Precision Planning; Prepping for 12.04 LTS

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

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
  • First-class accessibility for those with special interaction needs
  • 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.

Pixel-perfect desktop

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!

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!

P is for…

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

It’s a perennial pleasure to pick pertinent and/or pithy placeholder names for Ubuntu releases. At least, I like to think of them as pertinent and/or pithy. I’ve had diverse feedback, shall we say. Nevertheless, it’s now a tradition, and it’s a pressing priority as we approach the release of Oneiric.

So, what will be our mascot for 12.04 LTS?

The letter P is pretty perfect. It’s also plentiful – my inbox has been rather full of suggestions – and we have options ranging from pacific to purposeful, via puckish and prudent. We’ll steer clear of the posh and the poncey, much as some would revel in the Portentious Palomino or the Principled Paca, those aren’t the winning names. Having spent the last six months elucidating the meaning of “oneiric” I think it might also be worth skipping the parenthetical or paralogical options too; so sadly I had to exclude the Perspicacious Panda and Porangi Packhorse (though being an LTS, that Packhorse was a near thing).

Being generally of a cheerful nature, I thought we’d avoid the Predatory Panther and Primeval Possum. Neither sounds like great company for a seven year journey, really. Same goes for the Peccable Peccary, Pawky Python and Perfidious Puku. So many bullets to dodge round here!

We’re looking for something phonetic, something plausible and something peaceful too. We’ll avoid the petulant, the pestilent, the phlegmy (phooey!), the parochial, the palliative and the psychotic. We’re aiming for mildly prophetic, and somewhat potent, without wanting to be all pedantic and particular. Phew.

So, what might work?

There are lots of lovely candidates. I have a fondness for phat. The Phat Platypus has a can-do kind of ring to it, but I don’t think it’ll fly.

I also like punchy and perky (the Perky Penguin is a nice nostalgic option) and persistent (better than permanent, peerless or penultimate) and playful and plucky and poised. Others like prescient and peaceable and pervasive (!) and pivotal. Pukka rings a nice old-world bell, but it’s possibly pejorative.

As you can see, it’s been something of a challenge to get this right.

Let’s ask the question differently – what are we trying to convey? 12.04 is an LTS. So we want it to be tough and long-lasting, reliable, solid as a rock and well defended. It’s also going to be the face of Ubuntu for large deployments for a long time, so we want it to have no loose ends, we want it to be coherent, neat.

We’ve told the story of the cloud in previous releases, and that comes to fruition in 12.04 with the first LTS that supports both the cloud guest, and cloud infrastructure, across ARM and x86 architectures. We’ve also told the story of Unity in previous releases, and that comes to fruition in a fast, lean interface that works well across clients both thick and thin. 12.04 is going to be a lot more than all that, but for the full reveal, you’ll need to wait till UDS! Nevertheless, we can take reliability, precision, and polish as a given.

Balancing all of those options, I think we have just the right mix in our designated mascot for 12.04 LTS. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Precise Pangolin.

Now, I’ve recently spent a few hours tracking a pangolin through the Kalahari. I can vouch for their precision – there wasn’t an ant hill in the valley that he missed. Their scales are a wonder of detail and quite the fashion statement. I can also vouch for their toughness; pangolin’s regularly survive encounters with lions. All in all, a perfect fit. There’s no sassier character, and no more cheerful digger, anywhere in those desert plains. If you want a plucky partner, the pangolin’s your match. Let’s pack light for a wonderful adventure together. See you in Orlando!

Technical Board 2011

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

After the recent poll of Ubuntu developers I’m delighted to introduce the Technical Board 2011-2013. I think it’s worth noting that three of the members of this generation of technical leaders are not Canonical employees, though admittedly they are all former members of that team. I think there’s cause for celebration on both fronts: broader institutional and independent representation in the senior governance structures of Ubuntu is valuable, and the fact that personal interest persists regardless of company affiliation is also indicative of the character of the whole community, both full-time and volunteer. We’re in this together, for mutual interests.

