We’re publishing an initial version of the Ubuntu Business Desktop Remix today, based on Ubuntu 11.10.
Deployment teams have long been modifying their Ubuntu installs to remove features like music players or games and add components that are a standard part of their business workflow.
This remix takes the most common changes we’ve observed among institutional users and bundles them into one CD which can be installed directly or used as a basis for further customization. Before anyone gets all worked up and conspiratorial: everything in the remix is available from the standard Software Centre. Packages out, packages in. No secret sauce for customers only; we’re not creating a RHEL, we already have an enterprise-quality release cadence called LTS and we like it just the way it is. This is a convenience for anyone who wants it. Having a common starting point, or booting straight into a business-oriented image makes it easier for institutional users to evaluate Ubuntu Desktop for their specific needs.
This work was first discussed at the Ubuntu Developer Summit in October. We consulted with the Ubuntu Technical Board and Ubuntu Release Team, to ensure that the finished product met the standards of the Ubuntu project. Doing so resulted in a commitment to enable community participation in the packaging of some of the pieces that are important to enterprise users.
Ubuntu makes a point of openness to heterogeneous environments. We celebrate the point that the Ubuntu desktop can be highly useful, beautiful, functional and complete without any proprietary applications at all, while recognising that some people need to work with proprietary software on occasion, making sure that software is available and certified for Ubuntu, and making it easy to install. Remixes can include non-free software and still retain the Ubuntu name, as long as they can be brought back to the standard Ubuntu experience with straightforward package management tools and no risk of divergence on the hardware and security front.
Since we established the system of remixes, the Technical Board has defined guidelines for additional package archives which are exposed to Ubuntu users through the Software Centre. We’ve clarified with the Technical Board that remixes can draw from any such archives.
<blink>Registration required</blink> 😉 Some applications like VMWare View are included in this release under a proprietary license so download is covered by an EULA, and this image can’t be mirrored unless you make prior arrangements with the relevant ISVs. Boring, but better to do it once than for every individual app. We will ask users who download it to provide feedback on how we might improve the product, and provide them with details of Canonical’s deployment services and management solutions.
The desktop remains central to our everyday work and play, despite all the excitement around tablets, TV’s and phones. So it’s exciting for us to innovate in the desktop too, especially when we find ways to enhance the experience of both heavy “power” users and casual users at the same time. The desktop will be with us for a long time, and for those of us who spend hours every day using a wide diversity of applications, here is some very good news: 12.04 LTS will include the first step in a major new approach to application interfaces.
This work grows out of observations of new and established / sophisticated users making extensive use of the broader set of capabilities in their applications. We noticed that both groups of users spent a lot of time, relatively speaking, navigating the menus of their applications, either to learn about the capabilities of the app, or to take a specific action. We were also conscious of the broader theme in Unity design of leading from user intent. And that set us on a course which led to today’s first public milestone on what we expect will be a long, fruitful and exciting journey.
The menu has been a central part of the GUI since Xerox PARC invented ’em in the 70’s. It’s the M in WIMP and has been there, essentially unchanged, for 30 years.
The original Macintosh desktop, circa 1984, courtesy of Wikipedia
We can do much better!
Say hello to the Head-Up Display, or HUD, which will ultimately replace menus in Unity applications. Here’s what we hope you’ll see in 12.04 when you invoke the HUD from any standard Ubuntu app that supports the global menu:
Snapshot of the HUD in Ubuntu 12.04
The intenterface – it maps your intent to the interface
This is the HUD. It’s a way for you to express your intent and have the application respond appropriately. We think of it as “beyond interface”, it’s the “intenterface”. This concept of “intent-driven interface” has been a primary theme of our work in the Unity shell, with dash search as a first class experience pioneered in Unity. Now we are bringing the same vision to the application, in a way which is completely compatible with existing applications and menus.
The HUD concept has been the driver for all the work we’ve done in unifying menu systems across Gtk, Qt and other toolkit apps in the past two years. So far, that’s shown up as the global menu. In 12.04, it also gives us the first cut of the HUD.
Menus serve two purposes. They act as a standard way to invoke commands which are too infrequently used to warrant a dedicated piece of UI real-estate, like a toolbar button, and they serve as a map of the app’s functionality, almost like a table of contents that one can scan to get a feel for ‘what the app does’. It’s command invocation that we think can be improved upon, and that’s where we are focusing our design exploration.
