Ubuntu Membership

Launchpad asked me if I wanted to continue to be an Ubuntu member. I thought about it, and have decided that I don’t. The one thing I’ll miss is being able to post to Planet Ubuntu. But I have to be honest, there isn’t an Ubuntu community any more. There’s a Canonical community, an ubuntu-users gaggle and maybe an enthusiasts posse. But no community that makes decisions, builds a consensus, advocates or educates. It’s dead now, it’s been that way for a while.

Hopefully this post will make it to the planet before my membership expiry stops it. I’ll still be working and using Ubuntu, launchpad, bzr, maybe even ubuntu phone and tv. I won’t stop championing Free Software, economic involvement and good design either. Important principles for me. In fact nothing about what I do, projects I work on will change. This is just a realisation moment that Ubuntu doesn’t have a peer community to be a member of.


You were warned plenty. It’s not your fault. You had to deliver decisions against the best interests of the Ubuntu peer community and in favour of the Canonical community. Driving so hard towards product nirvana that peer relationships were driven into the ground. I’m sure you disagree that the community is dead, but eventually those scales will fall or the fake smile will stop. I don’t know what kind of Community you want, but it sure isn’t the peer community I signed up for.


Unless you can see a way forwards to rebuild this broken dream, disband. Focus your great skills on Debian. I’m sorry we couldn’t make it work, we were overpowered.


Keep up the great technical work. If your working on Ubuntu, don’t let the death of the community disrupt you. Let it pass like the breaking of an ulcer and carry on with your important and excellent work. The lack of a community outside of your company is not an impediment or even a problem to making great software. Keep calm and code on.

I’ll be making apps and code, most likely targeting Ubuntu. App developers need not change their behaviour, being an app developer doesn’t make you part of the old peer community. Just devs making good apps that should target all distros. Release your code, don’t get locked in, earn your bread, keep up the good work.

Everyone else: Good Luck, Code Speed.


Give Jono a Break, Grow the Community

From today’s Q&A with Jono Bacon. I need to use Jono to make a point, so apologies in advance. At 53:00 in the video Jono says is spending 14 hours a day working on Ubuntu. This despite having a brand new baby boy and a awesome meat smoker to contend with.

I say this isn’t fair on Jono. There is no reason why someone should be giving 175%. 14 hours a day is 70 hours a week; That’s more than the 40 hour week enshrined in the European working time directive for office workers; more than the 48 hour maximum safe working week for junior doctors; even more than the 60 hours a week that the Tory government want to change that to.

To put this into perspective, a balanced week would typically or ideally include 56 hours sleep, 40 hours work, 72 hours recreation, responsibility and relationships. But Jono does 70 hours, how can anyone be a good positive cheerleader with that sort of workload?

Responsible Indigestion

I think there is some blockage with the vast array of responsibilities that the Canonical Community Team have to do. A great deal of these responsibilities are likely only held by members of the team because we are unable to find volunteer or non-canonical business people to take them over.

Thinking about the people in the community team (who I love with all my heart), I see a ton of projects, lots of talk and quite a bit of regret at not being able to do everything. And I don’t think it’s right that they should be asked to do everything. Outside of the team, lots of aspects of the community are quiet indeed.

Not the Center

I’ve had some really good chats in the past with Jono about the nature of the community team and how it’s often perceived as being the center of the universe for quite a lot of the Ubuntu community’s activities. There is a misconception that the “Canonical” community team is the authoritative organiser and sanctifier of activities. It’s not.

The Canonical community team are employed to look after Canonical’s interests in the community. So of _course_ they’re going to spend all their time focused on their business objectives, that’s what the team is for. Of course Canonical’s objectives might be over-stretching too, but I think the team also helps out in places for the good of the community which is leading to stress.

Our true centre, if we have one at all, is the Community Council. But it has never really taken on the responsibility of being a co-ordinating power. It deals with problems and that’s what it was made for. So I guess one waits for the project to explode before taking the charred remains to the Community Council for autopsy. This isn’t good enough.

What to do

What we need is a new centre of the Ubuntu Community universe. It’s no good having a company act as the sol centre of activity; volunteers hate working for free for mega-corp big bucks and move away over time as co-ordination is often innocuously prescribed along business objectives. A community needs a strong central point, or central set of core ideas that we can all dance to without fear we’re being abused by a large player using cheat codes.

“Ubuntu for everyone” used to be enough. A rallying cry from a thousand frustrated Linux users to come together, creating a gravity1 all of their own, pulling more people in until we had such a strong and healthy community.

