Fedora Present and Future: a Fedora.next 2014 Update (Part II, “What’s Happening?”)

This is part two of a series based on talks in February at DevConf in the Czech Republic. You should start with Part I, “Why?”, unless you are inclined to just believe everything I say with no justification. That part covered the background and outlined some problems we are trying to solve; this part talks about what we are actually doing, and why we think those things address the problems. Next week I’ll cover the governance structure and current status, followed by panel discussion, and Q&A after that.

As before, you can watch the video on YouTube, but there are a few reasons you might want to read this instead. First, videos are hard to skim or search. Second, time moves on and this contains a few updates (which I have marked with Update, so if that’s all you care about they will be easy to find). And finally, I made some embarrassing typos on the slides, which I have fixed. You can see those slides on my web site, starting with slide 11. What follows is basically each one with commentary.

The Video, Continued

(For this article, we start at 13 minutes, 47 seconds in.)

Time for Some Answers!

So, having talked about some of the questions we face, here we go with some of the answers. At this point, I’m going to focus on proposals that the project has accepted and that we’re going forward with now. They certainly don’t solve all of the possible problems, and in some cases they probably raise yet more questions. That’s fine, and even great — let’s keep that conversation going and eventually answer even more of them.

Here, though, I cover a few of these initiatives briefly, and connect each into why we are doing it.

Multi-level “Rings” Approach

Central Core ("Base Design") / Ring 2: Environments & Stacks / Future: Ring 3 applications

This is something I took to Flock last summer — the “Fedora Rings” proposal. You can see the video and slides. Update I won’t reproduce those slides here, but instead, please enjoy these two snaps from my whiteboard at my office, which eventually evolved into that presentation.

Never before seen in public!

In any case, it’s not really very complicated, despite all those words and colors. We start with a central core, which is the “base design”, and we work on defining what the API for that is, and what it means to have the core of Fedora installed.

Then we have a ring out from that where we have different programming environments. Especially in the initial proposal, I came to this from a Fedora Cloud viewpoint where I’m talking to developers and asking what they want out of an operating system, and they want that base to be boring — but want exciting things on top of that. If we can provide those exciting things in a useful way rather than making everyone drag along their own custom-brewed stuff, then we are actually providing a service to the world, so that’s part of the idea here.

And then, in the future, it’d be nice to be able to say “okay, we can just plop down applications that use all of these services that we’ve provided”, and there’s a nice, seamless user experience. On the desktop, that’s probably the Linux Apps proposal, and we’ll see how that develops… some of the infrastructure is being put down with kdbus and related things, and maybe that will end up being integrated with Docker, or maybe there will be different solutions; we’ll see. It would be nice if our container approaches can share technology, because a lot of the problems are the same. Expect to hear more about this as part of Fedora.next and outside and around it as well; it’s a whole ‘nuther topic on its own.

Also, couple of asides on the rings proposals, brought forward from last year’s Flock talk.

First, this is not a return to the old Fedora Core / Fedora Extras split. That was a division based primarily on who you worked for, with the center developed behind closed doors and community only at the edges. Fixing that made Fedora what it is today, and no one is suggesting going back. This proposal slices a different way, based on what’s appropriate for each package, with community at every level.

Second, the circles are levels of policy, not a literal architectural diagram. The actual architecture is still being figured out and will evolve over the next several Fedora releases.

Why Rings?

Innovation vs change management / Reduced barriers to entry / easier to participate with fewer limits

So, now, let’s connect this back to some of the questions raised in Part I of the talk. Why is this particular proposal relevant?

First, it gives us a framework in which to balance innovation and change. We will have a base design and an API where we are more strict about making changes. It doesn’t mean that it can’t move fast, but we need to make sure it’s done in a controlled, planned way, rather than parts just falling in. Then, you can have different layers which move at a different speed. Even if they are rebuilt (and released) together, their API promises — the guarantees they make to users of that layer — can move at different pace from the base.

This can also reduce the barriers to entry, because we can have layers outside of the core where we just say, “Okay, it’s ugly, fine. We can still include it in this way.”

And, being more clear about what and where the stability promises are (and aren’t) could make it easier to have projects that work on Fedora without necessarily being in the distribution proper. I want to be careful about saying “in Fedora”, because the Fedora Project is bigger than the Fedora distribution, but we call both “Fedora”, so that’s sometimes confusing. And many of the changes I’m talking about could affect the project without being changes to the distribution — although since that’s our primary output, most of them will in some way.