As a means of invoking commands, menus have some advantages. They are always in the same place (top of the window or screen). They are organised in a way that’s quite easy to describe over the phone, or in a text book (“click the Edit->Preferences menu”), they are pretty fast to read since they are generally arranged in tight vertical columns. They also have some disadvantages: when they get nested, navigating the tree can become fragile. They require you to read a lot when you probably already know what you want. They are more difficult to use from the keyboard than they should be, since they generally require you to remember something special (hotkeys) or use a very limited subset of the keyboard (arrow navigation). They force developers to make often arbitrary choices about the menu tree (“should Preferences be in Edit or in Tools or in Options?”), and then they force users to make equally arbitrary effort to memorise and navigate that tree.
The HUD solves many of these issues, by connecting users directly to what they want. Check out the video, based on a current prototype. It’s a “vocabulary UI”, or VUI, and closer to the way users think. “I told the application to…” is common user paraphrasing for “I clicked the menu to…”. The tree is no longer important, what’s important is the efficiency of the match between what the user says, and the commands we offer up for invocation.
In 12.04 LTS, the HUD is a smart look-ahead search through the app and system (indicator) menus. The image is showing Inkscape, but of course it works everywhere the global menu works. No app modifications are needed to get this level of experience. And you don’t have to adopt the HUD immediately, it’s there if you want it, supplementing the existing menu mechanism.
It’s smart, because it can do things like fuzzy matching, and it can learn what you usually do so it can prioritise the things you use often. It covers the focused app (because that’s where you probably want to act) as well as system functionality; you can change IM state, or go offline in Skype, all through the HUD, without changing focus, because those apps all talk to the indicator system. When you’ve been using it for a little while it seems like it’s reading your mind, in a good way.
We’ll resurrect the (boring) old ways of displaying the menu in 12.04, in the app and in the panel. In the past few releases of Ubuntu, we’ve actively diminished the visual presence of menus in anticipation of this landing. That proved controversial. In our defence, in user testing, every user finds the menu in the panel, every time, and it’s obviously a cleaner presentation of the interface. But hiding the menu before we had the replacement was overly aggressive. If the HUD lands in 12.04 LTS, we hope you’ll find yourself using the menu less and less, and be glad to have it hidden when you are not using it. You’ll definitely have that option, alongside more traditional menu styles.
Voice is the natural next step
Searching is fast and familiar, especially once we integrate voice recognition, gesture and touch. We want to make it easy to talk to any application, and for any application to respond to your voice. The full integration of voice into applications will take some time. We can start by mapping voice onto the existing menu structures of your apps. And it will only get better from there.
But even without voice input, the HUD is faster than mousing through a menu, and easier to use than hotkeys since you just have to know what you want, not remember a specific key combination. We can search through everything we know about the menu, including descriptive help text, so pretty soon you will be able to find a menu entry using only vaguely related text (imagine finding an entry called Preferences when you search for “settings”).
There is lots to discover, refine and implement. I have a feeling this will be a lot of fun in the next two years 🙂
Even better for the power user
The results so far are rather interesting: power users say things like “every GUI app now feels as powerful as VIM”. EMACS users just grunt and… nevermind ;-). Another comment was “it works so well that the rare occasions when it can’t read my mind are annoying!”. We’re doing a lot of user testing on heavy multitaskers, developers and all-day-at-the-workstation personas for Unity in 12.04, polishing off loose ends in the experience that frustrated some in this audience in 11.04-10. If that describes you, the results should be delightful. And the HUD should be particularly empowering.
Even casual users find typing faster than mousing. So while there are modes of interaction where it’s nice to sit back and drive around with the mouse, we observe people staying more engaged and more focused on their task when they can keep their hands on the keyboard all the time. Hotkeys are a sort of mental gymnastics, the HUD is a continuation of mental flow.
Ahead of the competition
There are other teams interested in a similar problem space. Perhaps the best-known new alternative to the traditional menu is Microsoft’s Ribbon. Introduced first as part of a series of changes called Fluent UX in Office, the ribbon is now making its way to a wider set of Windows components and applications. It looks like this:
You can read about the ribbon from a supporter (like any UX change, it has its supporters and detractors ;-)) and if you’ve used it yourself, you will have your own opinion about it. The ribbon is highly visual, making options and commands very visible. It is however also a hog of space (I’m told it can be minimised). Our goal in much of the Unity design has been to return screen real estate to the content with which the user is working; the HUD meets that goal by appearing only when invoked.
Instead of cluttering up the interface ALL the time, let’s clear out the chrome, and show users just what they want, when they want it.
