Futurile

The future is coming ready-or-not

Darwinia and Uplink in Ubuntu Software Center

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We added two classic games, Darwinia and Uplink, to the Ubuntu Software Center this week. It’s been a great journey working with the Introversion team to bring this software to Ubuntu and it’s great to see this result!

Hacking game Uplink

I first spoke to Mark Morris, Introversion MD, last summer explaining the concepts around the Software Center and our intent to bring a wider range of applications to Ubuntu users. It was great to explore how this system would work for commercial developers and Mark gave us great perspective on the mechanics of software publishing in the gaming industry.

We used the Introversion example internally when we were working through many of the complexities of the commercial system. And I staid in touch with Mark keeping him up to date on our progress and reflecting on his commentary.

As an Indie developer Introversion has to focus on the future, particularly their current project Subversion. So it was by no means a given that they’d be willing to take on the additional attention cost and effort of a new publishing platform. Sowe were really happy when he agreed to publish Darwinia and Uplink through our platform. And they were fully committed as we worked through putting their software into Ubuntu Software Center.

Both Darwinia and Uplink are great titles that show the quality and range of commercial games and applications that are available for Ubuntu. I hope you support them by buying and enjoying them!

Written by Steve George

March 30, 2011 at 18:16

Posted in Canonical, Canonical-voices, Linux, Ubuntu

Tagged with ,

UK innovation and Open Source

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Why wasn’t Google invented in the UK? Where are all the great British software start-ups? Why isn’t there more Open Source in the UK?

That last question may not have come up in the Chancellors budget speech, but it should have. This was my central argument to The Register this week –  to move from an economy whose value is “the loan was created in Britain”, to one where it’s “invented, designed and built in Britain” then we need to unleash innovation through Open Source.

You might think it a bit self-serving for me to be pushing Open Source as the answer to the UK’s ills. In fact, as I far too passionately made my points to Lucy Sherriff, it crossed my mind that I could fully conform to my own stereotype of “special pleading corporate PR” by next asking for special tax breaks and complaining about unspecified (but nonetheless burdensome) “red-tape”! Nonetheless, I believe that technology and Open Source have to be key elements in the rebalancing of the UK’s economy.

First, lets put back into the box the idea that the UK cannot do technology, and that we should just leave it to Silicon Valley. The funny thing is that when you pull up the covers on successful valley technology companies you’ll find plenty of Brits. That shouldn’t be a surprise, the education system in the UK is strong, we have a fantastic tradition in science and engineering, and the language/culture compatibility helps. Finally, it completely ignores the evidence of the technology companies we do have, from successful start-ups such as Last.fm through to majors like ARM.

Perhaps it’s that cultural contrarianism that makes us unable to dwell on the positive or accentuate the good. A national character of, you say “tomato”, I say “no, it’s a squashed, bruised, fruit that tastes anaemic and who knows the long-term effects of the pesticides”. So, lets not waste any more bits on this – the UK has great technology capabilities and we should celebrate them!

So why is Open Source an important element in creating an environment that can create success for our technologists and economy? Because, it’s a leveller and a remover of locked-in de-facto networks. Open source releases innovation and provides ways for companies of all sizes to compete, bringing greater competition and delivering more value to everyone.

First, government wants to encourage start-ups and small business. There’s lots of policy options, but a big (perhaps the biggest) lever is government procurement. Our tax money should be used to buy great value technology, provided by local companies if at all possible. Governments know this, but they’re often concerned that small suppliers will fail – it’s a real concern because it happens. Mandating that the technology be Open Source removes that concern. That way if the supplier fails it can be supported and maintained by an alternative supplier. And, in the long-run you create a competitive national set of technology companies that will be employing locally and providing services far more efficiently than a small number of multi-national conglomerates (yes, looking at you Oracle).

