GMailWatcher for webmail lovers

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Owais Lone wanted this mentioned on Planet Ubuntu, so I’m proxying for his blog announcement since he isn’t yet an Ubuntu Member:

In case you don’t already know, GmailWatcher is a Gmail notifier specifically designed for the Ubuntu Operating System. It relies heavily on Ubuntu specific packages like MeMenu, Notifications, DesktopCouch but I’m planning a stock Gnome version also so that people on Fedora, Suse and other rocking distribution can use it too.

Most notable features are:

  • Multiple Accounts
  • Google Apps support
  • Secure password storage using Gnome-Keyring support
  • Themable unread emails page
  • Preferences sync using U1

Right now, my target is to make it stable/usable enough in time for Maverick.

This post is essentially a call for user feedback. I would like to know what you don’t like about the way GmailWatcher works. Bugs, usability issues, appearance, anything that doesn’t count as a new feature.

Prompted in part by the critique of Canonical’s code contributions to the kernel and core GNOME infrastructure, I’ve been pondering whether or not I feel good about what I do every day, and how I do it. It’s important for me to feel that what I do is of service to others and makes the world a better place for it having been done. And in my case, that it’s a contribution commensurate with the good fortune I’ve had in life.

Two notes defined for me what I feel I contribute, in this last month. One was a thank-you from New Zealand, from someone who is watching Ubuntu 10.04 make a real difference in their family’s life. For them it seems like a small miracle of human generosity that this entire, integrated, working environment exists and is cared for by thousands of people. The other was a support contract for tens of thousands of desktops running Ubuntu 10.04 in a company. Between those two, we have the twin pillars of the Ubuntu Project and Canonical: to bring all the extraordinary generosity of the free software community to the world at large, as a gift, free of charge, unencumbered and uncrippled, and to do so sustainably.

The first story, from New Zealand, is about someone who is teaching their children to use computers from a young age, and who has observed how much more they get done with Ubuntu than with Windows, and how much more affordable it is to bring computing to all the kids in their community with Ubuntu. For them, the fact that Ubuntu brings them this whole world of free software in one neat package is extraordinary, a breakthrough, and something for which they are very grateful.

It’s a story that I hope to see replicated a hundred million times. And it’s a story which brings credit and satisfaction not just to me, and not just to the people who make Ubuntu the focus of their love and energy, but to all of those who participate in free software at large. Ubuntu doesn’t deserve all the credit, it’s part of a big and complex ecosystem, but without it that delivery of free software just wouldn’t have the same reach and values.

We all understand that the body of free software needs many organs, many cells, each of which has their own priorities and interests. The body can only exist thanks to all of them. We are one small part of the whole, it’s a privilege for us to take up the responsibilities that we do as a distribution. We have the responsibility of choosing a starting point for those who will begin their free software journey with Ubuntu, and we work hard to make sure that all of those pieces fit well together.

Ubuntu, and the possibilities it creates, could not have come about without the extraordinary Linux community, which wouldn’t exist without the GNU community, and couldn’t have risen to prominence without the efforts of companies like IBM and Red Hat. And it would be a very different story if it weren’t for the Mozilla folks and Netscape before them, and GNOME and KDE, and Debian, and Google and everyone else who have exercised that stack in so many different ways, making it better along the way. There are tens of thousands of people who are not in any way shape or form associated with Ubuntu, who make this story real. Many of them have been working at it for more than a decade – it takes a long time to make an overnight success :) while Ubuntu has only been on the scene six years. So Ubuntu cannot be credited solely for the delight of its users.

Nevertheless, the Ubuntu Project does bring something unique, special and important to free software: a total commitment to everyday users and use cases, the idea that free software should be “for everyone” both economically and in ease of use, and a willingness to chase down the problems that stand between here and there. I feel that commitment is a gift back to the people who built every one of those packages. If we can bring free software to ten times the audience, we have amplified the value of your generosity by a factor of ten, we have made every hour spent fixing an issue or making something amazing, ten times as valuable. I’m very proud to be spending the time and energy on Ubuntu that I do. Yes, I could do many other things, but I can’t think of another course which would have the same impact on the world.

I recognize that not everybody will feel the same way. Bringing their work to ten times the audience without contributing features might just feel like leeching, or increasing the flow of bug reports 10x. I suppose you could say that no matter how generous we are to downstream users, if upstream is only measuring code, then any generosity other than code won’t be registered. I don’t really know what to do about that – I didn’t found Ubuntu as a vehicle for getting lots of code written, that didn’t seem to me to be what the world needed. It needed a vehicle for getting it out there, that cares about delivering the code we already have in a state of high quality and reliability. Most of the pieces of the desktop were in place – and code was flowing in – it just wasn’t being delivered in a way that would take it beyond the server, or to the general public.

The second email I can’t quote from, but it was essentially a contract for services from Canonical to help a company move more than 20,000 desktops from Windows to Ubuntu. There have been several engagements recently of a similar scale, the pace is accelerating as confidence in Ubuntu grows. While Linux has long proven itself a fine desktop for the inspired and self-motivated developer, there is a gap between that and the needs of large-scale organisations. There isn’t another company that I’m aware of which is definitively committed to the free software desktop, and so I’m very proud that Canonical is playing that role in the free software ecosystem. It would be sad for me if all the effort the free software community puts into desktop applications didn’t have a conduit to those users.

