Archive for the 'ubuntu' Category

The dash to Copenhagen combined with a dash across the Atlantic has me righteously ramfeezled, but the roisterous reception we got at the OpenStack summit (congrats, stackers, on a respectable razzmatazz of rugible cloud enthusiasm) made it worthwhile. A quick shout out to the team behind the Juju gooooey, that puts a whole new face on cloud agility – rousing stuff.

Nevertheless, it’s way past time to root our next rhythmic release in some appropriate adjective.

The challenge, of course, has been the number of entirely inappropriate adjectives that presented themselves along the way. Go read the dictionary. R is just loaded with juicy stuff we can’t use without invoking the radge wrath of the rinky-dink chorus. Sigh.

Nevertheless, somewhere between the risibly rambunctious and the reboantly ran-tan, the regnally rakish and the reciprocornously rorty, there was bound to be a good fit. Something radious or rident, something to rouse our rowthy rabble.

So what will we be up to in the next six months? We have two short cycles before we’re into the LTS, and by then we want to have the phone, tablet and TV all lined up. So I think it’s time to look at the core of Ubuntu and review it through a mobile lens: let’s measure our core platform by mobile metrics, things like battery life, number of running processes, memory footprint, and polish the rough edges that we find when we do that. The tighter we can get the core, the better we will do on laptops and the cloud, too.

So bring along a Nexus 7 if you’re coming to Copenhagen, because it makes a rumpty reference for our rootin’ tootin’ radionic razoring. The raving Rick and his merry (wo)men will lead us to a much leaner, sharper, more mobile world. We’ll make something… wonderful, and call it the Raring Ringtail. See you there soon.

Update: for clarity, this ringtail is no laconic lemur, it’s a ringtail raccoon. However, for the sake of sanity, it’s not a raring ringtail raccoon, just a raring ringtail. There.

Amazon search results in the Dash

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

It makes perfect sense to integrate Amazon search results in the Dash, because the Home Lens of the Dash should let you find *anything* anywhere. Over time, we’ll make the Dash smarter and smarter, so you can just ask for whatever you want, and it will Just Work.

The Home Lens of the Dash is a “give me X” experience. You hit the Super key, and say what you want, and we do our best to figure out what you mean, and give you that. Of course, you can narrow the scope of that search if you want. For example, you can hit Super-A and just search applications. But if you throw your query out to the Dash, we need to be a smart as possible about where we go looking for answers for you.

In 12.10 we’ll take the first step of looking both online and locally for possible results. The Home lens will show you local things like apps and music, as it always has, as well as results from Amazon. Note – these are not ads, they are results to your search. We don’t promote any product or service speculatively, these are not banners or spyware. These are results from underlying scopes, surfaced to the Home lens, because you didn’t narrow the scope to a specific, well scope.

What we have in 12.10 isn’t the full experience, so those who leap to judgement are at maximum risk of having to eat their words later. Chill out. If the first cut doesn’t work for you, remove it, or just search the specific scope you want (there are hotkeys for all the local scopes).

Here’s a quick Q&A on the main FUD-points.

Why are you putting ads in Ubuntu?

We’re not putting ads in Ubuntu. We’re integrating online scope results into the home lens of the dash. This is to enable you to hit “Super” and then ask for anything you like, and over time, with all of the fantastic search scopes that people are creating, we should be able to give you the right answer.

These are not ads because they are not paid placement, they are straightforward Amazon search results for your search. So the Dash becomes a super-search of any number of different kinds of data. Right now, it’s not dynamically choosing what to search, it’s just searching local scopes and Amazon, but it will get smarter over time.

I don’t wan’t to search Amazon for the Terminal

Use Super-A. You can tell Unity exactly what you want to search. And in future you’ll be able to do that from the home lens, too, more easily than the current Lens Bar at the bottom of the Dash.

I want to control what is searched on the Home Lens

So do I! Designs and patches welcome in the usual places. I’m pretty sure by 14.04 LTS we’ll have the kinks unkinked. Till then, come along for the ride, or stick with 12.04 LTS. We can’t wait till it’s perfect before landing everything, because the only way to learn what’s not perfect is to have other people – real people – use it.

I can’t believe you just changed Ubuntu. I liked it the way it was.