Second, Open Source enables a local (ie national) supplier ecosystem to be created. Fundamentally, if our technology companies just resell proprietary software that’s developed by the large multinationals they will lack the skills to innovate and create on their own. Open Source is customisable and enables the suppliers to develop the same skills that will be needed to create products. There’s no black-boxes in Open Source, so if someone spots an opportunity or a gap they can understand it and innovate from there.

Third, Open Source provides more flexible and capable systems for end-users. My biggest fear about proprietary software is that it destroys enquiry in our children and students – it’s a curiosity trap. How many of the stories about great inventors (whether software or not) start with them taking apart everything they could get their hands on, from clocks to cars. They had a spirit of enquiry, a curiosity to understand and then improve.

In this era Open Source is the biggest library of software on the planet. In any domain, sphere or software idea there’s an Open Source project and some of the most skilled developers on the planet out there working on it. And everyone can read, understand and enquire – how short a step is it for the imagination to be fed and the idea of improving to occur? It’s terrible to anaesthetise our children and students with the idea that they shouldn’t look under the hood or understand what’s happening. That’s exactly what proprietary software does. And we risk missing the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates because of it.

So really George (Osbourne in this case), stop throwing tax dollars at bribing multi-national banks to keep taking space in Canary Wharf. Unleash the UK into the forefront of the global technology revolution by adopting an industrial policy that develops technology as a key area, and for goodness sake make Open Source part of that mix. You know I’m right!

Written by Steve George

March 26, 2011 at 22:01

Ubuntu Developer Relations Advocate job

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To go with the Software Business Development role we also opened up an Ubuntu Developer Relations Advocate job as the two areas are closely related. Business Development is focused on working with developers at a business level, fundamentally creating a revenue-generating relationship.  Developer relations is focused on working with developers at a technical level, providing resources, assistance and community.  Both roles could be speaking to the same people in a small developer shop, but the focus of the conversation is different and we need both to help developers be successful.

Fundamentally, the objective of developer relations is to provide a focus for evangelising the platform and assisting developers as they develop software for Ubuntu. One thing to clarify is that the type of development we mean here is ‘developing applications that run on Ubuntu‘, with the desired outcome being that we increase the range of applications available to Ubuntu users. So this is different to a lot of our other community relations work which is aimed at contributors to Ubuntu. Another point is that our focus is on commercial software developers since we believe that it’s important to create a sustainable ecosystem around the platform: that doesn’t exclude FOSS since Open Source can be commercial – although being realistic I expect that most of the commercial software will be proprietary.

Developer relations is a mixed role, it’s partially to evangelise the platform and attract developers, and partially assisting developers by giving them resources and a community. I group the responsibilities into three areas – attracting, enabling and enthusing. By attracting we mean communicating and showing how great the Ubuntu platform is for developers. This covers the Ubuntu distribution but also developer enabled technologies such as Unity, UbuntuOne and distribution through the Software Center. To enable developers we need to provide resources they can use to develop on Ubuntu explaining the tools and technologies that are part of the platform and how to use them.  A key difference between Ubuntu and other platforms is that we aim to be participatory and transparent. So the most important element of ‘enabling’ is that we want to create a Developer Community: we’re focusing our attentions on developer.ubuntu.com which you can think of as the equivalent to IBM’s Developer Works or Apple’s Developer Center. This is a real connector role so a key part will be working with the wider world, and coordinating internal Canonical teams and exciting everyone so that we’re all working together to the common goal.

Finally, there’s lots of discussion whether Developer Relations should sit within an engineering department or within a marketing organisation, which depends on your objectives. In our case the focus is increasing the range of software that is available on Ubuntu which is a long-range business development strategy aimed at strengthening the platform, so we’ve chosen to put Developer Relations within that team so we can have the best connections. Either way at heart it’s a technical role that is all about communications by helping developers get the most from the platform – being their advocate.

We know the objective and the strategy, how to drive it forward is open territory that will need leadership, energy and tenacity. If you have experience in Developer Relations and some of the thoughts above chime with your own ideas then hop across to the Ubuntu site where you can read the job description and apply!