Time will tell whether users prefer the ribbon, or the HUD, but we think it’s exciting enough to pursue and invest in, both in R&D and in supporting developers who want to take advantage of it.
Other relevant efforts include Enso and Ubiquity from the original Humanized team (hi Aza &co), then at Mozilla.
Our thinking is inspired by many works of science, art and entertainment; from Minority Report to Modern Warfare and Jef Raskin’s Humane Interface. We hope others will join us and accelerate the shift from pointy-clicky interfaces to natural and efficient ones.
Roadmap for the HUD
There’s still a lot of design and code still to do. For a start, we haven’t addressed the secondary aspect of the menu, as a visible map of the functionality in an app. That discoverability is of course entirely absent from the HUD; the old menu is still there for now, but we’d like to replace it altogether not just supplement it. And all the other patterns of interaction we expect in the HUD remain to be explored. Regardless, there is a great team working on this, including folk who understand Gtk and Qt such as Ted Gould, Ryan Lortie, Gord Allott and Aurelien Gateau, as well as designers Xi Zhu, Otto Greenslade, Oren Horev and John Lea. Thanks to all of them for getting this initial work to the point where we are confident it’s worthwhile for others to invest time in.
We’ll make sure it’s easy for developers working in any toolkit to take advantage of this and give their users a better experience. And we’ll promote the apps which do it best – it makes apps easier to use, it saves time and screen real-estate for users, and it creates a better impression of the free software platform when it’s done well.
From a code quality and testing perspective, even though we consider this first cut a prototype-grown-up, folk will be glad to see this:
Overall coverage rate:
lines......: 87.1% (948 of 1089 lines)
functions..: 97.7% (84 of 86 functions)
branches...: 63.0% (407 of 646 branches)
Landing in 12.04 LTS is gated on more widespread testing. You can of course try this out from a PPA or branch the code in Launchpad (you will need thesetwo branches). Or dig deeper with blogs on the topic from Ted Gould, Olli Ries and Gord Allott. Welcome to 2012 everybody!
I upgraded my primary laptop to Precise yesterday. Very smoooooth! Kudos to the Ubuntu team for the way they are running this cycle; their commitment to keeping the Precise Pangolin usable from opening to release as 12.04 LTS is very evident.
The three legs of our engineering practice are cadence, quality and design. For those teams which maintain their own codebases (unity, juju, bzr, lp and many more) the quality position is a easier to define, because we can make test coverage and continuous tested integration standard practices. It’s more challenging for the platform team and Ubuntu community, who integrate thousands of packages from all sorts of places into one product: Ubuntu. We’ve traditionally focused on items like security, where participation in a global security process helps us ensure Ubuntu gets world-class security support and has established a world-leading track record of security patches and proactive security.
Nevertheless, the last year has seen some amazing leaps forward in our ability to manage quality across the entire platform. In large part, that’s thanks to the leadership of Rick Spencer and Pete Graner, who made smoke-testing and benchmarking a rigorous part of the process for every change to the platform, and lead the work to make that commitment sane in practice across all the hundreds of people, inside and outside Canonical, who needed to be on board with it. And it’s thanks to tools like Jenkins and LAVA which automate the testing and reporting across a vast array of problem spaces, architectures and packages.
So we have a daily weather report for Precise, which gives you a feeling for where things stand right now, as well as tighter integration of the test suites being run by Canonical upstreams on code destined for Precise with the test harness used by the platform team integrating that work into the distribution. I’ll take the liberty of repeating some of Rick’s core points here:
For upstreams, it boils down to “treat your trunk as sacred”. Practically, it requires:
There is a trunk of code bound for Ubuntu.
This trunk always builds automatically.
This trunk has tests that are always passing automatically.
All branches are properly reviewed for having both good tests and good implementation before merged into trunk.
Any branch that breaks trunk by causing automated tests to fail or causes trunk to stop building, are immediately reverted.
For Ubuntu Engineering, the responsibilities include:
Every maintainer in Ubuntu must have a test plan for upstream trunks that are run before uploading to the development release.
Tests in the test plan that are automated can be run with the help of the QA team.
Tests in the test plan that are manual can be run with the help of Nicholas, the new community QA Lead
Refrain from uploading a trunk into Ubuntu if there are serious bugs found in testing that will slow down people using the development release for testing and development.
Revert uploads that break Ubuntu, as there is no point in having the latest of a trunk in Ubuntu if it’s broken and just slowing everyone down.
