well organized, but still with the “for contributors by contributors” feeling. GUADEC 2017 will be in Manchester. Where Flock 2017 is going to be held is yet to be announced. The only certainty is that it will be in North America, so much more travelling for me next year, but I hope to visit both again.

Telegram Desktop Client for Flatpak

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Yet another app is packaged for Flatpak. Jan Grulich from our team has packaged the official desktop client for Telegram (EDIT: see his blogpost).

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And it was quite some task because the app is… well… wildly put together. Just see the build instructions provided by upstream. Flatpak manifests are usually fairly simple files, less complex than spec files, but this one ended up being 394 lines long.

I think such an app is an ideal target for Flatpak. There is no way that an app like this would make it to the official Fedora repositories and its authors don’t even seem to be interested in making it more possible.

Telegram client for Flatpak is also built from source. That’s not the case of most packages of this app out there. The Copr package or snap just wrap the upstream binary. With Jan’s manifest, you can build the app yourself. It also works better than the Copr package which creates its own desktop file and then the app itself creates another and you need to log in every time you start the app. It simply behaves weirdly.

If you want to try it out, Jan has created a repo:

$ flatpak remote-add --user --no-gpg-verify telegram-desktop https://jgrulich.fedorapeople.org/telegram/repo/

$ flatpak --user install telegram-desktop org.telegram.TelegramDesktopDevel

$ flatpak run org.telegram.TelegramDesktopDevel

If you still don’t have it, you also need to install the GNOME runtime (the app is using Qt, but it’s own patched version and it also uses components that are in the GNOME runtime, so it was a more sensible option):

wget https://sdk.gnome.org/keys/gnome-sdk.gpg

flatpak remote-add --user --gpg-import=gnome-sdk.gpg gnome https://sdk.gnome.org/repo/

flatpak install --user gnome org.gnome.Platform 3.20

 

It should create (Nightly) Telegram launcher (why nightly? because it’s built from master). And you’re good to go! Feedback is welcome. We’d like to propose it to the upstream project one day, so that they can build it themselves and ship it directly to their users with better experience than just a binary in an archive.

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