Canonical Voices

Posts tagged with 'canonical'

Michael Hall

Last week I attended FOSSETCON, a new open source convention here in central Florida, and I had the opportunity to give a couple of presentations on Ubuntu phones and app development. Anybody who knows me knows that I love talking about these things, but a lot fewer people know that doing it in front of a room of people I don’t know still makes me extremely nervous. I’m an introvert, and even though I have a public-facing job and work with the wider community all the time, I’m still an introvert.

I know there are a lot of other introverts out there who might find the idea of giving presentations to be overwhelming, but they don’t have to be.  Here I’m going to give my personal experiences and advice, in the hope that it’ll encourage some of you to step out of your comfort zones and share your knowledge and talent with the rest of us at meetups and conferences.

You will be bad at it…

Public speaking is like learning how to ride a bicycle, everybody falls their first time. Everybody falls a second time, and a third. You will fidget and stutter, you will lose your train of thought, your voice will sound funny. It’s not just you, everybody starts off being bad at it. Don’t let that stop you though, accept that you’ll have bruises and scrapes and keep getting back on that bike. Coincidentally, accepting that you’re going to be bad at the first ones makes it much less frightening going into them.

… until you are good at it

I read a lot of things about how to be a good and confident public speaker, the advice was all over the map, and a lot of it felt like pure BS.  I think a lot of people try different things and when they finally feel confident in speaking, they attribute whatever their latest thing was with giving them that confidence. In reality, you just get more confident the more you do it.  You’ll be better the second time than the first, and better the third time than the second. So keep at it, you’ll keep getting better. No matter how good or bad you are now, you will keep getting better if you just keep doing it.

Don’t worry about your hands

You’ll find a lot of suggestions about how to use your hands (or not use them), how to walk around (or not walk around) or other suggestions about what to do with yourself while you’re giving your presentation. Ignore them all. It’s not that these things don’t affect your presentation, I’ll admit that they do, it’s that they don’t affect anything after your presentation. Think back about all of the presentations you’ve seen in your life, how much do you remember about how the presenter walked or waved their hands? Unless those movements were integral to the subject, you probably don’t remember much. The same will happen for you, nobody is going to remember whether you walked around or not, they’re going to remember the information you gave them.

It’s not about you

This is the one piece of advice I read that actually has helped me. The reason nobody remembers what you did with your hands is because they’re not there to watch you, they’re there for the information you’re giving them. Unless you’re an actual celebrity, people are there to get information for their own benefit, you’re just the medium which provides it to them.  So don’t make it about you (again, unless you’re an actual celebrity), focus on the topic and information you’re giving out and what it can do for the audience. If you do that, they’ll be thinking about what they’re going to do with it, not what you’re doing with your hands or how many times you’ve said “um”. Good information is a good distraction from the things you don’t want them paying attention to.

It’s all just practice

Practicing your presentation isn’t nearly as stressful as giving it, because you’re not worried about messing up. If you mess up during practice you just correct it, make a note to not make the same mistake next time, and carry on. Well if you plan on doing more public speaking there will always be a next time, which means this time is your practice for that one. Keep your eye on the presentation after this one, if you mess up now you can correct it for the next one.

 

All of the above are really just different ways of saying the same thing: just keep doing it and worry about the content not you. You will get better, your content will get better, and other people will benefit from it, for which they will be appreciative and will gladly overlook any faults in the presentation. I guarantee that you will not be more nervous about it than I was when I started.

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Michael Hall

Recognition is like money, it only really has value when it’s being passed between one person and another. Otherwise it’s just potential value, sitting idle.  Communication gives life to recognition, turning it’s potential value into real value.

As I covered in my previous post, Who do you contribute to?, recognition doesn’t have a constant value.  In that article I illustrated how the value of recognition differs depending on who it’s coming from, but that’s not the whole story.  The value of recognition also differs depending on the medium of communication.

communication_triangleOver at the Community Leadership Knowledge Base I started documenting different forms of communication that a community might choose, and how each medium has a balance of three basic properties: Speed, Thoughtfulness and Discoverability. Let’s call this the communication triangle. Each of these also plays a part in the value of recognition.

Speed

Again, much like money, recognition is something that is circulated.  It’s usefulness is not simply created by the sender and consumed by the receiver, but rather passed from one person to another, and then another.  The faster you can communicate recognition around your community, the more utility you can get out of even a small amount of it. Fast communications, like IRC, phone calls or in-person meetups let you give and receive a higher volume of recognition than slower forms, like email or blog posts. But speed is only one part, and faster isn’t necessarily better.

Thoughtfulness

Where speed emphasizes quantity, thoughtfulness is a measure of the quality of communication, and that directly affects the value of recognition given. Thoughtful communications require consideration upon both receiving and replying. Messages are typically longer, more detailed, and better presented than those that emphasize speed. As a result, they are also usually a good bit slower too, both in the time it takes for a reply to be made, and also the speed at which a full conversation happens. An IRC meeting can be done in an hour, where an email exchange can last for weeks, even if both end up with the same word-count at the end.

Discoverability

The third point on our communication triangle, discoverability, is a measure of how likely it is that somebody not immediately involved in a conversation can find out about it. Because recognition is a social good, most of it’s value comes from other people knowing who has given it to whom. Discoverability acts as a multiplier (or divisor, if done poorly) to the original value of recognition.

There are two factors to the discoverability of communication. The first, accessibility, is about how hard it is to find the conversation. Blog posts, or social media posts, are usually very easy to discover, while IRC chats and email exchanges are not. The second factor, longevity, is about how far into the future that conversation can still be discovered. A social media post disappears (or at least becomes far less accessible) after a while, but an IRC log or mailing list archive can stick around for years. Unlike the three properties of communication, however, these factors to discoverability do not require a trade off, you can have something that is both very accessible and has high longevity.