Add tests to upstream projects for the Ubuntu test plan if serious bugs do get through that cause a revert.
Now that the harnesses are in place, we’re going to crank up the sensitivity of the test suite, by adding more tests and flagging more of them as critical issues for immediate resolution when they break. Key items to add next are daily tests on software center changes, and tests of the multi-monitor work that is under way for 12.04 in Unity (using some pretty magical hardware setups).
There are a variety of additional practices and processes in place too, such as testing of the dialy ISO’s, reversion of changes that cross specific thresholds of stability for specific types of users, pro-active smoke testing of archive sanity throughout the cycle, and a dedicated vanguard quality team that aim to keep velocity high for everyone despite these additional gates and checks.
This isn’t limited to Canonical team members; didrocks and the French Musketeers have built a Unity SRU testing process which should let us crowdsource perspectives on the quality improvements or regressions of changes in Unity. Ara’s ongoing work around component and system testing is giving us a very useful database of known issues at the hardware level. Work on Checkbox and related tools continues to ensure that people can contribute data and help prioritise the issues which will have the widest benefit for millions of community adopters.
Where upstreams have test suites, we’re integrating those into the automated QA framework. In an ideal world, whenever a package is changed, we’d have an upstream test suite to run for that package AND for every package which depends on it. That way, we’d catch breakage in the package itself, but more importantly, we’d catch consequential damage elsewhere, which is much harder for upstreams to catch themselves.
We’re already running that program, and as upstreams start to take testing more seriously, coverage across the whole platform will improve significantly. It’s been Canonical practice to have test suites for several years, and it’s very encouraging to see other upstreams adopting TDD and at the least rigorous unit and functional testing, one at a time. Open source projects love to talk about quality – but it’s important to back that with measurable practices and data. As an example in a complex case, we run the LTP against every kernel SRU, in addition to our own kernel and hardware cert tests.
In future, it should be possible to link this to the existing daily builds of tip (we have over 500 upstreams running daily builds on Launchpad, which is fantastic). THAT would give upstreams the ability to know when commits to their tip break tests in dependent packages. It would suck a large amount of compute, but it would provide a fantastic early warning system of collisions between independent changes in diverse but related projects.
There’s a lot more we will do, by integrating Apport for crash data collection, and routing those reports through a big data sieve we should be able to identify the issues which are having the biggest impact on the most users. But that’s a blog for another day. For now, well done, team Ubuntu!
The mailing list has seen some decent traffic as well, with people talking mostly about what the future of the Connected TV might be and features they’d like to see.
Thanks guys. The resulting list looks like this:
– 10′ interface- Watching Media (DVR, Live, Network(TV Guide is part of DVR/other services))- Control via remote controlHigh priority– Plugin support- Cloud and/or server storage (for home grown media)
– Playback of physical media (USB cd/dvd/bluray drive)
– Installable image
– Easy configuration of new devices (eg. installing same plugins, mounting same network shares)
– Ubuntu One Accounts
– Push media to/from other Ubuntu devices / Media syncing capabilities (Pause on one device, resume from same spot on another device)
– Control from portable devices (phones/tablets/web interface/PC) (collaboration with Ubuntu Phone/Tablet?)
– Sharing media with friends (social network connectivity)
– Purchasing media through online stores (Ubuntu one/Amazon/Netflix)
Not a bad list at all. Thanks to tgm4883, MrChrisDruif, imnichol, callumsaunders1, dmj726 and others.
Separately, reports from a team that may have a crack at implementing the TV interface:
… tracked down some bugs in QML itself, fixed them, and are submitting patches upstream. Next time you read that Qt Mobility now supports hardware accelerated video playback, or how the “ShaderEffectItem” now respects the “clip” property, or simply that the OpenGL video painter renders where it’s supposed to; you know who to thank. As an added bonus this will benefit Unity-2D. Awesome work.
Today, since it’s impossible to thank everyone individually who helps make Ubuntu such a wonderful project, I want to express public appreciation for Daniel Holbach’s amazing contribution to our community.
A smooth-running community is not a miracle, it’s the result of dedication, energy, organisation and empathy. Daniel has all of those gifts and qualities in abundance, and the impact he’s had on the governance of Ubuntu is profound.
We pride ourselves on being a meritocracy and a do-ocracy. Those who have the capacity and the will and the commitment and the values and the energy to lead, and who are recognised as leaders by their peers in the project, get the opportunity to take on responsibilities in one of the many parts of the project, or overall in the CC or TB. But it takes insight and effort to recognise those with that potential, and it takes leadership to encourage them to step forward to shine, and it takes organisation to coordinate diverse efforts so as to ensure a harmonious result. For all of the work and play he brings to that, I thank him.