Looks like those six months are nearly up again 😉

This is just a moneymaking scheme.

We picked Amazon as a first place to start because most of our users are also regular users of Amazon, and it pays us to make your Amazon journey  get off to a faster start. Typing Super “queen marking cage”  Just Worked for me this morning. I am now looking forward to my game of Ultimate Where’s Waldo hunting down the queens in my bee colonies, Ubuntu will benefit from the fact that I chose to search Amazon that way, Amazon benefits from being more accessible to a very discerning, time-conscious and hotkey-friendly audience.

But there are many more kinds of things you can search through with Unity scopes. Most of them won’t pay Ubuntu a cent, but we’ll still integrate them into the coolest just-ask-and-you’ll-receive experience. I want us to do this because I think we can make the desktop better.

Why are you telling Amazon what I am searching for?

We are not telling Amazon what you are searching for. Your anonymity is preserved because we handle the query on your behalf. Don’t trust us? Erm, we have root. You do trust us with your data already. You trust us not to screw up on your machine with every update. You trust Debian, and you trust a large swathe of the open source community. And most importantly, you trust us to address it when, being human, we err.

The query should be encrypted!

It will be in the release version.

I want to control this in the settings!

Yes, we agree, and designs and work are under way to make that possible. That should land in 12.10 too, or as an update, or in 13.04.

In summary – please don’t feed the trolls. We’re interested in feedback in what sorts of things would be useful to search straight from the home lens, and how to improve the search results, as well as provide better control of the process to you.

Here is the key question, as I see it:

Can Canonical and the Ubuntu community handle the responsibility associated with this sort of service?

Well, if we want to run a modern platform, that updates automatically and provides users with the full benefit of living in a connected world, then we have to be able to do that. If we can’t we won’t be relevant. So we should talk about the appropriate kinds of privacy policy, appropriate encryption, appropriate settings and preferences, to make this all world class.

UDS & Cloud Day in Oakland – yeah!

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Had a blast this morning welcoming everyone to Oakland, California, kicking off UDS and unveiling the first rack-ready 48-node 192- core ARM server from Calxeda. Looking forward to the new Cloud Day at UDS tomorrow, great speakers including Richard Kaufmann, CTO of HP Cloud, Randy Bias of Cloud Scaling, Mark Collier of Rackspace. We’ll have VMWare, Scality, 10gen, Engine Yard, Iron.IO, Scalr, and Enstratus all under one roof for the day talking open source cloud greatness. Come and say hi, or dive in with them to see how the smart money is building clouds, then stick around for anything on the UDS schedule that takes your fancy!

Quality has a new name

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

This quirky scheme of adjectives and animals presents a pretty puzzle every six months. What mix of characteristics do we want to celebrate in the next release? Here we are, busily finalizing the precise pangolin (which was a rather perfect product placement for a scaly anteater, all things considered) and before one realises it’s time to talk turkey, so to speak, about Q! Our code names may raise a quizzical eyebrow here and there, but they capture the zeitgeist of a cycle and shape our discussions in surprising ways. The quest for a name has no quick answer unless, of course, you jump to the last paragraph 😉

12.04 being an LTS we’ve been minding our P’s and Q’s, but many of our quality-oriented practices from 12.04 LTS will continue into Q territory. We’ll keep the platform usable throughout the cycle, because that helped hugely to encourage daily use of the release, which in turn gives us much better feedback on questions of quality. And we’ll ratchet up the continuous integration, smoke testing and automated benchmarking of the release, since we can do it all in the cloud. We have, so to speak, stacks and stacks of cloud to use. So quality is quotidian rather than quarterly. And it is both qualitative and quantitative, with user research and testing continuing to shape our design decisions. The effort we put into polishing Unity and the rest of the platform in 12.04 seem to have paid off handsomely, with many quondam quarrelsome suddenly quiescent in the face of a surge in support for the work.

But the finest quality is that without a name, so support for “quality” as a codename would at best be qualified. Every release has quality first these days – they all get used, on the server, on devices, and while the term of maintenance might vary, our commitment to interim releases is just as important as that to an LTS.