Finding Balance

Most communities will have more than one method of communication, and a healthy one will have a combination of them that compliment each other. This is important because sometimes one will offer a more productive use of your recognition than another. Some contributors will respond better to lots of immediate recognition, rather than a single eloquent one. Others will respond better to formal recognition than informal.  In both cases, be mindful of the multiplier effect that discoverability gives you, and take full advantage of opportunities where that plays a larger than usual role, such as during an official meeting or when writing an article that will have higher than normal readership.

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Michael Hall

When you contribute something as a member of a community, who are you actually giving it to? The simple answer of course is “the community” or “the project”, but those aren’t very specific.  On the one hand you have a nebulous group of people, most of which you probably don’t even know about, and on the other you’ve got some cold, lifeless code repository or collection of web pages. When you contribute, who is that you really care about, who do you really want to see and use what you’ve made?

In my last post I talked about the importance of recognition, how it’s what contributors get in exchange for their contribution, and how human recognition is the kind that matters most. But which humans do our contributors want to be recognized by? Are you one of them and, if so, are you giving it effectively?

Owners

The owner of a project has a distinct privilege in a community, they are ultimately the source of all recognition in that community.  Early contributions made to a project get recognized directly by the founder. Later contributions may only get recognized by one of those first contributors, but the value of their recognition comes from the recognition they received as the first contributors.  As the project grows, more generations of contributors come in, with recognition coming from the previous generations, though the relative value of it diminishes as you get further from the owner.

Leaders

After the project owner, the next most important source of recognition is a project’s leaders. Leaders are people who gain authority and responsibility in a project, they can affect the direction of a project through decisions in addition to direct contributions. Many of those early contributors naturally become leaders in the project but many will not, and many others who come later will rise to this position as well. In both cases, it’s their ability to affect the direction of a project that gives their recognition added value, not their distance from the owner. Before a community can grown beyond a very small size it must produce leaders, either through a formal or informal process, otherwise the availability of recognition will suffer.

Legends

Leadership isn’t for everybody, and many of the early contributors who don’t become one still remain with the project, and end of making very significant contributions to it and the community over time.  Whenever you make contributions, and get recognition for them, you start to build up a reputation for yourself.  The more and better contributions you make, the more your reputation grows.  Some people have accumulated such a large reputation that even though they are not leaders, their recognition is still sought after more than most. Not all communities will have one of these contributors, and they are more likely in communities where heads-down work is valued more than very public work.

Mentors

When any of us gets started with a community for the first time, we usually end of finding one or two people who help us learn the ropes.  These people help us find the resources we need, teach us what those resources don’t, and are instrumental in helping us make the leap from user to contributor. Very often these people aren’t the project owners or leaders.  Very often they have very little reputation themselves in the overall project. But because they take the time to help the new contributor, and because theirs is very likely to be the first, the recognition they give is disproportionately more valuable to that contributor than it otherwise would be.

Every member of a community can provide recognition, and every one should, but if you find yourself in one of the roles above it is even more important for you to be doing so. These roles are responsible both for setting the example, and keeping a proper flow, or recognition in a community. And without that flow or recognition, you will find that your flow of contributions will also dry up.

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Michael Hall

It seems a fairly common, straight forward question.  You’ve probably been asked it before. We all have reasons why we hack, why we code, why we write or draw. If you ask somebody this question, you’ll hear things like “scratching an itch” or “making something beautiful” or “learning something new”.  These are all excellent reasons for creating or improving something.  But contributing isn’t just about creating, it’s about giving that creation away. Usually giving it away for free, with no or very few strings attached.  When I ask “Why do you contribute to open source”, I’m asking why you give it away.

takemyworkThis question is harder to answer, and the answers are often far more complex than the ones given for why people simply create something. What makes it worthwhile to spend your time, effort, and often money working on something, and then turn around and give it away? People often have different intentions or goals in mind when the contribute, from benevolent giving to a community they care about to personal pride in knowing that something they did is being used in something important or by somebody important. But when you strip away the details of the situation, these all hinge on one thing: Recognition.

If you read books or articles about community, one consistent theme you will find in almost all of them is the importance of recognizing  the contributions that people make. In fact, if you look at a wide variety of successful communities, you would find that one common thing they all offer in exchange for contribution is recognition. It is the fuel that communities run on.  It’s what connects the contributor to their goal, both selfish and selfless. In fact, with open source, the only way a contribution can actually stolen is by now allowing that recognition to happen.  Even the most permissive licenses require attribution, something that tells everybody who made it.

Now let’s flip that question around:  Why do people contribute to your project? If their contribution hinges on recognition, are you prepared to give it?  I don’t mean your intent, I’ll assume that you want to recognize contributions, I mean do you have the processes and people in place to give it?

We’ve gotten very good about building tools to make contribution easier, faster, and more efficient, often by removing the human bottlenecks from the process.  But human recognition is still what matters most.  Silently merging someone’s patch or branch, even if their name is in the commit log, isn’t the same as thanking them for it yourself or posting about their contribution on social media. Letting them know you appreciate their work is important, letting other people know you appreciate it is even more important.

If you the owner or a leader in a project with a community, you need to be aware of how recognition is flowing out just as much as how contributions are flowing in. Too often communities are successful almost by accident, because the people in them are good at making sure contributions are recognized and that people know it simply because that’s their nature. But it’s just as possible for communities to fail because the personalities involved didn’t have this natural tendency, not because of any lack of appreciation for the contributions, just a quirk of their personality. It doesn’t have to be this way, if we are aware of the importance of recognition in a community we can be deliberate in our approaches to making sure it flows freely in exchange for contributions.