There’s nothing proprietary or secret that goes into the desktops that Canonical supports inside large organisations. The true wonder for me is that the story from New Zealand, and the corporate story, both involve exactly the same code. That to me is the true promise of free software; when I have participated in open source projects myself, I’ve always been delighted that my work might serve my needs but then also be of use to as many other people as possible.

Ubuntu is a small part of that huge ecosystem, but I feel proud that we have stepped up to tackle these challenges.

Canonical takes a different approach to the other companies that work in Linux, not as an implicit criticism of the others, but simply because that’s the set of values we hold. Open source is strengthened by the fact that there are so many different companies pursuing so many different, important goals.

In recent weeks it’s been suggested that Canonical’s efforts are self-directed and not of benefit to the broader open source community. That’s a stinging criticism because most of us feel completely the opposite, we’re motivated to do as much as we can to further the cause of free software to the benefit both of end-users and the community that makes it, and we’re convinced that building Ubuntu and working for Canonical are the best ways to achieve that end. It’s prompted a lot of discussion and consideration for each of us and for Canonical as a whole. And this post is a product of that consideration: a statement for myself of what I feel I contribute, and why I feel proud of the effort I put in every day.

What do we do for free software? And what do I do myself?

For a start, we deliver it. We reduce the friction and inertia that prevent people trying free software and deciding for themselves if they like it enough to immerse themselves in it. Hundreds of today’s free software developers, translators, designers, advocates got the opportunity to be part of our movement because it was easy for them to dip their toe in the water. And that’s not easy work. Consider the effort over many years to produce a simple installer for Linux like http://www.techdrivein.com/2010/08/massive-changes-coming-to-ubuntu-1010.html which is the culmination of huge amounts of work from many groups, but which simply would not have happened without Canonical and Ubuntu.

There are thousands of people who are content to build free software for themselves, and that’s no crime. But the willingness to shape it into something that others will find, explore and delight in needs to be celebrated too. And that’s a value which is celebrated very highly in the Ubuntu community: if you read planet.ubuntu.com you’ll see a celebration of *people using free software*. As a community we are deeply satisfied to see people *using* it to solve problems in their lives. That’s more satisfying to us than stories about how we made it faster or added a feature. Of course we do bits of both, but this is a community that measures impact in the world rather than impact on the code. They are very generous with their time and expertise, with that as the reward. I’m proud of the fact that Ubuntu attracts people who are generous in their contributions: they feel their contributions are worth more if they are remixed by others, not less. So we celebrate Kubuntu and Xubuntu and Puppy and Linux Mint. They don’t ride on our coattails, they stand on our shoulders, just as we stand on the shoulders of giants. And that’s a good thing. Our work is more meaningful and more valuable because their work reaches users that ours alone could not.

What else?

We fix it, too. Consider the https://wiki.ubuntu.com/PaperCut Papercuts project, born of the recognition that all the incredible technology and effort that goes into making something as complex as the Linux kernel is somehow diminished if the average user gets an incomprehensible result when they do something that should Just Work. Hundreds of Papercuts have been fixed, across many different applications, benefiting not just Ubuntu but also every other distribution that ships those applications. If you think that’s easy, consider the effort involved to triage and consider each of thousands of suggestions, coordinating a fix and the sharing of it. The tireless efforts of a large team have made an enormous difference. Consider this: saving millions of users one hour a week is a treasury of energy saved to do better things with free software. While the Canonical Design team played a leading role in setting up the Papercuts project, the real stars are people like http://www.omgubuntu.co.uk/2010/06/maverick-papercut-hunting-season-opens.html Vish and Sense who rally the broader papercuts team to make a difference. Every fix makes a difference, on the desktop http://ubuntuserver.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/ubuntu-server-papercuts-project/ and the server.

At a more personal level, a key thing I put energy into is leadership, governance and community structure. When we started Ubuntu, I spent a lot of time looking at different communities that existed at the time, and how they managed the inevitable tensions and differences of opinion that arise when you have lots of sharp people collaborating. We conceived the idea of a code of conduct that would ensure that our passions for the technology or the work never overwhelmed the primary goal of bringing diverse people together to collaborate on a common platform. I’m delighted that the idea has spread to other projects: we don’t want to hoard ideas or designs or concepts, that would be contrary to our very purpose.

We setup a simple structure: a technical board and a community council. That approach is now common in many other projects too. As Ubuntu has grown, so that governance has evolved, there are now multiple leadership teams for groups like Kubuntu and the Forums and IRC, who provide counsel and guidance for teams of LoCo’s and moderators and ops and developers, who in turn strive for technical perfection and social agility as part of an enormous global community. That’s amazing. When people start participating in Ubuntu they are usually motivated as much by the desire to be part of a wonderful community as they are to fix a specific problem or ease a specific burden. Over time, some of those folks find that they have a gift for helping others be more productive, resolving differences of opinion, doing the work to organise a group so that much more can be achieved than any one individual could hope to do. Ubuntu’s governance structures create opportunities for those folks to shine: they provide the backbone and structure which makes this community able to scale and stay productive and happy.

