Thursday, 20 May 2010

UDS rundown - Part 1

A bit of background, courtesy the Ubuntu Wiki:

At the beginning of a new development cycle, Ubuntu developers from around the world gather to help shape and scope the next release of Ubuntu. The summit is open to the public, but it is not a conference, exhibition or other audience-oriented event. Rather, it is an opportunity for Ubuntu developers -- who usually collaborate online -- to work together in person on specific tasks. Small groups of developers will participate in short Forum and Workshop (formerly called "BoF"/Birds-of-a-Feather) sessions. This allows a single project to be discussed and documented in a written specification. These specifications will be used for planning the new release of Ubuntu, as described in FeatureSpecifications and TimeBasedReleases.

So there were many sessions that i attended, what i post here is by no means exhaustive, more the stuff that is particularly relevant and of interest to me.

Day 1
On Monday the first session of note was Search and indexing. The session dealt with finding use cases for tracker in Ubuntu. While the technologies behind tracker are impressive there are still significant roadblocks to fulfilling its potential use-cases. I raised the point that in my experience tracker 0.7 is almost counter productive in its current form because it displays so many search results that a user is no closer to finding what they want. Ideally some ranking mechanism is needed, and there was talk of taking trends from zeitgeist and ranking file searches with this added context (exciting!). It also became apparent that there was little awareness of competing products, such as search offerings in Win7, particularly when it came to subtle & contextual UI design to help narrow search results. The gist, tracker does not have useful user facing apps at this point, and is probably not going to be leveraged in Ubuntu 10.10.10 by default.

Ending the day, the OneConf to rule the all session was fascinating. The focus was on making use of Ubuntu One/Ubuntu single-sign-on accounts to sync user settings and configurations. Particularly intriguing for myself as a software-center hacker was the idea to be able to sync installed packages from software-center by leveraging Ubuntu One. Cool. There is a lot of interest from mvo on this subject, so hopefully this feature will materialize during the Maverick development cycle. They also discussed integrating Ubuntu One into the Ubiquity installer, that way many of the installation choices could be synced from the cloud. Also Cool.

Day 2
At the PyGtk base class library for fast app development, the impressive Rick Spencer basically put a call out for ideas for quickly widgets or qwidgets. Qwidgets are widgets that you can get up and running and useful in no more than four lines of python. Suggestions included a text-editor, spreadsheet, google maps, WebCam, MediaPlayer, SQLLiteGrid and Empathy Buddies qwidget's. There was also some discussion around making connecting to event signals (widget.connect('clicked', do_something) more like what is done in C#, there was excitement about the idea but i am not sure if this is a serious consideration.

The Desktop is your IDE session illustrated the innovation capable by the Ubuntu community. The session revolved around a novel experiment called groundcontrol, a project that could reshape our expectations with regards to what a development environment could look like. Still in its infancy, groundcontrol makes it easy for so-called opportunistic developers to get involved in free-software projects. Groundcontrol breaks down many of the hurdles to contributing/bug-fixing, mainly by simplifying launchpad interaction and exposing bzr functionality (lp-login, branch, commit, push, making merge proposals) directly in the gnome file manager (nautilus). Most of the talk was about extending groundcontrol to offer a comprehensive range of development tools (gfx editor, source code viewer, class browser, version control, build environment) in a user-friendly and discoverable way. My recollection is the discussions got a bit side-tracked, but were nonetheless interesting. Following the session I tried groundcontrol; the nautilus integration is very nice, but i found groundcontrol to be a bit buggy and slow compared to the command line. So for now I'll stick with the bzr in the terminal.

At Simpler Image Management in Ubuntu, the current batch of image management tools and newcomer Shotwell were reviewed and compared. After some discussions, Shotwell was selected as the default image manager for Ubuntu 10.10.10. I couldn't agree more as F-spot is a hideous mess. However, Shotwell is not without its fair share of short-comings and todo's. Though, with a full-time effort behind Shotwell, and ubuntu user feedback, Shotwell could become the best free-software image management app! And again supprising that many Ubuntu desktop folk were unfamiliar with the competition, i.e. never used Picasa3, which is in my opinion THE BEST IMAGE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE available. FYI: Its fast, featureful and free (as in beer) and it runs beautifully on top of wine in Ubuntu.

Dearest to my heart on Tuesday was the Software Center Roadmap. Funnily enough I very nearly missed it as the session showed up in the Foundations track, rather than the Desktop track where i expected it to be! Nevertheless i made it on time and it was great. There was so much positive feedback for the lastest version, and i felt very proud to be apart of the project. There was a quick overview from mpt of the UI changes to come, nothing major, but some tweaks here and there and stuff to handle incoming features. Ratings and reviews seem likely to be pushed out to 11.04, though mvo and Rick Spencer did not see wholly eye-to-eye on this matter, so watch this space. Purchasable apps are a priority for the next release, though a slowly-slowly approach will see only a couple of apps for sale come 11.04, mostly as a way to identify issues and test social and technical procedures. A killer feature slated for inclusion will be the ability to serve up a fresh range software post-release. This is great if you want the latest & greatest apps on offer and takes us a lot closer to the AppStore modus operandi. Apps will be vetted then pushed to PPA which will then be automatically made available to s-c via some sort of PPA broadcast mechanism. I am super excited by this feature as it makes s-c a much more dynamic experience!

Thats all for Part 1. Ciao.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Catch up...

This post comes to you from the Ubuntu Developer Summit, La Hulpe, Brussels.


Tell me six months ago, hell, even two months ago, this would be the case and i would not have believed it for one moment.

So how did i get here? I haven't made a post to this blog in quite some time, but fatefully, my last post is about a little piece of code i wrote called This code exists because i responded to a call for help for a then fledgling application named Ubuntu Software Center (S-C). S-C's purpose is to make it as simple as possible for Ubuntu desktop users to browse and install software from within the myriad of free applications made available on Ubuntu.

A while after i had working, i was put in contact with Michael Vogt, or mvo as he is known online. From this point we started to regularly chat on irc and i became interested in making further contributions to the project. A release later and my code went public to the millions of people around the world who use Ubuntu as their operating system of choice. My personal satisfaction was immense, and i was so excited for the project.

A few months before the release of the Lucid Lynx (the then development version of Ubuntu), mvo said he had put my name forward for sponsorship to UDS Brussels. At the time i thought little of it as it seemed unlikely to me that i would meet their criteria. Thankfully i was wrong!!

So here i am... in Brussels. So far my time here has been great. Along with mvo, i have met the other S-C developers, Gary Lasker and Olivier Tolloy. What a super great team of people we have. Everone is so interesting, humble and friendly. Mvo is amazing, he has undoubted technical skills, he is friendly, quietly spoken and unflappable. Gary has great music taste and has a particularly impressive knowledge of _good_ NZ music for an American. And Olivier is thoughtful, great to have a beer with, and a great room mate. I have also had lunch with fellow New Zealander and design rockstar, Matthew Paul Thomas (mpt) and have had the opportunity to meet many of the other community rockstars.

As a first timer to UDS its been an eye-opening experience. Eye-opening in the sense that the whole exercise is actually a very smooth and efficient process. To see the processes behind one of the worlds greatest collaborative projects is fascinating, and fills you with such a sense of hope. Hope that future will be filled with the similar examples of international generosity and collaboration. The way a diverse community so enthusiastically deals with both the technical and social considerations gives me so much faith in mankind.

So with plans for the future direction of Ubuntu nearing completion, i am as enthused as ever about working with a great team on a hugely exciting project. I look forward to the coming six months with great anticipation.

Kindest Regards,