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Michael Hall

Technically a fork is any instance of a codebase being copied and developed independently of its parent.  But when we use the word it usually encompasses far more than that. Usually when we talk about a fork we mean splitting the community around a project, just as much as splitting the code itself. Communities are not like code, however, they don’t always split in consistent or predictable ways. Nor are all forks the same, and both the reasons behind a fork, and the way it is done, will have an effect on whether and how the community around it will split.

There are, by my observation, three different kinds of forks that can be distinguished by their intent and method.  These can be neatly labeled as Convergent, Divergent and Emergent forks.

Convergent Forks

Most often when we talk about forks in open source, we’re talking about convergent forks. A convergent fork is one that shares the same goals as its parent, seeks to recruit the same developers, and wants to be used by the same users. Convergent forks tend to happen when a significant portion of the parent project’s developers are dissatisfied with the management or processes around the project, but otherwise happy with the direction of its development. The ultimate goal of a convergent fork is to take the place of the parent project.

Because they aim to take the place of the parent project, convergent forks must split the community in order to be successful. The community they need already exists, both the developers and the users, around the parent project, so that is their natural source when starting their own community.

Divergent Forks

Less common that convergent forks, but still well known by everybody in open source, are the divergent forks.  These forks are made by developers who are not happy with the direction of a project’s development, even if they are generally satisfied with its management.  The purpose of a divergent fork is to create something different from the parent, with different goals and most often different communities as well. Because they are creating a different product, they will usually be targeting a different group of users, one that was not well served by the parent project.  They will, however, quite often target many of the same developers as the parent project, because most of the technology and many of the features will remain the same, as a result of their shared code history.

Divergent forks will usually split a community, but to a much smaller extent than a convergent fork, because they do not aim to replace the parent for the entire community. Instead they often focus more on recruiting those users who were not served well, or not served at all, by the existing project, and will grown a new community largely from sources other than the parent community.

Emergent Forks

Emergent forks are not technically forks in the code sense, but rather new projects with new code, but which share the same goals and targets the same users as an existing project.  Most of us know these as NIH, or “Not Invented Here”, projects. They come into being on their own, instead of splitting from an existing source, but with the intention of replacing an existing project for all or part of an existing user community. Emergent forks are not the result of dissatisfaction with either the management or direction of an existing project, but most often a dissatisfaction with the technology being used, or fundamental design decisions that can’t be easily undone with the existing code.

Because they share the same goals as an existing project, these forks will usually result in a split of the user community around an existing project, unless they differ enough in features that they can targets users not already being served by those projects. However, because they do not share much code or technology with the existing project, they most often grow their own community of developers, rather than splitting them from the existing project as well.

All of these kinds of forks are common enough that we in the open source community can easily name several examples of them. But they are all quite different in important ways. Some, while forks in the literal sense, can almost be considered new projects in a community sense.  Others are not forks of code at all, yet result in splitting an existing community none the less. Many of these forks will fail to gain traction, in fact most of them will, but some will succeed and surpass those that came before them. All of them play a role in keeping the wider open source economy flourishing, even though we may not like them when they affect a community we’ve been involved in building.

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Michael Hall

opplanet-tasco-usb-digital-microscope-780200tTwo years ago, my wife and I made the decision to home-school our two children.  It was the best decision we could have made, our kids are getting a better education, and with me working from home since joining Canonical I’ve been able to spend more time with them than ever before. We also get to try and do some really fun things, which is what sets the stage for this story.

Both my kids love science, absolutely love it, and it’s one of our favorite subjects to teach.  A couple of weeks ago my wife found an inexpensive USB microscope, which lets you plug it into a computer and take pictures using desktop software.  It’s not a scientific microscope, nor is it particularly powerful or clear, but for the price it was just right to add a new aspect to our elementary science lessons. All we had to do was plug it in and start exploring.

My wife has a relatively new (less than a year) laptop running windows 8.  It’s not high-end, but it’s all new hardware, new software, etc.  So when we plugged in our simple USB microscope…….it failed.  As in, didn’t do anything.  Windows seemed to be trying to figure out what to do with it, over and over and over again, but to no avail.

My laptop, however, is running Ubuntu 14.04, the latest stable and LTS release.  My laptop is a couple of years old, but classic, Lenovo x220. It’s great hardware to go with Ubuntu and I’ve had nothing but good experiences with it.  So of course, when I decided to give our new USB microsope a try……it failed.  The connection was fine, the log files clearly showed that it was being identified, but nothing was able to see it as a video input device or make use of it.

Now, if that’s where our story ended, it would fall right in line with a Shakespearean tragedy. But while both Windows and Ubuntu failed to “just work” with this microscope, both failures were not equal. Because the Windows drivers were all closed source, my options ended with that failure.

But on Ubuntu, the drivers were open, all I needed to do was find a fix. It took a while, but I eventually found a 2.5 year old bug report for an identical chipset to my microscope, and somebody proposed a code fix in the comments.  Now, the original reporter never responded to say whether or not the fix worked, and it was clearly never included in the driver code, but it was an opportunity.  Now I’m no kernel hacker, nor driver developer, in fact I probably shouldn’t be trusted to write any amount of C code at all.  But because I had Ubuntu, getting the source code of my current driver, as well as all the tools and dependencies needed to build it, took only a couple of terminal commands.  The patch was too old to cleanly apply to the current code, but it was easy enough to figure out where they should go, and after a couple tries to properly build just the driver (and not the full kernel or every driver in it), I had a new binary kernel modules that would load without error.  Then, when I plugged my USB microscope in again, it worked!

Red Onion skin at 120x magnificationPeople use open source for many reasons.  Some people use it because it’s free as in beer, for them it’s on the same level as freeware or shareware, only the cost matters. For others it’s about ethics, they would choose open source even if it cost them money or didn’t work as well, because they feel it’s morally right, and that proprietary software is morally wrong. I use open source because of USB microscopes. Because when they don’t work, open source gives me a chance to change that.