A project like Ubuntu needs constant care in order to defend its values. When you are tiny and you put up a flag saying “this is what we care about” you tend to attract only people who care about those things. When the project grows into something potent and visible, though, you tend to attract EVERYONE, because people want to be where the action is. And then the values can easily be watered down. So I continue to put energy into working with the Ubuntu community council, and the Canonical community team, both of which are profoundly insightful and hard-working which makes that part of my work a real pleasure. The Ubuntu community council take their responsibility as custodian of the projects community values very seriously indeed. The CC is largely composed of people who are not affiliated with Canonical, but who nevertheless believe that the Ubuntu project is important to free software as a whole. And the awesome Jono Bacon, the delightful Daniel Holbach, and unflappable Jorge Castro are professionals who understand how to make communities productive and happy places to work.

Something as big as the Ubuntu community cannot be to the credit of me or any other individual, but I’m proud of the role I’ve played, and motivated to continue to play a role as needed.

In more recent years I’ve come to focus more on championing the role of design in free software. I believe that open source produces the best quality software over time, but I think we need a lot more cogent conversations about the experiences we want to create for our users, whether it’s on the desktop, the netbook or the server. So I’ve put a lot of my leadership energy into encouraging various communities – both Ubuntu and upstream – to be welcoming of those who see software through the eyes of the new user rather than the experienced hacker. This is a sea change in the values of open source, and is not something I can hope to achieve alone, but I’m nevertheless proud to be a champion of that approach and glad that it’s steadily becoming accepted.

There were designers working in free software before we made this push. I hope they feel that Canonical’s emphasis on the design-lead approach has made their lives easier, and the community at large more appreciative of their efforts and receptive to their ideas. But still, if you *really* care about design in free software, the Canonical design team is the place to be.

I do some design work myself, and have participated most heavily in the detailed design of Unity, the interface for Ubuntu Netbook Edition 10.10. That’s an evolution of the older UNR interface; most importantly, it’s a statement that Linux desktops don’t need to be stuck in the 90′s, we can and will attempt to build new and efficient ways of working with computers. I’ve been delighted with the speed at which some of Unity’s facilities have been adopted by hundreds of projects, their goal is to make using Linux easier and classier for everyone, so that pace of adoption is a measure of the speed at which we are reducing the friction for new users discovering a better way to use their PC’s.

Design without implementation would leave us open to accusations of wanting others to do our work for us, so I’m proud also to lead a wonderful team that is doing the implementation of some of those key components. Things like dbusmenu have proven useful for bringing consistency to the interfaces of both GNOME and KDE applications running under Unity, and I very much hope they are adopted by other projects that need exactly the facilities they provide. I’d credit that engineering team with their focus on quality and testability and their desire to provide developers with clean API’s and good guidance on how best to use them. If you’ve used the full set of Indicators in 10.10 then you know how this quiet, persistent work that has engaged many different projects has transformed the panel into something crisp and efficient. Utouch is coming up for its first release, and will continue to evolve, so that Ubuntu and GNOME and KDE can have an easy road to multi-touch gesture interface goodness.

Beyond my own personal time, I also support various projects through funding. Putting money into free software needs to meet a key test: could that money achieve a better outcome for more people if it were directed elsewhere? There are lots of ways to help people: $100,000 can put a lot of people through school, clothed and fed. So I really need to be confident that the money is having a real, measurable impact on people’s lives. The thank you notes I get every week for Ubuntu help sustain that confidence. More importantly, my own observation of the catalytic effect that Ubuntu has had on the broader open source ecosystem, in terms of new developers attracted, new platforms created, new businesses launched and new participants acknowledged, make me certain that the funding I provide is having a meaningful consequence.

When Ubuntu was conceived, the Linux ecosystem was in a sense fully formed. We had a kernel. We had GNOME and KDE. We had X and libc and GCC and all the other familiar tools. Sure they had bugs and they had shortcomings and they had roadmaps to address them. But there was something missing: sometimes it got articulated as “marketing”, sometimes as “end-user focus”. I remember thinking “that’s what I could bring”. So Ubuntu, and Canonical, have quite explicitly NOT put effort into things which are obviously working quite well, instead, we’ve tried to focus on new ideas and new tools and new components. I see that as an invigorating contribution to the broader open source ecosystem, and I hear from many people that they perceive it the same way. Those who say “but Canonical doesn’t do X” may be right, but that misses all the things we do, which weren’t on the map beforehand. Of course, there’s little that we do exclusively, and little that we do that others couldn’t if they made that their mission, but I think the passion of the Ubuntu community, and the enthusiasm of its users, reflects the fact that there is something definitively new and distinctive about the project. That’s something to celebrate, something to be proud of, and something to motivate us to continue.