That isn’t enough any more. We’ve been too successful. We have an awesome Linux desktop which we can install on anyone’s computer without very many problems. You can get it for free if you ignore the skull, download an iso good for a million installs of the same fully working operating system.

What we need is a new centre of the Ubuntu Community universe. A new point of gravity. A new co-ordination body who can sanction every hair brained scheme2, listen endlessly to every kid on irc who has an exciting new idea, comment on things, and act as a great mixing bowl for people and ideas. Such a body would need a reason and a goal, something resonant that goes beyond just technical aims, or marketing PR.

I seriously propose that we found an identity for Ubuntu which lies outside of Canonical. A gravitational body of such stability and neutral authority that the massive Jovian mass of Canonical will happily find it’s lagrange point while smaller congregations will find more comfortable points in their own orbits.

I hate to say it, but Catch 22, Canonical MUST be committed to such an idea. There is NO point in a bunch of community folk wandering off into the brush to build this. We would need everyone to recognise the problem we have here and help fix it with some radical rethinking about the community. And that includes helping Jono3.

Are you onboard? What do you think? Let me know below in the comments.

1 Gravity, the reason we all come together. Each Canonical PR blunder acting like stellar wind pushing more people away.
2 Every hair-brained scheme in Ubuntu is already sanctioned, but most of the time someone with a fancy hat and an official looking title just has to listen to it and say that it’s a good idea to give the kids confidence.
3 Save the Cheerleader, save the world.

Ubuntu Appreciation

There are so many people in Ubuntu who do such marvelous work all the time. I’d like to thank every one of you wonderful hard working bunnies.

My special shout out has to go to a tour-de-force in Ubuntu passion, stead fast community support and on going involvement in any and all LoCo teams she’s within ten miles of. Of course I’m talking about Elizabeth Krumbach (pleia2). Thank you pleia2 for your wonderful involvement and may we benifit from your wisdom for many years to come.

Note: I know I’m not terribly good at capturing people yet, but with practice I can get better, if you’d like to be a test model, send me a message and I will sketch away.

I had the Idea of Using Javascript Instead

The Genetic Wallpapers project is supposed to be able to help any artist create a wallpaper capable of shifting and moving over time to produce interesting and unique results over time.

The Idea

The problem is that artists have all sorts of crazy ideas about what and how the wallpaper should progress and currently the logic for how the wallpaper will mutate is contained within the python code of the main project.

So I had this crazy idea, what if I could move that logic to javascript, a language which far more people know and each logic mechanism would be self contained within the svg wallpaper it’s supposed to effect.

I thought this was such a cool idea I rushed to google to do a search to find out how I could execute self contained javascript from python without a browser (because it’s svg, not html) and it only needs to be able to modify the Document Object Model to move and resize the objects in the image.

The Problem

All of the projects I encountered searching for a solution couldn’t really do the job. Either they were hacks, tied to web browsers, didn’t really work or were mostly converters to make javascript out of python. Which isn’t what we need for this to work. I looked at python-jswebkit, python-spidermonkey and pyv8, none of which could really do the job of running javascript to act on a DOM.

Possible Solution

Instead of trying to use python, I could farm it out to perl. I hear perl has better javascript execution support and best of all, documentation to show you how to do it.

The alternative is to ask the community. But this is quite a highly specialised bit of functionality, very rarely do we need to run one bit of JIT code on another. But any ideas would be very welcome.

Comments and thoughts on the idea and the direction, please to post below.

Negative Community Reaction Development

I’ve been thinking about what it is that cultivates a negative reaction from people who use your software and who are invested in it’s success. This line of thinking has obviously been brought about by the new Ubuntu Unity interface and the strong reactions to both technical implementation and implementation method.

Firstly I want to separate out the general masses and the competition (no offence Jeff), there are plenty of people on the internet who just love to troll and there are plenty of people in other distro that talk nonsense based on tribal affiliation. Ignore them, I’m talking about negative reactions from people who make up the fixtures and fittings in the community, for Ubuntu, this would be Ubuntu Members (but not MOTU).

I’m sure we’ve all seen comments such as:

I really liked Maverick, but now with this new Unity thing that Mark has dictated will will all be using, I guess I’ll stick around for 11.04 but then move when 11.10 comes out and we have no choice but to use Unity.

The user in the quote is frustrated that development on Unity has seemingly come out of nowhere to crush all the familiarity they used to have and in order to continue to use the latest and greatest Firefox and OpenOffice they’ll be forced to put up with design decisions that will be against their own personal internal aesthetic. They’re not wrong in their concern, but of course this is a risky move that their distribution is attempting; a massive coarse correction which delves deep into the bowls of the ship we’re all sailing in and is tinkering with the engine and reshaping the hull to see if it’ll make the thing go faster.