Written by Steve George

January 12, 2011 at 15:10

Ubuntu Software Business Development job

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Canonical is looking for a software business development consultant focusing on helping consumer third-party developers (ISV’s) and content providers bring their products to Ubuntu.  It deserves a bit of background and an explanation of why this is important for Ubuntu.

Let me start with a slight digression: I went skiing over the holidays but forgot my GPS, it was a bit annoying as I like to keep a record of where I’ve skied off-piste.  Luckily, I had my phone so I simply purchased, downloaded (Over-The-Air) and installed a GPS app.  If you stop for a second, this is a pretty amazing capability. Even a few years ago the idea of using my phone in this way wouldn’t have been in the realms of possibility – but increasingly every device we have is multi-functional and extended by third-party software capabilities. In fact, any platform that doesn’t have this flexibility is at a severe disadvantage.

If you’re a software device manufacturer or consumer operating system vendor it’s no longer sufficient to scope your capabilities to driving the hardware and providing the core experiences. Users expect their devices to be ubiquitous, connected and social which means that platforms need to be personal and flexible to their needs. So every consumer device OS needs to be a (for want of a better label) “software platform” that can be used to create those experiences along with an active developer ecosystem creating them. It’s this set of consumer expectations that drives Android and iPhone to put so much pressure on ‘apps’ and even in contexts like the desktop this is happening (ie Mac App Store).  But it doesn’t end there, applications are only half the story, content (whether created or consumed) is an integral part of the desired user experience.

To provide such a range of experiences is impossible for any single vendor, so the consumer platforms have responded by creating ecosystems of relationships that build the applications, media and content that users want. Both in terms of user needs and the distribution mechanisms that these software platform provide it’s a massive opportunity for software developers. It’s also an opportunity for media and online organisations that mediate and distribute content experiences, with all the challenges that this involves.

This is why as Ubuntu expands as a consumer platform we need to build the range of software and content experiences for our users.  Each month we ship on a larger range of devices (desktops, laptops and mobile devices), which reach a wider set of consumer users (both in experience and geography) so the overall needs of our users are broadening and deepening. Ubuntu users want the latest games (can anyone say Angry Birds), entertainment (e.g Boxee) and productivity applications.  The Ubuntu Software Center creates a system so that third-party developers can reach Ubuntu users, distribute their software and monetise through the Ubuntu playment platform.

As I said earlier, software and content are somewhat bound together from a user perspective: is Spotify software or content for example? So from an Ubuntu user perspective we also need to think about each media and content experience and work with partners to deliver those to them.  We’ve already done lots of work with UbuntuOne and music, but there’s all sorts of additional media experiences that need development.

So our long-term objective is to create a large ecosystem of third-party software applications for Ubuntu consumers which are distributed and sold through the platform. In addition, we are seeking to work with third-party content providers such as music, movie and e-book vendors to deliver the range of content that consumer users expect. I’m excited about this area for Ubuntu and for our partners so today we’ve created a new software business development role: if it’s something that excites you and you have the right experiences I’d encourage you to apply.

Written by Steve George

January 11, 2011 at 18:47

Donating to Free Software

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When I started using Linux in the mid 90’s almost all of the developers were part-time, even Linus Torvalds had another job and did kernel development part time. These days many of the core Linux projects (from the kernel through to Firefox) have full-time paid developers. Consequently, Open Source has been able to progress more in the last 10 years than the previous 20 years of development.

However, there’s still no independent software industry around the platform: I mean by this development shops that create application software for Linux. This is a problem. On the developer side it means we often lose programmers to other platforms as they move across to a space where they can earn a living. On the user side it prevents a range of users from using Linux because the range of software isn’t there to suit their needs. Both sides of this equation need to be solved for Linux to become a mainstream desktop platform. It’s these long terms problems that we’re trying to impact through the software center and the related threads.