Products Proposal

Workstation / Cloud / Server

Next… this is from another proposal that Stephen Gallagher brought to last year’s Flock — the Three Fedora Products. Basically, these are three directions we see the distribution pulled, so we thought it would be useful to actually make a split along those lines, so we can build and market each in different ways. We talked about it at that conference, and FESCo (the Fedora Engineering Steering Committee) brought the idea to the Fedora Project Board; I’ll cover the results of that further in Part III next week.

Now, though, let’s jump right to “why”. How does this help with those different directions?

Why Products?

Voice for Server, user focus for Workstation, more radical Cloud

It gives a voice for our server people, the sysadmins who never really had a good place to talk and be heard in Fedora before (see the last slide from Part I if you missed it) a way to be constructive and build something instead of feeling limited to being negative.

It gives a focus for the workstation, because previously while the desktop was the “default offering”, it also kept being pulled towards these other roles that the Fedora distribution needs to serve, so with this we can say that the desktop is actually supposed to be a desktop, and it can make questions like “is sendmail supposed to be installed” have more obvious answers.

There was an issue a few releases ago with storage, where enterprise storage features were being pushed. The desktop-focused people thought: storage is the hardest thing in installing and setting up a new system, so maybe we could just leave out some of the more confusing stuff that people don’t really use, and then there will be a better experience for users. But then, people using Fedora for other things actually needed that. If we make a split, we can have places where complicated storage fits, and places where a streamlined user experience is more important, and both developers and users can better understand where to put things and where to find them.

Another example is GUI components in the minimal install. If you’re building a desktop system, worrying about that is a waste of time, because by definition those are going to need to be there anyway. But if you’re building a server or spinning up a cloud image, it can actually be important that those aren’t pulled in when not wanted. So this gives us a better way of articulating that.

And cloud — Fedora is a great fit for many cloud computing uses, but isn’t hugely popular. That’s not because of anything particularly wrong with it. We’ve put a lot of work into the Fedora Cloud Image over the past few releases and I’m very proud of it, and I know it’s great, but why would you use that instead of one of the other Linux cloud images? Unless you’re already big into into Fedora, there’s really no compelling reason to pick it.

Meanwhile, there are projects like CoreOS happening out there which are exciting. Fedora Cloud needs to be exciting too. Having a separate product lets us go further away from what might be going on in the mainstream Fedora distribution and experiment with more radical things. Maybe we’ll have rpm-ostree in Fedora Cloud first, because it’s a use-space where it’ll be easier to adapt than a more traditional server (although the vision for ostree is to eventually make it useful everywhere).

Update rpm-ostree now has a fancy new name as Fedora Atomic Initiative, and I’ll be demoing it with Docker at the Fedora booth at Red Hat Summit in April. See, shiny!

Is three a magic number?

Update The team behind the Workstation product includes people working on several different desktop technologies, but decided to use Gnome as the software behind that product. This week, Fedora project members in the KDE SIG launched a proposal for a Fedora Plasma product aimed at an academic audience of scientists, students, and teachers. The Fedora Project Board is discussing this proposal now. There is also an in-progress proposal to have the KDE SIG work more closely within the Workstation product.

There is a broad strategic question about the ideal number of different products, and their possible overlap in scope, and reasonable people have different but strong positions on that. There is also continuing debate about whether products need to be focused on user audience and use cases, or whether some could focus on delivering a particular technology. We don’t have everything figured out, let alone set in stone, and this is one of the areas that will evolve as we go forward. The debate might be a little frustrating to some, but let me share my new favorite quote, from Russ Allbery over at Debian:

Yes, this is to some extent hair-splitting, but, well, welcome to free software. 🙂 Doing this stuff requires a lot of hair-splitting, since it involves quite a bit of, as the saying goes, “tepid change for the somewhat better.”

Now, I think that really Fedora can have at least reasonably quick change for the significantly better, but as I emphasized last week, it will take time and effort.

One thing I want to make absolutely clear right now, though: spins aren’t going away. Spins are customized Fedora media, and the most popular way to consume our different desktop technologies. We had a big mailing-list discussion about how spins fit with Fedora.next, and there was a clear community consensus that they fill an important role. I agree, and we’re not going to break that. In fact, it may be that making “desktop technology showcase” spins more visible is a good path for Fedora.next. We’ll figure this out together.