Free software is bigger than any one project. It’s bigger than the Linux kernel, it’s bigger than GNU, it’s bigger than GNOME and KDE, it’s bigger than Ubuntu and Fedora and Debian. Each of those projects plays a role, but it is the whole which is really changing the world. So when we start to argue with one another from the perspective of any one slice of free software, we run the risk of missing the bigger picture. That’s a bit like an auto-immune disease, where the body starts to attack itself. By definition, someone else who is working hard all day long to bring free software to a wider audience is on the same side as me, compared to 99% of the rest of the world, if I want to think in terms of sides. I admire and respect everyone who puts energy into advancing the cause of free software, even if occasionally I might differ on the detail of how it can be done.

10.10.10.10.10…..

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Saw this URL fly by today… wow and thank you to the Ubuntu Ads guys :-)

So, who’s up for making Maverick Movies? It would be great to have a “10 best features in 10.10″ video collection for release. Unity’s awesome and then there are things to show off in OO.o, Gnome, Firefox…. giving credit where it’s due.

I put together https://wiki.ubuntu.com/MaverickMovies as a starting place to aggregate content. Have subscribed, so if you update that page I’ll see it. If that goes nicely, we can beef the process up in the runup to release.

N-imal?

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Oh yes, it’s that time of year again, when numerate pollsters make nasal proclamations about the naming of the next next version of Ubuntu. When gazers of balls crystal provide nifty suggestions for new new features and, of course, suitable nomenclature to match.

What will it be? A Naiant Nailtail would make a fine coat of arms, but we’re not really in the business of arms. Most of our businesses have legs. Most, I say. We could hedge our bets and go with the Neutral Newt, but it’s placing bets and seeing them through that raises the game for the free software desktop, and now’s a time of great change and invention, not a time for fence-sitting.

I’ve been procrastinating. The N-evitable nature of our cadence means that calls for something nicer than “Maverick+1″ are increasingly noticeable. Naively, I always assume that the answer will leap off the page. Instead, what leaps off the page is a gazillion permutations and combinations of nubile, naughty, naiad and nymph. Moving swiftly onward I linger on the possibilities of the Numbat. Nah. There’s no doubt Fourecks can be a rich source of inspiration, now’s not the time to celebrate Van Diemen’s Land, we’ve better plans for that. And speaking of Fourecks, the Nobby Noctule sounds like something dreamed up by Terry Pratchett, perhaps a fitting way to move beyond Adam’s 10.10.10, but it really is hard to sing the praises of a bat. Especially one with (k)nobs.

As you can imagine, after a few weeks with a dictionary and colouring in book of animals, I could draw this out N-definitely. The problem is NP-complete, which I’m now reliably informed by the good folks at HP means it’s provably quite difficult and not something that can be delegated to chips of the non-quantum kind. My chips are most definitely non-quantum though my bugs, strangely, are.

Where did that leave us?

Well, let’s look at what we want to get done.

We have this whole design thing in full flow, which is making Ubuntu sleeker and more stylish, as well as making it smoother for those who just want to get stuff done. We’ll make the N release the best-dressed ever. But classy covers don’t equate to good reads – we want style and substance to meet and get along famously. Once Maverick is out the door we’ll be turning our attention to making the most of the amazing capabilities of modern graphics hardware, both for outer beauty and for inner efficiency. There’s a lot more to GL than glitz and glamour, though we won’t say no to either.

We’re also putting a lot of work into chips and architectures (admittedly, not yet of the quantum sort) that keep cool, and help keep the planet cool in the process. So it would be nice to have a codename which reflects that goodness. Some sort of mascot for a cool planet would do the trick.

And so, we come swiftly to a conclusion: allow me to introduce the Natty Narwhal, our mascot for development work that we expect to deliver as Ubuntu 11.04.

The Narwhal, as an Arctic (and somewhat endangered) animal, is a fitting reminder of the fact that we have only one spaceship that can host all of humanity (trust me, a Soyuz won’t do for the long haul to Alpha Centauri). And Ubuntu is all about bringing the generosity of all contributors in this functional commons of code to the widest possible audience, it’s about treating one another with respect, and it’s about being aware of the complexity and diversity of the ecosystems which feed us, clothe us and keep us healthy. Being a natty narwhal, of course, means we have some obligation to put our best foot forward. First impressions count, lasting impressions count more, so let’s make both and make them favourable.

While it may not in fact get you a pony, the world of free software is the platform upon which the future is being built. So the Narwhal, as the closest thing to a real live unicorn, is an auspicious figurehead as we lay down the fabric from which dreams will be woven. Dreams of someone’s first PC, dreams of someone’s first million instances in the cloud: whatever your vision of the future, we hope the Natty Narwhal will have something to offer. Test your gems against that unicorn – some will be glass, others of value. Perhaps the unicorn will bring you Luck, perhaps a cure for poisons proprietary. One thing is certain: we’ll be building it together with thousands of the most generous, insightful, fun people on the planet – not only those in the Ubuntu community, but those who participate in the whole of the free software ecosystem, from a2jmidid to zzliplib, with Debian (happy Birthday!, now longer in the tooth, wiser, but as potent and principled as ever) a special partner. I’m looking forward to the ride, and the result!

