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Live Fedora start page proposal



Hi,

I work with the online desktop team at Red Hat.  I'd like to propose
that starting with Fedora 8, the default browser start page be changed
to a live web page centered on web search.

Here's why I think this simple change makes sense:

 * More useful to users.  The vast majority of the time when Fedora
users are launching a new browser, they're looking to do something on
the web, not to read the operating system release notes.  Thus, we've
proposed to put search front-and-center.

 * Fedora-tuned search features.  For example, we can make it easy to
search for Creative Commons licensed content, a feature that should be
especially interesting and relevant to Fedora users.  Likewise, we
could make it easy to search within, or highlight results from,
certain sites likely to be more relevant to Fedora users (such as
Fedora documentation, user discussion lists, and community forums).

 * Opportunity for ad-subsidized sponsorships.  Fedora's large user
audience is potentially valuable to web search providers whose
business is to display contextual text ads next to search results.
Fedora can pursue an affiliate relationship to share in the ad revenue
for search traffic originating at the start page, thus enabling
additional investment in the broader Fedora Project.

 * An ongoing connection to users.  A hosted start page is a chance to
have a live channel to communicate news or announcements to the Fedora
user base (for example, a simple one-liner to announce the
availability of a new release or a new community resource).

We put together a working prototype in order to make the discussion
concrete, which you can try out here:

   http://start.fedoraproject.org

That design and functionality there is definitely not set in stone,
but gets the basic idea across and would be a serviceable starting
point for user testing.

To try this out, there's only one small change required in the
distribution itself, which is to swap the default URL in the browser
configuration to http://start.fedoraproject.org.  This switch is a
time-sensitive issue with respect to Test2, since we'd like to field
this in at least one and ideally two test releases before deciding to
release it in a final Fedora version.

Independent of the release cycle, and across all versions of Fedora,
we can evolve the contents on the page, including discussing and
investigating possible sponsorship/affiliate agreements.  Those
changes don't need to be bound to the distribution release cycle.

Some further comments on points raised in prior discussions of this
topic with the advisory board and community members earlier this year:

 * The change is only to the default.  Just like now, users will be
able to change the start page to whatever they like whenever they
like.

 * There is already a link to the release notes in the default browser
bookmarks toolbar, which is visible by default, so the content
previously on the start page is still just one click away.  We could
explore featuring links to release notes or documentation in the start
page itself, though keeping the start page simple and lightweight
seems best (both for ease of use and performance reasons).

 * Internationalization of the hosted start page and search results
pages is certainly doable, just as with the local release notes.

 * Red Hat will supply the server infrastructure and bandwidth
required for this project.

 * Starting with a hosted page featuring search prominently is already
the default behavior of upstream Firefox on Linux, as well as Firefox
on Mac and Windows.

 * For users without Internet connectivity, we could do something
fancy to avoid showing an error message, though that would be more
than upstream Firefox does.  In fact we have prototyped modifications
to Firefox to achieve this, but our conclusion was that the additional
complexity is not justified.  Using a web browser without access to
the web seems to be a corner case and one in which a warning message
is appropriate!  In the offline case, local release notes would still
be available from the default bookmarks toolbar.  Tuning offline
behavior is an area that we could look at further in conjunction with
the community.

While there are a number of details left to figure out, I think we
understand this sufficiently well to merit fielding it for a test as
the default start page in Test2.

thanks,

don


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