Our focus on quality permeates from the platform up to the code we write upstream, and our choices of upstream components too. We require tests and gated trunks for all Canonical codebases, and prefer upstreams that share the same values. Quality starts at the source, it’s not something that can be patched in after the fact. And I’m delighted that we have many upstreams using our tools to improve their quality too! We have awesome tools for daily builds from branches, continuous integration support in Launchpad, the ability to provide a gated trunk with tests run in the cloud for projects that really care about quality. Rumours and allegations of a move from Upstart to systemd are unfounded: Upstart has a huge battery of tests, the competition has virtually none. Upstart knows everything it wants to be, the competition wants to be everything. Quality comes from focus and clarity of purpose, it comes from careful design and rigorous practices. After a review by the Ubuntu Foundations team our course is clear: we’re committed to Upstart, it’s the better choice for a modern init, innit. For our future on cloud and client, Upstart is crisp, clean and correct. It will be a pleasure to share all the Upstart-enablement patches we carry with other family friends as soon as their release is ready and they can take a breath, so to speak.

From a styling point of view, we think in terms of quadruples: this next release starts a cycle of four, which will culminate in 14.04 LTS. So there’s an opportunity to refresh the look. That will kick off with a project on typography to make sure we are expressing ourselves with crystal clarity – making the most of Ubuntu’s Light and Medium font weights for a start. And a project on iconography, with the University of Reading, to refine the look of apps and interfaces throughout the platform. It’s amazing how quaint the early releases of Ubuntu look compared to the current style. And we’re only just getting started! In our artistic explorations we want to embrace tessellation as an expression of the part-digital, part-organic nature of Ubuntu. We love the way tessellated art expresses both the precision and reliability of our foundations, and the freedom and collaboration of a project driven by people making stuff for people. There’s nothing quixotic in our desire to make Ubuntu the easiest, steadiest, and most beautiful way to live digitally.

On the fauna front, the quotable campaign for the Queer Quokka is quorate but, it must sometimes be said, this is not a democracy. One man’s favourite furball is another’s mangy marsupial. No, the quintessential stories of Q will be all about style on the client, with a refresh of our theme and typography, a start on new iconography and perhaps even a new form factor taking flight. So brown is out and something colourful and light is called for. On the cloud front, the new virtualized network madness called Quantum will make its appearance. Being a first cut, it’s more likely to be Folsom than wholesome, but it’s going to be worth calling out, and the name is reminiscent of our package-oriented practices, where goodness is delivered one piece at a time. And so the stage is set for a decision:  I give you the Quantal Quetzal, soon to be dressed in tessellated technicolour, now open for toolchains, kernels and other pressing preparatory packages.

As we move from “tens” to “hundreds” to “thousands” of nodes in a typical data centre we need new tools and practices. This hyperscale story – of hyper-dense racks with wimpy nodes – is the big shift in the physical world which matches the equally big shift to cloud computing in the virtualised world. Ubuntu’s popularity in the cloud comes in part from being leaner, faster, more agile. And MAAS – Metal as a Service – is bringing that agility back to the physical world for hyperscale deployments.

Servers used to aspire to being expensive. Powerful. Big. We gave them names like “Hercules” or “Atlas”. The bigger your business, or the bigger your data problem, the bigger the servers you bought. It was all about being beefy – with brands designed to impress, like POWER and Itanium.

Things are changing.

Today, server capacity can be bought as a commodity, based on the total cost of compute: the cost per teraflop, factoring in space, time, electricity. We can get more power by adding more nodes to our clusters, rather than buying beefier nodes. We can increase reliability by doubling up, so services keep running when individual nodes fail. Much as RAID changed the storage game, this scale-out philosophy, pioneered by Google, is changing the server landscape.

In this hyperscale era, each individual node is cheap, wimpy and, by historical standards for critical computing, unreliable. But together, they’re unstoppable. The horsepower now resides in the cluster, not the node. Likewise, the reliability of the infrastructure now depends on redundancy, rather than heroic performances from specific machines. There is, as they say, safety in numbers.

We don’t even give hyperscale nodes proper names any more – ask “node-0025904ce794”. Of course, you can still go big with the cluster name. I’m considering “Mark’s Magnificent Mountain of Metal” – significantly more impressive than “Mark’s Noisy Collection of Fans in the Garage”, which is what Claire will probably call it. And that’s not the knicker-throwing kind of fan, either.

