All the faces of Ubuntu

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Harald,

Of course what Kubuntu and Xubuntu and Ubuntu GNOME Remix et al do matters. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t invest a ton of time and energy in finding ways to share the archives effectively. And I consider it one of the lovely things about Ubuntu that there is room for all of us here. As long as there are people willing to make it happen, there’s room for a new face.

You all make the broad Ubuntu family more diverse and more interesting. For which I’m grateful.

In return, you get the benefit of an enormous and concentrated investment in making a core platform that can be widely consumed (on top of the already enormous efforts of the open source community, Debian, and any number of other groups). That investment brings with it a pace of change, and a willingness to be focused on specific outcomes. Mir, which is a fantastic piece of engineering by a very talented team that has looked hard at the problem and is motivated to do something that will work well, is just one example. Every week, we’re figuring out how to coordinate changes. Why blow a gasket over this one? I’ve absolutely no doubt that Kwin will work just fine on top of Mir. And I’m pretty confident Mir will be on a lot more devices than Wayland. Which would be good for KDE and Kubuntu and Plasma Active.

So, before you storm off, have a cup of tea and think about the gives and gets of our relationship. Seriously.

Mark

Misplaced criticism

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Jonathan says that Canonical is not taking care of the Ubuntu community.

Consider for a minute, Jonathan, the difference between our actions.

Canonical, as one stakeholder in the Ubuntu community, is spending a large amount of energy to evaluate how its actions might impact on all the other stakeholders, and offering to do chunks of work in support of those other stakeholder needs.

You, as one stakeholder in the Ubuntu community, are inviting people to contribute less to the broader project, and more to one stakeholder.

Hmm. Just because you may not get what you want is no basis for divisive leadership.

Yes, you should figure out what’s important to Kubuntu, and yes, you should motivate folks to help you achieve those goals. But it’s simply wrong to suggest that Canonical isn’t hugely accommodating to the needs of others, or that it’s not possible to contribute or participate in the parts of Ubuntu which Canonical has a particularly strong interest in. Witness the fantastic work being done on both the system and the apps to bring Ubuntu to the phone and tablet. That may not be your cup of tea, but it’s tremendously motivating and exciting and energetic.

Not convinced by rolling releases

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

The ‘rolling release’ meme has been a popular one for years in Ubuntu. It’s one of the top requests from members of our user community. And it’s popular with Canonical team members too (who, largely, come from the community and share its values).

The problem for me is straightforward: a rolling release isn’t actually a release at all. It offers little certainty for those who need certainty. And we essentially accommodate the need for daily crack with our development releases, which have become highly usable (for developers) because of the strong commitment the Canonical and community teams made to daily quality throughout the release cycle.

So I haven’t personally given any air time to the topic of rolling releases over the years.

This year, the topic bubbled up again, and given the level of interest I supported that the core Canonical engineering team do a deep assessment of what it would actually mean, in hard pro’s and con’s, and how we might implement it, so that a straw man proposal (‘one you can poke holes in’) could be presented. Rick put forward that proposal last week. It should be clear that Rick is a strong and sincere proponent of the idea, hence the passion with which the case is made, but he is not the sole decision maker.

It’s nonsense to portray Rick’s position as a final position for Ubuntu. The TB have not weighed in,  the CC (who were briefed that the assessment was being made and that a straw man would be proposed) are still considering their perspective, and I’m not convinced either. So, for those inclined to melodrama, you may want to calm down and join the conversation.

Some unexpected findings

In the course of Rick’s team’s assessment, several interesting and (to me) unexpected findings emerged.

First, there’s real confusion around interim releases. Between 12.04 LTS and 14.04 LTS there will be three interim releases on our current approach, and lots of people will find that confusing. Should ISVs target quantal AND raring AND ssssss? In practice, we have lots of data to say they can’t and won’t. PPAs are often inconsistent between interim releases. That suggests that having an ‘edge’ release (for which PPAs would over time build up a rich source of extra software) and LTS releases may be easier on that segment of the community.

Second, we have proven the LTS point release mechanism, which brings new hardware support and new software to the LTS releases. The cloud archive, for example, brings the latest OpenStack release to 12.04 LTS, and is by far the most popular way to deploy OpenStack. Point releases have brought fresh kernels, fresh OpenStack, and fresh Unity to 12.04 LTS, and there is no reason why we could not broaden that commitment. It’s worth discussing whether that doesn’t become a better mechanism to meet the needs of people who care about a stable release.

