Adventure and excitement at UDS-Q!

I’m home from UDS-Q in lovely Oakland, California! Okay, I actually got home about four days ago, but I’m slow with these things. It was an interesting week with lots of interesting people. I’ll try to cram it into this post…

The Ubuntu Ecosystem (with a bonus secret session)

I attended a strange session on Monday, called The Ubuntu Ecosystem Part 1 (of 2). We don’t know who scheduled it, or why, or what we were meant to talk about, but it had an alluring title and the room was packed with people. Eventually, Jono stepped in to lead the session and it actually turned into a really nice chat about how Ubuntu is doing as a platform for developers outside the project itself. The session was removed from the schedule, but I think the session’s notes are interesting anyway. It was a good lead-in: app developers were a big topic for the whole week.

There was another session on Tuesday morning: App Developer external outreach. This one was quite interesting. Many different points of view emerged. When we talk about app developers, we tend to be preaching to the choir: we’re often grabbing people who already happen to be making, or interested in making, Linux desktop apps in general. I think Stuart Langridge said it best here: if there is a Linux desktop app that is incompatible with Ubuntu, it’s because they don’t like us. He also challenged the people in the room to name a single Linux app that doesn’t run on Ubuntu already. (I think Stuart is brilliant, by the way). I know there are a few, but what’s in the way is more packaging mumbo jumbo than the software itself. There are many branches to this. Getting things compatible, and getting things packaged and in Software Centre, are two or three different discussions.

Another bit of strangeness is we really don’t seem to be sure what we mean by “app developer.” Do web apps count? Games? For this discussion, at least, “app developer” seemed to be anyone who makes software. I wonder if we should be careful using “apps” as a catch-all without defining it.

So, most of the session was brainstorming where we can go to talk to developers who haven’t thought about building for Ubuntu, and how to get them on our side. There is a lot of software (especially games) that is almost platform independent, and in some cases making that software run on Ubuntu is as simple as the developer choosing to support Ubuntu. There were some interesting ideas about writing articles for magazines and media sites, defining target audiences (demographics?), and making a solid business case for people who like those kinds of things.

At one of the app developer sessions, somebody mentioned it would be nice if there was an Ubuntu presence at places like game development conferences, and there wasn’t much interest. The big one is that Canonical doesn’t really have the resources for it. I wish there were. In terms of third party developers making and supporting stuff for Ubuntu, that weren’t doing it before, I think there is one place where we can say this is really going well at the moment: indie games. No, this doesn’t involve using Qt or GTK or lenses or any of our fancy notification APIs, or even packaging (most of the time). But there are thousands and thousands of people who have paid for, downloaded and played Linux versions of games from sources like the Humble Bundle, likely using Ubuntu, and many indie developers are seriously looking to build their games for Linux so they can reach that audience. That is a heck of an opportunity and I think it needs to be appreciated and nurtured or it will go away as quickly as it came.

Making life easy for app developers

So, continuing along that trend, we also had a productive session called Upstream App Developer Documentation. This is something I have been really glad to see over at, and it was nice to learn we are on the same page here: great progress, but there is still work to be done!

One thing the site needs is content, so if you’re lovely and talented, think about submitting a tutorial for the Resources section. It would definitely be appreciated.

We talked about making it a little clearer that the site is dynamic, so people might be encouraged to approach it a little differently. We also discussed shiny ways to present API docs. The site has a good start there — particularly with its selection of a target Ubuntu version — but it is so far a little limited in scope and not as shiny as it could be. Alberto Ruiz is working on a neat Django-powered documentation site called GDN, so ideally we can fit these things together.

Installer slideshows

I missed a chunk of Monday — including my own session — because I was trying to sleep off a headache. So, we did the ubiquity-slideshow session, Installer Slideshow checkup and planning, on Tuesday! There weren’t a lot of people there, but I think we had an interesting chat, and it continued nicely in the hallway session later on. It was nice to meet some people who work on installer slideshows for different Ubuntu flavours, and we arrived on a few things to work on for Ubuntu 12.10.

I’m going to make a real start allowing translators to localize screenshots. This is a tough problem because of the tight schedule close to release, so it won’t be finished for 12.10, but I want to have something. Actually creating translated screenshots is part of the puzzle, and that will be similar to what the documentation team does but with some little decorations. Chances are I will be writing about it in the future, and it will involve some magical scripts by Jeremy Bicha as well as some funny manual work to make things look pretty. That bit is kind of entertaining anyway.