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Michael Hall

Last year the main Ubuntu download page was changed to include a form for users to make a donation to one or more parts of Ubuntu, including to the community itself. Those donations made for “Community projects” were made available to members of our community who knew of ways to use them that would benefit the Ubuntu project.

Every dollar given out is an investment in Ubuntu and the community that built it. This includes sponsoring community events, sending community representatives to those events with booth supplies and giveaway items, purchasing hardware to make improve development and testing, and more.

But these expenses don’t cover the time, energy, and talent that went along with them, without which the money itself would have been wasted.  Those contributions, made by the recipients of these funds, can’t be adequately documented in a financial report, so thank you to everybody who received funding for their significant and sustained contributions to Ubuntu.

As part of our commitment to openness and transparency we said that we would publish a report highlighting both the amount of donations made to this category, and how and where that money was being used. Linked below is the first of those reports.

View the Report

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Michael Hall

A couple of months ago Jono announced the dates for the Ubuntu Online Summit, June 10th – 12th,  and those dates are almost upon us now.  The schedule is opened, the track leads are on board, all we need now are sessions.  And that’s where you come in.

Ubuntu Online Summit is a change for us, we’re trying to mix the previous online UDS events with our Open Week, Developer Week and User Days events, to try and bring people from every part of our community together to celebrate, educate, and improve Ubuntu. So in addition to the usual planning sessions we had at UDS, we’re also looking for presentations from our various community teams on the work they do, walk-throughs for new users learning how to use Ubuntu, as well as instructional sessions to help new distro developers, app developers, and cloud devops get the most out of it as a platform.

What we need from you are sessions.  It’s open to anybody, on any topic, anyway you want to do it.  The only requirement is that you can start and run a Google+ OnAir Hangout, since those are what provide the live video streaming and recording for the event.  There are two ways you can propose a session: the first is to register a Blueprint in Launchpad, this is good for planning session that will result in work items, the second is to propose a session directly in Summit, which is good for any kind of session.  Instructions for how to do both are available on the UDS Website.

There will be Track Leads available to help you get your session on the schedule, and provide some technical support if you have trouble getting your session’s hangout setup. When you propose your session (or create your Blueprint), try to pick the most appropriate track for it, that will help it get approved and scheduled faster.

Ubuntu Development

Many of the development-oriented tracks from UDS have been rolled into the Ubuntu Development track. So anything that would previously have been in Client, Core/Foundations or Cloud and Server will be in this one track now. The track leads come from all parts of Ubuntu development, so whatever you session’s topic there will be a lead there who will be familiar with it.

Track Leads:

  • Łukasz Zemczak
  • Steve Langasek
  • Leann Ogasawara
  • Antonio Rosales
  • Marc Deslaurs

Application Development

Introduced a few cycles back, the Application Development track will continue to have a focus on improving the Ubuntu SDK, tools and documentation we provide for app developers.  We also want to introduce sessions focused on teaching app development using the SDK, the various platform services available, as well as taking a deeper dive into specifics parts of the Ubuntu UI Toolkit.

Track Leads:

  • Michael Hall
  • David Planella
  • Alan Pope
  • Zsombor Egri
  • Nekhelesh Ramananthan

Cloud DevOps

This is the counterpart of the Application Development track for those with an interest in the cloud.  This track will have a dual focus on planning improvements to the DevOps tools like Juju, as well as bringing DevOps up to speed with how to use them in their own cloud deployments.  Learn how to write charms, create bundles, and manage everything in a variety of public and private clouds.

Track Leads:

  • Jorge Castro
  • Marco Ceppi
  • Patricia Gaughen
  • Jose Antonio Rey

Community

The community track has been a stable of UDS for as long as I can remember, and it’s still here in the Ubuntu Online Summit.  However, just like the other tracks, we’re looking beyond just planning ways to improve the community structure and processes.  This time we also want to have sessions showing users how they can get involved in the Ubuntu community, what teams are available, and what tools they can use in the process.

Track Leads:

  • Daniel Holbach
  • Jose Antonio Rey
  • Laura Czajkowski
  • Svetlana Belkin
  • Pablo Rubianes

Users

This is a new track and one I’m very excited about. We are all users of Ubuntu, and whether we’ve been using it for a month or a decade, there are still things we can all learn about it. The focus of the Users track is to highlight ways to get the most out of Ubuntu, on your laptop, your phone or your server.  From detailed how-to sessions, to tips and tricks, and more, this track can provide something for everybody, regardless of skill level.

Track Leads:

  • Elizabeth Krumbach Joseph
  • Nicholas Skaggs
  • Valorie Zimmerman

So once again, it’s time to get those sessions in.  Visit this page to learn how, then start thinking of what you want to talk about during those three days.  Help the track leads out by finding more people to propose more sessions, and let’s get that schedule filled out. I look forward to seeing you all at our first ever Ubuntu Online Summit.

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Michael Hall

I’ve just finished the last day of a week long sprint for Ubuntu application development. There were many people here, designers, SDK developers, QA folks and, which excited me the most, several of the Core Apps developers from our community!

image20140520_0048I haven’t been in attendance at many conferences over the past couple of years, and without an in-person UDS I haven’t had a chance to meetup and hangout with anybody outside of my own local community. So this was a very nice treat for me personally to spend the week with such awesome and inspiring contributors.

It wasn’t a vacation though, sprints are lots of work, more work than UDS.  All of us were jumping back and forth between high information density discussions on how to implement things, and then diving into some long heads-down work to get as much implemented as we could. It was intense, and now we’re all quite tired, but we all worked together well.

I was particularly pleased to see the community guys jumping right in and thriving in what could have very easily been an overwhelming event. Not only did they all accomplish a lot of work, fix a lot of bugs, and implement some new features, but they also gave invaluable feedback to the developers of the toolkit and tools. They never cease to amaze me with their talent and commitment.