Gestures with multitouch in Ubuntu 10.10

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Multitouch is just as useful on a desktop as it is on a phone or tablet, so I’m delighted that the first cut of Canonical’s UTouch framework has landed in Maverick and will be there for its release on 10.10.10.

You’ll need 4-finger touch or better to get the most out of it, and we’re currently targeting the Dell XT2 as a development environment so the lucky folks with that machine will get the best results today. By release, we expect you’ll be able to use it with a range of devices from major manufacturers, and with addons like Apple’s Magic Trackpad.

The design team has lead the way, developing a “touch language” which goes beyond the work that we’ve seen elsewhere. Rather than single, magic gestures, we’re making it possible for basic gestures to be chained, or composed, into more sophisticated “sentences”. The basic gestures, or primitives, are like individual verbs, and stringing them together allows for richer interactions. It’s not quite the difference between banging rocks together and conducting a symphony orchestra, but it feels like a good step in the right direction ;-)

The new underlying code is published on Launchpad under the GPLv3 and LGPLv3, and of course there are quite a lot of modules for things like X and Gtk which may be under licenses preferred by those projects. There’s a PPA if you’re interested in tracking the cutting edge, or just branch / push/ merge on LP if you want to make it better. Details in the official developer announcement. The bits depend on Peter Hutterer’s recently published update to the X input protocols related to multi-touch, and add gesture processing and gesture event delivery. I’d like to thank Duncan McGreggor for his leadership of the team which implemented this design, and of course all the folks who have worked on it so far: Henrik Rydberg, Rafi Rubin, Chase Douglas, Stephen Webb at the heart of it, and many others who have expanded on their efforts.

In Maverick, quite a few Gtk applications will support gesture-based scrolling. We’ll enhance Evince to show some of the richer interactions that developers might want to add to their apps. Window management will be gesture-enabled in Unity, so 10.10 Netbook Edition users with touch screens or multi-touch pads will have sophisticated window management at their fingertips. Install Unity on your desktop for a taste of it, just apt-get install ubuntu-netbook and choose the appropriate session at login.

The roadmap beyond 10.10 will flesh out the app developer API and provide system services related to gesture processing and touch. It would be awesome to have touch-aware versions of all the major apps – browser, email, file management, chat, photo management and media playback – for 11.04, but that depends on you! So if you are interested in this, let’s work up some branches :-) Here’s the official Canonical blog post, too.

Tribalism is the enemy within

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Tribalism is when one group of people start to think people from another group are “wrong by default”. It’s the great-granddaddy of racism and sexism. And the most dangerous kind of tribalism is completely invisible: it has nothing to do with someone’s “birth tribe” and everything to do with their affiliations: where they work, which sports team they support, which linux distribution they love.

There are a couple of hallmarks of tribal argument:

1. “The other guys have never done anything useful”. Well, let’s think about that. All of us wake up every day, with very similar ambitions and goals. I’ve travelled the world and I’ve never met a single company, or country, or church, where *everybody* there did *nothing* useful. So if you see someone saying “Microsoft is totally evil”, that’s a big red flag for tribal thinking. It’s just like someone saying “All black people are [name your prejudice]“. It’s offensive nonsense, and you would be advised to distance yourself from it, even if it feels like it would be fun to wave that pitchfork for a while.

2. “Evidence contrary to my views doesn’t count.” So, for example, when a woman makes it to the top of her game, “it’s because she slept her way there”. Offensive nonsense. And similarly, when you see someone saying “Canonical didn’t actually sponsor that work by that Canonical employee, that was done in their spare time”, you should realize that’s likely to be offensive nonsense too.

Let’s be clear: tribalism makes you stupid. Just like it would be stupid not to hire someone super-smart and qualified because they’re purple, or because they are female, it would be stupid to refuse to hear and credit someone with great work just because they happen to be associated with another tribe.

The very uncool thing about being a fanboy (or fangirl) of a project is that you’re openly declaring both a tribal affiliation and a willingness to reject the work of others just because they belong to a different tribe.

One of the key values we hold in the Ubuntu project is that we expect everyone associated with Ubuntu to treat people with respect. It’s part of our code of conduct – it’s probably the reason we *pioneered* the use of codes of conduct in open source. I and others who founded Ubuntu have seen how easily open source projects descend into nasty, horrible and unproductive flamewars when you don’t exercise strong leadership away from tribal thinking.

Now, bad things happen everywhere. They happen in Ubuntu – and because we have a huge community, they are perhaps more likely to happen there than anywhere else. If we want to avoid human nature’s worst consequences, we have to work actively against them. That’s why we have strong leadership structures, which hopefully put people who are proven NOT to be tribal in nature into positions of responsibility. It takes hard work and commitment, but I’m grateful for the incredible efforts of all the moderators and council members and leaders in LoCo teams across this huge and wonderful project, for the leadership they exercise in keeping us focused on doing really good work.

