Canonical Voices

Posts tagged with 'canonical'


Recently there has been some concerns about the privacy of the new feature we recently added to the dash in which it can query external resources to provide related results. I just wanted to follow up with some further details about how these searches are performed, the privacy protections that are put in place, and further work going on.

I reached out to John Lenton, who is the Senior Engineering Manager in the Online Services team at Canonical. He was responsible for building the technology that handles the searches from the dash. He says:

When performing a search, you expose no more information to Canonical than the originating IP of your request, the search terms you enter, and the result you click on (if any). We don’t perform any kind of “tracking”; there is nothing really user-identifyable there…the IP address is unreliable for this, and isn’t relied on other than for collapsing multiple searches into one in the reporting, and even this is after passing it through a one-way hash.

Searches are currently performed over plain HTTP to our servers in a data-centre in either London or the USA, and then forwarded to the upstream providers appropriate to the originating request’s geolocation. The only potentially identifying bit of information, the IP address of the originating request, is not forwarded unless explicitly required to perform the search (so far, only one of 20+ upstream providers requires this: the Headweb video source for scandinavian countries needs to do its own geoip).

We appreciate some of the community concerns about these searches operating unencrypted and we are currently working to encrypt these dash searches ready for the release of this feature in Ubuntu 12.10. This should resolve most of the concerns shared about unencrypted traffic.

In terms of logging, the raw httpd logs are only visible to a small group of people whose job requires that they have access and who are trained in respecting people’s privacy in accordance to European law on this matter. The searches themselves, stripped of the IP addresses (replacing them with a one-way hash) are made available to a slightly larger group of people to enable statistical reporting. Because not only the search but also clicking on a result reaches our server (where it is redirected to whatever is appropriate), we will be able to infer what search results people want when searching for particular terms, and at some point in the future this will be used to help us provide better, more relevant results. This statistical gathering of a mapping of search terms to clicked search results is not done yet but will be done soon”.

Please feel free to follow up with any further questions, and we will try to get them answered.

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In the last few days there has been some discussion in the community about some improvements that have been added to the dash in Ubuntu 12.10. I wanted to take a few minutes to share some thoughts about these improvements and some of the concerns raised.

If you are anything like me, you are both a producer and consumer. At work and in your hobbies you are likely producing content, and Ubuntu and the many Open Source and commercial applications in the Ubuntu Software Center have long provided plenty of choice for producing great content. In recent years we at Canonical have also invested extensively in adding features in Unity to help make creating things as simple and effective as possible. In Ubuntu 12.04, a good example of this was the HUD, something that I used with the Gimp to produce this blog entry:

The HUD puts search at your fingertips to make operating your productivity applications and your desktop more efficient. Search is a core value in Ubuntu with Unity, and another core goal is that our users should be able to put the dash at the center of their world in being able to find content.

For the producers among you, Unity has long done this. Unity will search your computer and find documents, presentations, applications, and other content and the applications used to create and manage this content.

But we are not just producers. We are all consumers too. I love Breaking Bad, The West Wing, Mission Impossible, and The Allman Brothers. I love watching shows, listening to music, and watching content on YouTube and elsewhere. I enjoy being a consumer, and I want my desktop to be at the heart of where I not only work, but also where I also play.

The new features that have been added to the dash help to expand it’s functionality to not only searching your computer but also online too. The result of these improvements is that Ubuntu has now been improved to provide quick access to a wealth of consumer content available to me. Let’s take a quick look.

As an example, I have a lot of music on my computer and I listen to it with Rhythmbox, but there is a lot more music that I don’t have. On Friday night I went to see the awesome Gov’t Mule, and they remind me a lot of the Allman Brothers. So, I get back from the show and I want to listen them and maybe buy some Allman brothers music too. By searching in the dash I can find all the music I own but also see other albums that might interest me:

The More suggestions section at the bottom is part of the new feature that landed in the dash. I can now see content that relates to my search. This is not advertising: this is content related directly to something I am interested in.

I can now right-click an album and see more information:

Here I can see the songs that are on the album with a single click. If I hover over the songs I can click them and hear a quick snippet of the music.

Here Ubuntu has helped me find interesting and new content without having to perform countless Google searches, navigate through various music websites and all their advertising and other such nonsense. It was all integrated right into the Ubuntu desktop.

This also applies to videos, TV shows, and movies. I love to watch shows, and I can search for shows right within the video lens. As an example, I love Mission Impossible, and I can find related content right within the dash:

Again, this not only searches content on my computer, but also multiple online resources. As such I can see YouTube videos as well as paid content that I can purchase from Amazon. Once again, the content is related to whatever I am interested in and searching for. Again, if I right click an item I can see more information:

Both of these features are integrating content that I care about as a consumer right into my desktop. Speaking personally, I love this. This is helping me to browse and consume content more easily than ever before.

One aspect of this new feature that some folks have found a little controversial is that the dash also exposes content from Amazon in the home screen. As an example, as I have written about previously, I am getting really into BBQ right now. If I perform a search in my dash for BBQ I now see the following content:

Here you can see that the dash shows content on my computer (such as the photos I took of my recent cooks), but it also provides some recommendations of products that might relate to my search. Once again this allows the dash to provide visibility on the world both on my computer and outside it.

If any of you are like me and my wife, Amazon is part of our life. We buy products from there all the time (particularly with Amazon Prime), and as such, I often find myself browsing Amazon for products that I am interested in. We even get our coffee regularly shipped to us from Amazon. Now these products are integrated into my regular workflow and I can see products that might help me with the content or topics I am searching for in the dash. Of course, in many cases these products won’t be of interest, but you can simply ignore them; the dash is not intrusive and does not prioritize the product searches over your local content, it merely provides some suggestions of things you might be interested in.

All in all, I personally feel these features add a lot of value to Ubuntu; I feel they make the dash a lot more useful and interesting, and they save me time in finding the content I am interested in both on and offline.