Much like someone below deck messing about, we can’t see what the hell is going on, all we can see is the speed of the boat. So for a while the ship starts to slow down and we start to wonder if our friendly hacker is down there hitting the engine with a wrench and drilling holes in the hull. Of course the truth is that they’re risking everything on thought out designs will the same goals as most on deck, that part needs trust.

Alternatively we read official messages like:

Unity is a new interface to attract new users to Ubuntu and to attempt to jump the chasm, not everyone will be happy with the design direction; but we can’t hold back developing a user friendly desktop operating system waiting for a consensus that will never arrive.

And this too is true, but again is missing bits of the puzzle. Nothing about this kind of press release calms the fears of users, in fact it may only work with casual users and those that really trust where the ideas are coming from. It’s just as nutty to ask everyone in a committed community to trust you while you ignore the majority of what they say in order to get on with the herculean job before you as it is for users to suggest developers are deliberately planning to remove functionally just to hear the sweet screams of users.

The key is probably trust. The community members can trust the corporate development because we’re all in the same boat and they’re hardly likely to throw us overboard and corporates need to trust their community more, they’re not as design blind as we like to think, sometimes they’re just really bad at describing why they’re having trouble. This is especially true when a community member looks after lots of ubuntu user’s computers. We as developers just need to be better at reading/translating them.

I drew this graph to try and illustrate what it is about the development method that annoys people and provokes them into irrational opposition or productive support for any given project:

What are your thoughts?

Canonical fails to step on Community: Shock, Gasp

The blogger Anthony Papillion has penned an article about how Canonical has taken another step against the community. It’s all about how Canonical have shut down the sounder mailing list and irc channels because they’re off topic and wildly out of control.

I have many concerns relating to Canonical and it’s conduct, but this isn’t one of them.

The first point Anthony raises is easy to debunk. The Community Council was the body to shutter the group, not Canonical. This was a community decision to help make sure the community is healthy. You can check what people were involved and if they work for Canonical or not.

Secondly, It would be hard to argue that the people in Canonical and even Mark himself have complete disregard for the community. They spend a lot of money maintaining various parts of the community, with staff and resources and while sometimes the community team does come out with some amusingly one sided posts and ideas, over all they’re here to both help the community grow and improve education within.

Finally, there is this mistaken belief from far too many people that Ubuntu advocates (or even Canonical staff) would be sad if users started to leave Canonical’s distro for other Free Desktops like Debian or Fedora. This is nonsense. We do our best here to provide a pretty cool desktop and the code is on offer for any other desktop too. I’m pretty happy about users finding their way onto other Free Desktops and I’m bemused when upset users try and use their move to Fedora as some kind of stick to lay into Ubuntu.

Please, go to Fedora, go to Debian, have a crack at Gentoo. Just enjoy yourself and be free.


What are you Ubuntu, a Platform or a Product?

For today’s video blog I’m tackling the ideas behind Ubuntu the platform and Ubuntu the product, courtesy of Ayatana Mailing List. Nobody doesn’t like good Ayatana! Basically I dig into the problems between a One and Only vision and the more flexible, but harder to do, platform model of design.

With visual aids thanks to Inkscape!

Video Problems: Go directly to the video on blip.tv here and download the source ogv here.

What are your thoughts?

What’s not annoying about Making Money?

I was somewhat disappointed with the poll and article by Raphaël Hertzog concerning the use of flatr buttons on the debian planet. This was also posted to Planet Ubuntu and although I would dearly like my views shared with Planet Debian, this post can only reach Planet Ubuntu.

The poll is somewhat negative and doesn’t really have a ‘I think this poll is silly’ option.

Those who like reading my blog will be aware that I’m a fan of economic prosperity for people who perform a useful job. This means any job which takes time and is useful to more than just the performer is in justification to be paid somewhat by the beneficiaries.

This doesn’t guarantee any payment of course. Even making Free Software that benefits the entire worlds economy worth billions can see you destitute through bad positioning and sale of your trade. So Flatr, one of the few micro payment systems I’ve seen flourish in the foss world more than just as an experiment is under attack from an anti-payment mentality.

I understand that there would be some fear about someone earning money from the backs of someone else’s work. But having a flatr link directly on your work, even if your work is a blog post about someone else’s work, is precisely the most direct form of invitation to be rewarded for the act of publishing useful information. If you don’t agree then you don’t have to pay the writer. What I wouldn’t want though is a ban on making money, money isn’t a danger it’s misappropriation and misrepresentation that are the usual gremlins.

In this case I find neither. Your thoughts?