An analysis of topics that need more amplification in a world of noise.

Budapest! UDS-O

You've likely noticed that it's UDS time!

Immediately after each release of Ubuntu, the vast army of Ubuntu contributors get together to plan "what's next?" The "Ubuntu Developer Summit" is the place where it all happens.

I'm honored to be a part of the Ubuntu community. I'm grateful to be here at UDS-O in Budapest Hungary in the centre of the action for this planning cycle. I'm amazed by the number of truly brilliant people that are here.

My primary interest for this cycle is the Community track, with a sprinkling of technical topics too (to keep the engineer in me happy).

This week, I'll be sharing some of my stories and highlights from UDS-O and hopefully giving you a glimpse into what's cool, fun, and interesting...

Psst! It's Ubuntu 11.04 Release Day

This article is directed mainly at journalists, who make the same mistakes every time when reporting on Ubuntu. Maybe this release will be different? One can dream...

"It's (nearly) here! Have you been trying Ubuntu 11.04?"

That was a trick question. You can't actually try released software until it is released. With every release of Ubuntu a metamorphosis occurs. An animal becomes a number. That's right! We don't refer to Ubuntu 11.04 as a "Natty Narwhal" after today. That is, unless you insist on running a pre-release version. Please get ready to call Ubuntu what it is: Ubuntu 11.04.

But, "It's the newest version of 'Ubuntu Linux.'"

Hmm. That "L" word again. Really, do you really think that people care which kernel powers their OS? Is it a useful construct to the mainstream computer user? Which kernel powers Windows? Which kernel powers Mac OSX? Which kernel powers Debian? (Aha! That too was a trick question.) The phrase "Ubuntu Linux" is a relic from about 5 years ago. It's time to embrace the new decade.

With that off my chest, here's the excellent and official press release from Canonical regarding Ubuntu 11.04. I hope you'll give it a read!

Bonus points: If you're using Firefox, hit CTRL-F and search the above page for the words "Linux", "Natty", and "Narwhal". Go ahead, it's fun!

Tame Your Email. Take Back Control.

This is part of the continuing story about what happens when an Ubuntu local community meets great software and decides to help make it more accessible.

Despite not (yet) being the default email client for Ubuntu, Thunderbird is one of those applications that is a "must have".

In Vancouver BC, I have spoken to many community members that are struggling with email. There's too much of it. There's no easy way to separate the good stuff from the spam from the bacn. This puzzled me until I realized that most people use free web-based mail services. Web mail interfaces are clumsy and ultimately designed to maximize distraction (and time spent exposed to advertising) rather than to promote efficient communication. Web mail features are hobbled and can (and do) change without notice, without any apparent logic. It's no wonder why people are saying "Enough is enough!" and dreading having to manage their inbox or simply opting out of email altogether.

The Ubuntu Vancouver Local Community believes that one barrier to the widespread adoption of Ubuntu's collection of outstanding software is a shortage of well-written and accessible user guides. The kind of guides that give a person reading it a sense of "Hey, this is quite good!" or "Wow, I didn't know Thunderbird could do that!". Add to that the fact that so many people struggle locally and I had what could be considered an "Aha" moment.

So, back in the autumn of 2010, I set out to catalyze the creation of the first comprehensive guide to Thunderbird on Ubuntu written from the standpoint of an email user under siege. (We called her Mary.) If you are like Mary, you have several (usually free) web-based email accounts and you're tired of managing them.

With the help of the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) we, Charlene Tessier and yours truly, identified a talented technical writer, Jim McCullough, to partner with us and to help fix this issue, not only in Vancouver, but everywhere.

After many months of effort, I am happy to announce that our first Thunderbird Guides are complete and ready for your enjoyment.

Our first guide "follows Mary, an Ubuntu email user, through the decision to use Thunderbird and the steps she takes to install Thunderbird 3.1 onto Ubuntu... We'll see just how easy it is as Mary imports the email and contacts from her other other accounts into Thunderbird." (Jim McCullough)

Get it here:

Our second guide "continues to follow Mary... as she learns how to use Thunderbird to manage the large volume of email she receives. With dozens of email messages arriving in each of her email accounts every day... Mary has been suffering from 'email overload'... We'll watch as Mary learns to efficiently view and search email, group and prioritize messages, filter and automate message handling, and finally maintain and backup Thunderbird so that it continues to run smoothly." (Jim McCullough)

Get it here:

Please join me in thanking Jim McCullough and Charlene Tessier for a job well done.