It was a little bitter-sweet though, as this was also the last sprint with Jono at the head of the community team.  As most of you know, Jono is leaving Canonical to join the XPrize foundation.  It is an exciting opportunity to be sure, but his experience and his insights will be sorely missed by the rest of us. More importantly though he is a friend to so many of us, and while we are sad to see him leave, we wish him all the best and can’t wait to hear about the things he will be doing in the future.

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Michael Hall

Bicentennial Man PosterEver since we started building the Ubuntu SDK, we’ve been trying to find ways of bringing the vast number of Android apps that exist over to Ubuntu. As with any new platform, there’s a chasm between Android apps and native apps that can only be crossed through the effort of porting.

There are simple solutions, of course, like providing an Android runtime on Ubuntu. On other platforms, those have shown to present Android apps as second-class citizens that can’t benefit from a new platform’s unique features. Worse, they don’t provide a way for apps to gradually become first-class citizens, so chasm between Android and native still exists, which means the vast majority of apps supported this way will never improve.

There are also complicates solutions, like code conversion, that try to translate Android/Java code into the native platform’s language and toolkit, preserving logic and structure along the way. But doing this right becomes such a monumental task that making a tool to do it is virtually impossible, and the amount of cleanup and checking needed to be done by an actual developer quickly rises to the same level of effort as a manual port would have. This approach also fails to take advantage of differences in the platforms, and will re-create the old way of doing things even when it doesn’t make sense on the new platform.

Screenshot from 2014-04-19 14:44:22NDR takes a different approach to these, it doesn’t let you run our Android code on Ubuntu, nor does it try to convert your Android code to native code. Instead NDR will re-create the general framework of your Android app as a native Ubuntu app, converting Activities to Pages, for example, to give you a skeleton project on which you can build your port. It won’t get you over the chasm, but it’ll show you the path to take and give you a head start on it. You will just need to fill it in with the logic code to make it behave like your Android app. NDR won’t provide any of logic for you, and chances are you’ll want to do it slightly differently than you did in Android anyway, due to the differences between the two platforms.

Screenshot from 2014-04-19 14:44:31To test NDR during development, I chose the Telegram app because it was open source, popular, and largely used Android’s layout definitions and components. NDR will be less useful against apps such as games, that use their own UI components and draw directly to a canvas, but it’s pretty good at converting apps that use Android’s components and UI builder.

After only a couple days of hacking I was able to get NDR to generate enough of an Ubuntu SDK application that, with a little bit of manual cleanup, it was recognizably similar to the Android app’s.

This proves, in my opinion, that bootstrapping an Ubuntu port based on Android source code is not only possible, but is a viable way of supporting Android app developers who want to cross that chasm and target their apps for Ubuntu as well. I hope it will open the door for high-quality, native Ubuntu app ports from the Android ecosystem.  There is still much more NDR can do to make this easier, and having people with more Android experience than me (that would be none) would certainly make it a more powerful tool, so I’m making it a public, open source project on Launchpad and am inviting anybody who has an interest in this to help me improve it.

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Michael Hall

I’ve been using Ubuntu on my only phone for over six months now, and I’ve been loving it. But all this time it’s been missing something, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then, Saturday night, it finally hit me, it’s missing the community.

That’s not to say that the community isn’t involved in building it, all of the core apps have been community developed, as have several parts of our toolkit and even the platform itself. Everything about Ubuntu for phones is open source and open to the community.

But the community wasn’t on my phone. Their work was, but not the people.  I have Facebook and Google+ and Twitter, sure, but everybody is on those, and you have to either follow or friend people there to see anything from them. I wanted something that put the community of Ubuntu phone users, on my Ubuntu phone. So, I started to make one.

Community Cast

Community Cast is a very simple, very basic, public message broadcasting service for Ubuntu. It’s not instant messaging, or social networking. It doesn’t to chat rooms or groups. It isn’t secure, at all.  It does just one thing, it lets you send a short message to everybody else who uses it. It’s a place to say hello to other users of Ubuntu phone (or tablet).  That’s it, that’s all.

As I mentioned at the start, I only realized what I wanted Saturday night, but after spending just a few hours on it, I’ve managed to get a barely functional client and server, which I’m making available now to anybody who wants to help build it.

Server

The server piece is a very small Django app, with a single BroadcastMessage data model, and the Django Rest Framework that allows you to list and post messages via JSON. To keep things simple, it doesn’t do any authentication yet, so it’s certainly not ready for any kind of production use.  I would like it to get Ubuntu One authentication information from the client, but I’m still working out how to do that.  I threw this very basic server up on our internal testing OpenStack cloud already, but it’s running the built-in http server and an sqlite3 database, so if it slows to a crawl or stops working don’t be surprised.  Like I said, it’s not production ready.  But if you want to help me get it there, you can get the code with bzr branch lp:~mhall119/+junk/communitycast-server, then just run syncdb and runserver to start it.

Client

The client is just as simple and unfinished as the server (I’ve only put a few hours into them both combined, remember?), but it’s enough to use. Again there’s no authentication, so anybody with the client code can post to my server, but I want to use the Ubuntu Online Accounts to authenticate a user via their Ubuntu One account. There’s also no automatic updating, you have to press the refresh button in the toolbar to check for new messages. But it works. You can get the code for it with bzr branch lp:~mhall119/+junk/communitycast-client and it will by default connect to my test instance.  If you want to run your own server, you can change the baseUrl property on the MessageListModel to point to your local (or remote) server.