Lego vs. Playmobil

Bricks on one side, castle playset on the other

One of the related (and perpetual) community discussions centers around what exactly Fedora is. Traditionally, the answer is: we take the “raw plastic” of the software out there in the universe and we mold it into high-precision Lego bricks, and users can plug them together. “Here! Here are your bricks. It’s Fedora! We’ve made these bricks nice and pretty and you can put them together however you want!”

Another approach in operating system design is Playmobil. It’s a playset, you buy it, it’s a castle with a knight, and that’s what you get. No assembly required — you can take it out of the box and start playing with it right away.

So, a lot of people feel this tension between “here’s your bricks” and “here’s your playset”, and are worried that with Fedora products is that we are going to take away your bricks, give you a set, and if you don’t like it, too bad for you.

But actually, we are doing something different


We can ship sets… without taking away the basic blocks.

(These are classics from my childhood; maybe your childhood too. The modern sets are more sleek, but… did anyone else have this spaceship? It was awesome. Anyway….)

The idea is: we can take some of our bricks, and we can ship those as sets. And maybe even, unlike Lego, we will ship them preassembled for you, but we’re not gluing them together, and we’re not getting rid of the basic supply of bricks. You can build other things — we want you to build other things. If you want to take apart the sets we ship and reassemble them into something else, that’s great, although when you do that, it should be clear that you no longer have the official set, you have your new asteroid mining complex or whatever. Share your creations, maybe even make new sets.

More Why

And finally for this week, more on “why” for the products idea. We think this will grow the user base in the areas we’ve identified, make more clear targets for development, and in particular the Server product can be more connected to future Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

I don’t think there’s anything controversial here, although a little bit on the last point is worth expanding on. One of Fedora’s important roles is that RHEL comes out of it, and it’s important for Red Hat that that keep working, and just talking about that in an open way is better. It’s not saying that Red Hat is going to take super-control over Fedora in a way they haven’t before, but we want to get Red Hat more clearly saying “this is what we need”, and I think that’ll help the overall conversation. Check out Fedora Project Leader Robyn Bergeron’s blog post on Fedora, Red Hat, and investments in the future for more thoughts on this in depth, too.

Watch for Part III Next Week

And that’s where I’ll break for this week. Next week, in Part III, “Governance, Progress, and More Ideas”, I’ll talk about the new governance structures we’ve set up, and the current progress (including some significant updates since DevConf). After that, the Working Group summary presentations, and then questions and answers.

As before, let’s continue this conversation in comments and replies, and in addition to responding, I’ll distill that into the Q&A post at the end of this series.

Fedora Project community


  1. Hunkah

    OK, so I’m not trying to keep reviving a dead horse… I get it now. Gnome guy are too involved with the Fedora guys and probably most of the Fedora developers are also the developers that are building Gnome, so trying to encourage you to see anything other than what you see would be impossible.

    I have an idea, probably not the best idea, but it is an idea that might solve some of the issues of the “my way or the highway” feeling that has been with Gnome since the first release was let out of the kennel.

    Why not have the user choose? You get one “desktop” release. When installing, you choose with GUI you want to use. No pre-GUI suggested… or for that matter… wait!!! I have a brilliant idea, scratch what I just said…

    When on your site, give the user an “order menu”… Choose one of the three, desktop/workstation, Server, Cloud. Then it jumps to another screen, choose GUI, then have pictures and descriptions and options… then go from there. That way you can put in a counter to see which GUI is most popular on Fedora!

    SEE! I’m brilliant! If you end up getting more downloads for Gnome 3, I’ll stop complaining so much, if you get more downloads for Cinnamon, YOU HAVE TO concede to the fact that Gnome isn’t everything you are saying it is.

    🙂 OK most of this was meant to make everyone smile, but it was also me throwing out ideas instead of just grumbling.

    Seriously, I believe in Fedora. I try to convert people all the time to using it as a desktop/laptop distro. I do show them Gnome 3, but everyone ends up using Cinnamon because that’s what they’re used to. (same idea anyway).

    • I very much appreciate throwing out ideas instead of grumbling.

      I think the main the concern with this approach is that too much “choose your own adventure” in just getting the thing installed leads people to throw up their hands in despair. Especially for people who don’t even know what the options are, let alone why they might have a preference. But on the other hand, we do have smart users, so I don’t think we need to be too worried either way — a multitude of desktops will continue to be available as long as people are interested in maintaining them.