The next puzzle is actually getting those localized screenshots to users. They can’t live on the install CD because there just is not enough space (and even if there was, we’d be adding a lot of files that don’t do anything). In the future they might live on a web service, but for 12.10 I’m looking at localized ISOs. There was a great session about that: Localized ISO community growth, Quantal plans. This is an amazing project where loco teams build their own Ubuntu install CDs (like the Italian CD), completely ready to go with a translation of their choice, with extra goodies like custom Firefox bookmarks and Rhythmbox radio stations. I will be playing with slideshow customization in the ISO builder so translated screenshots can be added to language-specific install CDs.

Updates, sound themes and stuff

On Monday morning, there was a session titled Sound Theme, which was mostly a quick update about Ubuntu’s new, upcoming sound theme. I think that project is in good hands. It wasn’t finished last cycle because it’s actually a pretty big piece of work: this isn’t just the startup sound. Having seen how much work is going into this, I really look forward to where it goes.

Take a look at pkgme! I don’t remember the session at this point, but I was told the goal is to make packaging an application as simple as one command in many cases. (This way, an app developer doesn’t have to read the packaging guide and wonder why he needs a patch system for his own project). It sounds quite beautiful.

This cycle, I will be working a little bit with Michael Terry to implement the Software Updates specification. My goal is to get updates presented in a tree list where packages are collapsed beneath their respective applications. So, an update for Firefox will be presented with a single list item that says “Firefox Web Browser” along with a pretty icon, instead of a list of scary package names. This is going to be exciting! I’ll keep you posted, probably with the odd Twitter update.

As always, I have decided to actually use IRC. I do this every UDS. Hold me to it, okay? I actually set Empathy to connect to Freenode along with my other accounts this time, so it’s progress! (Yeah, I know, Empathy isn’t very good at IRC, but this way it will blend nicely with the background).

Oh, while I’m talking about random things, I’d just like to add a thanks for the t-shirts at this UDS! I love the design, and they’re super comfortable, too. So, whoever was in charge of that, you’re brilliant.


And my favourite plenaries

Dave Walker’s MAAS demo gave me a powerful urge to buy eight computers and a lot of network cables just to play with that stuff, even though I have no use for it at all. It’s an impressive demo.

The lightning talks! I don’t know where or if a video is posted, but there was a fun lightning talk full of trivia about the infrastructure behind UDS. Metres of network cable, distance travelled by our heroic technicians, amount of data downloaded and uploaded, the wifi setup — that sort of thing. I hope it gets posted somewhere.

Ubuntu at Google with Thomas Bushnell. All about how Google is doing with Ubuntu deployed as a desktop operating system for thousands of employees. It’s always interesting to learn about Ubuntu desktops being used in big operations, especially when the resulting software can still be recognized as Ubuntu — which, in this case, it sounds like it is.

Electronic Arts with Richard Hillman, EA’s chief creative director. I think some people are disappointed that EA hasn’t gone and announced SimCity 5 for Ubuntu or something (okay, that would be pretty great), but I was perfectly happy to learn it’s a cautious, ongoing investigation instead of someone deciding to throw an expensive product at Ubuntu and hoping it sticks. This way, it could really work well in the long term — and there is room to sort out any problems along the way. After all, Ubuntu isn’t perfect yet. The Q&A after this talk is really informative, and it connects with the sessions we had about app developer outreach. It’s worth a watch!


Thanks for the fantastic event, everyone! As usual I learned a lot, met some cool people, felt very humbled, and am writing way too much stuff in one blog post. And this isn’t even half of it. As usual, I should have made daily posts like all the cool people do. Oh well. See you next year! Quantal Quetzal (that’s pronounced ketzal) will be glorious.

3 Replies to “Adventure and excitement at UDS-Q!”

  1. “Do web apps count?”

    Every also-ran platform in the smartphone/tablet space (webOS, Tizen, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7) is telling developers “write HTML5 apps for us”. Yet Linux desktop advocates cling to the idea that with some improved outreach & documentation developers can be coaxed to develop O.S.-specific code for an also-ran desktop. It seems vital to make sure all the web APIs, web runtimes, widget/application manifests, etc. run well on the Linux desktop, and to try to deliver some compelling integration of HTML5 apps with Linux desktop menus, notifications, repositories, search, etc. that makes Linux a *better* environment in which to run them, whether in a browser or outside it (or somehow make the distinction superfluous).

    What happened to the Android execution environment that Canonical demonstrated in 2009? It’s another way to get developers on your platform by running the programs they’ve already written, like web APIs, Wine, or OpenJDK.

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