In a galaxy of many stars, it’s perhaps impolite to single out one in particular. So please counterbalance that impertinence by picking your own star to thank; in our community, the depth and strength don’t come from the headline acts so much as the diversity of contributions from an enormous number of people. Thank you all.
Martin’s chart showing the pattern of growth in Ubuntu project membership supports a view of deepening and strengthening participation in Ubuntu, globally. A second data point for me is the number and caliber of nominations we’ve seen to community governance boards, not just at the most senior levels (community council and technical board) but also in the breadth of community activities.
In the past year we’ve had to refine our thinking about a number of issues. The question about whether contributions outside the project, with a specific emphasis on Ubuntu, should be considered on a par with contributions directly to the project was resolved inclusively. So we are delighted to welcome members who do work in Debian to ensure that Ubuntu and Debian stay on rails together, and we are delighted to welcome members who contribute to projects elsewhere with the aim of improving the experience for Ubuntu users.
It remains true that there is no aspect of Ubuntu that a community participant cannot influence. At UDS this week it was impossible to tell, across hundreds of sessions, which voices were from Canonical, or Dell, or ARM, or Linaro, or from folk who have no corporate affiliation but have a passion for getting things done, and getting them in front of millions of users, and getting them right. From the artwork we ship, to the way we evaluate contributions, and the versions of software we include by default, to the toolchain and kernel and infrastructure that makes it happen, the degree of diverse participation is something we can be proud of. So thank you to everyone, whether participating for personal or corporate interests, for your engagement with Ubuntu.
It was a pleasure to meet the (mostly) new Community Council, and to have a session in person. And it was wonderful to see the vibrancy of the Community Leadership Track at UDS, and the participation in those discussions by leaders of other communities like GNOME and Debian. We have a lot to learn, and a lot to teach.
As a community, we will flourish if two things remain true:
We continue to attract and empower motivated and energetic participants
We defend our core values and the tone of our discussions
Given that our mission is profound and meaningful, I have no concerns on the former front. Brilliant and energetic people continue to join the project. It’s up to us to clear the way for them to do what they do best, whether it’s translation, motivation, leadership, organisation, software development, quality assurance, art, or cooking for a loco event.
More challenging is the need to recognise that the success of Ubuntu will attract voices that are more interested in influence than participation; now that Ubuntu is a conduit to millions of users, it is an effective way to broadcast to all of them. When we started, the only people who showed up were those attracted to our values and our mission, now we will attract folk who are interested in our users. That’s why we should weigh the voices of those who have actually contributed much more heavily than those who seek to influence the project without doing any work. And it’s why we need to make sure that the tone of conversation stays true to the Ubuntu code of conduct, and the goals of the project – to serve the needs of others rather than ourselves – maintain primacy.
Growth brings challenges; it is no longer possible to show up and immediately define the rules, we are a large and complex and fast-moving institution. We will see many contributors come, and thrive, and move on. We will celebrate their successes and their highs, but also share their sadnesses and lows. We were all saddened to hear of the death of Andre Godim, a champion of Ubuntu and free software in Brazil, this week. We are a real and complex and human society.
In a big and established community like ours, it takes some patience to figure out how to get things done, how to exert influence, how to create change. It takes the sort of discipline and effort that separates doers from talkers, the constructive from the merely present, the energetic from the lethargic. And that’s a good thing: in order to make a big change, we need depth and quality as an institution. This is no longer a chaotic revolution, it is about balanced governance and effective, constructive change.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to Jono and his horsemen for the way they lead Canonical’s thinking on our relationship with Ubuntu and other participants in the project. It takes a huge amount of work, first and foremost, to bring together a community of such intensity, diversity and depth. And we similarly owe a debt of gratitude to those who take tough decisions; it’s their willingness to make commitments on behalf of parts of the project, and your willingness to stand by those commitments, that makes Ubuntu wonderful and impactful.
By 14.04 LTS Ubuntu will power tablets, phones, TVs and smart screens from the car to the office kitchen, and it will connect those devices cleanly and seamlessly to the desktop, the server and the cloud.
Unity, the desktop interface in today’s Ubuntu 11.10, was designed with this specific vision in mind. While the interface for each form factor is shaped appropriately, Unity’s core elements are arranged in exactly the way we need to create coherence across all of those devices. This was the origin of the name Unity – a single core interface framework, that scales across all screens, and supports all toolkits.