If you look at other platforms, such as Mac, you see there’s a strong hobbyist or casual developer group who are very influential.  This group has often made the most exciting, compelling and breakthrough applications and utilities.  When the Mac desktop wasn’t cool (ie OS 9) this group kept the platform alive by creating great new software for users.  It’s also this type of developer who was the first to adopt the ipod/iOS application space and who has been so important advocating the platform. These developers create software because they love doing so, and they get a positive kick out of the direct and indirect appreciation from users.

Free Software developers often cite the community aspect of being in the open as a driver for working on software.  But there’s fewer ways for a user to show direct appreciation for the work. So we’ve been thinking about adding the ability for Ubuntu users to donate to free software applications that they love. It will provide a way for users to show their appreciation, and this positive feed-back will encourage the developer to keep cranking out great software.  My expectation is that the value of donations will be in users showing their love and that it will provide for the odd “free beer”.

There have been previous ideas and blueprints around donations in Ubuntu, so at UDS we discussed adding this feature to Software Center.

From a user perspective the experience will be that they’ll switch on donations and charge their account.  They’ll then be able to donate to individual applications within the software center.  It should be a straightforward user-experience but the variety of requirements to fulfill this properly is complex. There’s core problems like storing money within an account, how you process transactions and what the user can see within Software Center – I’m sure they’d like to see what they’ve donated to for example.

On the developer side of the equation the experience should be that a software project registers for donations and provides financial details. Then when some set of donations is received it’s paid out to their account. The core part of the discussion at UDS was around how you identify the right person to give the donations to.  This a difficult problem. The proposal for the initial release is that we’ll switch on donations for software which has a foundation and has the legal structures to receive donations.

It’s a really exciting idea and one I believe will make a difference to encouraging free software. If you’d like to give feedback or track development add yourself to the blueprint.

Written by Steve George

November 4, 2010 at 12:07

Dell PowerEdge Ubuntu certifications

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I hope you didn’t miss the fantastic news that Dell has expanded the PowerEdge servers that are certified for Ubuntu Server Edition. We’ve also worked with them to port and package OpenManage 6.3 to Ubuntu which is important for anyone who uses this systems management framework.

Expanding the range of certified hardware is an ongoing process and it’s worth considering why it’s important. When we started Ubuntu Server Edition one of the most significant frustrations for Debian/Ubuntu based sysadmins was hardware compatibility. While a server would “mostly” work there would be small but significant issues that prevented sysadmins being able to depend on them. Consequently, we’ve worked with the server manufacturers to expand their certifications to cover Ubuntu. By working together we’re able to test and validate the whole system, ensuring a higher level of testing.

Using certified Dell hardware with Ubuntu Server means you have the assurance that everything will work together without a hitch. Second, if you do have a hardware issue and contact Dell they won’t tell you to remove Ubuntu and put a “certified OS” on the hardware to verify the problem. Finally, if you’ve purchased Ubuntu Advantage from Canonical it means that we can resolve any technical issue in conjunction with Dell.

Expanding the pool of certified hardware is something that every Ubuntu server user can encourage. The next time you’re purchasing a server for use with Ubuntu consider if you can do the following:

a. Buy hardware which is certified

Certifying hardware costs the OEM and Canonical significant amounts of money. So by buying certified hardware you incentivise the OEM to continue certifying Ubuntu. Clearly an OEM will expand the OS support for the operating systems that sell more hardware.

b. Tell your vendor you’ll be using Ubuntu
It’s common amongst Linux users to buy the hardware without an OS and then to load it themselves. The problem is that the OEM doesn’t know the OS you care about: and it’s even worse if you buy a server with Windows on it because it’s on a special offer.

So it’s important to inform your vendor that you’ll be using Ubuntu on the systems even if you’re buying it bare.

c. Ask your vendor to certify Ubuntu
If you have an account manager and buy servers on a regular basis then ask them to request expanding certification. Every company listens to what the sales people tell them.