Without further ado, here they are, in an order you are welcome to guess ;-)

  • Stéphane Graber
  • Kees Cook
  • Martin Pitt
  • Matt Zimmerman
  • Colin Watson
  • Soren Hansen
Please join me in congratulating each of them, and thanking those who were willing to stand, who were nominated, and those who participated in the poll.
From my perspective, it was a very rich field of nominations. We had several candidates with no historic link to Canonical, which was very encouraging in terms of the diversity of engagement in the project. For the first time, I felt we had too many candidates and so I whittled down the final list of nominations – as it happens, all of the non-Canonical nominees made the shortlist, though that was not a criteria for my support.
Welcome aboard, all!

Building clouds for fun and profit

Monday, September 19th, 2011

So you’d like to spin up an internal cloud for hadoop or general development, shifting workloads from AWS to your own infrastructure or prototyping some new cloud services?

Call Canonical’s cloud infrastructure design and consulting team.

There are a couple of scenarios that we’re focused on at the moment, where we can offer standardised engagements:

  • Telco’s building out cloud infrastructures for public cloud services. These are aiming for specific markets based on geography or network topology – they have existing customers and existing networks and a competitive advantage in handling outsourced infrastructure for companies that are well connected to them, as well as a jurisdictional advantage over the global public cloud providers.
  • Cloud infrastructure prototypes at a division or department level. These are mostly folk who want the elasticity and dynamic provisioning of AWS in a private environment, often to work on products that will go public on Rackspace or AWS in due course, or to demonstrate and evaluate the benefits of this sort of architecture internally.
  • Cloud-style legacy deployments. These are folk building out HPC-type clusters running dedicated workloads that are horizontally scaled but not elastic. Big Hadoop deployments, or Condor deployments, fall into this category.

Cloud has become something of a unifying theme in many of our enterprise and server-oriented conversations in the past six months. While not everyone is necessarily ready to shift their workloads to a dynamic substrate like Ubuntu Cloud Infrastructure (powered by OpenStack) it seems that most large-scale IT deployments are embracing cloud-style design and service architectures, even when they are deploying on the metal. So we’ve put some work into tools which can be used in both cloud and large-scale-metal environments, for provisioning and coordination.

With 12.04 LTS on the horizon, OpenStack exploding into the wider consciousness of cloud-savvy admins, and projects like Ceph and CloudFoundry growing in stature and capability, it’s proving to be a very dynamic time for IT managers and architects. Much as the early days of the web presented a great deal of hype and complexity and options, only to settle down into a few key standard practices and platforms, cloud infrastructure today presents a wealth of options and a paucity of clarity; from NoSQL choices, through IAAS choices, through PAAS choices. Over the next couple of months I’ll outline how we think the cloud stack will shape up. Our goal is to make that “clean, crisp, obvious” deployment Just Work, bringing simplicity to the cloud much as we strive to bring it on the desktop.

For the moment, though, it’s necessary to roll up sleeves and get hands a little dirty, so the team I mentioned previously has been busy bringing some distilled wisdom to customers embarking on their cloud adventures in a hurry. Most of these engagements started out as custom consulting and contract efforts, but there are now sufficient patterns that the team has identified a set of common practices and templates that help to accelerate the build-out for those typical scenarios, and packaged those up as a range of standard cloud building offerings.

 

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!

Dash takes shape for 11.10 Unity

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Our goal with Unity is unprecedented ease of use, visual style and performance on the Linux desktop. With feature freeze behind us, we have a refined target render of the Dash for Oneiric, and here it is:

click for the full size render.

Scopes and Lenses

We’ve moved from the idea of “Places” to a richer set of “Scopes and Lenses”. Scopes are data sources, and can tap into any online or offline data set as long as they can generate categorised results for a search, describe a set of filters and support some standard interfaces. Lenses are various ways to present the data that come from Scopes.

