Packaging: Need Help!

I haven’t had much time to blog about interesting things, sorry guys. But I did want to take an opportunity to share a problem I’m having.

I make software, and I make it for people. I’ve driven by people’s needs. So I tend to make lots of smaller things to fix certain problems or do something interesting on a small scale. The difficulty I’m having is with packaging and getting packages into Debian and thus into Ubuntu. I make lots of PPAs and they seem to work for users who are interested in getting what I do directly from me. But…

I feel that as the developer, designer, QA and possibly only user; that to do all the work on the packaging and being the sponsor in the upload process would deny my projects much needed oversight, not to mention being tiresome.

If you check out my launchpad list of code branches, I have A LOT of really awesome code which isn’t in the Ubuntu archive. I have a lot of interesting and useful tools which should be available to all kinds of people and just aren’t. The reason why all these code branches have failed to move anywhere is because I’m not good at asking for help on packaging and when I do I ask the wrong people. Despite on a number of projects being asked by users to get packages into Ubuntu, the answer is simply: I can’t do it myself and I need help.

If you know how to get code into Ubuntu _without_ having to be the packager and Debian maintainer: let me know you thoughts, as always below.

FOSS is Commercial

OMG Ubuntu recently posted an entry on their blog about the new paid for Ubuntu Software Center.

I like the guys at OMG, they’re doing some interesting stuff, but d0od you’ve got a mistake and the article needs fixing.

Commercial software is not software that is closed source, commercial software is just software that you pay for. I’d love to see Free Software for sale in the Ubuntu software center, but of course because everyone is conflating proprietary with commercial and FOSS with free beer it’s frustrating efforts to monetise Free Software and make this whole gig sustaining.

This is doing a dis-service to the real power of FOSS as a peer reviewed, stakeholder and user empowered development by suggesting the only defining point to it is it’s free cost. It isn’t, the free cost is incidental, this community isn’t a charity and we shouldn’t be expected to behave like one all the time.

I’m asking you to stop explaining FOSS as free beer and commercial as proprietary. For the livelihood of programmers who want to make FOSS their job. Stop forcing software developers to close code up in order to make a living or force them to donate their time to make Free Software. Just pay a fair price for Free Software development and open access to market places and complain about markets that help promote the confusion by only selling proprietary software while giving away FOSS.

I don’t know if the Ubuntu Software Center will, I hope that since Ubuntu is an open community we can make some progress and get Canonical to support FOSS by allowing their marketplace to sell our services.

Three cheers for commercial free and open source software!

Three rotten tomatoes for proprietary software of any kind!

Microcenter "Linux" Section

I had to opportunity yesterday to have a look at the Cambridge MicroCenter software selection. Of course I wasn’t expecting much, if anything. What I found was amusing and confusing at the same time.

Of course they had four full isles of software products and from what I could tell a lot of them were quite old. One side of one of the shelf actually advertised that it contained “Linux” and I went to have a look at what they had.

1x Box of TuxRacer for windows and Linux, unknown age, looked pretty old.
2x Box of Develop with Linux, publish date about 2001.

That’s it, no boxes of Ubuntu, SuSE, RedHat, Madriva or anything else. No other Linux software (although that concept is a little out of date so I wasn’t expecting much). It was kinda sad, like seeing a software graveyard where old software refused to die.

What have you seen at your local computer shop?

The BBC Ubuntu Experiment

bbc-and-fossIf you’ve not heard, the BBC did an interesting thing when it was advertising showing off Microsoft Windows 7 on it’s Breakfast program on Wednesday. It mentioned Ubuntu. Wait, hold the celebrations, we haven’t cracked the BBC’s FOSS enigma just yet….

Rory Cellan-Jones mentioned in his second broadcast that it was a bunch of enthusiasts and that most people wouldn’t want to use it because it’s not what everyone else uses. (see the transcript by Alan Pope for exact wording). He’s since explained that it was clumsy and that he was fairly stressed. I think he was well meaning, but the under current of culture is very Windows orientated, so I guess it wasn’t that bad if you consider the bias he was working against.