Now, some folks have expressed some concerns about the fact that products are appearing in the dash. It is no secret that for each product sold (not searched) from Amazon or the Ubuntu One Music Store, Canonical takes a small cut. This affiliate revenue is a useful way in which we can generate revenue that we can continue to invest into the Ubuntu project to build new features, maintain our infrastructure, and improve Ubuntu.

Importantly, these music, video, and product suggestions are not advertising, they are search results that relate directly to the content you are searching for in the dash, and these results are presented in a non-intrusive manner.

Now, some of you may have a fundamental objection to Canonical making money from Ubuntu. When I hear this feedback, I usually translate it in my mind to “I have an objection to a company abusing a Free Software Operating System with revenue-generating content“. While I am certainly sympathetic to us not abusing Ubuntu and filling it with adware, bloatware, and crapware, I don’t think there is anything wrong with providing services and content that is strongly related to the needs and interests of Ubuntu users and that can generate revenue to continue the investment in Ubuntu.

If we are going to continue to pay the salaries of hundreds of developers to build new features, continue to maintain and improve Ubuntu, and provide the infrastructure, support, security updates and other content, we need to find ways of making the project self-sustaining from a revenue perspective. Making money is not a bug, abusing Ubuntu with crass irrelevant revenue-generating crap-ware is, and this is why we feel these new features are appropriate: they provide related content and opportunity for our users to acquire those products and help support the project.

I can understand some of the concerns from our community about these features, but I would encourage you to try Ubuntu 12.10 before you make your mind up. These features are neatly and unobtrusively integrated into the dash, and they not only provide a more useful and comprehensive dash in giving you visibility on this content, but it also generates revenue to help continue to grow and improve Ubuntu. :-)

UPDATE: For more details on the privacy side of this feature, see this post.

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I just wanted to let you folks know that unfortunately I won’t be joining you in person at the next Ubuntu Developer Summit in Copenhagen in October. The timing of the event is too close for comfort to the due date for our first baby and the timing unfortunately means I can’t attend UDS without risking missing the birth.

Much as I am hugely excited about being a father, I am also really disappointed I won’t be there at UDS in person. UDS is one of my favorite places to be in the world, and although I won’t be there in person, if the baby is not born yet, I will be there remotely and working European hours from California. Sleep is for the weak.

In terms of logistics, I have asked Daniel Holbach to run the community track in my absence as well as Nicholas Skaggs running the QA track and David Planella running a new App Developers track. We recently finalized the sponsorship list for the event and it is going to be a fantastic UDS – I look forward to seeing you there remotely!

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Recently I have been working with David Planella and Michael Hall on my team around a new specification for empowering app developers to deliver their content in Ubuntu. This post provides some background information around this work and the problem it seeks to solve.

Like many of you, I am hugely proud of the progress we have made with Ubuntu over the years. We have worked together to create a simple, powerful experience underlined with the foundation of our core Ubuntu values of creating a free platform, available to all, in your language, irrespective of (dis)ability.

While our platform has been growing and maturing, in recent years we have been presented with a new challenge that we need to solve: making it simple for content creators to deliver their content in Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is not the only thing that is maturing. Mother nature needs a helping hand to keep this solid slab o’ Bacon in it’s prime.

A Little History

When Ubuntu was started the competitive landscape was very different. We focused on being the best Linux distribution we could and making Ubuntu as powerful, reliable, and flexible as possible. Back then our primary competition was Microsoft with their Windows platform, but we could compete there by making our own, better platform. Ubuntu was faster, more secure, had more choice and other benefits. With these benefits we started to grow.

The competitive landscape today is very different. No longer are we content with just being the best Linux distribution, but we are going head-to-head with Apple, Microsoft, and Google with IOS, Windows, and Android respectively. It is not enough to just make a better, more stable, and more reliable platform these days; a reasonable assertion of success is giving users the content that they want.

To a large extent this boils down to applications. People don’t just choose their devices and platforms on the competence of the platform, but also on the apps (often specific app brands) that they want to do their work, manage their lives, and relax.

And here lies the challenge.

A few years ago we identified that we have a problem in Ubuntu with the complexity and expectations of how app developers get their apps into the Ubuntu Software Center. Please note: in this post I am referring to Free Software and Open Source apps; commercial app developers can submit their applications and have them reviewed by Canonical and this works pretty efficiently. The challenge here (ironically), is with Free and Open apps.

Now, when I say app developers here, I am not just referring to the upstreams that we know and love who already have a close relationship with Linux distributions such as Ubuntu. I am instead talking about the long tail of app developers who frankly don’t really care about the Operating System but just want to deliver their applications on it. These folks are typically excited by Ubuntu and the opportunity of Ubuntu, but they don’t want to be involved in the nitty-gritty of how Ubuntu is built; they care about Ubuntu merely as a platform to get their apps out to more users. There are literally thousands of application developers out there like this and I believe that for Ubuntu to be successful, we need to engage and empower these users.

No longer can we merely fall back on Hungry Hippos to engage and empower our users.

When we discussed this a few years ago we identified the following problems with our current processes for getting apps into the platform:

  1. Application developers could not deliver their apps to the stable release of Ubuntu and could only get them into the development release (in preparation for the next stable release). Of course, there was the backports team that serves getting apps onto the stable release…but this leads us to the next point…
  2. There was a particularly high bar to deliver your app in Ubuntu. You either had to be an Ubuntu Developer, which is a role designed for Operating System integrators (which is not of interest to app developers) or you needed to know an Ubuntu developer who could upload on your behalf (which does not scale to most app devs…we don’t have that many Ubuntu developers :-) ).

These approach was frankly, not all that surprising: Ubuntu inherited much of its process and workflow from how Debian works, and this process and workflow is designed for Operating System integrators and people who fundamentally care about creating and building an Operating System as opposed to content creators whose priority is their app and not the platform. This is not to say that app devs don’t want to harness the platform and ensure that their apps runs well, but their priority is their app and the connection points to the platform and not the platform itself.