The Scopes have a range of filtering options they can use, such as ratings (“show me all the 5 star apps in the Software Center please”) and categories (“… that are games or media related”). Over time, the sophistication of this search system will grow but the goal is to keep it visual and immediate – something anyone can drive at first attempt.

This delivers on the original goal of creating a device-like experience that was search driven. Collaboration with the always-excellent Zeitgeist crew (quite a few of whom are now full time on the Unity team!) has improved the search experience substantially, kudos to them for the awesome work they’ve put in over the past six months. Since we introduced the Dash as a full screen device-like search experience, the same idea has made its way into several other shells, most notably Mac OS X Lion. While we’re definitely the outsider in this contest, I think we can stay one step ahead in the game given the support of our community.

The existing Places are all in the process of being updated to the Scopes and Lenses model, it’s a bit of a construction site at the moment so hard-hats are advised but dive in if you have good ideas for some more interesting scopes. I’ve heard all sorts of rumours about cool scopes in the pipeline ;-) and I bet this will be fertile ground for innovation. It’s pretty straightforward to make a scope, I’m sure others will blog and document the precise mechanisms but for those who want a head start, just use the source, Luke.

Panel evolution

In the panel, you’ll see that the top left corner is now consistently used to close whatever has the focus. Maximising a window keeps the window controls in the same position relative to the window – the top left corner. We have time to refine the behaviour of this based on user testing of the betas; for example, in one view, one should be able to close successive windows from that top left corner even if they are not maximised.

It’s taken several releases of careful iteration to get to this point. Even though we had a good idea where we were headed, each step needed to be taken one release at a time. Perhaps this might make a little clearer the reasons for the move of window controls to the left – it was the only place where we could ultimately keep them consistent all the way up to a maximised window with the title bar integrated into the panel. I’m confident this part will all be settled by 12.04.

As part of this two-step shuffle, the Dash invocation is now integrated in the Launcher. While this is slightly less of a Fitts-fantastic location, we consider it appropriate for a number of reasons. First, it preserves the top left corner for closing windows. Second, the Dash is best invoked with the Super key (sometimes erroneously and anachronistically referred to as the “Windows” key, for some reason ;-)). And finally, observations during user testing showed people as more inclined to try clicking on items in the Launcher than on the top left icon in the panel, unless that icon was something explicit like a close button for the window. Evidence based design rules.

Visual refinements

Rather than a flat darkening, we’re introducing a wash based on the desktop colour. The dash thus adjusts to your preferred palette based on your wallpaper. The same principle will drive some of the login experience – choosing a user will shift the login screen towards that users wallpaper and palette.

We’ve also integrated the panel and the dash, so indicators are rendered in a more holographic fashion inside the dash. Together with efforts to mute the contrast of Launcher icons the result is a more striking dash altogether: content is presented more dramatically.

Since we have raw access to the GL pipeline, we’re taking advantage of that with some real-time blur effects to help the readability and presentation of overlay content in the Dash, too. Both Nux in the case of Unity-3D and Qt in the case of Unity-2D have rich GL capabilities, and we’d like to make the most of whatever graphics stack you have on your hardware, while still running smoothly on the low end.

Growing community and ecosystem

A project like this needs diverse perspectives, talents and interests to make it feel rounded and complete. While Canonical is carrying the core load, and we’re happy to do so in order to bring this level of quality to the Ubuntu desktop user experience, what makes me particularly optimistic is the energy of the contributors both to Unity directly and to the integration of many other components and applications with the platform.

On the contribution front, a key goal for the Unity community is to maintain velocity in contributor patch flows. You should expect a rapid review and, all being well, landing, for contributions to Unity that are in line with the design goals. In a few cases we’ve also accepted patches that make it possible to use Unity in ways that are different to the design goals, especially where the evidence doesn’t lean very heavily one way or the other. Such contributions add some complexity but also give us the opportunity to test alternatives in a very rich way; the winning alternative would certainly survive, the other might not.

