Moving On

While I had been interested in Debian/Ubuntu packaging for a while, it was the release of GNOME 3 two years ago that gave me the opportunity to get involved significantly. As Ubuntu switched to Unity by default instead of a tweaked GNOME desktop, there was a need for contributors who cared about GNOME to step in and help out.

I’m sad to announce that due to immense personal and family responsibilities, I simply won’t have the time or ability to contribute to the Ubuntu GNOME effort much longer. I get a lot of happiness out of participating in a major open source software project. It is my charity work. I am very pleased that my volunteered computer skills can improve the lives of millions of people.

If you’ve been following the Ubuntu GNOME community, you have no doubt seen Tim Lunn’s work. Tim (darkxst) is an Ubuntu member, a GNOME Foundation member, and a Ubuntu Contributing Developer. He has submitted several fixes to gnome-shell, gdm, and other GNOME components. Tim is the clear choice to take over the Technical Lead role for Ubuntu GNOME.

After our first official release last month, this is a great time to pitch in. We can use additional packagers, testers, and more. The Ubuntu GNOME project is especially in need of help with QA — testing the development releases (and our PPAs) to identify problems, triage incoming bug reports, and certify the releases. Thanks!

Posted in GNOME, Ubuntu

Resigning from the Docs Team

I first got involved with Ubuntu docs around the time the Ubuntu 11.04 Beta was released. That was a very busy time as GNOME 3.0 was being finalized and Ubuntu 11.04 was switching to Unity by default. The GNOME Docs team had undertaken a massive rewrite of their user docs using the new Mallard topic-based format. The official Ubuntu documentation then was currently a snapshot of the GNOME docs but it was a bit outdated, missing a lot of the finalization work done by the GNOME volunteers at a recent hackfest.

I had been interested in contributing to docs for a while and seeing the documentation as seriously incomplete was the motivation I needed to step in and figure out what I could do to help. We had to merge in the latest GNOME improvements and rewrite the docs to mention Unity instead of GNOME Shell. We didn’t meet the normal deadlines (which meant the translators didn’t have a chance to do much by release day) but we shipped a nice update to the user docs for Ubuntu 11.04. I provided a lot of help and I wasn’t the only one.

But after 11.04 Jim moved on to contribute to GNOME directly. (Jim bucked the stereotype by switching from XFCE to GNOME when GNOME3 was released.) I would periodically remerge the GNOME work back into the Ubuntu documentation. I ended up being by far the major force keeping the Ubuntu documentation updated. Meanwhile, I was also contributing to the community in other ways by getting involved in packaging (especially GNOME) and contributing back to Debian and to GNOME itself. I also helped get the Ubuntu GNOME project going because of the widespread demand for a GNOME flavor of Ubuntu.

I’m very sad that life and my other responsibilities are pushing me to need to give up some of my responsibilities. I am stepping down from my Docs team responsibilities now. I will still be around for the next few weeks to help pass the torch to anyone who wants to take my place on the Docs team. After that I will be withdrawing my ~ubuntu-core-doc membership as well. This is a very sad moment for me and I’ve been putting it off for a while.

I was able to help Benjamin Kerensa and Kevin Godby today with some of their work to get the 13.04 user documentation out the door. Maybe they’ll help lead the next round of keeping the docs up to date; maybe others will help too. While most of my work involved the Ubuntu user guide, the other flavors of Ubuntu can use help too. I’m happy to see Doug Smythies and Peter Matulis take charge of the Server Guide. Pasi Lallinaho did a major rewrite of the Xubuntu docs last cycle. And the other flavors can use your help too.

If you’re interested in getting involved with Ubuntu documentation, jump in and get involved. Coordination happens in IRC on #ubuntu-doc and on the mailing list. Good English skills and organizational abilities are a must and you have to be willing to work with a format that looks similar to HTML and XML. To coordinate, we use bzr as the revision control system. You’ll need to learn that too but you don’t need to know how to use it from the start. You do not need to be a programmer.