To resolve this we put together a new process in which app developers could submit their applications to the Application Review Board (ARB), which is a community team that performs a security and code review and assesses the suitability of the app going into the archive (a different part of the archive called extras). Importantly, these applications, when approved by the ARB would be delivered to stable releases, thus solving the first bullet above.

As the years passed it became clear that despite the admirable efforts of many members of the ARB, the process was simply not set up for success. The ARB struggled to keep on top of the queue of applications that came in, and very few applications successfully got through the process. From the app developers perspective this was frustrating; their application entered the queue and typically took months to get through, if at all. Again, kudos to the ARB for their efforts, but the source of the problems was not the members of the board but the process: requiring a security and code review for every version of every app submitted was never going to scale effectively.

I wish this would “scale more effectively” too.

A good example of this was the recent Ubuntu App Showdown. We had 133 applications submitted to the contest and the ARB buckled under the load of the reviews. If we face this problem with the relatively small number of apps coming in currently, as Ubuntu grows as a consumer-grade product, we will face this even more. Put simply: Ubuntu is not currently optimized for the needs of free app developers in delivering their apps on Ubuntu.

The problems with our current processes were also well known to app devs. A while back I kicked off a campaign with my team to encourage app developers to put a button on their websites that would provide a direct link to download the version of their software in the Ubuntu Software Center. A significant number of app devs were resistant to this as the versions in the Ubuntu Software Center were simply too old and their view was “why would I recommend my users download the old version in Ubuntu when I can instead ask them to install this PPA or download this Deb“.

In other words, free app developers are unable to deliver their recent releases to Ubuntu users via the Ubuntu Software Center. In my mind this means our current processes are failing them, and this will inhibit the opportunity of taking Ubuntu and Free Software to the masses.

A New Process

To be honest with you all, this issue has been frustrating me for a while. I see it in pretty blunt terms: if we don’t solve this issue of app developers being able to deliver their content to Ubuntu, Ubuntu is simply not going to be successful. If we don’t solve this problem our users won’t want to use Ubuntu as they can’t get the apps they want and app developers won’t want to deliver apps to Ubuntu as getting them into the Ubuntu Software Center is such a nightmare or impractical.

Of course, we could continue with the traditional processes I outlined earlier, but I believe this will always relegate us to an awesome Linux distribution as opposed to chasing the real opportunity of bringing a Free Software Operating System to the masses with the apps that people want and a fantastic opportunity to expose Open Source and Free Software apps and the hard work of their developers to more people than ever before. People talk about the chasm and how to get over it, I believe we need to solve this issue for us to get over it.

About three weeks ago I called a meeting with my team with the goal figuring out how to resolve this. Solving this problem properly was going to mean allowing app developers to upload new releases of their apps directly to Ubuntu safely and securely without requiring the manual reviews that caused the bottlenecks with the ARB. To achieve this outcome though there is a lot of work to be done in terms of application insulation and sand-boxing, tooling improvements and other things.

The security team hard at work sand-boxing.

I first started surveying various engineering managers and engineers in Canonical to see what work they were doing along these lines to get an idea of current resourcing (as Canonical will likely need to invest most in delivering this work), and then David Planella, Michael Hall and I spent a lot of time putting together the first cut of a proposed specification that would resolve this issue in Ubuntu. I am proud of the output of this work: the specification is crisp, detailed, includes clear design guidelines, and takes the reader through every layer of delivering such a vision. The specification takes into account current resourcing, and breaks the work down to the work item level that we can discuss at UDS. As part of this process we gathered a lot of input from people such as Jamie Strandboge, Steve Langesek, Michael Vogt, Matthew Paul Thomas, Allison Randall, and the the ARB. This feedback helped us to ensure that the specification is detailed, practical, and reflective of the needs of our users, while being safe and secure.

Big process discussions like this can often turn into unmanageable spidery mailing list threads that lose people when they hit a certain size. My goal here was to put together a really detailed first cut of a spec that we could first take to the ARB and then to ubuntu-devel and people could then discuss the specifics of the spec, debate changes, and otherwise get people together around a document and a specific approach. This could help focus the discussion on refining and improving that approach, as opposed to bike-shedding until everyone’s fingers fall off. You can read the on-going discussion here.

Like many of you, I really care about Ubuntu. I want to see us succeed, and I want to see us deliver the very goal we set out with in bringing the very best Free Software platform to the world. I think there is a tremendous amount of opportunity here, and easing how content creators such as app developers can get there content into Ubuntu will not only enrich the Ubuntu ecosystem, but provide more choice for our users and make us a more compelling platform when people choose which computer or device to use. I look forward to the discussion over the coming weeks and at UDS.

Thanks for reading!

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The Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS) is the most important event in the Ubuntu calendar. It is where we get together to discuss, design, and plan the next version of Ubuntu; in this case the Ubuntu 13.04 release.

The next UDS takes place at Bella Centre, Copenhagen, Denmark from the 29th Oct – 1st Nov. You can find out more about why UDS is interesting from the perspective of a member of the community, an upstream contributor, and a vendor. We also welcome everyone to participate remotely if you can’t attend the event in person. More more details on how to get there, see this page.

At the heart of a great UDS is a diverse group of attendees who can bring their experience and expertise to the discussions. You don’t have to be technical, or be a programmer or packager to attend – UDS is open to everyone (including non-Ubuntu folks) and free to attend. We encourage everyone with an interest in Ubuntu to attend.


For every UDS Canonical sponsors the hotel and accommodation of a set of community members to ensure they are free to contribute and bring value to the discussions. We have a limited budget so we can’t sponsor everyone, but we are always keen to have a capable and diverse group to sponsor:

  • We strive to support community members who are actively involved in Ubuntu and who are providing significant and sustained contributions to the Ubuntu project.
  • We always welcome Upstream contributors who are bring value to Ubuntu indirectly via active participation in their upstream project, but who are keen to see quality support for that upstream in Ubuntu.
  • Contributors are willing to actively participate not only throughout the full Ubuntu Developer Summit week, but also following with active contributions throughout the release cycle.
  • We are always keen to welcome members of the community who have never been to UDS before and are keen to participate and experience the event.
  • You don’t have to provide technical contributions to apply – if you have participated in the areas of advocacy, documentation, testing, art, design etc, you are encouraged to apply.
  • UDS is an event that encourages diversity – we welcome everyone to apply for sponsorship, irrespective of gender, race, impairment, technical expertise, or other factors.

