Fedora 25 and the Internet time scale

Fedora 25 and the Internet time scale

Just in time for (the US) Thanksgiving, the Fedora Project released Fedora 25 on 22 November 2016. This is a major IT milestone, although explaining why is a challenge, particularly in a brief comment like this one.

On a market share basis, Fedora 25 barely ascends to the level of rounding error. All Fedora releases together appear to sum to under one half of one percent of worldwide websites with identifiable operating systems. All Linux distributions constitute at most three percent of world-wide desktops, and Fedora is only a slender sliver among the diversity of Linux releases.

Despite its apparent numerical insignificance, Fedora plays an influential role in wider computing orbits. Fedora is where Red Hat runs many of its most important experiments, and Fedora influences work on Debian, Ubuntu, and even Android; the capabilities of nearly two billion Android handsets worldwide depend in at least some crucial cases on projects hosted, at least in part, on desktop distributions including Fedora Workstation. Similarly, many commercial cloud capabilities are related to the features in Fedora Atomic Host (Fedora's brand for its cloud-focused variant).

In particular, Fedora 25 directly supports Python 2.7, Python 3.5, PyPy 5.4, Jython 2.7, PHP 7, Node.js 6.9, Docker 1.12, Rust 1.10, and many other modern languages and tools. From an IT perspective, this means that servers can be configured with now-standard releases to support software based on relatively-recent components with better performance, enhanced security, superior internationalization, and so on. Fedora 25 and allied distributions will present IT with fewer cases where it has to recertify an installation with non-standard pieces, at least for the next year.

One of the pieces of Fedora 25 that most intrigues me is the Wayland display server. Nearly all Linux desktops rely on the X Window System protocol defined almost thirty years ago. X has kept up with interesting trends since then--higher-performance graphics, 3-D, video effects, multiple human languages, touch screens, very large and very small displays, and so on--with increasing difficulty. Wayland is a reworked foundation that will better support the visual effects of the next decade or two.

One of the complications in this story is that Wayland itself was first defined over eight years ago. Changing the "plumbing" behind the screens of a minority of computers--not writing the three-dimensional or touch-screen applications, just getting ready to write them--has already taken longer than the 1960s campaign to put US astronauts on the moon. In the time since Tinder, for example, first released its Internet application and grew to be worth billions of dollars (and collected enough boardroom controversy to support its own soap opera), Wayland has methodically improved multiple-language support, corrected licence oversights, stabilized client-side APIs, rationalized its documentation, and accomplished other engineering milestones only a specialist can love.

Where's the Internet's famous fast time-line? This eight-year-old Wayland is it. Like Ethernet and TCP and DNS and many other crucial elements, it takes a lot of work to make something used by billions of people daily right. The Fedora 25 release is important and, so far, it looks like a good one. For those of us waiting for Wayland's new capabilities, these are exciting times.

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