Monday, January 25, 2010

David Seigel on Improving Launchpad Bug Workflow, or "Developer, Developers, Developers"

Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical Ltd. employees...Image via Wikipedia
David Seigel has a great post, called Improving Launchpad Bug Workflow for Opportunistic Programmers < The Plenitude of Arboreal Beauty. It's not great in that I like the exact solution proposed, but it highlights some important points about Free software development, and the comments are equally interesting.

First, a summary for those not wanting to read the post. David proposes adding a simple link to Launchpad which will help opportunistic programmers fix simple bugs like the ones in 100 Papercuts without having to worry about setting up the proper build environment. Clicking "Quickly fix this bug" installs the proper dependencies and source, opens the preferred editor, and creates a patch when finished.

In effect, David is proposing that Ubuntu prescribe a specific method for bug fixes, including the IDE used. (He proposes using Eclipse.) While this type of policy is likely to rankle many programmers, I believe that having a preferred IDE, language, and toolkit for Ubuntu would be a big step forward. In fact, when Ubuntu started in 2004, I remember Shuttleworth stating that all new work should be done in Python, and that Canonical would be hiring based on this principle. SchoolTool was developed from Zope (IIRC) for this exact reason.

While there certainly have been many new additions to the Ubuntu project which rely on Python since then, we also have GTK-sharp, C, and ECMAScript or JavaScript (e.g. Seed or Gjs). Ubuntu has failed to have a single, defining vision for its product (which Shuttleworth claims he wants) with a preferred development method. I'm not suggesting that there be only one method for development, but both Microsoft and Apple have shown that providing standard tools and languages (VS/.NET and XCode/ObjectiveC, respectively) can create a great developer base. The easier to get involved, the better.

Ubuntu could have a special developers' release which includes all the standard tools necessary to set up and connect to a Launchpad account (for bug fixing and publishing via PPA), an IDE with Ubuntu- and Launchpad-specific plugins, and complete developer documentation. Of course, programmers can continue to use Vim or Emacs or whatever, then use Bazaar from the command line, but new developers would likely just accept the default method Ubuntu provided, and puting "Ubuntu" into the "integrated" part of an integrated development environment would lure many developers. (I had in my notes but forgot to mention that Ubuntu currently is developing Quickly, which appears to be going in the direction I'm proposing. Or it could die like so many other other projects. Wait and see.)

More interesting stuff comes up in the comments section: what is the responsibility for upstreaming? Should bugs be fixed upstream first? Should patches be preferred for upstream? I think these kinds of arguments overlook the strength of FOSS. Ubuntu should fix bugs as it sees fit locally first, and submit those patches or make them easily available (something Launchpad is working hard on). Ultimately, though, many proposed patches will not be accepted by upstream, or they might be delayed by years waiting for a release. If Ubuntu wants to progress, it needs to take responsibility for its own problems and not state that it is waiting on upstream to integrate or fix a patch.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Quick Tip: Speed Up File Transfers to External Storage

External hard disk enclosure from behind. On t...Image via Wikipedia
These days, you might often copy a video file over to an external drive so that you can take that drive to someone's house. The process can run quite slowly if you drag the video file into the destination drive's window but don't close it. Why is that?

In GNOMENautilus is trying to create a preview of the video file every time the file changes ... which is constantly. ;) Nautilus is therefore constantly pulling data from your drive and using CPU to create a thumbnail that will be discarded the next second. Since the bus is probably already saturated with outgoing data, Nautilus is causing all kinds of problems there.

Close the drive's window, and Nautilus won't do that, saving time and energy.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

[Phoronix] Google To Switch To EXT4, Hires Ted To Code

[Phoronix] Google To Switch To EXT4, Hires Ted To Code: "Google To Switch To EXT4, Hires Ted To Code"
Google also happened to just hire Ted Ts'o, the widely known Linux kernel developer who is largely responsible for the EXT4 file-system work. According to a blog comment, one of the first things he will be working on while enjoying the Googleplex is EXT4. Hopefully he will be able to drive some better performance back into this file-system that's now used by default in most desktop Linux distributions.
And people always say you can't make money in open source.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Must Read: A New Approach to China

You need to read A New Approach to China on the Official Google blog. No, it's not about Ubuntu. It may, however, be more important.

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The Plight of Ubuntu Users in Developing Countries

A landline telephoneImage via Wikipedia
Ubuntu is named after a philosophy focusing on people's allegiances and relations with each other. The Linux distribution was created by a South African to help the poor in South Africa and the whole of Africa. Sadly, most Africans are excluded from using Ubuntu because of a package choice Ubuntu made years ago.

Now, I'm not African or living in Africa: I'm a U.S. citizen living in Thailand. I don't have any first-hand experience with this situation other than the similarities between the state of rural African connectivity and rural Thai connectivity (which is surprisingly similar). I have, however, heard people around the world complaining.

Internet penetration in Africa is a paltry 6.7% of the population, compared to 27.7% outside of Africa. Moreover, Africans have very limited broadband options due to infrastructure.
Most African countries now have commercial DSL services, but their growth is limited by the poor geographical reach of the fixed-line networks. The rapid growth of Internet access has therefore been mostly confined to the capital cities so far. The introduction of mobile data and 3G broadband services is changing this, with the mobile networks bringing Internet access to many areas outside of the main cities for the first time.*
 Most Africans (both now and in the future) who have a choice of connectivity (many have no choice) have two connectivity options: dial-up and 3G data. Both of these methods use ppp to connect. Many parts of the world, including some developed countries, have similar options for connecting to the Internet.

Shockingly, Ubuntu dropped wvdial and gnome-ppp -- the command-line and GUI ppp connectors, respectively -- from the distro years ago. In order to connect to the Internet, most African users must therefore connect to the Internet (see the problem?), download the appropriate packages, and configure their dial-up or 3G connection. Just about anyone who has used Ubuntu knows that it's not particularly capable out of the box without Internet access. (Edit: Jono Bacon says that 3G connectivity is included out of the box. I don't doubt him, but all the howtos I have read used ppp. 3G must be a new addition to NetworkManager.)

So ... what was gained by dropping these two packages? Space on the CD.
What was the price of excluding most of Ubuntu's target market? 250K bytes of space on the CD. About 70% of the size of Gwibber, the Twitter client set to be included by default on 10.04.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Manual for Karmic Still Not Certain

Ubuntu wordmark officialImage via Wikipedia
Softpedia is reporting that Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Linux will have a manual included. (Also at the LXer.)At this point, the story's not true. There has been a discussion on the Ubuntu Docs Team mailing list for a couple of weeks over the project, and despite Jono reportedly being on board, there is no official status to this project yet.

Let's not jump the gun, shall we?
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