If you are participating in the Ubuntu community, we would love you to apply for sponsorship. This is how it works:

  1. You can apply for sponsorship by filling in this form. The deadline for submissions is Mon 20th August 2012 so be sure to get yours in!
  2. When the deadline is reached we will assess the applications and finalize who we will be able to sponsor.
  3. You will then receive an email outlining whether we can sponsor you or not.

Simple! I look forward to seeing your applications!

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Last week Benjamin Otte shared some thoughts about GNOME that were pretty stark. It gathered some steam and hit Slashdot and this all happened the week GUADEC was taking place in A Coruña. I wasn’t at GUADEC :-( but I can imagine there was some fervent discussion about the blog entry.

The gist of Benjamin’s blog was that people are leaving GNOME, that the project is understaffed, and arguably the reason for this is that GNOME has lost its direction and Red Hat have overtaken the project as the primary contributor-base. Of course I am summarizing, but check out the original post if you feel I am not representing Benjamin’s views fairly.

I wanted to share a few thoughts. To be clear: these thoughts are my own, and I am not speaking on behalf of Canonical, but I am speaking from my experiences as someone who has primarily been affiliated with Ubuntu and as a Canonical employee. My feedback is going to be frank but I really do care about GNOME as a project, and this feedback is intended from a position of love for the project and to be open and transparent about my own experiences as just one set of eyeballs in this story.

Actual eyeballs.

Fortunately, I think all of these problems are solvable, but for them to be solved GNOME is going to need to do a little soul searching to discover and focus on the right problems and explore and deliver the right solutions.

A Little History

To provide a little context, my interest in GNOME pre-dates my involvement in Ubuntu. I have worked on a few applications that use the GNOME platform (Jokosher, Acire, Lernid, and most recently Ubuntu Accomplishments) and I have had a long interest in where the project is moving forward and as a core part of Ubuntu. I used to go to GUADEC every year, and I consider many folks in the GNOME project to be good friends.

While I care about where the project moves forward I too have also become concerned about the direction it is going in, not in terms of the design and user experience of GNOME (there are other, better versed people to assess this work), but instead in terms of how the project works with others such as companies, developers, and other partners.

In my mind GNOME has become bittersweet. I remember back at GUADEC in Stuttgart in 2005, discussions started happening about what form GNOME 3 would be in. As the years progressed the project struggled to decide on a final vision for what GNOME 3 would look like. This is not surprising: GNOME 2 was such a smashing success that GNOME 3 was going to be difficult second album time. Ideas were shared and bike-shedding occurred, but ultimately it seemed that the project was lacking leadership to take take all of these ideas and flip the switch to a vision and design and move it forward.

Around this time Ubuntu had become arguably the most popular way in which people were consuming GNOME and we (Canonical) were hiring more and more people to perform this integration work (which is no light task, as any distro developer will tell you).

If all else fails, bribing people with bubble-wrap grows popularity.

Back then Canonical was taking quite a bit of heat for “never writing code and just shipping other people’s work” (which I always found a misguided viewpoint as integrating and delivering a solid Free Software Operating System is significant work and a great contribution to the wider Free Software commons).

We were starting to find though that there were areas of GNOME 2 that we felt could be improved and expanded (largely based on feedback from our users). We started growing a design competence and hiring developers to build new code to add improvements to the experience. Many technologies were created such as the messaging menu, notify-osd, dbusmenu and the global menu, control center improvements, and ultimately Unity as an additional shell for GNOME.

I remember this time vividly. I was in weekly discussions with Mark Shuttleworth, Rick Spencer (Ubuntu desktop team leader), Ivanka Majic (head of design), and David Barth (head of engineering these components). Our goal was simple: be able to showcase these technologies in Ubuntu and bring value to Ubuntu users, but to also ensure they were contributed to the wider GNOME project as technology that could help the general project in moving forward.

I personally saw this all boil down into pretty simple parts: Canonical and GNOME were partners and it was a mutually beneficial relationship – the GNOME desktop with barely any users defeats it’s purpose and Canonical was helping to deliver it to millions of users in Ubuntu, but Canonical could not build an awesome Ubuntu without the wonderful components in the GNOME desktop to fill in the many different pieces in an OS.

My simple philosophy was also marinaded in the gift culture of Open Source and Free Software: Canonical was paying designers and developers to produce new code that could be of value (and thus offered as a gift to the GNOME commons) and as with all gifts, while it may not be exactly what you want (and may need some adjustments and improvements), I presumed there would be a polite, respectful, and open discourse to take these contributions and bring them into the shared commons that was GNOME, particularly as they were created with GNOME in mind.

This was not my experience of what happened.


I was really disappointed with what resulted. After years of Canonical and Ubuntu being criticized for not contributing code, when we then engaged in writing code we were met with a frosty, suspicious, and at times, frankly entitled attitude from some parts of the GNOME camp.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Canonical was not perfect here either. I fully admit that some of this relationship could have been handled better (and I am partially to blame here). We made some mistakes early on in which code was released too late and there was sometimes not enough open discussion. Retrospectively, we could definitely have done better in being more pro-active in some parts of the relationship too. At the time we were still learning how to do this, and as such we made some mistakes too.

Canonical wanted to strike the right balance of bringing innovation to Ubuntu releases with new features, but to also openly engage and contribute that innovation to upstreams such as GNOME. My goal here is not to open up a blame game of who did what and when (I will leave that to the commentators ;-) ), but what disappointed me most about the whole situation was that from my personal perspective it seemed that some influential members of the GNOME project were treating Canonical’s contributions more critically and suspiciously than others.