The catch to this massive multiplication in node density, however, is in the cost of provisioning. Hyperscale won’t work economically if every server has to be provisioned, configured  and managed as if it were a Hercules or an Atlas. To reap the benefits, we need leaner provisioning processes. We need deployment tools to match the scale of the new physical reality.

That’s where Metal as a Service (MAAS) comes in. MAAS makes it easy to set up the hardware on which to deploy any service that needs to scale up and down dynamically – a cloud being just one example. It lets you provision your servers dynamically, just like cloud instances – only in this case, they’re whole physical nodes. “Add another node to the Hadoop cluster, and make sure it has at least 16GB RAM” is as easy as asking for it.

With a simple web interface, you can  add, commission, update and recycle your servers at will.  As your needs change, you can respond rapidly, by adding new nodes and dynamically re-deploying them between services. When the time comes, nodes can be retired for use outside the MAAS.

As we enter an era in which ATOM is as important in the data centre as XEON, an operating system like Ubuntu makes even more sense. Its freedom from licensing restrictions, together with the labour saving power of tools like MAAS, make it cost-effective, finally, to deploy and manage hundreds of nodes at a time

Here’s another way to look at it: Ubuntu is bringing cloud semantics to the bare metal world. What a great foundation for your IAAS.

Holistic UI is smarter UX

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

In the open source community, we celebrate having pieces that “do one thing well”, with lots of orthogonal tools compounding to give great flexibility. But that same philosophy leads to shortcomings on the GUI / UX front, where we want all the pieces to be aware of each other in a deeper way.

For example, we consciously place the notifications in the top right of the screen, avoiding space that is particularly precious (like new tab titles, and search boxes). But the indicators are also in the top right, and they make menus, which drop down into the same space a notification might occupy.

Since we know that notifications are queued, no notification is guaranteed to be displayed instantly, so a smarter notification experience would stay out of the way while you were using indicator menus, or get out of the way when you invoke them. The design story of focusayatana, where we balance the need for focus with the need for awareness, would suggest that we should suppress awareness-oriented things in favour of focus things. So when you’re interacting with an indicator menu, we shouldn’t pop up the notification. Since the notification system, and the indicator menu system, are separate parts, the UNIX philosophy sells us short in designing a smart, smooth experience because it says they should each do their thing individually.

Going further, it’s silly that the sound menu next/previous track buttons pop up a notification, because the same menu shows the new track immediately anyway. So the notification, which is purely for background awareness, is distracting from your focus, which is conveying exactly the same information!

But it’s not just the system menus. Apps can play in that space too, and we could be better about shaping the relationship between them. For example, if I’m moving the mouse around in the area of a notification, we should be willing to defer it a few seconds to stay out of the focus. When I stop moving the mouse, or typing in a window in that region, then it’s OK to pop up the notification.

It’s only by looking at the whole, that we can design great experiences. And only by building a community of both system and application developers that care about the whole, that we can make those designs real. So, thank you to all of you who approach things this way, we’ve made huge progress, and hopefully there are some ideas here for low-hanging improvements too 🙂

Ubuntu vs RHEL in enterprise computing

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

A remarkable thing happened this year: companies started adopting Ubuntu over RHEL for large-scale enterprise workloads, in droves: historical analysis of web server operating systems

The trend is even starker if you look at what we know of new-style services, like clouds and big data, but since most of that happens behind the firewall its all anecdata, while web services are a public affair.

The key driver of this has been that we added quality as a top-level goal across the teams that build Ubuntu – both Canonical’s and the community’s. We also have retained the focus on keeping the up-to-date tools available on Ubuntu for developers, and on delivering a great experience in the cloud, where computing is headed.

The headlines for Ubuntu have all been about the desktop and consumer-focused design efforts, with the introduction of Unity and the expansion of our goals to span the phone, the tablet, the TV as well as the PC. But underpinning those goals has been a raising of the quality game: OEMs and consumers demand a very high level of quality, and so we now have large-scale automated testing, improved upload processes, faster responses to issues that crop up inevitably during the development cycle, a broader base of users and contributors in the development release, and better engagements with the vendors who pre-install Ubuntu. So 12.04 LTS is a coming of age release for Ubuntu in the data centre as much as its the first LTS to sport the interface which was designed to span the full range of personal computing needs.

