Canonical Voices

Posts tagged with 'foss'

Michael Hall

The Ubuntu Core Apps project has proven that the Ubuntu community is not only capable of building fantastic software, but they’re capable of the meeting the same standards, deadlines and requirements that are expected from projects developed by employees. One of the things that I think made Core Apps so successful was the project management support that they all received from Alan Pope.

Project management is common, even expected, for software developed commercially, but it’s just as often missing from community projects. It’s time to change that. I’m kicking off a new personal[1] project, I’m calling it the Ubuntu Incubator.

get_excited_banner_banner_smallThe purpose of the Incubator is to help community projects bootstrap themselves, obtain the resources they need to run their project, and put together a solid plan that will set them on a successful, sustainable path.

To that end I’m going to devote one month to a single project at a time. I will meet with the project members regularly (weekly or every-other week), help define a scope for their project, create a spec, define work items and assign them to milestones. I will help them get resources from other parts of the community and Canonical when they need them, promote their work and assist in recruiting contributors. All of the important things that a project needs, other than direct contributions to the final product.

I’m intentionally keeping the scope of my involvement very focused and brief. I don’t want to take over anybody’s project or be a co-founder. I will take on only one project at a time, so that project gets all of my attention during their incubation period. The incubation period itself is very short, just one month, so that I will focus on getting them setup, not on running them.  Once I finish with one project, I will move on to the next[2].

How will I choose which project to incubate? Since it’s my time, it’ll be my choice, but the most important factor will be whether or not a project is ready to be incubated. “Ready” means they are more than just an idea: they are both possible to accomplish and feasible to accomplish with the person or people already involved, the implementation details have been mostly figured out, and they just need help getting the ball rolling. “Ready” also means it’s not an existing project looking for a boost, while we need to support those projects too, that’s not what the Incubator is for.

So, if you have a project that’s ready to go, but you need a little help taking that first step, you can let me know by adding your project’s information to this etherpad doc[3]. I’ll review each one and let you know if I think it’s ready, needs to be defined a little bit more, or not a good candidate. Then each month I’ll pick one and reach out to them to get started.

Now, this part is important: don’t wait for me! I want to speed up community innovation, not slow it down, so even if I add your project to the “Ready” queue, keep on doing what you would do otherwise, because I have no idea when (or if) I will be able to get to yours. Also, if there are any other community leaders with project management experience who have the time and desire to help incubate one of these project, go ahead and claim it and reach out to that team.

[1] While this compliments my regular job, it’s not something I’ve been asked to do by Canonical, and to be honest I have enough Canonical-defined tasks to consume my working hours. This is me with just my community hat on, and I’m inclined to keep it that way.

[2] I’m not going to forget about projects after their month is up, but you get 100% of the time I spend on incubation during your month, after that my time will be devoted to somebody else.

[3] I’m using Etherpad to keep the process as lightweight as possible, if we need something better in the future we’ll adopt it then.

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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

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

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

Today was a distracting day for me.  My homeowner’s insurance is requiring that I get my house re-roofed[1], so I’ve had contractors coming and going all day to give me estimates. Beyond just the cost, we’ve been checking on state licensing, insurance, etc.  I’ve been most shocked at the differences in the level of professionalism from them, you can really tell the ones for whom it is a business, and not just a job.

But I still managed to get some work done today.  After a call with Francis Ginther about the API website importers, we should soon be getting regular updates to the current API docs as soon as their source branch is updated.  I will of course make a big announcement when that happens

I didn’t have much time to work on my Debian contributions today, though I did join the DPMT (Debian Python Modules Team) so that I could upload my new python-model-mommy package with the DPMT as the Maintainer, rather than trying to maintain this package on my own.  Big thanks to Paul Tagliamonte for walking me through all of these steps while I learn.

I’m now into my second week of UbBloPoMo posts, with 8 posts so far.  This is the point where the obligation of posting every day starts to overtake the excitement of it, but I’m going to persevere and try to make it to the end of the month.  I would love to hear what you readers, especially those coming from Planet Ubuntu, think of this effort.

[1] Re-roofing, for those who don’t know, involves removing and replacing the shingles and water-proofing paper, but leaving the plywood itself.  In my case, they’re also going to have to re-nail all of the plywood to the rafters and some other things to bring it up to date with new building codes.  Can’t be too safe in hurricane-prone Florida.

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Michael Hall

Quick overview post today, because it’s late and I don’t have anything particular to talk about today.

First of all, the next vUDS was announced today, we’re a bit late in starting it off but we wanted to have another one early enough to still be useful to the Trusty release cycle.  Read the linked mailinglist post for details about where to find the schedule and how to propose sessions.