Separately, it’s worth knowing that if you purchase Ubuntu Advantage and are using it with certified hardware then Canonical can provide a higher level of care as we can work with the OEM if there are any issues over drivers and because we have access to the hardware. You can see everything that’s certified from Dell on the Ubuntu certified list.

Image credit: John Seb

Written by Steve George

November 1, 2010 at 08:54

Posted in Canonical, Canonical-voices, Linux, Ubuntu

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Disruptive Effects of Open Source

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I participated in a panel on the “Disruptive Effects of Open Source” at the Future World Symposium which discussed how OSS is impacting the software world, the degree of that change and the limitations.

The conference was held by the NMI whose charter is to represent and usher the interests of the electronics industry in the UK. It may not be something you think about on a daily basis but the UK has a pretty successful electronics sector with companies like ARM, Freescale, Imagination and others. Now that our political masters have got over their finance kick perhaps they’ll focus more attention on encouraging these technology sectors!

Anyway, with a electronics industry audience I was concerned to make my comments interesting and relevant. As became clear from some of the other presentations electronics companies face incredible opportunities where the number of devices and connectivity options between them are proliferating. However, there are also significant challenges as sectors converge with each other, and international competition hots up.

Glyn Moody chaired the discussion and my initial comments were to explain that Open Source is not a business model. Rather, it is a development and licensing model which brings many impacts and there are a variety of permutations for why you might use OSS or build a product using OSS. For example, in some cases organisations collaborate through OSS because there’s no value in differentiation, a “shared investment” model: a good example is Web 2.0 companies who collaborate to improve their infrastructure software. Another area is where you want to speed up the velocity of innovation. The value of  OSS is that it can create a community of contributors and advocates: a good example is the web browser where Firefox has driven significant direct and spin-off innovation.

I wanted to make sure that the audience was clear that open software is not inimitable with proprietary or mixed solutions. Since I was addressing an audience that might not know Open Source well, and whose livelihoods depend on Intellectual Property (IP) I wanted to make sure that they were clear that OSS values this just as much. Furthermore, that OSS should be a key part of any technology companies strategy as it’s a leveller of competition.

We then talked about the various rights and responsibilities that working with OSS confers, the value and opportunities around communities. I sometimes feel that in those circumstances it can all seem too much if you go from the idea of a closed ecosystem immediately to the idea of developers being able to download any piece of code from the Internet and use it. So I focused my comments on the value of vendors acting as mediators between the open-ended nature of Open Source projects and the more controlled world of a procurement policy. I’m certainly not unbiased here, but a vendor can provide lots of value by mediating this world, helping customers to navigate it, providing legal and technical support – along with the protections and reassurance that companies like to have. I wanted to make sure the audience was clear that it doesn’t have to be the “wild west” when using OSS.

In the final section the questions explored the range, limitations and future directions for Open Source. Since we were getting close to lunch I wanted to provoke a reaction. My main statement was that eventually there will be a major Open Source solution and vendor in every technology segment. The direction of Linux over the previous ten years shows the manner in which OSS expands across all niches and we can see the impact it’s had in other segments such as databases and today we see it in mobile phones. And that in any segment where there is a sufficiently wide interest in sharing the cost of development, increasing the speed of innovation through a community or rebooting the competition then OSS would eventually take place. Consequently,  I suggested that if there wasn’t an OSS competitor then a company should consider getting first mover advantage before their competitors do

I thought I’d come up with a controversial answer to the question and was quite surprised there wasn’t a strong reaction from the audience. Perhaps they considered me too tainted as an OSS vendor.

So there you go, I managed to learn something about the electronics industry and just about avoided telling them that they should Open Source everything immediately! I’m sure they’ll invite me again next year.

Written by Steve George

October 13, 2010 at 17:05

Posted in Canonical, Canonical-voices, Linux, Ubuntu

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