Open Help Conference & SprintsAlso, I strongly recommend you look into attending the Open Help conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, in June. I went last year and it’s a great opportunity to meet the GNOME docs team (and contributors from other projects as well). The accompanying hackfest allows you to work with others and get a lot done in a few days.

Posted in GNOME, Ubuntu

Ubuntu Online Accounts and the Ubuntu GNOME Remix

A defining goal of the Ubuntu GNOME Remix is to bridge the gap between Ubuntu and GNOME. Shipping a pure GNOME flavor  that is part of Ubuntu is a huge challenge as Ubuntu has been patching GNOME for years. We’ve made a good amount of progress for 12.10 and things will be even better in 13.04.

On the other hand, the most frustrating regression in our goal that (to me) appeared out of nowhere this cycle is Ubuntu Online Accounts (UOA). UOA is an alternative to GNOME Online Accounts (GOA was released with GNOME 3.2 a year and a half ago). The first I heard of UOA was when reading the GNOME ftp-release list. What was this Ubuntu Online Accounts thing and why was it in GNOME but not in Ubuntu (until a week or so later)?

Apparently, it was actually discussed in private at UDS Orlando II a year ago. It’s another example of Canonical’s “develop in private” open source strategy….but that’s a blog post for another day.

Now for Ubuntu GNOME 12.10, we are now forced into shipping both GOA and UOA which provides a horrible user experience. The Ubuntu tool is required for Ubuntu’s Empathy package; the GNOME tool is required if we want online account integration with Boxes, Documents, and Evolution. Contacts is just broken (which is especially annoying since 12.10 is the first release where Contacts is included by default in the flagship Ubuntu release).

It’s a headache for GNOME app developers too. Because the two APIs are architectured fairly differently, it’s not clear whether other GNOME modules will accept UOA integration patches. And as Canonical doesn’t ship those apps by default, it’s not clear who’s going to write those patches. So as it stands, the duplicate Online Accounts bug is unlikely to be improved for 13.04 either.

I think part of the problem is that GNOME initially appeared to be rather restrictive on what accounts they were going to let into GOA; now the big problem I see is whether Canonical is willing to work with GNOME to merge these two implementations together or at least invest in cooperating to try to define a common API for app developers. Basically, Canonical was a huge part of creating this mess but what will they do to fix it?

Note the two Online Accounts entries

Debarshi Ray, the GOA maintainer has started a public dialog about the GOA/UOA split on his blog. Check it out!

Posted in GNOME, Ubuntu

Ubuntu Docs: A Call for Help

What would you do if you were a brand new Ubuntu user and had a problem with your computer or wanted to learn how to use it better? Perhaps you’d try searching on the Internet, but what happens if you don’t have an Internet connection? Also, the Internet isn’t really organized, and if you’re new to Ubuntu it’s probably pretty difficult to tell the difference between wrong information and the right answers.

If you type help into Ubuntu’s dash, you can find the Ubuntu Desktop Guide, which is a really awesome resource. (And it’s also available online at ) A lot of the built-in help comes straight from GNOME documenters who have done amazing work in the past two years. Of course, GNOME uses GNOME Shell by default and Ubuntu uses Unity, so in order for the Ubuntu help to be, well, helpful, we have to make our own derivative version of the GNOME Desktop help.

The Ubuntu Desktop Guide is completely community maintained and that’s why I’m blogging today. We can use more help in finishing the guide for Precise. We just got a freeze extension, but the new deadline to finish writing and editing content is only one week away!

You can see the current version of the guide by running the following commands in a terminal. (If you’ve never used bzr before, you’ll first need to install bzr and set up your SSH key in Launchpad first.)

 bzr branch lp:ubuntu-docs
 cd ubuntu-docs/ubuntu-help/C
 yelp .

Ubuntu-docs are written in Mallard, an XML format. You can edit the .page files in your favorite Text Editor. For more info about Mallard, see the home page or this one page guide.