It’s hard, but sometimes we have to critique people who are associated with Ubuntu, because they have been tribal. Hell, sometimes I and others have to critique ME for small-minded and tribal thinking. When someone who calls herself “an Ubuntu fan” stands up and slates the work of another distro we quietly reach out to that person and point out that it’s not the Ubuntu way of doing things. We don’t spot them all, but it’s a consistent practice within the Ubuntu leadership team: our values are more important than winning or losing any given debate.

Do not be drawn into a tribal argument on Ubuntu’s behalf

Right now, for a number of reasons, there is a fever pitch of tribalism in plain sight in the free software world. It’s sad. It’s not constructive. It’s ultimately going to be embarrassing for the people involved, because the Internet doesn’t forget. It’s certainly not helping us lift free software to the forefront of public expectations of what software can be.

I would like to say this to everyone who feels associated with Ubuntu: hold fast to what you know to be true. You know your values. You know how hard you work. You know what an incredible difference your work has made. You know that you do it for a complex mix of love and money, some more the former, others the more latter, but fundamentally you are all part of Ubuntu because you think it’s the most profound and best way to spend your time. Be proud of that.

There is no need to get into a playground squabble about your values, your ethics, your capabilities or your contribution. If you can do better, figure out how to do that, but do it because you are inspired by what makes Ubuntu wonderful: free software, delivered freely, in a way that demonstrates real care for the end user. Don’t do it because you feel intimidated or threatened or belittled.

The Gregs are entitled to their opinions, and folks like Jono and Dylan have set an excellent example in how to rebut and move beyond them.

I’ve been lucky to be part of many amazing things in life. Ubuntu is, far and away, the best of them. We can be proud of the way we are providing leadership: on how communities can be a central part of open source companies, on how communities can be organised and conduct themselves, on how the economics of free software can benefit more than just the winning distribution, on how a properly designed user experience combined with free software can beat the best proprietary interfaces any day. But remember: we do all of those things because we believe in them, not because we want to prove anybody else wrong.

Let’s celebrate this milestone in Ubuntu reporting for and by the community. UWN is my favourite way to keep up with waht’s going on across the full length and breadth of the community. If you want a single read per week to know what you are part of, this is it. And if you’re doing something cool, these are the guys to tell about it, they’ll tell the world.

A big thank you from me to the team who makes it real every week.

Welcome to the Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter, Issue 200 for the week June
27 – July 3rd, 2010.

The purpose of this newsletter is to let everyone know what is
happening in all the different corners of the vast Ubuntu community.
It’s a snapshot of the Ubuntu Community one week at a time.

The first issue was unleashed June 4th, 2006, and a little over four
(4) years and seven (7) releases later UWN and the Ubuntu Community
continues to mature and grow together.

The Ubuntu News Team, which includes both UWN and Fridge, continues to
report what happens, effects, and relates to the the vast and ever
growing Ubuntu community, including information from the different
teams, LoCos, forums, mailing lists, IRC universe, and newsworthy
press coverage and blogs. A very important and helpful contribution
many LoCo Teams continue to do is spread the news by translating UWN.

It has undoubtedly been a fun and rewarding experience for all involved!

We would like to thank all our readers for your continued support and
feedback and encourage you to keep sending the Ubuntu News Team your
comments and corrections (yes, we do make mistakes!).

Belgium was brilliant

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

A big thank-you to everyone who came along, or participated virtually. And to Benjamin, for the nicely packaged memories :-)

Unity, and Ubuntu Light

Monday, May 10th, 2010

A few months ago we took on the challenge of building a version of Ubuntu for the dual-boot, instant-on market. We wanted to be surfing the web in under 10 seconds, and give people a fantastic web experience. We also wanted it to be possible to upgrade from that limited usage model to a full desktop.

The fruit of that R&D is both a new desktop experience codebase, called Unity, and a range of Light versions of Ubuntu, both netbook and desktop, that are optimised for dual-boot scenarios.

The dual-boot, web-focused use case is sufficiently different from general-purpose desktop usage to warrant a fresh look at the way the desktop is configured. We spent quite a bit of time analyzing screenshots of a couple of hundred different desktop configurations from the current Ubuntu and Kubuntu user base, to see what people used most. We also identified the things that are NOT needed in lightweight dual-boot instant-on offerings. That provided us both with a list of things to focus on and make rich, and a list of things we could leave out.

Instant-on products are generally used in a stateless fashion. These are “get me to the web asap” environments, with no need of heavy local file management. If there is content there, it would be best to think of it as “cloud like” and synchronize it with the local Windows environment, with cloud services and other devices. They are also not environments where people would naturally expect to use a wide range of applications: the web is the key, and there may be a few complementary capabilities like media playback, messaging, games, and the ability to connect to local devices like printers and cameras and pluggable media.

We also learned something interesting from users. It’s not about how fast you appear to boot. It’s about how fast you actually deliver a working web browser and Internet connection. It’s about how fast you have a running system that is responsive to the needs of the user.

Unity: a lightweight netbook interface

There are several driving forces behind the result.

The desktop screenshots we studied showed that people typically have between 3 and 10 launchers on their panels, for rapid access to key applications. We want to preserve that sense of having a few favorite applications that are instantly accessible. Rather than making it equally easy to access any installed application, we assume that almost everybody will run one of a few apps, and they need to switch between those apps and any others which might be running, very easily.

