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Mark Shuttleworth talks Project Harmony, Unity, Windicators and more

If you have done some homework, you might already who Mark Shuttleworth aka SABDFL is.

As the founder of Ubuntu ,it becomes necessary to interact with the community, however Mark is busy man so it is only limited to an 1 hour IRC session after release.

Here is an eye friendly version for people who get easily lost in the sea of monospaces IRC logs

Welcome, please introduce yourself and then we’ll begin

Hi all! Very glad to be here, looking forward to all your questions.

Start by talking about Unity and uTouch

2 years ago we had a flood of PC manufacturers wanting us to help them build their own OS’s, everyone wanted their own Linux and they wanted them all to be different and built on on Ubuntu. We did engage some of them but saw the world gradually fragmenting  and that path wasn’t going to make linux a world class, strong competitor to established propriety platforms, so we decided to put all of our own effort into a focused designed and engineered UI for netbooks that started with UNR which evolved (with a clean sheet at one point) into Unity, it’s come together quite well for 10.10, we didn’t get it all done as we hoped and there are issues on certain hardware but feedback is generally that people love the design and direction, I want bugs fixed and want it to work on all hardware possible so that will be our focus for 11.04.

We’re starting to see a new generation of mouse, essentially, that brings touch to netbooks too, there wasn’t any great open source touch framework anywhere and we have a view on touch beyond basic touch, towards “gesture languages” which nobody else was really tackling, so.. uTouch, which began in 10.10 and will evolve for 11.04, and will get easier to integrate with normal apps so, you should be zooming and scrolling with touch in 11.04 all over the place and we’ll also integrate window management and touch which is pretty slick to see in action.

What is the future of Ubuntu with embedded devices? Specifically the ARM based Guru Plug and the Sheeva Plug?

ARM is now a fully supported architecture in Ubuntu. The ARM ecosystem is coming together in something called Linaro, and Canonical is very much part of that.

Linaro is a forum to get stuff done, not a consortium or a new distro, it’s where we can set a roadmap for a unified ARM kernel, and set the pace for the ARM toolchain, in 10.10, for example, the whole of Ubuntu is built with GCC that includes patches from ARM which makes everyone’s life a little better, but a little more complicated and helps get those patches upstream faster, because they’ve been exercised at Ubuntu-scale, which is good.

So, you can count on ARM support in 11.04 and the foreseeable future.

Today is the 41st annual World Standards Day with this year’s being focused on Accessibility standards. Are there plans to improve Ubuntu’s accessibility and to bring things like the Ubuntu website in line with web accessibility standards?

Yes, accessibility is important, please file bugs where we let you down on that front, for 11.04, a11y is one concentrated push for the Unity team, for example.

We need all the help we can get, there’s no commercial case for it, we do it because we think it’s important and commercial engagements related to it would help, and folks on the team who are interested can make a big, big difference.

Is anything further happening with ‘Windicators’?

It’s in the queue, just not a top priority, with everything else moving on.

I’d like to see it, but I’m not going to force it when I know we have other things to juggle, we already have the AppIndicators protocol all we need is a variant of that to associate the indicator with a window and a plugin for (your favourite window manager) to agree to render the indicator.

Is Canonical profitable yet, or How much time more until it is?

No, and some :-)

It’s important that Ubuntu have a strong commercial footing, that gives people confidence in the future of the platform helps build the base of investment in the distro. Canonical is a good partner to our community, I believe, so Canonical’s health is good for the community too.

We chose to take on multiple things: servers, desktops, ARM, which creates contention and slows down the march to profitability but it also makes Ubuntu more valuable as a cohesive platform and i’m still confident we will break through on each of those fronts.

What is Project Harmony?

Harmony is an effort to simplify the forest of contribution agreements into a few, well thought through trees.

At the moment, there are literally hundreds of contribution agreements (also called copyright assignment agreements, because amongst other things, that’s usually what they involve).

I believe contribution agreements are really important to stimulating a healthy ecosystem of corporate involvement in the long tail of open source, they are not important for the linux kernel, which will always be cool and sexy and in many cases mission critical for so many companies and individuals you will always have a flood of contribution but they are important for many of the things we want to be there, in quality and to “Just Work™”.