Screenshots

There isn’t much to show, but here’s what it looks like right now.  I hope that there’s enough interest from others to get some better designs for the client and help implementing them and filling out the rest of the features on both the client and server.

communitycast-client-1communitycast-client-2communitycast-client-3

Not bad for a few hours of work.  I have a functional client and server, with the server even deployed to the cloud. Developing for Ubuntu is proving to be extremely fast and easy.

 

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Michael Hall

Screenshot from 2014-03-20 21:57:06Yesterday we made a big step towards developing a native email client for Ubuntu, which uses the Ubuntu UI Toolkit and will converge between between phones, tablets and the desktop from the start.

We’re not starting from scratch though, we’re building on top of the incredible work done in the Trojitá project.  Trojitá provides a fast, light email client built with Qt, which made it ideal for using with Ubuntu. And yesterday, the first of that work was accepted into upstream, you can now build an Ubuntu Components front end to Trojitá.

None of this would have been possible without the help up Trojitá’s upstream developer Jan Kundrát, who patiently helped me learn the codebase, and also the basics of CMake and Git so that I could make this first contribution. It also wouldn’t have been possible without the existing work by Ken VanDine and Joseph Mills, who both worked on the build configuration and some initial QML code that I used. Thanks also to Dan Chapman for working together with me to get this contribution into shape and accepted upstream.

This is just the start, now comes the hard work of actually building the new UI with the Ubuntu UI Toolkit.  Andrea Del Sarto has provided some fantastic UI mockups already which we can use as a start, but there’s still a need for a more detailed visual and UX design.  If you want to be part of that work, I’ve documented how to get the code and how to contribute on the EmailClient wiki.  You can also join the next IRC meeting at 1400 UTC today in #ubuntu-touch-meeting on Freenode.

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Michael Hall

Starting at 1400 UTC today, and continuing all week long, we will be hosting a series of online classes covering many aspects of Ubuntu application development. We have experts both from Canonical and our always amazing community who will be discussing the Ubuntu SDK, QML and HTML5 development, as well as the new Click packaging and app store.

You can find the full schedule here: http://summit.ubuntu.com/appdevweek-1403/

We’re using a new format for this year’s app developer week.  As you can tell from the link above, we’re using the Summit website.  It will work much like the virtual UDS, where each session will have a page containing an embedded YouTube video that will stream the presenter’s hangout, an embedded IRC chat window that will log you into the correct channel, and an Etherpad document where the presenter can post code examples, notes, or any other text.

Use the chatroom like you would an Ubuntu On Air session, start your questions with “QUESTION:” and wait for the presenter to get to it. After the session is over, the recorded video will be available on that page for you to replay later. If you register yourself as attending on the website (requires a Launchpad profile), you can mark yourself as attending those sessions you are interested in, and Summit can then give you a personalize schedule as well as an ical feed you can subscribe to in your calendar.

If you want to use the embedded Etherpad, make sure you’re a member of https://launchpad.net/~ubuntu-etherpad

That’s it!  Enjoy the session, ask good questions, help others when you can, and happy hacking.

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Michael Hall

Today we announced the start of the next Ubuntu App Showdown, and I have very high hopes for the kinds of apps we’ll see this time around. Our SDK has grown by leaps and bounds since the last one, and so much more is possible now. So go get yourself started now: http://developer.ubuntu.com/apps/

Earlier today Jono posted his Top 5 Dream Ubuntu Apps, and they all sound great.  I don’t have any specific apps I’d like to see, but I would love to get some multi-player games.  Nothing fancy, nothing 3D or FPS.  Think more like Draw Something or Words With Friends, something casual, turn-based, that lets me connect with other Ubuntu device users. A clone of one of those would be fun, but let’s try and come up with something original, something unique to Ubuntu.

What do you say, got any good ideas?  If you do, post them in the App Showdown subreddit or our Google+ App Developers community and let’s make it happen.

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Michael Hall

It’s been a crazy busy week, and it’s only Tuesday (as of this writing)!  Because I’m exhausted, this is going to be a short post listing the things that are new.

New Roof

I wrote earlierthat I was having a new roof put on my house.  Well that all starter unceremoniously at 7:30am on Monday, and the hammering over my head has been going on non-stop for two full working days.  Everybody who joined me on a Google+ Hangout has been regaled with the sounds of my torment.  It looks nice though, so there’s that.

New Developer Portal

Well, new-ish.  We heavily revamped the Apps section to include more walk-through content to help new Ubuntu app developers learn the tools, the process and the platform.  If you haven’t been there yet, you really should give it a read and get yourself started: http://developer.ubuntu.com/apps/

New HTML5 APIs

In addition to the developer portal itself, I was able to publish new HTML5 API docs for the 14.04 release of Ubuntu.  Not only does this include the UbuntuUI library from the previous release, it also introduced new platform APIs for Content Hub, Online Accounts and Alarms, with more platform APIs coming soon.  The Cordova 3.4 API docs are proving harder to parse and upload than I anticipated, but I will hopefully have them published soon. If you’re an HTML5 app developer, you’ll be interested in these: http://developer.ubuntu.com/api/html5/sdk-14.04/

New Scopes

While not exactly a secret, we did start to make some noise about the new Scopes framework and Unity Dash that bring in a lot of improvements. As much as I liked the Home lens searching everything and aggregating results, it just wasn’t reaching the potential we had hoped for it.  The new setup will allow scopes to add more information that is specific to their result types, control how those results are displayed, and more clearly brand themselves to let the user know what’s being searched. You can read more about the enhancements at http://developer.ubuntu.com/2014/02/introducing-our-new-scopes-technology/ Like I said, it’s been a crazy busy week.  And we’re not done yet!

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Michael Hall

There’s been a lot of talk about Ubuntu’s phone and tablet development over the last year, and it’s great that it’s getting so much attention, but people have been getting the name of it all wrong. Now, to be fair, this is a problem entirely of our own making, we started off talking about the phone (and later tablet) developments as “Ubuntu Touch”, and put most of the information about on our wiki under a page named Touch.  But there is no Ubuntu Touch! It’s not a separate OS or platform, there is only one OS and it’s simply called Ubuntu.