      • Panama Condor

        II fully support Hunkah’s complaints and ideas.
        I’ve been a Fedora user before Fedora was even born… my 1st linux box ran on Red Hat 6 and i upgraded all the way to F20.
        I tried god-only-knows how many DEs and distros and Gnome3 made me sick, forcing me to switch to KDE and XFCE.
        In my opinion you don’t just give users a DE that doesn’t suit their needs and then tell’em to fix the problems with some addons. Same mistake MS made with w8 and everybody is searching for a start menu button.
        KDE is an awesome DE and you can customize it to your needs after the install, no need to search for some tweak tool.
        I have many contacts in IT, from experienced sysadmin to brand new fugitive from windows XP, and none of them likes or uses Gnome3. I just don’t know anybody who does; only a couple of friends of mine (plus me) decided to give it a try and discarded it after a while. Of course we are frustrated by what Hunkah calls the “my way or the highway” feeling but most of us can deal with it by downloading a spin; unfortunately some inexperienced users will try Fedora and, hating Gnome3, will say “thanks but no, thanks” and download mint.
        Something should be done about this problem; this marriage between Fedora and a DE that nobody (nobody i know) likes is moving people to mint, OpenSuse and other distros. Somebody went to MacOs.
        Sure you can use a tweak tool, download a spin, install whatever DE you like or run your system in text mode but some people react like: “you give me this thing and you don’t care if i say it’s ugly? I’ll just move to (any other distro or OS)”.
        Expanding the userbase goes through an installer that doesn’t give people a headache 1st and a more user-friendly package manager 2nd, so that choosing a DE and adding certain repos would be just a few mouse clicks away, proprietary codecs and the usual stuff that everybody needs be installed in minutes.
        Sorry for writing so much, it’s just the 2 cents from a long time linux user who’s probably moving to Suse and mint because it feels like Fedora puts innovation before user satisfaction.

        • Shawn

          I know that I am late to the party on this site, but I just wanted to add my 2 cents to this topic. What Hunkah said is correct in that there is no point in trying to get gnome to not be the main destop interface. This will never happen, and I do not think that there is a good reason to do a switch anyway.

          Having said that, what I (and it seems others here) see is that the other destop offernigs are offered in such a way as to make them seem childish at best. The name “spin” evokes a sense of bemusement, and not something that you would necessarrily think of as a serious work environment. Heck, even your response to Hunkah displays a sense of disregard towards these other environments:

          ” a multitude of desktops will continue to be available as long as people are interested in maintaining them.”

          What I propose is a fairly simple suggestion. Make these other options not feel like the red-headed step children of Fedora. They don’t have to be defaults or anything. But please get rid of the “spin” terminology. Make the fact that these options are available more transparent on the website. And last, while I don’t use it myself, offering Cinnamon as a [insert new name for spin here] is a great idea. I know it is in the repos, but this is not the same. People who want to use Cinnamon do not want to use Cinnamon with a bunch of Gnome stuff on top.

          I have used Fedora kde for two years now, and it is the best kde experience I have used. But — as is indicated by your quoted comment above — I can’t help but feel like it is a trifling thing that is here today, but perhaps gone tommorrow. This perception of the “spins” is the major culprit IMHO.

          I appreciate the direction you are trying to take. I hope my suggestions come accross as that. I, afterall, am using Fedora for a reason.

          • Thanks! I do appreciate the thoughtful feedback. I guess I don’t see “spin” in that negative light, but it’s worthwhile to consider if others do.

            As for Cinnamon as a spin (or, as you say, whatever that might be called)… that really is a matter of someone to do it, and if someone is interested in making and maintaining it, the barrier to doing so is intentionally quite low.

  2. mathieu

    yes, thank you Matthew Miller?

    but, have you a link, or an explain for you, of an explain with technical .

    because, i don’t understand clearly, what you want to do.

    i want to know, what i have been : forget.

    • mathieu: Sure — take a look at the Fedora.next wiki page for some links, some of which go to the more technical explanations.

      But if you can be more specific about what you want explained, I can be more specific in my answers. Is there a particular part that you’re not sure how will work?

Comments are Closed

The opinions expressed on this website are those of each author, not of the author's employer or of Red Hat. Fedora Magazine aspires to publish all content under a Creative Commons license but may not be able to do so in all cases. You are responsible for ensuring that you have the necessary permission to reuse any work on this site. The Fedora logo is a trademark of Red Hat, Inc. Terms and Conditions