Now I haver never subscribed to conspiracy theories, and I don’t believe that there was a shadowy GNOME Illuminati that was meeting together in a hollowed out volcano to plan how to keep Canonical and their contributions out of GNOME, but I was surprised and disappointed at the attitude that came out of parts of the GNOME project to us, when we were ultimately delivering GNOME to millions of users as well as writing new code that could enhance GNOME. It just seemed incredibly entitled.

The shadowy GNOME Illuminati

There were three things that really blew my mind about all of this:

  1. From my experience of working on volunteer Open Source projects, new volunteers and their code contributions are tremendously valuable. As an example, if someone comes to my current project (Ubuntu Accomplishments) and is willing to propose new, disruptive ideas, and willing to contribute chunks of code, I will treat those people with open arms. Being challenged is a good thing: it keeps us fresh, and a challenging, innovative idea followed up with running code is awesome. Now, of course, this is not to say that writing code automatically gets the contribution into the core project, but I would treat the entire social engagement with someone offering such a gift with positive open discussion to see how we could find a great solution that makes everyone happy. This seems an area where things could be improved with GNOME.
  2. If I was also running a project that was understaffed and struggling to define its direction (which I would argue was the case with GNOME at the time) I would treat such new contributions as wonderful ways of solving problems and building a new direction for the project, particularly if our major distributor was going to be delivering that technology anyway. Code is the currency of Open Source, and rejecting chunks of this currency because they don’t fit an as-yet incomplete jigsaw puzzle of a vision just doesn’t make sense.
  3. Without sounding egotistical from the perspective of an Ubuntu guy, I would argue that the vast majority of GNOME consumers were getting GNOME in Ubuntu. Of course, there was and continues to be the wonderful work going into Debian, Fedora, OpenSuSE and others, but it seemed that Ubuntu was the most commonly-used GNOME distribution (I suspect it still is). Again, I saw this as a partnership but from my perspective it seemed like parts of the GNOME project saw Ubuntu as fundamentally subservient to GNOME; as if we had an obligation to deliver whatever the GNOME project saw fit, irrespective of our own ideas and feedback from our users. In my position as an Ubuntu guy, I have always tried to treat our upstreams with maximum respect as they are a big part of who we are; Ubuntu is nothing without awesome apps, and a wonderful integrated experience. I guess I just expected a more positive and collaborative experience with GNOME than I experienced…the kind of collaborative experience that I had known and loved in the earlier days of GNOME.

Of course, it takes two to tango and we at Canonical could have no doubt done better to improve our relationship with GNOME, but I remember back then feeling like no matter what we tried to do, we came up against resistance from the GNOME project, and this was de-motivating and no-doubt added stress to our relationship.


To shift gears a little, one of the points in Benjamin’s post was that GNOME 3 is a Red Hat project. To me this is a bit of a double-edged sword.

On one hand, the crux of his point is entirely valid: most people contributing to GNOME seem to be a clique of Red Hat folks. What concerns me a little are the concerns in parts of the community that Red Hat is “running the show” and that much of the decision-making has been private to Red Hat staff.

Here’s the thing: I don’t doubt that this is probably happening, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. These concerns again highlight what I think continues to be an unrealistic expectation in parts of the GNOME project with those who are willing to invest in the platform (in this case, Red Hat). If Red Hat have decided to invest in a team of developers to work on and bring value to GNOME, building Free Software that can be shared with everyone, these contributions should be received with open arms. Leadership is leadership, irrespective of the employer.

Of course, there needs to be a culture of openness and transparency, and I suspect a certain amount of internal water-cooler chat is happening in Red Hat, but you will find that with any commercial team that is actively engaged in a Free Software project; we just need to always try to keep things as open as possible. GNOME is definitely going to need to ensure that the openness and values of open collaboration are not compromised, and an open and frank discussion with the Red Hat team about resolving these concerns is no doubt the best step forward.

Pictured: a proven conflict resolution technique.

I personally think it is wonderful that Red Hat are investing so much in GNOME and they have arguably led in much of the direction and leadership in delivering GNOME Shell and the various other parts of the platform. What seems ironic to me is that the same criticisms that were thrown at Canonical with Unity (as a perceived competitor to GNOME Shell, which it was never intended to be) are now being leveled at GNOME Shell (“you don’t care about our needs”, “you are pushing your own agenda” etc).

Maybe a solution to this problem is to be open and frank about the relationship with Red Hat. As an example, we always try to be open about our relationship between Ubuntu and Canonical; there is no doubt that Canonical drives a lot of the development and innovation in Ubuntu, although this leadership and innovation is firmly rooted in expectations around openness and collaboration. We don’t try to hide the influence Canonical has on Ubuntu, and I wonder whether the wider GNOME community feels comfortable in accepting the influence Red Hat has on the project. This is always a delicate balance.

I would agree with Benjamin that GNOME is essentially a Red Hat project these days, but as I say this is double-edged: the wonderful benefits of the investment from Red Hat will be tinged with the challenges of how vendor-neutral the project wants to remain.

The Future

So what is the future of GNOME and how can these problems be solved? Can they even be solved in the first place?

I think so.

I love GNOME as a project, and I love the folks involved in it. While we don’t always agree, the core ethos and goal of GNOME is admirable: to bring an awesome Free Software desktop to everyone. While I personally prefer Unity as a shell, I think the work that has gone into GNOME Shell has been a wonderful rebirth of the motivation and focus of GNOME. The architects of this vision should be credited in getting GNOME out of the slump I mentioned earlier that seemed to stem from 2005. Of course, I will always be disappointed that GNOME seemed quite so resistant to much of the contributions we wished to make, and I think we could have helped to have moved things along a little faster, but I am delighted that GNOME 3 has got to the point it has got to.

As I mentioned earlier, my feedback here really has nothing to do with the design and technical direction of GNOME, and others can provide more insightful commentary than me. I do though think this people-problem issue of GNOME being a rather difficult project to work and interface with at times is a problem that has not yet been confronted and resolved. While this problem continues to exist, I worry that it will eat away at GNOME more and more.