Some of the topics we’d love to see written include:

  • The new multi-monitor behavior, including how to enable the launcher on all monitors, and how to disable sticky edges
  • How to set the launcher to autohide
  • The HUD
  • Filtering Dash search results
  • How to enable hibernate including the system requirements (how much swap is needed for instance)

For the full list or brainstorming other ideas, see the pad.

Contributing to documentation is not necessarily easy but it is appreciated. It requires the ability to express yourself clearly in English and explain a user interface simply but with enough detail to not confuse readers. It requires skills in version control, problem solving, and a bit of how XML works. It is a great way to get involved in Ubuntu development without needing to be a C guru.

If you’re interested in volunteering, you can express your interest either on the pad, IRC (we’re in #ubuntu-doc ), or the mailing list. Although a bit out of date, you probably want to check out our wiki too.

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Posted in Ubuntu

Ubuntu Classic, Now With Indicators

I’m happy to announce that indicators have been ported to gnome-panel 3, thanks to Jason Conti for the patch and Ted Gould for merging it.  I’ve taken the opportunity to update gnome-panel’s default layout to include the “indicator” status menus and the show desktop button instead of the upstream clock and notification area. I for one really appreciate the Ubuntu design work on the status area and believe it is far better than the classic notification area.

The theming is still broken (see the two different gray backgrounds in the top panel) but I expect that will be fixed in the coming weeks. Patches are appreciated. And the window switcher in the bottom has barely readable light gray on dark gray. I don’t remember if that’s a new problem due to the intense GTK+ theme changes this cycle or has been there for a while. I normally run GNOME Shell or Unity and run Classic just enough to help with its packaging.

Anyway, the Classic desktop had some issues in 11.10 but I’ll be happy to recommend 12.04 for fans of the GNOME 2 style.

Posted in Linux, Ubuntu

Update on GNOME Versions for Ubuntu 12.04

Now that Ubuntu 12.04 “Precise Pangolin” Alpha 2 will be rolling out on Thursday and Feature Freeze is soon after (on February 16), I want to give an update on the versions of GNOME components that will be in 12.04. Because 12.04 is a Long Term Support release, designed for people and businesses that prefer a stable Ubuntu to the newest code, we’ve been a bit more cautious this cycle. For those who like things a bit less cautious, there’s the GNOME3 PPA.


The Totem movie player will stay at 3.0 because 3.2 switched to using clutter which means that (as currently configured & tested on Ubuntu) videos won’t play for people who don’t have working 3D drivers (as is the case with a Dell Mini I own unless I use a hacked X stack and drivers). At this point, we don’t have a newer version of GDM than 3.0 ready (it requires a lot of patching to work well on Debian/Ubuntu), but you’re using LightDM now anyway, right?


We’ll be keeping Evolution at version 3.2 since it will be better tested and stable than 3.4 which was scheduled to get some significant infrastructure work done this cycle (specifically switching to gsettings and webkit). On the other hand, I don’t think Evolution 3.3 has been considered either to see how stable it is and whether the planned new features will make it this cycle or not. Aisleriot Solitaire will probably remain at 3.2 because it uses guile-2.0 and we don’t want to support two different guile versions in main.

Disk Utility (renamed in 3.4 to “Disks“) will stay at 3.2 because 3.4 is a complete rewrite and drops libgdu in favor of udisks2. udisks2 has not been tested by as many people and libgdu is currently used by unity, update-notifier, gvfs (which is pretty important). Similarly, gnome-keyring has had some refactoring which hasn’t really been tested in Precise so that will stay at 3.2.

System Settings (gnome-control-center, gnome-settings-daemon, and gsettings-desktop-schemas) is also unlikely to be upgraded to 3.4. This requires an update to unity-greeter as it expects certain things to be present in g-s-d which were reshuffled in the new version (and is why the new version isn’t in the GNOME3 PPA because we haven’t tried to patch the greeter yet). And Unity will need to be checked to make sure keyboard shortcut settings are recognized correctly but the Compiz developers have plenty of work to do already this month. So, using 3.4 is possible but it’s probably too much work to get done in 2 weeks. The unfortunate side effect is that GNOME Shell 3.4 needs the new settings stack so that its keyboard shortcuts can be changed without people having to dig into gsettings or dconf-editor. GNOME Shell is a good release though.