We’re also seeing the wider community respond to the goal of cadence. OpenStack’s Essex release is lined up to be a perfect fit for 12.04 LTS. That is not a coincidence, it’s a value to which both projects are committed. Upstream projects that care about their user’s and care about being adopted quickly, want an effective conduit of their goodness straight to users. By adopting the 6-month / 2-year cadence of step and LTS releases, and aligning those with Ubuntu’s release cycle, OpenStack ensures that a very large audience of system administrators, developers and enterprise decision makers can plan for their OpenStack deployment, and know they will have a robust and very widely deployed LTS platform together with a very widely supported release of OpenStack. Every dependency that Essex needs is exactly provided in 12.04 LTS, the way that all of the major public clouds based on OpenStack are using it. By adopting a common message on releases, we make both OpenStack and Ubuntu stronger, and do so in a way which is entirely transparent and accessible to other distributions.

Quality. Design. Cadence. You can count on them in Ubuntu, and OpenStack.

Government use of Ubuntu

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Governments are making increasingly effective use of Ubuntu in large-scale projects, from big data to little schools. There is growing confidence in  open source in government quarters, and growing sophistication in how they engage with it.

But adopting open source is not just about replacing one kind of part with another. Open source is not just a substitute for shrink-wrapped proprietary software. It’s much more malleable in the hands of industry and users, and you can engage with it very differently as a result.  I’m interested in hearing from thought leaders in the civil service on ways they think governments could get much more value with open source, by embracing that flexibility. For example, rather than one-size-fits-all software, why can’t we deliver custom versions of Ubuntu for different regions or countries or even departments and purposes? Could we enable the city government of Frankfurt to order PC’s with the Ubuntu German Edition pre-installed?

Or could we go further, and enable those governments to participate in the definition and production and certification process? So rather than having to certify exactly the same bits which everyone else is using, they could create a flavour which is still “certified Ubuntu” and fully compatible with the whole Ubuntu ecosystem, can still be ordered pre-installed from global providers like Dell and Lenovo, but has the locally-certified collection of software, customizations, and certifications layered on top?

If we expand our thinking beyond “replacing what went before”, how could we make it possible for the PC companies to deliver much more relevant offerings, and better value to governments by virtue of free software? Most of the industry processes and pipelines were set up with brittle, fixed, proprietary software in mind. But we’re now in a position to drive change, if there’s a better way to do it, and customers to demand it.

So, for a limited time only, you can reach me at (there were just too many cultural references there to resist, and it’s not a mailbox that will be needed again soon ;). If you are in the public service, or focused on the way governments and civic institutions can use open source beyond simply ordering large numbers of machines at a lower cost, drop me a note and let’s strike up a conversation.

Here are a few seed thoughts for exploration and consideration.

Local or national Ubuntu editions, certified and pre-installed by global brands

Lots of governments now buy PC’s from the world market with Ubuntu pre-installed. Several Canadian tenders have been won by companies bidding with Ubuntu pre-installed on PC’s. The same is true in Brazil and Argentina, in China and India and Spain and Germany. We’re seeing countries or provinces that previously had their own-brand local Linux, which they had to install build locally and install manually, shifting towards pre-order with Ubuntu.

In part, this is possible because the big PC brands have built up enough experience and confidence working with Canonical and Ubuntu to be able to respond to those tenders. You can call up Dell or Lenovo and order tens of thousands of laptops or desktops with Ubuntu pre-installed, and they will show up on time, certified. The other brands are following. It has been a lot of work to reach that point, but we’ve got the factory processes all working smoothly from Shenzen to Taipei. If you want tens of thousands of units, it all works well.

But Ubuntu, or free software in general, is not Windows. You shouldn’t have to accept the one-size-fits all story. We saw all of those local editions, or “national linux”, precisely because of the desire that regions have to build something that really suits them well. And Ubuntu, with it’s diversity of packages, open culture and remix-friendly licensing is a very good place to start. Many of the Spanish regional distro’s, for example, are based on Ubuntu. They have the advantage of being shaped to suit local needs better than we can with vanilla Ubuntu, but the disadvantage of being hard to certify with major ISV’s or IHV’s.

