Ask The Expert: Red Hat Linux 8.0

Havoc Pennington
Systems Developer, Desktop/UI Tech Lead

Havoc Pennington, a Director of the GNOME Foundation, author of a book on GTK+/Gnome Application Development and all around Red Hat Interface Guru, is a critical member of the team that recently finished work on Red Hat Linux 8.0. We sat down with him to get some answers about what's new, what's Blue, and what's cool in this new version.

Q:  That's a pretty sweet name you have, Havoc. Your parents give you that, or is it some kind of coder chic? And what would you buy if you had a dollar for every time someone used the word "wreak" in association with your name?
A:  Straight from my parents, I've never had one of those cool hacker handles - seemed kind of superfluous! As for the "wreak" thing... let's say I could retire. ;-)
Q:  Tell us your job title. Then tell us what you really do.
A:  My job title is "Systems Developer," I've had that position for around 3 years. Historically mostly working on GTK+ and GNOME. Starting with Red Hat Linux 8.0, I'm the technical lead for desktop/UI issues. This means fixing bugs, writing code, owning the desktop feature list, coordinating who is doing what in this area, and taking responsibility for most desktop/UI-related technical decisions. I report to Preston Brown who is responsible for the whole Red Hat Linux OS.
Q:  Word on the street is that Red Hat Linux 8.0 is very distinct from previous versions. What's so different?
A:  In Red Hat Linux 8.0 we've put a lot more effort into desktop and UI issues than we have in the past. Step one, in our view, was to take responsibility for the default user experience: that is, make decisions on what the Red Hat Linux look-and-feel should be, and go through and implement those decisions for the different pieces of software we include. We called this set of decisions the "Bluecurve look-and-feel." The result is a much cleaner, more consistent UI.
Q:  Why did Red Hat decide to create a new interface rather than just continuing to use GNOME or KDE?
A:  Think of Bluecurve as a style guide that says how any given desktop environment or application should be configured by default, what its widgets and icons should look like, and so on. We then configured GNOME, KDE, Mozilla, even XMMS, to follow these guidelines.

GNOME and KDE have their own guidelines, but we felt that imposing the KDE guidelines and artwork on GNOME, or vice versa, would be more controversial than a neutral third-party theme.
Q:  What's the secret behind the cleaner look of Bluecurve?
A:  The secret was artistic mastermind Garrett LeSage. In previous releases, artistically challenged engineers often cobbled together the look using building blocks they found on the Internet; in this release, Garrett created a coherent overall style and implemented it in the form of many specific icons, themes, and graphics throughout the OS.
Q:  Other than the new look and feel, what three things do you think are the best new features in Red Hat Linux 8.0?
A:  Some of my favorite features are:
  • Red Hat Linux 8.0 is the first distribution to adopt Linux's next generation font subsystem, consisting of the "fontconfig" and "Xft2" libraries. This replaces the 15-year-old X font system with something more modern, that supports antialiasing, works for printing as well as screen display, improves internationalization, and simplifies font installation.
  • Many new configuration tools, with cleaner user interfaces. We have a number of tools that are simple to use and nontechnical in presentation and terminology. "Display," "Packages," "Date & Time" are some of the most useful new tools for desktop users.
  • OpenOffice
Q:  What's the one feature that didn't make it into Red Hat Linux 8.0 that you wish we'd had time to finish?
A:  ONE more feature? Are you nuts? ;-) At the top of my list, I want better support (and user interface) for multimedia and for printing.
Q:  What advances in Linux desktop technology can we expect to see in future releases?
A:  Printing and multimedia are big areas that we want to tackle. And we want to be looking at improving the security and manageability of Linux desktops -- meeting the needs of administrators who are looking after a few hundred (or a few thousand) client workstations.

I hope to see continued work on interoperability and integration between the various Linux desktop components: Mozilla, OpenOffice, GNOME, and KDE. Unifying the MIME subsystem is one task that Red Hat can't take on alone, but we're actively working with community developers to find a solution. There should be one place to configure the applications and plugins for a given file type.
Q:  I've heard people talking about "Section 508" and "accessibility support." What does that refer to and how does 8.0 address these issues?
A:  Many disabled users find graphical user interfaces difficult or impossible to use. Visual impairments may make it difficult or impossible to see what's on the screen; mobility impairments may make it difficult or impossible to use a mouse or keyboard.

"Accessibility support" consists of special code to make the GUI accessible to disabled users, generally by providing hooks for alternative input or output devices.

Due to government regulations in the US and other countries, companies have been taking more of an interest in providing accessibility support. In particular a US regulation called "section 508" mandates that government agencies prefer to purchase software with accessibility support.

You can learn more about accessibility work at

Red Hat Linux 8.0 begins to incorporate the significant open source efforts in this area.
Q:  Imagine for a second that you have the ability to run at superhuman speeds. You and Shadowman (who, for a two dimensional logo, also runs very fast) leave Red Hat headquarters together and run in opposite directions. Shadowman runs 2 miles per second (mps) and you run 3 miles per second. How far apart would you be in miles after 1 hour?
A:  18000? Am I going to be graded on this?
Q:  Yes. And you scored 100. Thanks for playing, and thanks for your work on Red Hat Linux 8.0.