Basically everything I haven’t mentioned will be getting 3.4 (well the kernel will also be 3.2 but that doesn’t count!) which is a pretty long list. And there’s quite few cool features: among them are Nautilus undo support (should land in Precise next week), significant work to the GNOME Games, and GNOME’s new menu system (Unity support isn’t in Precise yet). And even without shipping 3.4, bugfixes and even some features are being backported to Precise packages.

I’ve also done some initial packaging for Boxes (GNOME’s new virtualization and remote desktop app). But the default remote desktop app for 12.04 is still scheduled to be Remmina.

And of course, we’re always looking for more packagers and developers to join the Ubuntu Desktop Team to allow us to do more. There’s quite a few spots where we could use some help (testing Evolution 3.3, packaging the split gnome-utils, fixing bugs, etc.) so join us in #ubuntu-desktop if you’re interested. Your contributions can directly influence an operating system used by millions around the world!

Posted in Ubuntu

POSSCON: Open Source in the South East

It seems the majority of tech conferences are located in California and there aren’t near as many to choose from on the East Coast of the United States. There are even fewer in the South East. I only know of two open source conferences in the area and that’s why if you live nearby, I strongly recommend you reserve March 28-29 on your 2012 Calendar for the Palmetto Open Source Software Conference (POSSCON). I consider myself very fortunate to be working with Todd Lewis and the others on the POSSCON team to help make this year’s POSSCON another top-notch event.

POSSCON brings together developers and business leaders together in a fun, professional environment to discuss and learn about the latest open source technologies and how to use them in your . Bringing the best of open source concepts to the business world is what makes this conference unique. As Jim Jagielski said last year, “Imagine if OSCON and OSBC had a baby: its name would be POSSCON.” In addition, the conference always has good turnout from the government and healthcare sectors, many of whom are still learning all that open source has to offer.

Now in its fifth year, POSSCON brings world-class content and speakers to Columbia, South Carolina. The featured speaker this year is Scott McNealy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems. As one of the most influential leaders in Silicon Valley, McNealy has a unique perspective on open source’s place in business. Larry Augustin, another driving force in open source and founder of SourceForge will also be keynoting. As there are too many great speakers to list here, please visit our website to read about the others.

This year’s tracks are Technical, Big Picture, Education, and Demo. The education track is one of our perpetually popular tracks; it was about the first to fill up with speakers this year. Ubuntu sysadmins will get a chance to learn more about JuJu with Canonical’s Charm School.

Early Early Bird Registration ends tomorrow so register now for the best deal on one of the best open source conferences in the South. And we’re still looking for sponsors to allow us to continue to make POSSCON an affordable opportunity for everyone.

Posted in Conferences, Linux, Ubuntu

Link: Ubuntu in the Corporate

I read this post today by Neil Broadley and thought it would make good reading for the Ubuntu Planet because personally I like hearing about how Ubuntu works in real world deployments.

Posted in Ubuntu

Accidental dput upload

Today, I uploaded the latest development build (3.3.4) of the Totem video player to the GNOME3 PPA (Rico actually did most of this packaging). The Ubuntu Desktop Team is keeping Totem 3.0 in the normal Ubuntu archives because newer versions of Totem require clutter which means users would need to have working 3D graphics which isn’t the case for everyone. For instance, I am “lucky” enough to own a Dell Mini which came with Ubuntu pre-installed but also unfortunately came with the poorly supported Intel GMA500 “Poulsbo” graphics cards and the open source drivers don’t really do 3D yet.

The purpose of the GNOME 3 PPA is to provide the pieces of GNOME that don’t make it into the archives (specifically, GNOME 3.0 for Ubuntu 11.04 “Natty” [no longer supported], 3.2 for Ubuntu 11.10 “Oneiric”, and 3.4 for Ubuntu 12.04 “Precise”) and Totem is a great example of one of these pieces.