Third, the daily quality story really has been impressive. The amazing work of a sizable quality team has transformed the widespread expectations of participants and contributors in Ubuntu – raring is really useful, every day, with little risk of unproductive hours when things go wonky. That’s grown the number of *developers* running raring, and boosted Ubuntu in other ways as a result. I’m not convinced it’s good enough for end-users, but it’s worth digging in to see how it could get there.

Some unrealistic expectations

In the commentary I’ve seen during the course of the discussion, some of the expectations expressed by stakeholders strike me as unrealistic.

Ben Collins’ perspective, which addresses the need of a PowerPC OEM, is an example. Ben is a friend and former colleague, I’d like to be supportive, but the real cost of supporting an architecture is way outside the scope of Ubuntu’s non-commercial commitments. IBM and Canonical discussed bringing Ubuntu to the PowerPC architecture some years ago and chose not to; the gap is not something Canonical will close alone. I’m delighted if Ubuntu is useful for Ben, and pretty certain it will remain the best platform for his work regardless, but we should not spend millions of dollars on that rather than cloud computing or mobile, which have a much broader impact on both society and our commercial prospects.

Some unwarranted melodrama

The sky is not falling in.

Really.

Ubuntu is a group of people who get together with common purpose. How we achieve that purpose is up to us, and everyone has a say in what they can and will contribute. Canonical’s contribution is massive. It’s simply nonsense to say that Canonical gets ‘what it wants’ more than anybody else. Hell, half the time *I* don’t get exactly what I want. It just doesn’t work that way: lots of people work hard to the best of their abilities, the result is Ubuntu.

The combination of Canonical and community is what makes that amazing. There are lots of pure community distro’s. And wow, they are full of politics, spite, frustration, venality and disappointment. Why? Because people are people, and work is hard, and collaboration is even harder. That’s nothing to do with Canonical, and everything to do with life. In fact, in most of the pure-community projects I’ve watched and participated in, the biggest meme is ‘if only we had someone that could do the heavy lifting’. Ubuntu has that in Canonical – and the combination of our joint efforts has become the most popular platform for Linux fans.

If you’ve done what you want for Ubuntu, then move on. That’s normal – there’s no need to poison the well behind you just because you want to try something else.

It’s also the case that we’ve shifted gear to leadership rather than integration.

When we started, we said we wanted to deliver the best of open source on a cadence. It was up to KDE, GNOME, XFCE to define what that was going to look like, we would just integrate and deliver (a hard problem in itself). By 2009 I was convinced that none of the existing free software communities could create an experience that could challenge the existing proprietary leaders, and so, if we were serious about the dream of a free software norm, we would have to lead.

The result is Unity, which is an experience that could become widely adopted across phones, tablets, PCs and other devices. Of course, that is a disruptive change, and has caused some members of existing communities to resent our work. I respect that others may prefer different experiences, so we remain willing to do a large (but not unlimited) amount of work to enable KDE, GNOME, and other DEs to thrive inside the broader Ubuntu umbrella. We also take steps to accommodate developers who want to support both Unity and another DE. But if we want to get beyond being a platform for hobbyists, we need to accelerate the work on Unity to keep up with Android, Chrome, Windows and Apple. And that’s more important than taking care of the needs of those who don’t share our goal of a free software norm.

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

Everyone that I care about in open source has a shared dream: they want free software to become the norm, not the exception. And Ubuntu is the only way I can see for that to happen, which is why I spend all my time on it, and why so many other people spend huge amounts of time on it too.

I simply have zero interest in the crowd who wants to be different. Leet. ‘Linux is supposed to be hard so it’s exclusive’ is just the dumbest thing that a smart person could say. People being people, there are of course smart people who hold that view.

What I’m really interested in is this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a free and open platform that is THE LEADER across both consumer and enterprise computing.

With Ubuntu (and Unity) we have that. It’s amazing. Think about it – unlike years gone by, a free software platform is actually winning awards for innovative leadership in the categories that count: mobile, cloud. Investing your time and energy here might have a truly profound impact on the world. That’s worth digging into. Just roll your eyeballs at the 1337 crowd, roll up your sleeves, find something interesting to improve, and join in. To the extent that you can master a piece, you will get what you want. If you think the grand vision should follow your whims, you won’t.

If we work hard, and work together, Ubuntu will become a widespread platform for phones, tablets and PCs. You’ll have the satisfaction of designing, building and fixing tools that are used every day by millions of people. That’s meaningful. And it’s worth looking hard at our practices to ask the question: how best to achieve that goal? Of those practices, interim releases are just as subject to evaluation and revision as any other.

Going faster

So, rolling releases are not real releases.