I worry that this is badly understood by the broader community, there are some myths about open source, most of the work is done by folks who have a genuine commercial interest in seeing it done, in many cases, that interest is tangential to the ownership of the code but in many cases, it’s not. For example, compare Qt and Gtk, Qt has a contribution agreement, Gtk doesn’t, for a while, back in the bubble, Sun, Red Hat, Ximian and many other companies threw money at Gtk and it grew and improved very quickly but, then they lost interest, and it has stagnated. Qt was owned by Trolltech it was open source (GPL) but because of the contribution agreement they had many options including proprietary licensing, which is just fine with me alongside the GPL and later, because they owned Qt completely, they were an attractive acquisition for Nokia, All in all, the Qt ecosystem has benefitted and the Gtk ecosystem hasn’t.

One of the problems with contribution agreements is that they never had a strong lead, GPL, CC both had clear leadership and become widely adopted, we’ve gathered the legal counsel of lots of the top open source companies and we’ve looked at hundreds of contribution agreements, most, the vast majority, of them look very similar, they talk about copyright, patents, and code but because they were all written by different lawyers who “just wanted something that works for them”, they aren’t general. Harmony should produce one, or two, general contribution agreements perhaps with options, like some of the main open content / code licenses, that way, when you get to a project, if they have a “standard” agreement, you know quickly whether it’s OK for you or not.

I don’t actually think anybody who has found a bug in X and made a patch has said “Oh!, I’m not going to contribute it because I believe in the GPL and they are under the MIT license” and similarly, I think contribution is the right thing to do when you participate in a project that requests it. There are some exceptions, in the case of things like plugins which could be whole works in their own right but if you’re making a patch to someone else’s codebase, and they own the whole right to that codebase, the generous, and imo right thing to do is to contribute the patch in a way which does not change their rights, or yours which is under a contribution agreement, we’ve signed many of them, we have a policy that we always do, only exception ever was a weird, nasty agreement by some company i’d never heard of that said something impossible, which we declined, and i think they fixed.

So that’s Harmony.

Hardware issues aside, has the response to Unity been mostly positive? Would you choose another direction if you could go back in time?

It’s been flattered, critiqued and emulated, in equal measure, all are important, I think.

The flattery is nice – people like that it’s clean, the pieces fit well together, layout and space are considered, the critique is a very good guide to where we need to direct effort.

Performance on GL and fallbaks where the hardware or drivers are not sufficient, the design decisions we made around file access need careful testing and iteration and the emulation, well, that’s the sincerest form of flattery and perhaps it’s the only way we could realistically have helped those projects which embrace our ideas, after they work because sometimes you just can’t convince folk any other way than to Just Do It.

Why Kubuntu is getting less love? For example no Software Center and Ubuntu One?

Because it would cost farmore than I can justify, I do love the kubuntu community, and spend what some would consider an unreasonable amount on doing certain things twice but there is no philanthropic benefit to having TWO free desktops out there, that won’t help more folks embrace free software neither is there much commercial benefit in having two free desktops.

So, ask yourself, on what basis do you feel that we’re letting you down? on what basis do you feel you have a right to expect something else?

I admire KDE and Kubuntu, I enjoy using KDE occasionally and hanging out on #kubuntu-devel and i like the people, except occasionally the odd super-self-interested muppet who expects me to singlehandedly make his wet dreams of technology kfuturism come true and that’s that.

Any updates about the new ubuntu icon-set? Some initial sketches were supposed to have been launched. Is this still planned for Ubuntu 11.04?

I don’t think we will achieve it for 11.04, it’s a big program and we haven’t yet started but i know, if we don’t start for 11.10 we won’t finish by 12.04 and i really want it done by 12.04 LTS.

What motivated you to invest in making free software and Debian user-friendly?

“Because the possibility was out there”,

You know the answer to the question, “why do you climb dangerously high mountains”?

“Because they are there”

Life is something we get to use up, once and once only and we should do the boldest, scariest, most important thing with our lives that we can dream. I felt free software could be all the things we want ubuntu to be: easy to use, free of charge, sustainable, beautiful but nobody else seemed to be interested in getting it there and it wasn’t going to happen by itself, It needed a community that was single-minded about THOSE specific goals. Not the things that people seemed to care about, nothing wrong with the kernel community, or the X community, or the other distro communities. I just didn’t see anybody who was caring about usability, people, beauty, quality on the desktop.