But when I went to upload totem, I used the following command

dput ../build-area/totem_3.3.4-0ubuntu1~precise1_source.changes ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3

which didn’t do what I expected. For some Linux commands, the order of arguments doesn’t matter; for quite a few others like dput, order is important. dput completely ignored the “ppa:gnome3” part of my command because the destination has to go before the .changes filename. If no destination is listed before the .changes filename, then dput by default uploads to the official Ubuntu archives. Within a few minutes, I was contacted by the ever watchful Martin Pitt and Micah Gersten to find out if I really meant to do that.

For the Ubuntu archives,  packages in main like Totem can only depend on other packages in main, but the new totem depended on a universe package, mx. Because the new Totem was in dependency hold and didn’t actually build, Colin Watson was able to delete the source package and I uploaded a new totem-3.0.1-0ubuntu13 to replace it (which made a stop in the new queue first). If the package had built (which happens automatically unless there’s a dependency hold or the archives are frozen), we would instead have had to upload an ugly name like 3.3.4really3.0.1-0ubuntu1. Uploads to the Ubuntu archives must always have a greater number than previous uploads so that upgrades work (except -proposed but that’s different) but there weren’t any binary packages produced for anyone to upgrade to so this worked. By the way, the “really” uploads aren’t always accidents; sometimes Ubuntu developers decide that it would be better to remain with an older, more stable package when the newer version is found to not work very well.

I’m posting this  so that when someone else does this in the future, they’ll have a bit of a writeup on what needs to happen to fix it. Also, I’ve fixed my dput so this won’t happen so easily to me in the future.

  1. Edit /etc/ .
  2. In the [DEFAULT] section, change the value of default_host_main to local. Leaving it blank isn’t a good choice as dput will default to uploading to the Debian FTP incoming server which isn’t a great place to accidentally upload something either.

I strongly recommend that anyone with Ubuntu upload rights make this change to their dput configuration, but I wonder if dput should be made more foolproof and not default to uploading to the Ubuntu official archives?

Posted in Ubuntu

Ubuntu 12.04: Now With Quieter Logins

Peter Savage

With all of the changes in Ubuntu’s desktop over the past few months, it might seem remarkable that Ubuntu’s logon sound has been basically unchanged in 5 years. The sound theme was designed by a community contributor named Peter Savage. Back in those “edgy” days, Ubuntu had more of an African flavor which is of course reflected in the sound theme. (Peter also has contributed to Edubuntu and wrote Emblem Divide, a sci-fi book distributed at no cost but the author encourages readers to contribute to charities.)

I had only been using Ubuntu for a few months at that point so I have a hard time remembering what the earlier sound theme was (which had been introduced for Ubuntu’s first release, Warty Warthog in 2004). For historical reference, here are the sound clips:

Warty Startup

Warty Shutdown

Edgy Login Sound

For a while, I was thinking that Ubuntu should have a community contest similar to the wallpaper and countdown banner ones. More recently, I think that it would be better not to have a login sound at all. How many of us have had our computers (Ubuntu, Windows XP or whatever) or cellphones loudly announce to everyone that they have been turned on, too often at the wrong time? I think a historical reason for the logon sound was because computers used to take a long time to turn on. Fortunately, Ubuntu boots pretty quickly these days so that reason is obsolete.

Today, I uploaded a new version of libcanberra to Precise (12.04) which disables the login sound by default:

  * 02_disable_login_sound.patch:
    - Disable the login sound by default, since it seems to be more
      disruptive than helpful especially with faster boots

If you still like hearing the login sound, click Startup Applications in the system menu at the top right of your computer and make sure the GNOME Login Sound box is checked. (Or if you’re using Ubuntu 11.10 or earlier and don’t like it, make sure that box is unchecked.)

I’d like to close by reminding you that it’s possible to contribute to Ubuntu without being a Canonical employee and without even being a programmer. You contributions can have a big impact like Peter’s 7-second composition which has been heard by tens of millions of people since 2006.

Posted in Ubuntu
Jeremy Bicha
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