But cadence is good, releases are good discipline even if they are hard. In LEAN software engineering, we have an interesting maxim: when something is hard, DO IT MORE OFTEN. Because that way you concentrate your efforts on the hard problem, master it, automate and make it easy. That’s the philosophy that underpins agile development, devops, juju and loads of other goodness.

In the web-lead world, software is moving faster than ever before. Is six months fast enough?

So I think it IS worth asking the question: can we go even faster? Can we make even MORE releases in a year? And can we automate that process to make it bulletproof for end-users?

That’s where I think we should steer the conversation on rolling releases:

  • Can we make the update process from point to point really bulletproof? Upgrading today is possible, but to keep the system clean over multiple successive upgrades requires an uncommonly high level of skill with APT.
  • Can we strengthen the definition of point releases in the LTS so that interim releases are obviously less relevant?
  • Can we do a reasonable amount of release management on, say, MONTHLY releases that they are actual releases rather than just snapshots?

Daily quality has made the Ubuntu development release perfectly usable for developers. That’s a huge accomplishment. Now let’s think carefully about the promises we’re making end-users, and see if it isn’t time to innovate again, just as we innovated when we created Ubuntu on a six month cadence.

“in addition to”

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Nothing in yesterday’s post about inviting members of the community into some of the projects we work on in confidence implied that the Ubuntu development process is becoming less open.

Ubuntu set the standard for transparency as a company producing a distribution a long time ago, when we invited anybody who showed a passion and competence to have commit and upload rights, a strong contrast with the Fedora policy of the time, which required you to be a Red Hat employee. We continue that tradition with a leadership Community Council that has no requirement of Canonical employment, unlike our competitors. And we invite everyone to participate in the design and development of Ubuntu, which happens in public at UDS (week after next, as it happens) and online on IRC and Launchpad.

Every member of a community works on personal projects. Our competitors do so too. There are any number of changes thrust upon Gnome by Red Hat for example, that then get whitewashed as “maintainers discretion” or “designers design”. There are any number of reveals, prototypes, patents and other decisions that are taken in private, by all members of all communities. Even amongst volunteers its normal to see someone saying “I’ve been hacking on this for a while, now I want some feedback”.

What I offered to do, yesterday, spontaneously, is to invite members of the community in to the things we are working on as personal projects, before we are ready to share them. This would mean that there was even less of Ubuntu that was NOT shaped and polished by folk other than Canonical – a move that one would think would be well received. This would make Canonical even more transparent.

So please disregard the commentary by folk who assumed that the public discussion of Ubuntu development would somehow change. Instead, I hope you will welcome the idea that even Canonical’s most exciting initiatives will now be open to participation by members of the community. And I challenge you to find another place where you can participate at EVERY level in the design and construction of a free platform that is used by millions of people.

Raring community skunkworks

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Mapping out the road to 13.04, there are a few items with high “tada!” value that would be great candidates for folk who want to work on something that will get attention when unveiled. While we won’t talk about them until we think they are ready to celebrate, we’re happy to engage with contributing community members that have established credibility (membership, or close to it) in Ubuntu, who want to be part of the action.

This would provide early community input and review, without spoiling the surprise when we think the piece is ready. It would allow community members to work on something that will be widely covered at release (at least, on OMG ;-))

The skunkworks approach has its detractors. We’ve tried it both ways, and in the end, figured out that critics will be critics whether you discuss an idea with them in advance or not. Working on something in a way that lets you refine it till it feels ready to go has advantages: you can take time to craft something, you can be judged when you’re ready, you get a lot more punch when you tell your story, and you get your name in lights (though not every headline is one you necessarily want ;)).

So, we thought we would extend the invitation to people who trust us and in whom we have reason to trust, to work together on some sexy 13.04 surprises. The projects range from webby (javascript, css, html5) to artistic (do you obsess about kerning and banding) to scientific (are you a framerate addict) to glitzy (pixel shader sherpas wanted) to privacy-enhancing (how is your crypto?) to analytical (big daddy, big brother, pick your pejorative). But they all make the Ubuntu experience better for millions of users, they are all groundbreaking in free software, they will all result in code under the GPL (or an existing upstream license if they are extensions to existing projects). No NDA’s needed but we will need to trust you not to talk in your sleep ;). We’ll also need to trust you to write code that is thorough and tested, stuff you’ll be as proud of as we are of the rest of the Ubuntu experience. Of course.

There’s also plenty going on that doesn’t warrant the magician’s reveal. But if you are game for a bit of the spotlight, bring some teflon and ping Michael Hall at mhall119 on Freenode.

Community growth and development

Friday, November 4th, 2011

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.