GNOME is blessed with some wonderful leaders, and I hope that the content in this post can act as some food for thought: I am not expecting everyone to agree with me, but if this opens up a discussion about these topics I will be happy.

What is not a solution is for us to give up on GNOME. I know some folks are moving on from the project and moving onto other things, and we have more competition than ever for desktops, but I still see GNOME as an important foundational component of the Free Software and Open Source desktop today.

Now, I am sure this blog entry is going to result in some folks screaming from the rafters that I am misrepresenting GNOME and it is all Canonical’s fault, and you are entitled to your view. Traditionally I have not wanted to raise these concerns publicly as I didn’t want to cause any further harm in the relationship between Ubuntu and GNOME, but Benjamin’s blog post seemed to offer a good opportunity to throw out some feedback that might be helpful in constructing a solution.

While I don’t have much time to contribute to GNOME formally these days, I am more than happy to talk more, provide any further feedback, and help where else I can. I would love to see the GNOME project that we know and love be back in a healthier state. Thanks for reading.

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On Friday I will be traveling to Portland, Oregon to run the Community Leadership Summit 2012 this weekend and then join OSCON the following week. While I will be dipping into some sessions and meeting folks at the two events, I also use these events as an opportunity to coordinate and schedule meetings while at the conference venue.

If you want to have a meeting with me while I am in Portland, please drop me an email. My schedule is starting to fill up, but happy to meet if we can make it work.

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Just a quick note: today I did a Reddit Ask Me Anything, and there were a lot of questions that I answered that cover a range of different topics. You can read it all here.

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We had a new team photo taken. Thanks to Graham Binns!

L-R: Jorge Castro, David Planella, Jono Bacon, Daniel Holbach, Nicholas Skaggs, Michael Hall.

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Just a quick reminded that my band Severed Fifth will be playing tonight at:

Roosters Roadhouse, 1700 Clement Avenue, Alameda, CA 94501

This is about a 5 – 10min cab ride from the Oakland Marriot hotel.

Get down there for about 7.30pm to ensure you get your tickets as the show has sold out of pre-sold tickets. We go on stage at 8pm. Hope to see you there!

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Today we released the highly-anticipated Ubuntu 12.04 LTS release after a busy six month development cycle. The release is available in Desktop (see OMG! Ubuntu!’s great summary), Server, and Cloud Infrastructure form. You can also install the desktop easily from Windows by clicking here.

I am hugely proud of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS; I believe it is the best and bravest release we have ever shipped, and I am delighted to see Ubuntu’s continued progress in delivering a simple, elegant, and powerful Free Software platform for the Desktop, Server, and Cloud.

Aside from the release, the Ubuntu 12.04 cycle was in my mind an evolutionary cycle for us as a project. The focus on quality was firm and unrelenting; initiatives such as gated trunks, acceptance criteria, automated testing, and a strong focus on growing a testing community and widening our manual tests, all contributed to delivering a solid release. Canonical as a company continued to see a lot of growth, as did our community with initiatives such as the Developer Advisory team, application developer focused outreach, and our continued growth of the Juju charming community. I am not only proud of the 12.04 LTS release, but also of these workflow and growth improvements we also made as a community that are not immediately visible in the release. Thank-you to everyone who helped drive this important work.

Thank-you also to everyone of you who has participated in this release, whether you have worked on packages, provided testing, documentation, translations, support, advocacy, or anything else. Ubuntu really is a community effort, and without our wonderful community of contributors and supporters we would be nothing. Thank-you for all of your hard work and fantastic efforts.

After a busy six months let’s all take a few minutes to take a step back and be proud of what we accomplished. Rock and roll. :-)

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Folks, I just wanted to let you know about an exciting new event that will be happening the same week as the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Oakland, California.

Canonical in collaboration with Redmonk will be hosting The Ubuntu Cloud Summit; a one day event for both technology and business attendees interested in how open-source cloud computing can help their organizations.

The event takes place on Tuesday 8th May, at the The Oakland Marriott City Center Hotel.

The agenda is still being defined, but the sessions will cover some interesting ideas, challenges and trends around cloud computing and how attendees can deploy an open cloud in their organization.

Topics will include:

  • The Open Cloud – the role of open source in cloud computing—particularly how an open cloud enables a more flexible, vendor-neutral approach.
  • Lessons from cloud deployments – open cloud deployments are real and growing. We’ll discuss and illustrate through case studies the best approaches to deploying and maximising an open cloud.
  • Open Source cloud technologies – with Ubuntu including technologies such as OpenStack, MAAS and Juju, we’ll examine how they come together to form an open cloud.

Click here to find out more information.

How To Join

The cost of a ticket for attending this event is $100 which includes lunch and refreshments. Spaces are limited, so please share this information with your contacts and prospects to get registrations flowing.


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Earlier today we announced Ubuntu on Android; the perfect combination of a phone that is powered by Android and when docked provides a full Ubuntu desktop experience. Not only that, but when plugged into a TV you also get the Ubuntu TV experience. All within one consistent and beautiful experience.

I posted this news on Facebook and Google+ today, and in just 12 hours look at the response:

I think this speaks pretty well about how much interest and demand there is in this. Put it this way: in 12 minutes Facebook had over 1000 likes.

If you are a handset maker or network operator, get in touch.

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Just a reminder…every Tuesday at 8am Pacific / 11am Eastern / 4pm UTC on #ubuntu-community-team on freenode IRC.

Everyone runs through a a list of the work they have been doing over the last week and you can ask questions. Feel free to join us; everyone is welcome!

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Today I had a call with another team at Canonical who were wanting to ask for guidance on (a) how to write good blog entries that people want to read and (b) how to regularly get into the habit of blogging and get more eyeballs on your posts.