Ubuntu 14.04 Stack

What people are referring to when they say Touch or Ubuntu Touch, is really just Ubuntu with Unity 8.  Other than the shell (and display server that powers it), it’s the same OS as you get on your desktop.

Everything under the hood is the same: same tools, same filesystem, even the same version of them, because it’s all built from the same source. Calendar data is stored in the same place, audio and video is played through the same system, even the Unity APIs are shared between desktop and phone.

So why is the name important?  Not only is it more accurate to call them both Ubuntu, it’s also one of the (in my opinion) most exciting things about having an Ubuntu phone.  You’re not getting a stripped down embedded Linux OS, or something so customized for phones that it’s useless on your desktop.  You’re getting a fully featured, universal operating system, one that can do everything you need from a phone and everything you need from a desktop.

Future Ubuntu Stack

This is the key to Ubuntu’s convergence strategy, something that nobody else has right now. Android makes a terrible desktop OS.  So does iOS.  Chrome OS won’t work for a phone either, nor OSX. Even Microsoft has built two different platforms for mobile and desktop, even if they’ve slapped the same interface on both.

But with Ubuntu, once Unity 8 comes to the desktop, you will have the same OS, the same platform, on all of your devices. And while you will run the same version of Unity on both, Unity 8 is smart enough to change how it looks and how it works to meet the needs and capabilities of what you’re running it on.  Better still, Unity will be able to make these changes at run time, so if you dock your convertible tablet to a keyboard, it will automatically switch from giving you a tablet interface to a desktop interface. All of your running apps keep running, but thanks to the Ubuntu SDK those too will automatically adjust to work as desktop apps.

So while “Ubuntu Touch” may have been a useful distinction in the beginning, it isn’t anymore.  Instead, if you need to differentiate between desktop and mobile versions of Ubuntu, you should refer to “Unity 8″ if talking about the interface, or “Ubuntu for phones” (or tablet) if you’re talking about device images or hardware enablement. And if you’re a developer and you are talking about the platform APIs or capabilities, you’re talking about the “Ubuntu SDK”, which is already available on both desktop and mobile installs of Ubuntu.

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Michael Hall

Ubuntu API Website

For much of the past year I’ve been working on the Ubuntu API Website, a Django project for hosting all of the API documentation for the Ubuntu SDK, covering a variety of languages, toolkits and libraries.  It’s been a lot of work for just one person, to make it really awesome I’m going to need help from you guys and gals in the community.

To help smooth the onramp to getting started, here is a breakdown of the different components in the site and how they all fit together.  You should grab a copy of the branch from Launchpad so you can follow along by running: bzr branch lp:ubuntu-api-website

Django

First off, let’s talk about the framework.  The API website uses Django, a very popular Python webapp framework that’s also used by other community-run Ubuntu websites, such as Summit and the LoCo Team Portal, which makes it a good fit. A Django project consists of one or more Django “apps”, which I will cover below.  Each app consists of “models”, which use the Django ORM (Object-Relational Mapping) to handle all of the database interactions for us, so we can stick to just Python and not worry about SQL.  Apps also have “views”, which are classes or functions that are called when a URL is requested.  Finally, Django provides a default templating engine that views can use to produce HTML.

If you’re not familiar with Django already, you should take the online Tutorial.  It only takes about an hour to go through it all, and by the end you’ll have learned all of the fundamental things about building a Django site.

Branch Root

When you first get the branch you’ll see one folder and a handful of files.  The folder, developer_network, is the Django project root, inside there is all of the source code for the website.  Most of your time is going to be spent in there.

Also in the branch root you’ll find some files that are used for managing the project itself. Most important of these is the README file, which gives step by step instructions for getting it running on your machine. You will want to follow these instructions before you start changing code. Among the instructions is using the requirements.txt file, also in the branch root, to setup a virtualenv environment.  Virtualenv lets you create a Python runtime specifically for this project, without it conflicting with your system-wide Python installation.

The other files you can ignore for now, they’re used for packaging and deploying the site, you won’t need them during development.

./developer_network/

As I mentioned above, this folder is the Django project root.  It has sub-folders for each of the Django apps used by this project. I will go into more detail on each of these apps below.

This folder also contains three important files for Django: manage.py, urls.py and settings.py

manage.py is used for a number of commands you can give to Django.  In the README you’ll have seen it used to call syncdbmigrate and initdb.  These create the database tables, apply any table schema changes, and load them with initial data. These commands only need to be run once.  It also has you run collectstatic and runserver. The first collects static files (images, css, javascript, etc) from all of the apps and puts them all into a single ./static/ folder in the project root, you’ll need to run that whenever you change one of those files in an app.  The second, runserver, runs a local HTTP server for your app, this is very handy during development when you don’t want to be bothered with a full Apache server. You can run this anytime you want to see your site “live”.

settings.py contains all of the Django configuration for the project.  There’s too much to go into detail on here, and you’ll rarely need to touch it anyway.

urls.py is the file that maps URLs to an application’s views, it’s basically a list of regular-expressions that try to match the requested URL, and a python function or class to call for that match. If you took the Django project tutorial I recommended above, you should have a pretty good understanding of what it does. If you ever add a new view, you’ll need to add a corresponding line to this file in order for Django to know about it. If you want to know what view handles a given URL, you can just look it up here.

./developer_network/ubuntu_website/

If you followed the README in the branch root, the first thing it has you do is grab another bzr branch and put it in ./developer_network/ubuntu_website.  This is a Django app that does nothing more than provide a base template for all of your project’s pages. It’s generic enough to be used by other Django-powered websites, so it’s kept in a separate branch that each one can pull from.  It’s rare that you’ll need to make changes in here, but if you do just remember that you need to push you changes branch to the ubuntu-community-webthemes project on Launchpad.