Welcoming the new Community Council

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

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.

Community Council nominations and poll

Friday, October 7th, 2011

It’s governance season here at Ubuntu. Next up, we’re polling all Ubuntu project members for a view on preferred candidates for the Community Council, our most senior board responsible for all community governance. The CC delegates their authority on membership and leadership to a whole range of boards, so electing a team which understands the diversity of the project is very important, and electing a team which can in turn pick good leaders for key aspects of the project is vital to our long term health.

The following folk have expressed a willingness to serve on the Council, and are nominated by me to do so. Daniel Holbach has kindly setup a CIVS poll and all Ubuntu members should have received an invitation to cast their ballot. For interest, the candidates are:

The poll will run for only a week, so please do head over there and make your preferences known!

Surveying participation

Friday, September 9th, 2011

Just a brief note to celebrate Jono and team’s recent work on gathering insight into our membership and developer participation processes. Thanks also to those who took time to comment for the surveys. The results are worth a read if you care about the vibrancy and dynamism of our community. Kudos Jono, and thanks!

I spent a lot of time observing our community, this release. For some reason I was curious to see how our teams work together, what the dynamic is, how they work and play together, how they celebrate and sadly, also how they mourn. So I spent a fair amount more time this cycle reading lists from various Ubuntu teams, reading minutes from governance meetings for our various councils, watching IRC channels without participating, just to get a finger on the pulse.

Everywhere I looked I saw goodness: organised, motivated, cheerful and constructive conversations. Building a free OS involves an extraordinary diversity of skills, and what’s harder is that it requires merging the contributions from so many diverse disciplines and art forms. And yet, looking around the community, we seem to have found patterns for coordination and collaboration that buffer the natural gaps between all the different kinds of activities that go on.

There are definitely things we can work on. We have to stay mindful of the fact that Ubuntu is primarily a reflection of what gets done in the broader open source ecosystem, and stay committed to transmitting their work effectively, in high quality (and high definition :-)) to the Ubuntu audience. We have to remind those who are overly enthusiastic about Ubuntu that fanboyism isn’t cool, I saw a bit of “We rock you suck” that’s not appropriate. But I also saw folks stepping in and reminding those who cross the line that our values as a community are important, and the code of conduct most important of all.

So I have a very big THANK YOU for everyone. This is our most valuable achievement: making Ubuntu a great place to get stuff done that has a positive impact on literally millions of people. Getting that right isn’t technical, but it’s hard and complex work. And that’s what makes the technical goodness flow.

In particular, I’d like to thank those who have stepped into responsibilities as leaders in large and small portions of our Ubuntu universe. Whether it’s organising a weekly newsletter, coordinating the news team, arranging the venue for a release party, reviewing translations from new translators in your language, moderating IRC or reviewing hard decisions by IRC moderators, planning Kubuntu or leading MOTU’s, the people who take on the responsibility of leadership are critical to keeping Ubuntu calm, happy and productive.

But I’d also like to say that what made me most proud was seeing folks who might not think of themselves as leaders, stepping up and showing leadership skills.

There are countless occasions when something needs to be said, or something needs to get done, but where it would be easy to stay silent or let it slip, and I’m most proud of the fact that many of the acts of leadership and initiative I saw weren’t by designated or recognised leaders, they were just part of the way teams stayed cohesive and productive. I saw one stroppy individual calmly asked to reconsider their choice of words and pointed to the code of conduct by a newcomer to Ubuntu. I saw someone else step up and lead a meeting when the designated chairman couldn’t make it. That’s what makes me confident Ubuntu will continue to grow and stay sane as it grows. That’s the really daunting thing for me – as it gets bigger, it depends on a steady supply of considerate and thoughtful people who are passionate about helping do something amazing that they couldn’t do on their own. It’s already far bigger than one person or one company – so we’re entirely dependent on broader community commitment to the values that define the project.

So, to everyone who participates, thank you and please feel empowered to show leadership whenever you think we could do better as a community. That’s what will keep us cohesive and positive. That’s what will make sure the effort everyone puts into it will reach the biggest possible audience.

With that said, well done everyone on a tight but crisp post-LTS release. Maverick was a challenge, we wanted to realign the cycle slightly which compressed matters but hopefully gives us a more balanced April / October cadence going forward based on real data for real global holiday and weather patterns :-). There was an enormous amount of change embraced and also change deferred, wisely. You all did brilliantly. And so, ladies an gentlemen, I give you Mr Robbie Williamson and the Maverick Release Announcement. Grab your towel and let’s take the Meerkat out on a tour of the Galaxy ;-)