We focused on maximising screen real estate for content. In particular, we focused on maximising the available vertical pixels for web browsing. Netbooks have screens which are wide, but shallow. Notebooks in general are moving to wide screen formats. So vertical space is more precious than horizontal space.

We also want to embrace touch as a first class input. We want people to be able to launch and switch between applications using touch, so the launcher must be finger friendly.

Those constraints and values lead us to a new shape for the desktop, which we will adopt in Ubuntu’s Netbook Edition for 10.10 and beyond.

First, we want to move the bottom panel to the left of the screen, and devote that to launching and switching between applications. That frees up vertical space for web content, at the cost of horizontal space, which is cheaper in a widescreen world. In Ubuntu today the bottom panel also presents the Trash and Show Desktop options, neither of which is relevant in a stateless instant-on environment.

Second, we’ll expand that left-hand launcher panel so that it is touch-friendly. With relatively few applications required for instant-on environments, we can afford to be more generous with the icon size there. The Unity launcher will show what’s running, and support fast switching and drag-and-drop between applications.

Third, we will make the top panel smarter. We’ve already talked about adopting a single global menu, which would be rendered by the panel in this case. If we can also manage to fit the window title and controls into that panel, we will have achieved very significant space saving for the case where someone is focused on a single application at a time, and especially for a web browser.

We end up with a configuration like this:

Mockup of Unity

Mockup of Unity Launcher and Panel with maximised application

The launcher and panel that we developed in response to this challenge are components of Unity. They are now in a state where they can be tested widely, and where we can use that testing to shape their evolution going forward. A development milestone of Unity is available today in a PPA, with development branches on Launchpad, and I’d very much like to get feedback from people trying it out on a netbook, or even a laptop with a wide screen. Unity is aimed at full screen applications and, as I described above, doesn’t really support traditional file management. But it’s worth a spin, and it’s very easy to try out if you have Ubuntu 10.04 LTS installed already.

Ubuntu Light

Instant-on, dual boot installations are a new frontier for us. Over the past two years we have made great leaps forward as a first class option for PC OEM’s, who today ship millions of PC’s around the world with Ubuntu pre-installed. But traditionally, it’s been an “either/or” proposition – either Windows in markets that prefer it, or Ubuntu in markets that don’t. The dual-boot opportunity gives us the chance to put a free software foot forward even in markets where people use Windows as a matter of course.

And it looks beautiful:

Ubuntu Light

Ubuntu Light, showing the Unity launcher and panel

In those cases, Ubuntu Netbook Light, or Ubuntu Desktop Light, will give OEM’s the ability to differentiate themselves with fast-booting Linux offerings that are familiar to Ubuntu users and easy to use for new users, safe for web browsing in unprotected environments like airports and hotels, focused on doing that job very well, but upgradeable with a huge list of applications, on demand. The Light versions will also benefit from the huge amount of work done on every Ubuntu release to keep it maintained – instant-on environments need just as much protection as everyday desktops, and Ubuntu has a deep commitment to getting that right.

The Ubuntu Light range is available to OEM’s today. Each image will be hand-crafted to boot fastest on that specific hardware, the application load reduced to the minimum, and it comes with tools for Windows which assist in the management of the dual-boot experience. Initially, the focus is on the Netbook Light version based on Unity, but in future we expect to do a Light version of the desktop, too.

Given the requirement to customise the Light versions for specific hardware, there won’t be a general-purpose downloadable image of Ubuntu Light on ubuntu.com.

Evolving Unity for Ubuntu Netbook Edition 10.10

Unity exists today, and is great for the minimalist, stateless configurations that suit a dual-boot environment. But in order embrace it for our Netbook UI, we’ll need to design some new capabilities, and implement them during this cycle.

Those design conversations are taking place this week at UDS, just outside Brussels in Belgium. If you can’t be there in person, and are interested in the design challenges Unity presents for the netbook form factor, check out the conference schedule and participate in the discussion virtually.

The two primary pieces we need to put in place are:

  • Support for many more applications, and adding / removing applications. Instant-on environments are locked down, while netbook environments should support anybody’s applications, not just those favored in the Launcher.
  • Support for file management, necessary for an environment that will be the primary working space for the user rather than an occasional web-focused stopover.

We have an initial starting point for the design, called the Dash, which presents files and applications as an overlay. The inspiration for the Dash comes from consoles and devices, which use full-screen, media-rich presentation. We want the Dash to feel device-like, and use the capabilities of modern hardware.

Unity Dash

The Unity Dash, showing the Applications Place

The instant-on requirements and constraints proved very useful in shaping our thinking, but the canvas is still blank for the more general, netbook use case. Unity gives us the chance to do something profoundly new and more useful, taking advantage of ideas that have emerged in computing from the console to the handheld.

Relationship to Gnome Shell

Unity and Gnome Shell are complementary for the Gnome Project. While Gnome Shell presents an expansive view of how people work in complex environments with multiple simultaneous activities, Unity is designed to address the other end of the spectrum, where people are focused on doing one thing at any given time.