Contrary to common prognostication, this community is shaping up to be happy and productive. For those who do so for love and personal interest, participating in such a community should be fun and stimulating, an opportunity to exercise skills or pursue interests, give something back that will be appreciated and enjoyed by many, and help raise the bar for Linux experiences. I’d credit Jorge and others for their stewardship of this so far, and my heartfelt thanks to all of those who have helped make Unity better just for the fun of it.

Outside of the core, the growing number of apps that integrate sweetly with the launcher (quicklists), dash (scopes), indicators (both app-specific and category indicators) is helping to ensure that API’s are useful, refined and well implemented, as well as improving the experience of Ubuntu users everywhere. Now that we’re moving to Unity by default for both 2D and 3D, that’s even more valuable.

Under the hood

In this round, Unity-3D and Unity-2D have grown together and become twin faces on the same underlying model. They now share a good deal of common code and common services and – sigh – common bugs :-). But we’re now at the point where we can be confident that the Unity experience is available on the full range of hardware, from lightweight thin client systems made of ARM or Atom CPU’s to CADstations with oodles of GPU horsepower.

There’s something of a competition under way between proponents of the QML based Unity-2D, who believe that the GL support here is good enough to compete both at the high end and on the low end, and the GL-heads in Unity-3D, who think that the enhanced experiences possible with raw GL access justify the additional complexity of working in C++ and GL on the metal. Time will tell! Since a lot of the design inspiration for Unity came from game interfaces, I lean to the “let’s harness all the GL we can for the full 3D experience” side of the spectrum, but I’m intrigued with what the QML team are doing.

11.04, a leap forward

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Users first, on free software. That has always been our mission: we set out to bring the joys and freedoms and innovation and performance and security that have always been part of the Linux platform, to a consumer audience. And yesterday marked the biggest leap forward in that mission that Ubuntu has ever taken, because in addition to the work we always do to make sure that the world’s best free software is polished and integrated, we brought something new to the very core of the user experience of the free platform: Unity.

We put user’s first because we committed to test and iterate Unity’s design with real users, and evolve it based on those findings. We’ve documented the process we’re following in that regard, so that other free software projects can decide for themselves if they also want to bring professional design into their process. I very much hope that this will become standard practice across all of free software, because in my view the future of free software is no longer just about inner beauty (architecture, performance, efficiency) it’s also about usability and style.

In the design of Unity we chose to be both humble and bold. Humble, because we have borrowed consciously from the work of other successful platforms, like Windows and MacOS. We borrowed what worked best, but then we took advantage of the fact that we are unconstrained by legacy and can innovate faster than they can, and took some bold leaps forward. In category indicators, the dash, overlay scrollbars and other innovations we are pioneering desktop experiences that I am sure will be emulated elsewhere, in both the free and proprietary platforms. This is the public “1.0″, there are rough points which will affect some users more than others, but we will iterate and polish them up one by one. Our goal should be to continue to set the pace and push free software to the forefront of usability and experience, growing the awesome Ubuntu and Unity community that shares those values and is excited by those ideas.

Ubuntu’s killer feature remains that community. The spirit of Ubuntu is about understanding that the measure of our own lives is in the way we improve the lives of others. Ubuntu has both economic and human dimensions: it is unique in bringing those together in a way which enables them to support one another. The fact that so many people recognise that their time, energy and expertise can have the biggest possible impact when expressed through Ubuntu is what makes their individual contributions so much more valuable. By recognising that it’s not just about bits, or licenses, or artwork, or documentation, or advocacy, or support, or assurance, or services, but that it’s about the whole of those in synthesis, we make something different to what the world has ever seen before. So to everyone who has helped bring Ubuntu 11.04 to fruition: thank you, and well done.

Of course, Ubuntu is far bigger than Unity. And the needs of the Ubuntu community, and users of Ubuntu, are far more diverse than simply Unity could address. So I’m proud of the fact that the Ubuntu community publishes the whole expression of software freedom across its archives. Kubuntu continues to improve and set a very high standard for the KDE experience. Lubuntu, the LXDE based expression of Ubuntu, is moving towards being 100% integrated. There is unique work being done in Ubuntu for users of the cloud and other server-oriented configurations. While we can be proud of what’s been achieved in Unity, we are equally proud of the efforts that go into ensuring that the full range of experiences is accommodated, to the extent possible with the effort put in by our huge community, under the Ubuntu umbrella.