I’m interested in figuring out how we can formalise that flexibility, so that we can get the best of both worlds: local customizations and preferences expressed in a compatible way with the rest of the Ubuntu ecosystem, so they can take advantage of all the software and skills and certifications that the ecosystem and brand bring. And so they can order it pre-installed from any major global PC company, no problem, and upgrade to the next version of Ubuntu without losing all the customization that work that they did.

Security certifications by local agencies, with policy frameworks and updates

A European defence force has recently adopted Ubuntu widely as part of an agility-enhancing strategy that gives soldiers and office workers secure desktop capabilities from remote locations like… home, or out in the field. There’s some really quite sexy innovation there, but there’s also Ubuntu as we know and love it. In the process of doing the work, it emerged that their government has certified some specific versions of key apps like OpenVPN, and it would be very useful to them if they could ensure that those versions were the ones in use widely throughout the government.

Of course, today, that means manually installing the right version every time, and tracking updates. But Ubuntu could do that work, if it knew enough about the requirements and the policies, and there was a secure way to keep those policies up to date. Could we make the operating system responsive to such policies, even where it isn’t directly managed by some central infrastructure? If Ubuntu “knows” that it’s supposed to behave in a particular way, can we make it do much of the work itself?

The same idea is useful in an organizational setting, too. And the key question is whether we can do that, while still retaining both access  to the wider Ubuntu ecosystem, and compatibility with factory processes, so these machines could be ordered and arrive pre-installed and ready to go.

Local cultural customization

On a less securocratic note, the idea of Ubuntu being tailored to local culture is very appealing. Every region or community has its news sites, it’s languages, it’s preferred apps and protocols and conventions. Can we expand the design and definition of the Ubuntu experience so that it adapts naturally to those norms in a way much richer and more meaningful than we can with Windows today?

What would the key areas of customisation be? Who would we trust to define them? How would we combine the diversity of our LoCo communities with the leadership of Ubuntu and the formality of government or regional authorities? Would we *want* to do that? It’s a very interesting topic, because the value of having officially recognised platforms is just about on a par with the value of having agile, crowdsourced and community-driven customisation. Nevertheless, could we find a model whereby governments or civil groups could underwrite the creation of recognised editions of Ubuntu that adapt themselves to local cultural norms? Would we get a better experience for human beings if we did that?

Local skills development

Many of the “national linux” efforts focus on building small teams of engineers and designers and translators that are tasked with bringing a local flavour to the technology or content in the distro. We have contributors from almost (perhaps actually?) every country, and we have Canonical members in nearly 40 countries. Could those two threads weave together in an interesting way? I’m often struck, when I meet those teams, at the awkwardness of teams that feel like start-ups, working inside government departments – it’s never seemed an ideal fit for either party.

Sometimes the teams are very domain focused; one such local-Linux project is almost entirely staffed by teachers, because the genesis of the initiative was in school computing, and they have done well for that purpose.

But could we bring those two threads together? The Ubuntu-is-distributed-already and the local-teams-hired-to-focus-on-local-work threads seem highly complimentary; could we create teams which are skilled in distro development work, managed as part of the broader Ubuntu effort, but tasked with local priorities?

Public investments in sector leadership

Savvy governments are starting to ensure that research and development that they fund is made available under open licenses. Whether that’s open content licensing, or open source licensing, or RAND-Z terms, there’s a sensible view that information or tools paid for with public money should be accessible to that public on terms that let them innovate further or build businesses or do analysis of their own.

Some of that investment turns out to be software. For example, governments might prioritise genomics, or automotive, or aerospace, and along the way they might commission chunks of software that are relevant. How could we make that software instantly available to anybody running the relevant local flavour of Ubuntu? Would we do the same with content? How do we do that without delivering Newspeak to the desktop? Are there existing bodies of software which could be open sourced, but they don’t have a natural home, they’re essentially stuck on people’s hard drives or tapes?


There are multiple factors driving the move of public institutions to open source – mainly the recognition, after many years, of the quality and flexibility that an open platform provides. Austerity is another source of motivation to change. But participation, the fact that open source can be steered and shaped to suit the needs of those who use it simply through participating in open projects, hasn’t yet been fully explored. Food for thought.