Canonical and the Ubuntu community have established Ubuntu’s place in desktop, server and cloud deployments. We have also invested in the design and engineering of Unity, motivated by the belief that desktop interfaces would merge with mobile, touch interfaces into a seamless personal computing platform in the future. Today we are inviting the whole Ubuntu community – both commercial and personal – to shape that possibility and design that future; a world where Ubuntu runs on mobile phones, tablets, televisions and traditional PC’s, creating a world where content is instantly available on all devices, in a form that is delightful to use.
A constantly changing world
The way we access the Internet, connect to our friends, listen to music, watch films and go about our daily lives is rapidly evolving. We now use a diverse set of devices with an array of operating systems, which have a range of connectivity. Few people are exclusively loyal to a single technology provider.
Consider this quote from Paul Maritz of VMWare:
“Three years ago over 95 percent of the devices connected to the Internet were personal computers. Three years from now that number will probably be less than 20 percent. More than 80 percent of the devices connected to the Internet will not be Windows-based personal computers.” Paul Maritz, 29 August 2011 VM World Keynote.
Make no mistake – just as the world is changing for manufacturers so is it changing for Linux distributions. Today, 70% of people in Egypt access the Internet solely via the phone. Even in the US that figure is a startling 25%.
Ubuntu is well positioned
Ubuntu will thrive in this new reality.
Our established collaboration with the silicon vendors that are driving this converging market are critical. Intel, ARM and AMD will make the chip-sets that will power this future and Ubuntu works with all of them on all technologies.
Our engagement with the PC market will help bring the results of this work to a huge audience – partnerships with the likes of Dell, HP, Asus, Lenovo, Acer, IBM, Vodafone and more are a gateway to users who want continuous, connected, cross-device computing.
We are determined to bring more free software to more people around the world, and building that future hand in hand with device manufacturers is the best way to do it. There is no winner in place yet. This opportunity remains wide open, but only to products that deliver excellent experiences for users, across a full range of device categories.
The investment we have already made in the interface accommodates the touch scenarios required in some form factors and, with a little love and attention, will work equally well in mouse, keyboard or stylus-driven environments. Ubuntu will not be restricted to small screen or large screen environments but encompasses both and all the form factors in between. We will see our work on the Ubuntu platform land in a variety of formats current and yet to be invented. It is without doubt the most exciting phase in the history of Ubuntu.
Ubuntu One and the software centre
Ubuntu’s personal cloud and app centre services are appropriate for all these environments. They deliver the required storage, syncing and sharing capabilities that are not just a convenience but a requirement as we move to a universe where content is increasingly shared but the devices that access them become more diverse. Ubuntu One’s support for other OSes show the ability of Ubuntu to play nice with others, recognising that the divergence is strength. It allows users to choose the devices they prefer but still delivering the benefits of Ubuntu-centred strategy.
The next steps
We are describing this at UDS to energize the entire Ubuntu ecosystem around this challenge. Canonical will provide the heavy lifting needed to put us in the ball park, but there are opportunities for participation, contribution and engagement by all elements of the broader Ubuntu community, both corporate and individual.
Our developers, our partners’ developers and the broader open source development community share this opportunity. There is a great deal to discuss, and an array of strands we need to pull together at UDS. But the direction is clear and the prize is great – to bring more free software to more people in more delightful ways than ever before.
Orchestra is one of the most exciting new capabilities in 11.10. It provides automated installation of Ubuntu across sets of machines. Typically, it’s used by people bringing up a cluster or farm of servers, but the way it’s designed makes it very easy to bring up rich services, where there may be a variety of different kinds of nodes that all need to be installed together.
There’s a long history of tools that have been popular at one time or another for automated installation. FAI is the one I knew best before Orchestra came along and I was interested in the rationale for a new tool, and the ways in which it would enhance the experience of people building clusters, clouds and other services at scale. Dustin provided some of that in his introduction to Orchestra, but the short answer is that Orchestra is savvy to the service orchestration model of Juju, which means that the intelligence distilled in Juju charms can easily be harnessed in any deployment that uses Orchestra on bare metal.