OK, so queue lots of complaints. I made an official complaint since the BBC should be neither advertising products or picking favourites by dismissing competitors. Especially when the favourite just so happens to be the two continent convicted monopolist and primary controller of ALL IBM compatible PC operating systems distribution. A company that in a better world would have never been allowed to get into such a dangerously powerful position in the first place.

Today, Rory Cellan-Jones, the reporter who made the gaff in the original show has posted a blog entry. Firstly we should be happy Ubuntu was mentioned at all, why? because it’s so insignificant that under normal circumstances it wouldn’t ever be mentioned without the kindness of a few brave souls. (that’s balance for you kids, balance so long as your perceived as relevant by the BBC).

They’ll do a more thorough review of Ubuntu on the blog, which I welcome. Although I doubt we’ll get a Breakfast TV presenter stressing himself out over showing off Ubuntu to the public.

The reason for the review is because Canonical have very kindly given a Dell Mini to Rory and his blog post is his first 24 hours with the device. Here is where I have to turn and complain a little bit at Canonical.

At the SETC where we refurbish computers, NO ONE is allowed to take a computer without first going through a two hour introduction session. We run the Tuesday sessions EVERY WEEK, so we can gather together the public into one place and introduce them to Ubuntu in a way that makes them comfortable with using it.

There are some difficult classes to teach. Those that already think they know how to use computers. Give me 20 computer newbies for every classic windows expert student. It’s not that windows experts are incapable of learning, they’re just so god damn dogmatic and you see that with Rory’s blog post, it’s obvious that he’s got an Ego the size of a planet when it comes to computers.

So given this, why did the device not come with serious sit down teaching session?

There have been a few from our experience that have slipped though, they’ve rushed the process or told porkies in order to just get their hands on the computer. These people are destined to return. they always do, because the computer is not familiar and they don’t know what they’re doing or even why they got Ubuntu instead of a nice $20 windows xp license. They don’t know how to install things, they don’t know how to load things or find files and most importantly of all, they don’t understand what Free and Open Source Software means, why it’s free, why it’s important, how it works and why they should care.

ubuntu-research1

The machines that go out also have codecs, Skype, Java and a couple of other things to help make the ride as smooth as possible. The number of people who come back to complain are very low, most have problems with hardware, one had 300 wmv encrypted files which he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t play them (impossible without breaking law).

I’m aware that in the UK installing these codecs is fine. Unless your scared of the boggy men at Accatel and somehow believe that the EU patent office has more power than the EU Justice department. IANAL. So this mini should have very probably been loaded up with the extras too.

Perhaps my friend at the Union is right, what’s needed is a large scale introductory event and mass participation. Maybe Canonical or the UK LoCo can just set up something in London and invite every single BBC person, get some familiarity with what we do, how we do it and why it matters. (i.e. the rationale beyond simple technicalities of the software it’s self)

Learning on your own is fine if you have the time, but these guys aren’t that forgiving.

Ubuntu's Minimum Requirements

One of the persistent problems we’ve had at the SETC when refurbishing computers is the lack of understanding about the requirements Ubuntu has. There is a certain myth that Ubuntu can be installed on anything and it’ll work just like it does on a 2Ghz Core 2 Duo with 2GB of RAM.

So to aid understanding and to give some instructions, I’ve prepared this (very alpha) set of instructions with a set of minimum requirements. Currently showing 9.04, but after testing will be moved over to 9.10 once I’ve confirmed these requirements are accurate for the new version.

refirb-machine-diagram

Thoughts?

Five Years of Ubuntu

I’ve been using Ubuntu since Hoary Headghog, after I left Knoppix and Gentoo for better, easier shores. And I’ve been contributing in some way since Dapper Drake. Three cheers for the OS for the masses/those who just can’t be bothered to run Debian. *hip* *hip* *hooray*

5-years-tribute

Image licensed Creative Commons, Attribution, Share Alike and as such: Please do check out ~icantthinkofaname-09‘s original wallpaper image here: [link]

Buying Software in Ubuntu

The new Ubuntu App Center is an interesting addition/replacement to the old Add/Remove Applications program and the complicated synaptic package manager. It promises to bring simplicity to installing new apps to Ubuntu. It’s main function will be to unify several smaller apps into a common and manageable interface. (Add/Remove, Synaptic, Update Manager, etc)

