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.

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!