Canonical Voices

Posts tagged with 'linux'

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

My big focus during the week of UDS will be on improving our Application Developer story, tools and services.  Ubuntu 12.04 is already an excellent platform for app developers, now we need to work on spreading awareness of what we offer and polishing any rough edges we find.  Below are the list of sessions I’ll be leading or participating in that focus on these tasks.

And if you’re curious about what else I’ll be up to, my full schedule for the week can be found here: http://summit.ubuntu.com/uds-q/participant/mhall119/

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Michael Hall

Hello Unity is now open for translations!

Please help me make this technology showcase is available to application developers in your native language.  Translations are done through Launchpad, and will be built into the Hello Unity package.

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Michael Hall

One of the most requesting things since I first introduced Singlet was to have a Quickly template for creating Unity Lenses with it.  After weeks of waiting, and after upgrading Singlet to work in Precise, and getting it into the Universe repository for 12.04, I finally set to work on learning enough Quickly internals to write a template.

It’s not finished yet, and I won’t guarantee that all of Quickly’s functions work, but after a few hours of hacking I at least have a pretty good start.  It’s not packaged yet, so to try it out you will need todo the following:

  1. bzr branch lp:~mhall119/singlet/quickly-lens-template
  2. sudo ln -s ./quickly-lens-template /usr/share/quickly/templates/singlet-lens
  3. quickly create singlet-lens <your-lens-project-name>
  4. cd <your-lens-project-name>
  5. quickly package

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Michael Hall

By now you should have heard that Canonical is branching out from the desktop and has begun work on getting Ubuntu on TVs.   Lost in all the discussion of OEM partnerships and content distribution agreements is a more exciting (from my perspective) topic: Ubuntu TV shows why Unity was the right choice for Canonical to make.

The Unity Platform

Ubuntu TV doesn’t just look like Unity, it is Unity.  A somewhat different configuration, visually, from the desktop version, but fundamentally the same.  Unity isn’t just a top panel and side launcher, it is a set of technologies and APIs: Indicators, Lenses, Quick Lists, DBus menus, etc.  All of those components will be the same in Ubuntu TV as they are on the desktop, even if their presentation to the user is slightly different.  When you see Unity on tablets and phones it will be the same story.

The Developer Story

Having the same platform means that Ubuntu offers developers a single development target, whether they are writing an application for the desktop, TVs, tablets or phones.  There is only one notifications API, only one search API, only one cloud syncing API.  Nobody currently offers that kind of unified development platform across all form factors, not Microsoft, not Google, not Apple.

If you are writing the next Angry Birds or TweetDeck, would you want to target a platform that only exists on one or two form factors, or one that will allow your application to run on all of them without having to be ported or rewritten?

The Consumer Story

Anybody with multiple devices has found an application for one that isn’t available for another.  How many times have we wanted the functionality offered by one of our desktop apps available to us when we’re on the go?  How many games do you have on your phone that you’d like to have on your laptop too?  With Ubuntu powered devices you will have what you want where you want it.  Combine that with Ubuntu One and your data will flow seamlessly between them as well.

A farewell to Gnome 2

None of this would have been possible with Gnome 2.  It was a great platform for it’s time, when there was a clear distinction between computers and other devices.  Computers had medium-sized screens, a keyboard and a mouse.  They didn’t have touchscreens, they didn’t change aspect ratio when turned sideways.  Devices lacked the ability to install third party applications, the mostly lacked network connectivity, and they had very limited storage and processing capabilities.

But now laptops and desktops have touch screens, phones have multi-core, multi-GHz processors.  TVs and automobiles are both getting smarter and gaining more and more of the features of both computers and devices.  And everything is connected to the Internet.  We need a platform for this post-2010 computing landscape, something that can be equally at home with a touch screen as it is with a mouse, with a 4 inch and a 42 inch display.

Unity is that platform.

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Michael Hall

(Update 1: There seems to be some confusion about what I’m saying in this post, so let me be absolutely clear from the start: I am not questioning or criticizing Distrowatch’s data.  Their data is, as far as I know, 100% accurate.  What I’m questioning is whether or not this data is a measure of the “popularity” of any given distro, as so many news stories are claiming it is.)

(Update 2: If anybody else wants to run a story about this post, please contact me before making it sound like my blog article is somehow an official Canonical response.  I’m more than happy to have a conversation with you for the sake of accuracy.)

It seems that the tech blogs both inside and outside the Linux sphere have picked up on a graph supposedly showing a decline in the popularity of Ubuntu based on statistics from Distrowatch.  I’m not going to point out all of the flaws in these reports, or the basis of the graph in general, that has been done already here and here (especially in their comment threads).