I thought this could be of general interest to the community, so I figured I would write these things down into a blog entry. So meta. :-)

Some tips:

  • Keep it concise – your blog should get the point and talk through the topic you are presenting. Now…seasoned readers of my own work will know I tend to ramble from time to time, so I myself always need to try and keep this in check. Few people will want to commit to a huge block of text, so keep it concise.
  • Format it – the web has many wonderful things, and this includes formatting such as italic, bold, code, different heading sizes and more. Use them to help add emphasis to your posts.
  • Make it visual – pictures say a thousand words, and so do videos. Break up your content with images illustrating what you are discussing, or just amusing images to make a joke (example). If you want to display images, I recommend you upload them to Flickr and then link directly to the images. For videos you can usually embed them directly from YouTube or other video sharing sites, but aggregators such as Planet Ubuntu often strip out the embedded videos, so be sure to provide a direct link underneathe the embedded video (example).
  • Link to interesting things – if you are discussing something online, always provide a link to it. This helps the user get access to the information quickly and easy.
  • Be professional – always keep your posts professional and thorough. Ensure your writing is clear and that you have spell and grammar checked it.
  • Be fun – being professional doesn’t mean you can’t be fun. Writing in a fun and amusing way is a great way to keep your readers interested.
  • Invite discussion – if your blog has a comments feature, always end your posts and ask for input and opinions from your readers. This provides a wonderful way to trigger some discussion around your post.

In terms of blogging more and getting more eyeballs on your posts, here are some tips:

  • Get into the habit – to become a regular blogger you need to get into the habit of thinking “this is cool, I should blog about this“. This can take a while to get used to. If you are in a team, it is helpful to suggest to others when they should blog about something; this keeps us all regularly posting. If you are struggling with getting into the habit, put a reminder in your calendar to remind you.
  • Ensure you are aggregated – if you are an Ubuntu Member, be sure to add your post to Planet Ubuntu. Add your post to other appropriate aggregators (e.g. Canonical staff should add their blogs to
  • Use social media – post a link to your post on Twitter, Google+, Facebook and other social media accounts.

I am sure there are plenty of other suggestions from you folks; please add them to the comments!

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On Friday we had the first Google+ Hangout with the full Canonical Community team. To observe this important moment we all showed how happy we were:

Sponsored by Colgate.

L-R: Daniel Holbach, David Planella, Yours Truly, Jorge Castro, Michael Hall, and Nicholas Skaggs.

Google Hangouts are awesome for team meetings.

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I just wanted to provide a quick update on how the team is doing on our set of commitments in the 12.04 cycle. Feel free to ask questions in the comments.

In terms of general team progress, this is how our burndown chart looks today:

I asked each of the guys on the team to follow up with their respective community members to start moving the needle on those work items. As such, if you committed to something in 12.04 for our team’s burndown, expect Jorge, Daniel, or David to come knocking on your door soon.

With Nick and Michael joining the team recently, their work is not reflected in this burndown – their work will appear in the 12.10 burndown.

Developer Growth

Daniel’s core focus in this cycle is developer growth. The first step here is ensuring that our developer processes are working effectively. Over the holiday period the sponsorship queue got a little out of shape, so I asked Daniel to work with the patch pilots to get this back on track. Good progress is being made:

You can see how the queue is falling back down at the end of the graph since Daniel started hammering on this over the last few weeks. Thanks to all the patch pilots for their hard work.

Daniel has also been fixing up some metrics so we can track this work more effectively, and putting together a developer outreach team to provide a more personal level of support to get developers through the process. He will be speaking more about this in the coming weeks.

Cloud and Juju

Jorge is focused on growing the Juju charming community and is making great progress. A tour of events is planned and Jorge has a hit-list of upstream projects which he is focusing on to get charms put together for. We are seeing good progress on this list and I am confident Jorge will hit his goals in this cycle.

Juju really is awesome. You should check it out.

App Developers

David has been focusing on app developers in this cycle. A first chunk of work here is helping the App Review Board to get in shape. The ARB has a large queue of content to get through, so in Budapest we sat down and dissected the ARB process and made a bunch of optimizations. David has been coordinating with the team to help coordinate this work, and we are seeing progress happening.

We have recently seen three lenses get through the ARB, and David is going to be starting a regular cadence of queue reviews to keep the ball rolling. Thanks to the ARB for all your contributions.

David originally planned a Phase II set of additions to, but with some re-structuring from the Canonical web team, those plans have been put on hold a little. Instead d.u.c is now being put into maintenance mode and we identified a set of things that need fixing (particularly on the publishing side), and David is coordinating those changes.

The next chunk of work will be outreach to grow our app developer community. Stay tuned for more…and an up-coming competition…

Upstream Relations

Michael is the new upstream community coordinator, and will be focusing on Unity in particular as he gets started. I have asked him to first work with the Desktop Experience team to help get their community merge proposals in shape. There are a number of branches that have been sitting around for a while, and Michael is coordinating a patch pilot scheme to ensure these get reviewed regularly. We expect to see this in place over the next week.

Michael has also been performing an assessment of Mozilla’s SUMO for a potential solution for help in Ubuntu. He has put together an extensive report and a test instance to play with and he will be working with the docs team to continue assessing this as a solution. I am excited to see what work happens here.

Finally, next week we will be putting together an upstream target list for Michael to reach out to to start engaging app authors more effectively around our technology. I am excited to see this work progressing.

…oh, and one other thing: Michael is working with Didier to merge Singlet into Quickly. This should make creating Unity lenses a piece of cake. Bring it!


Finally, the latest addition to the team has been Nick Skaggs. Nick has been working with the QA around a few core pieces of work:

  • Getting our manual test infrastructure in place. We are going to be piloting Case Conductor as a solution that will fit alongside Jenkins.
  • Consolidating our QA community teams. Nick is evaluating our current QA on-ramp and then we will put together a proposal for bringing more efficiencies and consistency to the QA community.
  • Building a take-and-bake testing process so Ubuntu Engineering can reach out to Nick to facilitate community testing more effectively.