What’s particularly cool about THAT is that it unifies the new world of private cloud with the old approach of Linux deployment in a cluster. So, for example, Orchestra can be used to deploy Hadoop across 3,000 servers on bare metal, and that same Juju charm can also deploy Hadoop on AWS or an OpenStack cloud. And soon it should be possible to deploy Hadoop across n physical machines with automatic bursting to your private or favourite public cloud, all automatically built in. Brilliant. Kudos to the conductor 🙂
Private cloud is very exciting – and with Ubuntu 11.10 it’s really easy to set up a small cloud to kick the tires, then scale that up as needed for production. But there are still lots of reasons why you might want to deploy a service onto bare metal, and Orchestra is a neat way to do that while at the same time preparing for a cloud-oriented future, because the work done to codify policies or practices in the physical environment should be useful immediately in the cloud, too.
For 12.04 LTS, where supporting larger-scale deployments will be a key goal, Orchestra becomes a tool that every Ubuntu administrator will find useful. I bet it will be the focus of a lot of discussion at UDS next week, and a lot of work in this cycle.
In just over a week, quite a large cross-section of the Ubuntu community and representatives from many free software projects and companies will gather in Orlando to map out the Precise Pangolin. Now’s the time to prepare for the event, with 11.10 out (well done everybody!) and the key infrastructure slotting into place.
Figuring out the optimal balance of goals is the work of the summit, but we can lay out some over-arching themes that have been in progress during this meta-cycle and come to their full fruition in the LTS release. We can also remind ourselves of the ways in which an LTS is different, and the impact that will have on our choices in Orlando.
Being an LTS
As Dustin pointed out, this is the fourth Ubuntu LTS release, and as such it needs to carry on, and entrench, the reputation of the LTS as a carrier-grade platform for mission-critical server deployments and large scale desktop deployments. That means:
Adjusting the cycle to allocate more time for resolving issues
Introducing minimal new infrastructure or platform-visible change
Goal-driven and continuously benchmarked programs of action around performance
Enablement and certification of the sorts of hardware people will deploy at scale and in the datacenter
Rick Spencer and his team have put some thought into one of the critical challenges that LTS releases face, which is the need to support newer hardware over a longer period of time. Traditionally, Linux distributions have tried to prioritize items to backport, but that puts the stability of known-good configurations very much at risk. Rick will outline the strategy we’ll adopt for this at UDS, which I think makes the most out of the work done for every release of Ubuntu.
Carrier-grade Cloud Infrastructure and Guest
Ubuntu is the #1 OS for cloud computing, whether you measure it by the number of instances running on all the major public clouds, the number of Ubuntu-based cloud appliances, the number of public and private clouds running on Ubuntu host OS. The extraordinary diversity of the Ubuntu community, the calibre of collaboration between Ubuntu and OpenStack, and the focused efforts of Canonical to make Ubuntu useful in the cloud have all contributed to that position. In 12.04 LTS we must deliver:
world’s best cloud infrastructure powered by OpenStack’s corresponding major release
perfect support for cloud-oriented hardware from Canonical’s partner IHV’s
a great hybrid-cloud story, for those using a mixture of private and public clouds
world’s best guest OS on AWS, Rackspace and other public cloud infrastructures
A key focus is making it easy to bootstrap and manage services across public, private and hybrid clouds, and Juju charms are the magic by which we’re flattening all those cloud substrates and bringing devops practices into the Ubuntu administrator toolbox. Those who attended the recent OpenStack Summit will have caught the buzz around Juju, which brings APT-like semantics to cloud service deployments. There’s a rapidly growing collection of Juju charms which define common services and allow you to get started immediately on all the major public and private cloud infrastructures; I keep hearing how clean and easy it is to charm a new piece of software for cloud deployment so I’m sure both the number of charms and charmers will grow exponentially.
Right now Juju charms can be deployed on bare-metal farms of hardware with no virtualisation, such as Hadoop or Condor compute clusters, Amazon’s public cloud infrastructure, Ubuntu’s OpenStack-based cloud infrastructure, and on the developer workstation using LXC containers so developers can use charms locally which are then re-used by administrators deploying to the cloud. I think there are Juju contributors working on support for a few other cloud infrastructures too, it will be interesting to see what lands by 12.04.
Pangolin-worthy Server Release
We have a proud heritage from Debian which 12.04 LTS needs to celebrate and maintain; although we have some key advantages for enterprises deploying Ubuntu over Debian in our ability to enable some additional security features in the Linux kernel and toolchain, as well as support, certification and assurance, the lean-mean-green-machine nature of the Ubuntu Server experience owes much to Debian’s focus on quality and precision.