If you think something is possible and good and you have the time and resources and nothing more important to do then you should do it and thousands of people seem to agree, becuase they help build it.

Gnome Shell uses a system of notification that is somewhat similar to notify-osd. When Ubuntu would begin using gnome-shell, would you like notify-osd to be used or the notification system of gnome-shell?

We designed and built it[notify-osd] in good faith, it’s compatible with the freedesktop.org standards, we did it long before anybody else seemed to care about reinventing notifications, we expressed a willingness to collaborate around API’s when suddenly they did  and now we have good code that works, with lots of apps that use it. So, we’ll stick to it.

Why did Canonical ditch the Linux Professional Institute certification and will there be any discounts for the new training for long-time Ubuntu contributors (or ubuntu members)? Currently the server training is more than £1000, which is a bit steep for an individual for an online course.

There was little demand for individuals getting their own certification and more for something specific to ubuntu that companies could be confident would help their sysadmin teams be productive in an environment where ubuntu was being deployed.

I’d like to change the forces of gravity and economics, occasionally, we tweak their noses but in due course they reassert themselves ;-)

Is there a strategy from Canonical to increase local commercial presence in emerging economies (and not via partners)?

Yes, we have an office in Shanghai and have employees in India and Brazil and South Africa is starting to embrace Ubuntu for education and I believe in that mission but we can’t be everywhere, doing everything, partners are very important to us and where we have the right partner, we are often more effective than we could reasonably expect to be doing everything ourselves.

What do you think about services like Flattr? Have you considered integrating something like that into the Ubuntu Software Center?

They are very cool, and yes

Is there a plan for process isolation for apps installed from untrusted sources (ie, universe, proprietary stuff from the software center)? iOS and sugar from the olpc already have something like this.

Using, say, something like AppArmor?

I like the idea! You should chat with the right folks at UDS about that, if you can come or raise it on #ubuntu-devel.

What are the plans for India?

We got the new Rupee symbol in the 10.10 ttf-ubuntu-font-family package, first OS in the world to support it natively.

I think India has the potential to harness FLOSS in a very potent way, there is little legacy dependency, there is a substantial talent base, the only thing that is required is very directed government policy, that, however, is challenging in India.

Countries like Brazil might well do better: they too have been experimenting with FLOSS and can more likely translate that thinking into concrete policy that encourages business, universities, schools and government organisations to use FLOSS.

So, it’s a race to see who is smarter and more organised about this.

What’s the plan with indicator-network and indicator-datetime? Is natty going to be the first linux distro ever to ship without a notification area?

Without a legacy systray, I hope so.

We are building a new GNOME UI for connection-manager, the Intel-Nokia replacement for NetworkManager, we’ll have to see, in the final analysis, how it pans out but connman has many advantages in design and testability, NM has more road behind it.

I use the connman bits, and they work well for me with some exceptions like ad-hoc networks and I haven’t had much success with 3G though I believe it works for some.

Google is using a derivative in ChromeOS, so, i think it will be solid and I really like the design work MPT did on the indicator and settings, though it’s taking time to implement.

We often see figures for how many Ubuntu installs there are, 8 million here, 12 million there. Can you give us definitive (near enough) figures and tell us how you arrive at them? This would help dispel some naysayers who claim we’re making these numbers up.

No, I have no definitive answer, there are stats but we can make those say whatever we want,  we just don’t do any meaningful tracking or registration.

Anyway, what matters to me is that our users are delighted, whoever they are and however many there are and I do believe we have more than either of those numbers but I don’t think anybody knows for sure, except maybe google, and they haven’t said.

Any plans on changing the one-cd strategy, to get room for more standard tools, like say a daemon administration tool and a firewall?

No, it’s a good discipline, we need to get better at helping people find things like those tools of yours, after they install and forcing less on them up front.

I’ve been following Ubuntu for years. I’ve also been following the blogosphere for years. I can say, without doubts, that Maverick is the most successful release ever. What’s next?

Natty!

Do you consider Ubuntu to be a product of the UK?

No, Earth.

What do we do at the end of exhausting A – Z for naming?

Cyrillic anybody?

What do you think about OMG! Ubuntu! ? (sorry, can’t resist)

Rocks

This is not an interview done by us but rather a series of QA done by individuals around the world on IRC at Ubuntu Open Week.