Instead I want to take a step back for a moment and examine what the statistics are actually counting, and what that actually means for both Ubuntu and LinuxMint.

Hits per day

The numbers themselves come from the number of page views per day on Distrowatch’s page for each distro.  So if you go to http://distrowatch.com/arch you’ve added to the count for Arch.  Now the first thing this tells us is that the statistic is in no way tied to the actual number of users a distro has, just the number of people looking at that distro’s page on Distrowatch.  Now there are three possible reasons why a user might visit one of these pages:

  1. Curiosity about a distro
  2. Following a link from somewhere else
  3. Attempting to boost the hits-per-day count for a distro

I’m going to disregard #3, because I don’t believe that anybody involved with Mint is doing anything underhanded to boost these numbers.  But an examination of the other two will shed some light on what exactly is happening.

Follow that link

Even though a Distrowatch ranking isn’t connected to number of users, it’s still exciting to see your distro rise in the list, and it’s natural to want to tell people about it.  Mint does it, Ubuntu does it, lots of distros do it.  There’s nothing wrong with this, and if enough people are reading your announcement to impact the ranking, then it most likely deserves to be impacted.

But something all together different happens when 3rd party sources start sending people to your distrowatch page because of your rank.  When the Register and PC World run articles about you being on top, their readers will naturally visit your Distrowatch page, further increasing your rank, which will in turn prompt more stories about it, sending more people to your page, etc.

While I have no doubt that Mint deserves the top spot (more on that below), I think the amount of its increase has been affected by this positive feedback loop.  This cyclic reaction will likely continue for a few weeks until people finally get bored with the story, at which point I expect Mint’s numbers to fall back down into the 2500-3000 range, comfortably at #1, but well below the 7728 it’s at as I’m writing this.

The Buzz

All of which brings us back to the first reason for visiting a distrowatch page: Curiosity.  Distrowatch is a great resource for finding out about a distro, and it’s how a lot of young distros get attention.  When Qimo got a mention there, we saw a huge traffic increase, and we also rose pretty sharply in the ranking (nowhere near #1, but still something I was proud of).

But there comes a point, when a distro has become established, where the vast majority of those curious people will be going directly to the distro’s own website, rather than Distrowatch.  Nobody would deny that Red Hat is one of the most used Linux distros, but it currently ranks at #42 on Distowatch.  Suse ranks at #64.  Even the free-as-in-beer CentOS, which we all know is widely used, is only at #9.  As a general rule then, we can assume that as a distro becomes more established and gains more market and mind-share, fewer people will be going to Distrowatch to learn about it.

So what does that leave us?  I like to call it “Young Buzz”, a large amount of excitement about a relatively new (in terms of mindshare) distro.  This is something that absolutely describes LinuxMint.  As the seemingly anti-Unity distro of choice, it has been getting a lot of talk and attention and, while I disagree with the anti-Unity sentiment, Mint is certainly deserving of attention.  Its user base is growing rapidly and I hope its community is too.  They are doing some interesting work with both Gnome-Shell and the Mate, the Gnome 2 fork.  Every other distro will be keeping an eye on them, seeing what gains traction and what doesn’t, and I expect some of that to make its way upstream and into other distros as well.

What does it all mean?

Is LinutMint more popular that Ubuntu?  No, not by any measure I have seen.  Will it become more popular than Ubuntu?  I don’t know, but my gut says not anytime soon.  But Mint certainly has the most momentum, at least for the moment, and will continue to grow at a faster rate for at least the near future.

But they aren’t the first to be in the position, PCLinuxOS had much the same buzz a few years ago, but wasn’t able to maintain it.  The challenge for Mint is to keep this momentum going, and to do that they’re going to need a strong, open, supporting community that gives new users somewhere to belong in the way the Ubuntu community does.

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Michael Hall

If you’ve been doing anything with Ubuntu lately, chances are you’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about Juju.  If you’re attending UDS, then there’s also a good chance that you’ve been to one or more sessions about Juju.  But do you know it?

The building blocks for Juju are it’s “charms”, which detail exactly how to deploy and configure services in the Cloud.  Writing charms is how you harness the awesome power of Juju.  Tomorrow (Friday) there will be a 2 hour session all about writing charms, everything from what they do and how they work, to helping you get started writing your own.  Questions will be answers, minds will be inspired, things will be made, so don’t miss out.

http://summit.ubuntu.com/uds-p/meeting/19875/juju-charm-school/

(Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/slightlynorth/3977607387/)

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