12.04 will be the first LTS to support the ARM architecture on selected ARM SoC parts. In a world where computational density is increasingly prioritized over single-thread performance, the entry of ARM to the server market is a very interesting shift. Ubuntu has established a very strong competence in ARM and I think the 12.04 LTS release will power a new generation of power-focused hardware for the data centre.
The nail-biting transitions to Unity and Gnome 3 are behind us, so this cycle is an opportunity to put perfection front and center. We have a gorgeous typeface that was designed for readability, which is now available in Light and Medium as well as Regular and Bold, and has a Mono variant as well. That’s an opportunity to work through the whole desktop interface and make sure we’re using exactly the right weight in each place, bringing the work we’ve been doing for several cycles fully into focus.
We also need to do justice to the fact that 12.04 LTS will be the preferred desktop for many of the world’s biggest Linux desktop deployments, in some cases exceeding half a million desktops in a single institution. So 12.04 is also an opportunity to ensure that our desktop is manageable at scale, that it can be locked down in the ways institutions need, and that it can be upgraded from 10.04 LTS smoothly as promised. Support for multiple monitors will improve, since that’s a common workplace requirement.
During UDS we’ll build out the list of areas for refinement, polish and ‘precisioneering’, but the theme for all of this work is one of continuous improvement; no new major infrastructure, no work on pieces which are not design-complete at the conclusion of the summit.
While there are some remaining areas we’d like to tweak the user experience, they will probably be put on hold so we can focus on polish, performance and predictability. I’d like to improve the user experience around Workspaces for power users, and we’ll publish our design work for that, but I think it would be wisest for us to defer that unless we get an early and effective contribution of that code.
It’s going to be a blast in Orlando, as UDS always manages to bring together a fantastic crowd. And it’s going to be a beautiful, memorable release of Ubuntu in April 2012!
Congratulations to those elected to the 2011-2013 CC, and thanks both to those who were willing to serve and all of those who participated in the poll. We’ll use the results of the poll should we need to fill in for any members who cannot for any reason complete their two year term.
This is an important CC, as I think there is an opportunity to develop a response to the challenge thrown down recently, which is to give *purpose* to community leadership in the project.
Every role has purpose in its own context; those who set out to achieve a goal, like producing complete server documentation, or moderating a difficult mailing list (you know who you are ;-)) or translating a work into a new language, have no trouble identifying their purpose. And there are essentially no limits on the goals one can set for oneself in the project; we have community members engaged in pretty much everything we do.
Nevertheless, there has been a shift in the nature of the project, and that shift is not yet fully reflected in community leadership. Specifically, our mission has shifted from being defined by integration-and-delivery, to one that includes design and development as well as integration and delivery.
When we started, we said we would deliver the world’s free software, on a tightly integrated and free basis, on a cadence. We made some choices about defaults, but broadly left it up to others to define what ‘the software’ would do.
After doing that for several years, it became clear to me that limiting ourselves to that pattern meant we were leaving it to others to decide if we could really deliver an alternative to proprietary platforms for modern computing. We were doing a lot of work, which was not recognised by some of the projects we were supporting heavily, and still treading water when it came to the real fight for hearts and minds, against Windows, against MacOS, and against Android. So, even though it was clearly going to be a difficult choice, we set out to grow the contribution Canonical makes directly to the body of open source. We said we’d be design-led, and we’d focus on the areas that matter most to pioneer adopters; the free software desktop, mobile computing, and the cloud.
The result is work like Unity, uTouch, and Juju. I’m proud of all three, I think they are worthy bannermen in our effort to bring free software to a much wider audience, and I think without them we would have no chance of fixing bug #1.
At the same time, we’ve now created a whole new dimension to Ubuntu: the design and definition of products, essentially. And that begs the question: what’s the community role in defining and designing those products.
We haven’t taken a step backwards. It’s not as though there are responsibilities that have been taken away from anybody. It’s just that we’ve taken on some bolder, bigger challenges, and community folk rightly say “how can we be part of that?” And that’s an interesting question, which the new CC will be in a good position to discuss with me and Jono.
It’s not healthy to offer the ability to vote for money. Nobody should feel they have a right to decide how someone else spends their time or money. But I do think the relationship between Canonical and community is as important now as ever, and there is an opportunity to break new ground. Ubuntu represents the best chance GNU/Linux has to bring free software to the foreground of everyday computing. I have no doubt of that. After us, it’s Android, and that’s not quite the same. So our interests are all very aligned; there is a huge opportunity, and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to use what we know and love in a way that changes millions of lives for the better.