UDS Narwhal – Monday


Mark Shuttleworth kicked off this week’s UDS with a couple of interesting messages.

First was the focus on quality now that we’ve got a fair way through both the cadence and design pushes which Mark has been keenly interested in. We’re told to be super attentive to little issues and to demonstrate this Mark got together all of the best Canonical people involved in the Maverick release and gave them ice cream as a special treat. He then revealed that one of the bowels of ice cream had a fly in it. “This sweet ice cream doesn’t look so sweet now” he said. We need to pay attention to all the little flies like flickering screens and slow shell use because no matter how sweet we make Ubuntu, it won’t be attractive if there is even one fly in there. “we can do much much more, and be much much better”

The Unity interface will be coming to the default desktop. Thanks to demand and feedback the unity interface will be enabled for all users who have the hardware support and it’s being promoted as an easy to use interface. I agree with this, I’ve had the netbook launcher on my mum’s desktop for years now.

There was a note about Ubuntu’s relationship with the Gnome project. Part of this was the emphasise that Unity is a shell on Gtk/Gnome just as much as gnome shell will be, everything is the same Gnome in all other regards. The second part was a short clip of Monty Python’s Life of Brian where the Judians People’s Front is raving about how their not any of the other groups. This is trying to show us that groups that are trying to change the world too often focus on the very small differences between themselves instead of the main goals. The main message is: “We’re here to fight the Romans”

I was personally very happy with the mention of Ubuntu economics. Mark affirmed that the Ubuntu Software Center will support Free and Open Source software sponsorship where anyone can push money into projects and programs in order to move development forward. Improving the position of Free Software projects in the software center and allowing non contributing members to still contribute to projects. I know this is a bit of a dirty subject to a lot of people, but economics is _really_ important for Free Software and we ignore it at our peril.

Content Media Library

A really interesting project to create a multimedia sharing and collaboration platform which involves sharing and streaming your content around. It’s early days but it’s looking like Shotwell, Ubuntu One and PiTiVi are all excited about the possibilities presented here.

Development Learning Events

We’re discussing the organisation of further events to teach people development skills and introduce them to key technologies in the FOSS ecosystem. Brought up was linking up more of the existing documentation, making screencasts and having the information available on the project pages. Having development sessions which focus on how to get involved with projects rather than the basics on some technology was also brought up.

Polemic Design

Between the early adopting individualists and the aesthetically pleased seems to be a rift growing wider and wider. Unity is a not customisable, read the comments too.

The culture that surrounds the community is certainly one of individualism. We like to think ourselves as cool outsiders doing something beyond the norm. There are users who don’t care so much, but the majority of us involved in advocacy and development have come to like the ownership and the sense of self style that comes with Free and Open Source Software.

The culture of Apple is a little different, it’s one of polemic design. A place where there is one right way to do something and there is a special person who will decide what that principle must be. Because this design philosophy has produced aspiring designs there are signs that others are copying. The problem is that polemics isn’t compatible with individualism, it’s not even compatible with science or rhetoric.

My own struggle with polemic design is rhetoric. I’m far more interested in dialectics than positivism for certain classes of problems, but software engineers don’t understand dialectics and so tend to simply stick with dualism. As if argument was about proving the other person wrong instead of working out a solution that solves the problems and resulting conflicts.

Dualism has gotten us into trouble especially when it comes to design. We have often looked blind to design because we add options to solve every conflict. Not having design skills available in the ecosystem has meant the community has been unable to come up with solutions to complex design problems preferring to copy instead. This is why Mark says “the community can’t do design” and it’s “design by committee”.

It has frustrated me how hard it is to work out design problems in the community in the past; but I don’t think the answer is to jettison faith in the community as Mark has done. I think with the design skills people are learning from the new Canonical design team and some studying of dialectic rhetoric we should be able to come up with good designs without the need for Apple’s polemic philosophies.

Your thoughts?

Good Luck Mark and Jane

I just heard the news from Mark’s own blog, he’s shifting from Canonical CEO to a more focused Steve Jobsian roll for Ubuntu. In his place will step Jane Silber.

I had the good fortune of working with Jane briefly on Ubuntu One, and she struck me as very capable and strong. An excellent choice to move the business forwards, to handle the day to day money making.

I don’t think anyone is particularly surprised that Mark wants to take a more hands on roll with the technical and design direction of Ubuntu, his very active participation in the Ayatana mailing list should have given a hint where the passion was. I figure that the day to day operations of Canonical were just getting in the way of the fun stuff.

I offer my congratulations and best of look to everyone.