I pushed another update to the API website today that does a better job balancing the 2-column view of namespaces and fixes the sub-nav text to match the WordPress side of things. This was the first deployment in a while to go off without a problem, thanks to  having a new staging environment created last time.  I’m hoping my deployment problems on this are now far behind me.

I took a task during my weekly Core Apps update call to look more into the Terminal app’s problem with enter and backspace keys, so I may be pinging some of you in the coming week about it to get some help.  You have been warned.

Finally, I decided a few weeks ago to spread out my after-hours community a activity beyond Ubuntu, and I’ve settled on the Debian new maintainers Django website as somewhere I can easily start.  I’ve got a git repo where I’m starting writing the first unit tests for that website, and as part of that I’m also working on Debian packaging for the Python model-mommy library which we use extensively in Ubuntu’s Django website. I’m having to learn (or learn more) Debian packaging, Git workflows and Debian’s processes and community, all of which are going to be good for me, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.

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Michael Hall

This is it, the final day of the Ubuntu Core Apps Hack Days!  It’s been a long but very productive run, and it doesn’t mean the end of your chance to participate.  You can always find us in #ubuntu-app-devel on Freenode IRC, and for today either myself (mhall119) or Alan Pope (popey) will be at your beck and call from 9am to 9pm to help you get setup and started working on the Core Apps.

The last of the Core Apps, and the one we will be focusing on today, is the Stock Ticker. Originally developed by independent developer Robert Steckroth, we recently invited the Stock Ticker into the Core Apps project where we have been focused on refining the UI and setting it up for automated testing.  Feature wise, the Stock Ticker was already dogfoodable when we brought it under the Core Apps umbrella:

  • Search for stocks. DONE!
  • Add stocks to your portfolio. DONE!
  • Browse current stock prices. DONE!
  • Browse stock information. DONE!

For the UI we asked community designer Lucas Romero Di Benedetto to produce some new visual designs for us, which are looking incredible!  But it’s going to take a lot of work to implement them all, so we really need some more developers, especially those who know their way around QML, to help us with this.

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Michael Hall

We only have 2 days left in the Ubuntu Core Apps Hack Days!  I hope everybody who has participated has enjoyed it and found it informative and helpful.  If you haven’t participated yet, it’s not too late!  Come join us in #ubuntu-app-devel on Freenode’s IRC network anytime from 9am to 9pm UTC and ping either myself (mhall119) or Alan Pope (popey) and we’ll help you get setup and show you where you can start contributing to the Core Apps.

Mmmmmm, Pie....Today we get another chance to play while we work, because the focus is going to be on Dropping Letters, a simple, fun, yet surprisingly addictive little app written by Stuart Langridge.  Stuart has since handed off development of the app to others, but not before having it already in perfectly usable state.  Because of it’s simplicity, our list of dogfooding requirements wasn’t very long:

  • Start a new game. DONE!
  • View high scores.

Short as the list may be, it’s only half done!  We still need to integrate a high scores screen, which means we need you Javascript and QML developers!  Dropping Letters also needs to be tested, which means Autopilot, which of course means we have something for you Python hackers too!  So come and join us today in #ubuntu-app-devel and help make this great game even better.

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Michael Hall

We’re back again for another Ubuntu Core Apps Hack Day!  As always you can find us in #ubuntu-app-devel on Freenode IRC from 9am to 9pm UTC, you can ping me (mhall119) or Alan Pope (popey) and we’ll help you get setup with a development environment and a copy of the Core Apps source code so you can start hacking.

Today’s app is one that was most requested when we announced Ubuntu on phones, and has since proven to be one of the most often used by developers and testers the like.  That’s right, I’m talking about the Terminal!  The Terminal went through very rapid development, thanks to the herculean efforts of one very talented developer, and the ability to re-use the KTerminal QML component from KDE’s Konsole project.  Because of both, the Terminal app has been dogfoodable for a while now.

  • Issue commands. DONE!
  • Use case: ssh into another computer. DONE!
  • Use case: edit a file with vi. DONE!
  • Use case: tail a log file. DONE!
  • Use case: apt-get update. DONE!

But that doesn’t mean that the work here is done.  For starters, we need to make sure that changes to the KTerminal code are submitted back upsteam, something we could certainly use some help from somebody who is familiar with either Konsole’s development specifically or KDE in general.  We also want to improve the availability of special keys like the function keys and ctrl+ combinations that are oh so useful when interacting with the command line, so anybody with QML/Javascript experience or who is familiar with the on-screen keyboard specifically would be able to help us out quite a bit here.

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Michael Hall

Last week was certainly an exciting one, between the Ubuntu Edge campaign announcement and several coworkers being at OSCON, I wasn’t able to keep the Hack Days going.  So we’ve decided to pick up where we left off this week, covering the remaining Core Apps on our list.  Just like before we’ll be hanging out in #ubuntu-app-devel on Freenode IRC from 9am to 9pm UTC, and will be more than happy to walk you through the process of getting started.