The former two items will take time to put in place, but the latter item should be in place in the next week. As such, you should see a regular stream of testing campaigns driven by Nick in 12.04. Be sure to keep an eye on his blog.

. . .

Of course, there are lots of other things going on, but these summarize some of the key themes.

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The Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS) is the most important event in the Ubuntu calendar. It is where we get together to discuss, design, and plan the next version of Ubuntu; in this case the Ubuntu 12.10 release.

The next UDS takes place at The Oakland Marriott City Center, Oakland, California, USA from the 7th – 11th May 2012. You can find out more about why UDS is interesting from the perspective of a member of the community, an upstream contributor, and a vendor. We also welcome everyone to participate remotely if you can’t attend the event in person. More more details on how to get there, see this page.

At the heart of a great UDS is a diverse group of attendees who can bring their experience and expertise to the discussions. You don’t have to be technical, or be a programmer or packager to attend – UDS is open to everyone (including non-Ubuntu folks) and free to attend. We encourage everyone with an interest in Ubuntu to attend.


For every UDS Canonical sponsors the hotel and accommodation of a set of community members to ensure they are free to contribute and bring value to the discussions. We have a limited budget so we can’t sponsor everyone, but we are always keen to have a capable and diverse group to sponsor:

  • We strive to support community members who are actively involved in Ubuntu and who are providing significant and sustained contributions to the Ubuntu project.
  • We always welcome Upstream contributors who are bring value to Ubuntu indirectly via active participation in their upstream project, but who are keen to see quality support for that upstream in Ubuntu.
  • Contributors are willing to actively participate not only throughout the full Ubuntu Developer Summit week, but also following with active contributions throughout the release cycle.
  • We are always keen to welcome members of the community who have never been to UDS before and are keen to participate and experience the event.
  • You don’t have to provide technical contributions to apply – if you have participated in the areas of advocacy, documentation, testing, art, design etc, you are encouraged to apply.
  • UDS is an event that encourages diversity – we welcome everyone to apply for sponsorship, irrespective of gender, race, impairment, technical expertise, or other factors.

If you are participating in the Ubuntu community, we would love you to apply for sponsorship. This is how it works:

  1. You can apply for sponsorship by following these instructions. Apologies for the different forms you need to fill in – we are going to consolidate these forms at the next UDS. The deadline for submissions is Wed 22nd February 2012 so be sure to get yours in!
  2. When the deadline is reached we will assess the applications and finalize who we will be able to sponsor.
  3. You will then receive an email outlining whether we can sponsor you or not.

Simple! I look forward to seeing your applications, and seeing many of you in Oakland!

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A little while back I mentioned that Nicholas Skaggs would be joining the Community Team at Canonical. Nick is now on board but is not an Ubuntu Member yet, so his blog is not appearing on Planet Ubuntu.

On his blog he will be talking about improving our QA infrastructure and documentation, building out manual test coverage, and growing a community of QA testers.

You can read his blog here. I am going to ask Nick to apply for Ubuntu Membership in a few months when he has provided a significant and sustained contribution, and then his blog will appear on Planet Ubuntu.

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A week ago I flew to Budapest for an Ubuntu Engineering Team Rally. This is where we get the Ubuntu Engineers at Canonical and some other groups together for a week to work together, plan future work, have meetings and make progress on our existing commitments. It is in this week that I gather together with the guys on my team and we have the rare privilage of working together from the same office (we all work remotely usually).

Daniel Holbach, Jorge Castro, and David Planella were there, and we welcomed Nicholas Skaggs to the team who started his first day at Canonical on the first day of the Rally; a brave man! Unfortunately Michael Hall could not join us, but we had a tablet with his gleaning smiling face beaming into our room on Google+. He was there in spirit, if not physically.

Chris Farley was also there in spirit, if not physically.

We made some great progress and put quite a dent in our burn-down chart, but I wanted to summarize some of the work going on right now that might interest you:

  • David, Daniel, and I spent quite some time opening up the ARB process and helping to get things back on track. We now have a flow of lenses coming through and the queue is looking in better shape. Thanks to the ARB for their work here and we will be continuing to build refinements into the process over the coming weeks.
  • Nick got on-boarded at the event and met the QA team (Gema, John-Baptiste, Carlos, Pete etc). We discussed plans around putting in place a manual test case system (we will be piloting Case Conductor). We also centralized QA communication channels (#ubuntu-testing on Freenode) and Nick started cleaning up the documentation for how people participate in Ubuntu QA. I am excited by the progress happening here…more to come soon!
  • Jorge made further progress on the charms front and we planned out a tour of events to run charm schools. Good progress is being made on upstream charm targets and awareness of Juju is growing.
  • David and I discussed next steps for Things will be on hold a little in this cycle due to the web team being re-assigned to other work. Instead we are fixing up chunks of, particularly around publishing apps and reference materials.
  • Daniel (who just got back from an awesome holiday in Morocco) and I synced up on the sponsorship queue which has got a little out of shape recently, so Daniel is re-focusing on that over the coming week as well as building out the developer advisory group and identify prospective developers and providing 1-on-1 guidance to get them through the developer process.
  • Michael is going to be putting in place a patch pilot scheme for the DX team to ensure community merge proposals are getting through in a timely manner. He also coordinated the move from #ayatana to #ubuntu-unity on Freenode.
  • Michael also connected with Jorge regarding the transition of Unity responsibilities and he will be coordinating further relationships with upstreams. The goal here is simple: encourage more participation in Unity development as well as the consumption of our APIs by upstreams.
  • I spent some time with the team on team-related workflow. Everyone is pretty happy with how we are working, are happy with the public IRC meetings and comfortable in how we are tracking our work and moving forward on projects.
  • We discussed raising the awareness of cool things going on in Ubuntu and discussed how we can provide a more representative view of this work across blogs and social media. You can expect more blogging out of our team and other teams.

Of course, there were many other things that happened, but these were some of the main ones. Remember you can keep up to date with out work on the burndown chart and in #ubuntu-community-team on Freenode.

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