We’re committed to keeping that the case. By welcoming all participants, and finding ways to accommodate and celebrate their differences rather than using them as grounds for divisiveness, we make something that is bigger than all our individual dreams.

Next after Natty?

Monday, March 7th, 2011

The naming of cats is a difficult matter
It isn’t just one of your holiday games.
- T S Eliot, The Naming of Cats

For the next cycle, I think we’ll leave the oceanic theme behind. The “oddball octopus”, for example, is a great name but not one we’ll adopt this time around. Perhaps in 13 years time, though!

The objective is to capture the essence of our next six months work in a simple name. Inevitably there’s an obliquity, or offbeat opportunism in the result. And perhaps this next release more than most requires something other than orthodoxy – the skunkworks are in high gear right now. Fortunately I’m assured that if one of Natty’s successors is a skunk, it would at least be a sassy skunk!

So we’re looking for a name that conveys mysterious possibility, with perhaps an ounce of overt oracular content too. Nothing too opaque, ornate, odious or orotund. Something with an orderly ring to it, in celebration of the crisp clean cadence by which we the community bring Ubuntu forth.

There’s something neat in the idea that 11.10 will mark eight years since Ubuntu was conceived (it took a little longer to be born). So “octennial” might suit… but that would be looking backwards, and we should have an eye on the future, not the past. Hmm… an eye on the future, perhaps ocular? Or oculate? We’re certainly making our way up the S-curve of adoption, so perhaps ogee would do the trick?

Alternatively, we could celebrate the visual language of Ubuntu with the “orange okapi”, or the welcoming nature of our community with the “osculant orangutan”. Nothing hugs quite like dholbach, though, and he’s no hairy ape.

What we want is something imaginative, something dreamy. Something sleek and neat, too. Something that has all the precision of T S Eliot’s poetry, matched with the “effable ineffability” of our shared values, friendship and expertise. Something that captures both the competence of ubuntu-devel with the imagination of ayatana.

Which leads us neatly to the Oneiric Ocelot.

Oneiric means “dreamy”, and the combination with Ocelot reminds me of the way innovation happens: part daydream, part discipline.

We’ll need to keep up the pace of innovation on all fronts post-Natty. Our desktop has come together beautifully, and in the next release we’ll complete the cycle of making it available to all users, with a 2D experience to complement the OpenGL based Unity for those with the hardware to handle it. The introduction of Qt means we’ll be giving developers even more options for how they can produce interfaces that are both functional and aesthetically delightful.

In the cloud, we’ll have to tighten up and make some firm decisions about the platforms we can support for 12.04 LTS. UDS in Budapest will be full of feisty debate on that front, I’m sure, but I’m equally sure we can reach a pragmatic consensus and start to focus our energies on delivering the platform for widespread cloud computing on free and flexible terms.

Ubuntu is now shipping on millions of systems from multiple providers every year. It makes a real difference in the lives of millions, perhaps tens of millions, of people. As MPT said, “what we do is not only art, it’s performance art”. Every six months the curtains part, and we have to be ready for the performance. I’d like to thank the thousands of people who are actively participating in the production of Natty: take the initiative, take responsibility, take action, and your work will make a difference to all of those users. There are very few places in the world where a personal intellectual contribution can have that kind of impact. And very few places where we have such a strong social fabric around those intellectual challenges, too. We each do what we do for our own reasons, but it’s the global impact of Ubuntu which gives meaning to that action.

Natty is a stretch release: we set out to redefine the look and feel of the free desktop. We’ll need all the feedback we can get, so please test today’s daily, or A3, and file bug reports! Keep up the discipline and focus on the Narwhal, and let’s direct our daydreaming to the Ocelot.