Red Hat redeploys one of its main desktop developers

Big Purple may be moving away from the desktop or it could be more strategic

A blog post from senior Red Hat developer Bastien Nocera indicates that the IBM-owned distro maker is further consolidating its development efforts on desktop Linux.

The post, simply titled "New responsibilities", refers back to Red Hat's earlier decision to stop packing LibreOffice for RHEL back in June. That in turn followed the company laying off Fedora project lead Ben Cotton. Nocera isn't being laid off, merely "transferred to another team that deals with one of a list of Red Hat's priority projects."

Nocera links to one of his emails from the end of June, which lists multiple Fedora packages that he had to stop working on. Although he says that he gave less than 10 percent of his time to them, he describes some of the areas which will now be orphaned:

My management chain has made the decision to stop all upstream and downstream work on desktop Bluetooth, multimedia applications (namely totem, rhythmbox and sound-juicer) and libfprint/fprintd.

(The last pairing are fingerprint-recognition tools, not anything to do with printing.)

At the time of the LibreOffice announcement, Red Hat's Matthias Clasen said the company was focusing its efforts on other parts of the workstation software stack:

We are adjusting our engineering priorities for RHEL for Workstations and focusing on gaps in Wayland, building out HDR support, building out what's needed for color-sensitive work, and a host of other refinements required by Workstation users.

These areas do represent significant points of weakness for desktop Linux at present, and while one aspect of this R&D investment into Wayland and modernizing Linux graphics is good, the flip side is that these are further blows to the traditional X11 display stack… or the "legacy" server, as we suspect management would call it.

Big Purple's main money-earner on the desktop is Red Hat Enterprise Linux for Workstations, which focuses on "high-performance and graphically intensive workloads like animation, visual effects (VFX), computer-aided design/computer-aided engineering (CAD/CAE), and scientific research."

It is likely that the users of such workstations also have a secondary machine, such as a Mac laptop, for doing boring productivity stuff like their email, calls on Zoom, Teams or Meet, and so on. That's what their Bluetooth headset – such as the SteelSeries devices whose support Nocera worked on – is probably connected to, rather than their RHEL/W box.

Even so, this is a significant blow to the GNOME project, where Nocera was a core developer, as his GNOME wiki entry shows.

Other Linux distros have noted the difficulty of working with the GNOME project in the past, which is why Linux Mint recently moved to a different Bluetooth tool. It's far from a new problem: Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth described similar difficulties as long ago as 2011.

We must also point out that there is a lot of overlap among the Linux desktops, and almost every project has its own set of tools for such duties. GNOME maintains image viewers, media players, two terminal emulators, two text editors, and many more, as we described recently looking at the forthcoming GNOME 45. Virtually all of these are duplicated in KDE, in ElementaryOS's Pantheon, in Xfce, and so on.

In many cases, some separate, independent projects are clear leaders, such as Firefox and Chrome in place of GNOME Web or any of KDE's three web browsers (yes, really), or VLC in place of any desktop's media player. Linux Mint's XApps initiative is a welcome contrast, and more distros should get on board. In addition, many of these applications are front ends to various underlying frameworks. GNOME's Bluetooth tools rely on the underlying BlueZ stack, for instance.

The big enterprise vendors long ago decided there's little to no money to be made from Linux on the desktop, which is why it's left up to free distros and non-profit organizations – that might be what causes the proliferation of duplicated efforts. Increased consolidation is not a bad thing. ®

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