./developer_network/rest_framework/

This is a 3rd party Django app that provides the RESTful JSON API for the site. You should not make changes to this app, since that would put us out of sync with the upstream code, and would make it difficult to pull in updates from them in the future.  All of the code specific to the Ubuntu API Website’s services are in the developer_network/service/ app.

./developer_network/search/

This app isn’t being used yet, but it is intended for giving better search functionality to the site. There are some models here already, but nothing that is being used.  So if searching is your thing, this is the app you’ll want to work in.

./developer_network/related/

This is another app that isn’t being used yet, but is intended to allow users to link additional content to the API documentation. This is one of the major goals of the site, and a relatively easy area to get started contributing. There are already models defined for code snippets, Images and links. Snippets and Links should be relatively straightforward to implement. Images will be a little harder, because the site runs on multiple instances in the cloud, and each instance will need access to the image, so we can’t just use the Django default of saving them to local files. This is the best place for you to make an impact on the site.

./developer_network/common/

The common app provides views for logging in and out of the app, as well as views for handling 404 and 500 errors when the arise.  It also provides some base models the site’s page hierarchy. This starts with a Topic at the top, which would be qml or html5 in our site, followed by a Version which lets us host different sets of docs for the different supported releases of Ubuntu. Finally each set of docs is placed within a Section, such as Graphical Interface or Platform Service to help the user browse them based on use.

./developer_network/apidocs/

This app provides models that correspond directly to pieces of documentation that are being imported.  Documentation can be imported either as an Element that represents a specific part of the API, such as a class or function, or as a Page that represents long-form text on how to use the Elements themselves.  Each one of these may also have a given Namespace attached to it, if the imported language supports it, to further categorize them.

./developer_network/web/

Finally we get into the app that is actually generates the pages.  This app has no models, but uses the ones defined in the common and apidocs apps.  This app defines all of the views and templates used by the website’s pages, so no matter what you are working on there’s a good chance you’ll need to make changes in here too. The templates defined here use the ones in ubuntu_website as a base, and then add site and page specific markup for each.

Getting Started

If you’re still reading this far down, congratulations! You have all the information you need to dive in and start turning a boring but functional website into a dynamic, collaborative information hub for Ubuntu app developers. But you don’t need to go it alone, I’m on IRC all the time, so come find me (mhall119) in #ubuntu-website or #ubuntu-app-devel on Freenode and let me know where you want to start. If you don’t do IRC, leave a comment below and I’ll respond to it. And of course you can find the project, file bugs (or pick bugs to fix) and get the code all from the Launchpad project.

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Michael Hall

It may surprise some of you (not really) to learn that in addition to being a software geek, I’m also a sci-fi nerd. One of my current guilty pleasures is the British Sci-Fi hit Doctor Who. I’m not alone in this, I know many of you reading this are fans of the show too.  Many of my friends from outside the floss-o-sphere are, and some of them record a weekly podcast on the subject.

Tonight one of them was over at my house for dinner, and I was reminded of Stuart Langridge’s post about making a Bad Voltage app and how he had a GenericPodcastApp component that provided common functionality with a clean separation from the rest of his app. So I decided to see how easy it would be to make a DWO Whocast app with it.  Turns out, it was incredibly easy.

Here are the steps I took:

  1. Create a new project in QtCreator
  2. Download Stuart’s GenericPodcastApp.qml into my project’s ./components/ folder
  3. Replace the template’s Page components with GenericPodcastApp
  4. Customize the necessary fields
  5. Add a nice icon and Suru-style gradients for good measure

That’s it! All told it took my less than 10 minutes to put the app together, test it, show it off, and submit my Click package to the store.  And the app doesn’t look half bad either.  Think about that, 10 minutes to get from an idea to the store.  It would have been available to download too if automatic reviews were working in the store (coming soon).

That’s the power of the Ubuntu SDK. What can you do with it in 10 minutes?

Update: Before this was even published this morning the app was reviewed, approved, and available in the store.  You can download it now on your Ubuntu phone or tablet.

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Michael Hall

Yesterday, in a conference call with the press followed immediately by a public Town Hall with the community, Canonical announced the first two hardware manufacturers who are going to ship Ubuntu on smartphones!

Now many have speculated on why we think we can succeed where so many giants have failed.  It’s a question we see quite a bit, actually.  If Microsoft, RIM/Blackberry and HP all failed, what makes us think we can succeed?  It’s simple math, really.  We’re small.  Yeah, that’s it, we’re just small.

Unlike those giants who tried and failed, we don’t need to dominate the market to be successful. Even just 1% of the market would be enough to sustain and continue the development of Ubuntu for phones, and probably help cover the cost of developing it for desktops too.  The server side is already paying for itself.  Because we’re small and diversified, we don’t need to win big in order to win at all.  And 1%, that’s a very reachable target.

 

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Michael Hall

Today I reached another milestone in my open source journey: I got my first package uploaded into Debian’s archives.  I’ve managed to get packages uploaded into Ubuntu before, and I’ve attempted to get one into Debian, but this is the first time I’ve actually gotten a contribution in that would benefit Debian users.

I couldn’t have done with without the the help and mentorship of Paul Tagliamonte, but I was also helped by a number of others in the Debian community, so a big thank you to everybody who answered my questions and walked me through getting setup with things like Alioth and re-learning how to use SVN.

One last bit of fun, I was invited to join the Linux Unplugged podcast today to talk about yesterday’s post, you can listen it it (and watch IRC comments scroll by) here: http://www.jupiterbroadcasting.com/51842/neckbeard-entitlement-factor-lup-28/

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