Ubuntu to work more with larger Linux community

Some people hate Ubuntu. I know, I know, far, far more people love Ubuntu, but that doesn't change the fact that others really dislike it. Hate is not too strong a word.

Those who hate Ubuntu tend to fall into two groups. There are those who dislike Ubuntu because it makes Linux too easy. To these people, I say: "Get over it. Linux isn't just for people with EMACS macros hard-wired into their fingers anymore." The other group are those, usually Debian Linux users, who think Ubuntu, which is based on Debian, has 'stolen' their work and that its developers haven't contributed enough back to Debian or the other open-source communities that create Linux-related software.

That's about to change. Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, announced in his blog that Canonical will be "hiring a team who will work on X, OpenGL, Gtk, Qt, GNOME and KDE, with a view to doing some of the heavy lifting required to turn those desktop experience ideas into reality." "Those desktop experiences ideas" are Ubuntu's design ideas. Shuttleworth recently said he wanted the Linux desktop to be better than the Mac's interface. He's now putting his money behind this idea.

Shuttleworth knows that achieving such a goal won't be easy. "When I laid out the goal of 'delivering a user experience that can compete with Apple in two years' at OSCON, I had many questions afterwards about how on earth we could achieve that.'Everyone scratches their own itch, how can you possibly make the UI consistent?' was a common theme. And it's true - the free software desktop is often patchy and inconsistent. But I see the lack of consistency as both a weakness (GNOME, OpenOffice and Firefox all have different UI toolkits, and it's very difficult to make them seamless) and as a strength -- people are free to innovate, and the results are world-leading. Our challenge is to get the best of both of those worlds."

Mark Shuttleworth is well aware that some people see Ubuntu as not being a contributor. "In Ubuntu we have in general considered upstream to be "our ROCK", by which we mean that we want upstream to be happy with the way we express their ideas and their work." The upstream is Debian, the Linux kernel developers, and Linux-related software programmers." Shuttleworth continued, "More than happy - we want upstream to be delighted! We focus most of our effort on integration. Our competitors turn that into "Canonical doesn't contribute" but it's more accurate to say we measure our contribution in the effectiveness with which we get the latest stable work of upstream, with security maintenance, to the widest possible audience for testing and love. To my mind, that's a huge contribution."

But, that's no longer enough. Shuttleworth opened his comments by writing, "When you present yourself on the web, you have 15 seconds to make an impression, so aspiring champions of the web 2.0 industry have converged on a good recipe for success:

1. Make your site visually appealing,

2. Do something different and do it very, very well,

3. Call users to action and give them an immediate, rewarding experience.

We need the same urgency, immediacy and elegance as part of the free software desktop experience, and that's an area where Canonical will, I hope, make a significant contribution. We are hiring designers, user experience champions and interaction design visionaries and challenging them to lead not only Canonical's distinctive projects but also to participate in GNOME, KDE and other upstream efforts to improve FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open Source Software) usability."

So, starting now, Ubuntu is going to contribute in a big way to desktop Linux. Shuttleworth wrote, "Canonical is in a position to drive real change in the software that is part of Ubuntu. If we just showed up with pictures and prototypes and asked people to shape their projects differently, I can't imagine that being well received! So we are also hiring a team who will work on X, OpenGL, Gtk, Qt, GNOME and KDE, with a view to doing some of the heavy lifting required to turn those desktop experience ideas into reality. Those teams will publish their Bazaar branches in Launchpad and of course submit their work upstream, and participate in upstream sprints and events. Some of the folks we have hired into those positions are familiar contributors in the FLOSS world; others will be developers with relevant technical expertise from other industries."

I was one of those that doubted that desktop Linux could ever equal the smooth, graceful integration of the Mac OS. Now, between the driving pace of open-source development, and Shuttleworth's millions, I can see it happening. Why not? After all, Mac OS itself is based on FreeBSD. Desktop Linux's future, despite Lenovo's recent retirement from retail desktop Linux sales, is starting to look brighter.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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