And there’s much more to explore. If this is interesting to you, and you’re in a position to participate in building something that would actually get used in such a context, then please get in touch. Directly via The Governator, or via my office.

… for human beings

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Our mission with Ubuntu is to deliver, in the cleanest, most economical and most reliable form, all the goodness that engineers love about free software to the widest possible audience (including engineers :)). We’ve known for a long time that free software is beautiful on the inside – efficient, accurate, flexible, modifiable. For the past three years, we’ve been leading the push to make free software beautiful on the outside too – easy to use, visually pleasing and exciting. That started with the Ubuntu Netbook Remix, and is coming to fruition in 12.04 LTS, now in beta.

For the first time with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, real desktop user experience innovation is available on a full production-ready enterprise-certified free software platform, free of charge, well before it shows up in Windows or MacOS. It’s not ‘job done’ by any means, but it’s a milestone. Achieving that milestone has tested the courage and commitment of the Ubuntu community – we had to move from being followers and integrators, to being designers and shapers of the platform, together with upstreams who are excited to be part of that shift and passionate about bringing goodness to a wide audience. It’s right for us to design experiences and help upstreams get those experiences to be amazing, because we are closest to the user; we are the last mile, the last to touch the code, and the first to get the bug report or feedback from most users.

Thank you, to those who stood by Ubuntu, Canonical and me as we set out on this adventure. This was a big change, and in the face of change, many wilt, many panic, and some simply find that their interests lie elsewhere. That’s OK, but it brings home to me the wonderful fellowship that we have amongst those who share our values and interests – their affiliation, advocacy and support is based on something much deeper than a fad or an individualistic need, it’s based on a desire to see all of this intellectual wikipedia-for-code value unleashed to support humanity at large, from developers to data centre devops to web designers to golden-years-ganderers, serving equally the poorest and the bankers who refuse to serve them, because that’s what free software and open content and open access and level playing fields are all about.

To those of you who rolled up your sleeves and filed bugs and wrote the documentation and made the posters or the cupcakes, thank you.

You’ll be as happy to read this comment on unity-design:

I’m very serious about loving the recent changes. I think I’m a fair representative of the elderly community ………. someone who doesn’t particularly care to learn new things, but just wants things to make sense. I think we’re there! Lance

You’ll be as delighted with the coverage of Ubuntu for Android at MWC in Barcelona last week:

“one of the more eye-catching concepts being showcased”v3
“sleeker, faster, potentially more disruptive” – IT Pro Portal
“you can also use all the features of Android” – The Inquirer
“I can easily see the time when I will be carrying only my smartphone” – UnwiredView
“everything it’s been claimed to be” – Engadget
“Efficiency, for the win!” – TechCrunch
“phones that become traditional desktops have the potential to benefit from the extra processing power” – GigaOM
“This, ladies and gentlemen, is the future of computing” – IntoMobile

Free software distils the smarts of those of us who care about computing, much like Wikipedia does. Today’s free software draws on the knowledge and expertise of hundreds of thousands of individuals, all over the world, all of whom helped to make this possible, just like Wikipedia. It’s only right that the benefits of that shared wisdom should accrue to everyone without charge, which is why contributing to Ubuntu is the best way to add leverage to the contributions made everywhere else, to ensure they have the biggest possible impact. It wouldn’t be right to have to pay to have a copy of Wikipedia on your desk at the office, and the same is true of the free software platform. The bits should be free, and the excellent commercial services optional. That’s what we do at Canonical and in the Ubuntu community, and that’s why we do it.

Engineers are human beings too!

We set out to refine the experience for people who use the desktop professionally, and at the same time, make it easier for the first-time user. That’s a very hard challenge. We’re not making Bob, we’re making a beautiful, easy to use LCARS ;-). We measured the state of the art in 2008 and it stank on both fronts. When we measure Ubuntu today, based on how long it takes heavy users to do things, and a first-timer to get (a different set of) things done, 12.04 LTS blows 10.04 LTS right out of the water and compares favourably with both MacOS and Windows 7. Unity today is better for both hard-core developers and first-time users than 10.04 LTS was. Hugely better.