The Ubuntu App Center used to be called the “Ubuntu Software Store”, with lots of the concepts shaped around the idea that this was a shop where we can buy “for free” all the programs we want to install. It’s a nice idea, and it does fit with the operating mode of chasing Apple even when Apple are copying Ubuntu. But it did lead to an awful lot of confusion and thankfully it was changed to something that didn’t sound like “We’re going to selling proprietary applications and take away all your hard won Freedom” *read this with tongue firmly in cheek*

I’m going to leave aside the thorny question of weather Ubuntu really needed a whole new app installer.

fundingThis does bring up an important question though: If Ubuntu ever offers the ability to channel money into the pockets of developers, should the focus be on rewarding proprietary vendors, or supporting a Free Software economy through it’s software deployment channel?

This is a thought experiment on my part.

If products must be sold, why then must they be proprietary ones?

Why not channel money back into the software projects that support Ubuntu?

Upstream the money.

If software is to flow downstream, then with bug reports and ideas we should be also able to send a golden stream of coin to help those up there, doing all the coding work, cope with the realities of a real life.

To support Free Software projects we could have optional amounts selectable on installation a kin to Jamendo in Rythembox, everything from Free to $200. So support for a project can be channeled directly through the operating system. Or better if someone has tried and liked a software package, provide them an easy way to pay the developers with money (or time).

I could also see this in things like the Flash player, want to install flass-nonfree? we’d like $20 please, we’re going to give it to the Gnash Foundation to make sure work moves forwards on the free replacements. If you don’t like it, then install flash-nonfree from a PPA or from source (I know, crule, but it’s supposed to be a thought experiment).

For the sake of argument let us say that Adobe saw the error of their ways and starting selling proprietary Adobe Illustrator through the Ubuntu Store. I would then like to see Inkscape get some money every time it was sold. Why? because channeling software products is a valuable service and Canonical should not sell it’s values in Freedom so lightly as to ignore the nature of the products it channels.

Anyway, this thought experiment is pure fantasy so long as Ubuntu doesn’t handle money in any way. Once it does however, the questions must be asked about weather we believe in Libre Software or Gratis Software.

FOSS: First Generation is Costly

There is so much new stuff being brought out right now, everything from Google Wave to some very interesting ubunet ubuntu karmic integrations.

ubuntu-research1What is interesting is how costly the first iteration of any idea is, it seems that before an idea is really solid or cohesive you need to spend a lot of time just thinking about what your trying to achieve. This includes a lot of pondering, staring into blank spaces and coding stuff that may never be used, over and over again.

Once you’ve got the idea nailed down, seemingly any programmer and her dog can recreate it with a fraction of the effort and even start evolving it using ideas from other spaces. Perhaps it’s similar to how some artists can take other people’s works and redraw them, but would always claim never to be able to draw.

It’s interesting because we may have to try and work out the economics of “first to market” projects, ideas and what essentially boils down to software research. Currently it’s kind of expected that projects that are first to market will be able to recoup their costs from that advantage, selling licenses and such.

But this is FOSS not proprietary closed source, it’s possible but not really very efficient to sell GPL licenses. So exactly how are we going to fund software research and unique projects that may have a high failure rate? Can we expect normal users to invest time and money into these kinds of projects using previously proposed methods for funding features and bug fixes? Would that really work if we knew it was very risky and the users are even less likely to understand what the result is really going to deliver?

Or perhaps it’s more likely that the developers will work for free on new ideas with the hope that one day people will be paying them to keep them active as successful projects. It seems like an enormous investment for volunteers, but they would be best placed to recoup from their experience.

Perhaps it’s best to leave this kind of thing to Universities like other industries do? Get government subsidised labour to do all the ground work and then be ready to jump into the successful projects later on, perhaps this might even get the students jobs later on based on their work.

An alternative thought might be to dismiss any kind of dedicated research and be contented with purely evolutionary work. No need to test new ideas or research user interaction, just follow user demands and what ever else is currently in the market.

I don’t really have any answers, I just figured I’d throw this out there. Maybe all of the above works, I obviously want lots of new cool stuff in Ubuntu.