Unity does embrace the key technologies of Gnome 3: Mutter, for window management, and Zeitgeist will be an anchor component of our file management approach. The interface itself is built in Clutter.

The design seed of Unity was in place before Gnome Shell, and we decided to build on that for the instant-on work rather than adopt Gnome Shell because most of the devices we expect to ship Ubuntu Light on are netbooks. In any event, Unity represents the next step for the Ubuntu Netbook UI, optimised for small screens.

The Ubuntu Netbook interface is popular with Gnome users and we’re fortunate to be working inside an open ecosystem that encourages that level of diversity. As a result, Gnome has offerings for mobile, netbook and desktop form factors. Gnome is in the lucky position of having multiple vendors participating and solving different challenges independently. That makes Gnome stronger.

Relationship to FreeDesktop and KDE

Unity complies with freedesktop.org standards, and is helping to shape them, too. We would like KDE applications to feel welcome on a Unity-based netbook. We’re using the Ayatana indicators in the panel, so KDE applications which use AppIndicators will Just Work. And to the extent that those applications take advantage of the Messaging Menu, Sound Indicator and Me Menu, they will be fully integrated into the Unity environment. We often get asked by OEM’s how they can integrate KDE applications into their custom builds of Ubuntu, and the common frameworks of freedesktop.org greatly facilitate doing so in a smooth fashion.

Looking forward to the Maverick Meerkat

It will be an intense cycle, if we want to get all of these pieces in line. But we think it’s achievable: the new launcher, the new panel, the new implementation of the global menu and an array of indicators. Things have accelerated greatly during Lucid so if we continue at this pace, it should all come together. Here’s to a great summer of code.

In the netbook edition for 10.10, we’re going to have a single menu bar for all applications, in the panel.

Our focus on netbooks has driven much of the desktop design work at Canonical. There are a number of constraints and challenges that are particular to netbooks, and often constraints can be a source of insight and inspiration. In this case, wanting to make the most of vertical space has driven the decision to embrace the single menu approach.

It’s all about vertical pixels

Netbooks are conventionally small-and-wide-screen devices. A common screen format is 1024×600. There’s plenty of horizontal space, but not a lot of vertical space. So we’ve been lead to explore options that really make the most of the vertical space.

This is important because the main thing people do with a netbook is surf the web. And most pages will fit horizontally in a netbook screen, but they require quite a lot of vertical scrolling. The more we can optimise the use of vertical space, the more enjoyable it will be to spend time on the web, with your netbook.

In the first few iterations of Ubuntu’s netbook-oriented UI, we concentrated on collapsing the window title into the top panel. In 10.10, we’re going to put the menu there.

Only on the Netbook Edition UI

We’re going to put the menu in the panel on the netbook edition of Ubuntu, and not on the desktop edition, because that’s where the screen real-estate is most precious. There are outstanding questions about the usability of a panel-hosted menu on much larger screens, where the window and the menu could be very far apart. Those questions are greatly diminished in the netbook environment, by definition.

Also, the netbook edition has a reduced application load. That will reduce the number of applications we need to get this working on.

However, it will be straightforward to use this on your desktop too, if you want, and we’d encourage people to try with that configuration. The more testing we have early on, the better we’ll understand how it works with different applications. It will be easy to add to the standard desktop panel for people who want to try it out, or prefer to work that way.

Innovation: combining title and menu in a single panel

It’s not confirmed yet, but we will aim to go beyond what Apple and others have done with panel menus, to consolidate both the window title (and window controls) into the panel along with the menu.

By default, we’d display the contents of the title bar. When you mouse up to the panel, or when you press the Alt key, the contents would switch to the menu. That way, you’re looking at the document title most of the time, unless you move towards it to click on the menu.

In mockups and prototype testing, the result was a leaner, cleaner feeling netbook interface. Less clutter, less wasted space, and improved clarity of purpose. We’ll have to get running code in front of users to evaluate the usability of it and tweak transitions and presentation.

Generally, people use netbooks with a small set of applications running, all maximised. In that case, putting the menu in the panel will save 24 pixels, about 4% of the vertical space. Combined with other work on the netbook interface, we’re confident there is no better OS for surfing the net on your ultra-mobile netbook.

Under the hood: d-bus menu transport

The technical approach we are taking in this work is to build on the d-bus menu work that Cody Russel and Ted Gould have pioneered for our work on indicators.

Essentially, this lets us map a menu into d-bus space, where a different application can take responsibility for rendering it. The technology works across both Gtk and Qt applications, so we are confident that it will work for the common cases of GNOME and KDE apps running on the Ubuntu netbook edition.

Of course, there is a lot of work to be done to support applications that use different toolkits, notably the Mozilla suite of Firefox and Thunderbird, and OpenOffice.

And there will be many applications which need some thought as to how best to map the experience from the current world of “one menu per window” to a single, panel-displayed menu.

We’ve started working on this with the existing Global Menu project. While there are differences in the technical approach we want to take, that team has already identified many of the common issues, and there are great opportunities for us to collaborate. I’m looking forward to seeing the result in action in 10.10!