Today we’re going to work on the Document Viewer, a necessary app for most people, which is at the same time both simple and very complicated.  The app itself doesn’t require a lot of functionality, but it does need a lot of behind-the-scenes components to load and render documents of different formats.  Great progress has already been made on our dogfooding requirements list:

  • Load a text file. DONE!
  • Load an image file. DONE!
  • Load a PDF.
  • View the file. DONE!
  • Forward/back pages on PDF.
  • Pinch to zoom.

Until just yesterday, there wasn’t a released version of our desktop PDF library (Poppler) that had Qt5 bindings.  However, with the release of Poppler 0.24 yesterday, we should not be ready to start implementing the PDF support.  We also need to replace the existing C++ wrapper used to launch the app with the new Arguments QML component, but when we do that we’ll need another QML plugin that will give us the mime-type of the files that are being loaded.  And of course we need to make sure we have full Autopilot test coverage for all of these parts.  So whether your skill set is Python, QML, Javascript or C++, there is something you can contribute to on this app.

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Michael Hall

We’ve had a great week running the Ubuntu Core Apps Hack Days so far, we’ve seen several new contributors join our development teams, and lots of merge proposals coming in and landing.  But we’re not done yet, we’ll be in #ubuntu-app-devel again today from 9am to 9pm UTC to help anybody who is interested in getting started contributing to these apps.

Today we’ll be focusing on an app that may not be high on the average user’s list of mobile apps, but is indispensable for anybody working on a ported image or writing an app for Ubuntu Touch, that is the File Manager App!

Thanks to reusing the Folder List Model QML Plugin from the Nemo Mobile project, the File Manager developers were able to get a very functional application working in a very short amount of time.  That means that our dogfooding list is already complete!

  • Browse folders. DONE!
  • View files within folders. DONE!
  • View file information. DONE!
  • Copy files. DONE!
  • Delete files. DONE!
  • Move files. DONE!

But don’t let that list fool you, there’s still plenty of work to be done.  The biggest one is making sure that any changes we’ve made to the Nemo plugin are sent back upstream.  If anybody from the Nemo project can help us with this, please find me (mhall119 on IRC).  We also need to make sure we have full Autopilot test coverage, and fix any remaining bugs that have been reported.

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Michael Hall

I hope you all enjoyed spending some time playing Sudoku yesterday, because we’re back to work again for another Ubuntu Core App Hack Day!  As always you can find us in #ubuntu-app-devel on Freenode IRC from 9am to 9pm UTC to answer all of your app hacking questions, help get you setup and started contributing, or just generally discuss how to write Ubuntu Touch apps in general.

Today we leave behind yesterday’s light hearted fun and games and turn to the (only slightly) more serious work of reading news with the RSS Reader app!  Another one of the original Core Apps, the RSS Reader got some unexpected designs from the Canonical Design team that converted it from the typical list-of-headlines to a beautiful organic grid seen here.

Because of these very recent and very major changes to the UI, there’s a lot of work to be done to get all of the previous functionality working again at the same level.  For dogfooding the RSS Reader, these are our goals:

  • Add a feed.
  • Browse feeds. DONE!
  • View a feed.
  • Select an item to view from within the feed.

Because of the major changes, this app can use a lot of help from people who are simply willing to use it and report bugs so that the developers (and all of you new contributors) have a list of things to work on.  Then we need you QML/Javascript hackers to pick things from that list and start making and submitting your fixes.  Finally we need Autopilot tests written or updated for this new look, so I’m looking at you Python guys and gals to lend us a hand too.

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Michael Hall

We’re continuing our Ubuntu Core Apps Hack Days again today in the #ubuntu-app-devel channel on Freenode IRC, from 9am to 9pm UTC.  If you want to learn more about the Core Apps and how you can get involved, jump into the channel and give myself (mhall119), Alan Pope (popey) or David Planella (dpm) a shout.

We’ve been working hard on the Core Apps lately, which is why I’m glad that today we get spend time on something a little more fun: the Sudoku App!  Sudoku was originally developed outside of the Core Apps umbrella, but it progressed so quickly and fit Ubuntu Touch so well, that we invited it’s developer to join the rest of our Core Apps.

Sudoku was so far along before joining the Core Apps, that our dogfooding list was already largely complete:

  • Start a new game DONE!
  • Record and display game statistics DONE!
  • Provide hints DONE!

But even as complete as it is, there are still a few bugs to squash and some final Autopilot tests to write, so if you have QML and Javascript skills or Python skills and can spare a little bit of your time, you can help us put the finishing touches on this classic game.  And if you want to help us, you know, “test” it for a few hours of your day, we’ll totally consider that a contribution too.

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