For software developers:

  • A richer set of keyboard bindings for rapid launching, switching and window management
  • Pervasive search results in faster launching for occasional apps
  • Far less chrome in the shell than any other desktop; it gets out of your way
  • Much more subtle heuristics to tell whether you want the launcher to reveal, and to hint it’s about to
  • Integrated search presents a faster path to find any given piece of content
  • Magic window borders and the resizing scrollbar make for easier window sizing despite razor-thin visual border
  • Full screen apps can include just the window title and indicators – full screen terminal with all the shell benefits

… and many more. In 12.04 LTS, multi-monitor use cases got a first round of treatment, we will continue to refine and improve that every six months now that the core is stable and effective. But the general commentary from professionals, and software developers in particular, is “wow”. In this last round we have focused testing on more advanced users and use cases, with user journeys that include many terminal windows, and there is a measurable step up in the effectiveness of Unity in those cases. Still rough edges to be sure, even in this 12.04 release (we are not going to be able to land locally-integrated menus in time, given the freeze dates and need for focus on bug fixes) but we will SRU key items and of course continue to polish it in 12.10 onwards. We are all developers, and we all use it all the time, so this is in our interests too.

For the adventurous, who really want to be on the cutting edge, the (totally optional) HUD is our first step to a totally new kind of UI for complex apps. We’re deconstructing the traditional UI, expressing goodness from the inside out. It’s going to be a rich vein of innovation and exploration, and the main beneficiaries will be those who use computers to create amazing things, whether it’s the kernel, or movies. Yes, we are moving beyond the desktop, but we are also innovating to make the desktop itself, better.

We care about efficiency, performance, quality, reliability. So do developers and engineers. We care about beauty and ease of use – turns out most engineers and developers care about that too. I’ve had lots of hard-core engineers tell me that they “love the challenges the design team sets”, because it’s hard to make easy software, and harder to make it pixel-perfect. And lots that have switched back to Ubuntu from the MacOS because devops on Ubuntu… rock.

The hard core Linux engineers can use… anything, really. Linus is probably equally comfortable with Linux-from-scratch as with Ubuntu. But his daughter Daniela needs something that works for human beings of all shapes, sizes, colours and interests. She’s in our audience. I hope she’d love Ubuntu if she tries it. She could certainly install it for herself while Dad isn’t watching 😉 Linus and other kernel hackers are our audience too, of course, but they can help himself if things get stuck. We have to shoulder the responsibility for the other 99%. That’s a really, really hard challenge – for engineers and artists alike. But we’ve made huge progress. And doing so brings much deeper meaning to the contributions of all the brilliant people that make free software, everywhere.

Again, thanks to the Ubuntu community, 500 amazing people at Canonical, the contributors to all of the free software that makes it possible, and our users.

Ubuntu in your pocket

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

The desktop is the killer app for quad-core smartphones in 2012.

We’ll show Ubuntu neatly integrated into Android at Mobile World Congress next week. Carry just the phone, and connect it to any monitor to get a full Ubuntu desktop with all the native apps you want, running on the same device at the same time as Android. Magic. Everything important is shared across the desktop and the phone in real time.

It’s a lightweight way to be – everything seamlessly available with the right interface for the right form factor, with no hassles syncing. It just works, the way Ubuntu should. Lots of work behind the scenes to make both systems share what they need to share, but the desktop is a no-compromise desktop.


Cover for the Ubuntu for Android Fact Sheet


This isn’t the “Ubuntu Phone”. The phone experience here is pure Android. This announcement is playing to a different story, which is the convergence of multiple different form factors into one most-personal device. Naturally, the most personal device is the phone, so we want to get all of these different personalities – phone, tablet and desktop – into the phone. When you need a desktop, you connect up to a screen and a keyboard. When you need a tablet, you dock to some very elegant glass.

Just for fun, we’ve integrated the Ubuntu TV experience too – so this isn’t just a desktop in your pocket, it’s a media centre too.

Come and say hello in Barcelona next week, and I’ll be glad to hear what you think of it in person. Everyone we’ve shown it to has had a “wow!” moment. For network operators who have long believed that the phone was the PC of the future for the next billion connected consumers, and for handset manufacturers who want to offer companies a single device for corporate computing, this is a delicious prospect. For those of us who love our desktops free, focused and mobile, it’s nirvana.