And finally, a huge thanks to the Mozilla Messaging Team for making Thunderbird amazing, from their headquarters right here in Vancouver BC!

All Ubuntu community members are invited to help make our guides even better and to help get them into the hands of even more people. Want to help? Thunderbird needs you, and so does your own local community.

Ubuntu Provides All My Favourite Things

Joe Liau (Ubuntu Vancouver's Master Presenter) created a fun Ubuntu video complete with clever soundtrack. We premiered it in Vancouver BC last week.

Ubuntu Provides All My Favourite Things
(Sung to the tune of "A Few of My Favourite Things")
multi chat clients and music production
gimping my photos mosaic construction
audio software for voice recordings
these are a few of my favourite things

treats on a tuesday and them-ed occasions
cups of ubuntu and fun celebrations
community gifts that everyone brings
these are a few of my favourite things

redmond prices :(
fruit devices :(
when these make me sad
ubuntu provides all my favourite things
so then i don't feel so bad.

Joe never ceases to 'wow' the members of Ubuntu Vancouver LoCo. Watch the video here and see why for yourself!

Thank you Joe for reminding us all that "Ubuntu is not just software". You made my day.

(Oh, and yes those are real Ubuntini's in the photo!)

Unity: A Form Letter For Computer Journalists

Since the FUD that goes something like "Unity sucks and Ubuntu is forcing you to use it and making it really hard to change" seems to have some degree of immortality, I have prepared a form letter that you can use to help set the record straight.


Dear ____________,

It has been brought to my attention that an article you recently wrote [insert link here] is spreading misinformation and or FUD about Ubuntu's upcoming 11.04 release.

You have incorrectly stated or implied that Unity (the new Ubuntu interface) will be *much* too difficult for normal humans to change to something more to your liking.

Though Ubuntu 11.04 is still currently only in alpha, the developer snapshot notes clearly indicate that "There are now three session types available in gdm: "Ubuntu Desktop" will run Unity by default, "Ubuntu Classic Session" will run GNOME with gnome-panel... Finally, you can force a "2D mode only" with "Ubuntu Classic Session (no effect)" which has the same interface than the Ubuntu Classic session."

Each of these session types are available at login through a simple menu selection, and your changes will be persistent across multiple logins. (Please see attached screenshot below.)

Though I do not share your apparent dislike for Unity, I feel it is worthwhile to be accurate and clear about the easy options presented to Ubuntu users and I would appreciate it if you would correct the record. The simplest way to do this would be to amend the article at its original location [original article link here]

I look forward to your prompt attention on this matter.

Ubuntu Contributor

Changing Desktops is Easy!Changing Desktops is Easy!

Master Your Social Networking with Gwibber

This is a story about what happens when an Ubuntu local community meets great software and decides to help popularize it.

Gwibber. It's one of the gems that makes Ubuntu shine. If you're an avid Ubuntu contributor chances are that's something you already know. Maybe you even use it regularly. However, there are many new Ubuntu users and even some experienced ones who have yet to experience and enjoy Gwibber. What's holding them back?

The Ubuntu Vancouver Local Community believes that one barrier to the widespread adoption of Ubuntu's collection of outstanding software is a shortage of well-written and accessible user guides. The kind of guides that give a person reading it a sense of "Hey, this is pretty cool!" or "Wow, I didn't know Gwibber could do that!", or even "This is much easier than I thought".

So, back in the autumn of 2010, we set out to create the first guide to Gwibber on Ubuntu. With the help of the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) we, Charlene Tessier and yours truly, identified a talented technical writer, Tak Ishikawa, to partner with us and to help make our dream a reality.

After many months of effort, I am happy to announce that our first version of "Master Social Networking with Gwibber" is complete and ready for your enjoyment.

From the guide: "It is impossible to read all the updates that we receive through all our networks... With Gwibber, we hope to help you gain control of your network so you can make it meaningful and relevant to you... We think social networking should be an enjoyable part of your life, not a micro­management nightmare."

Grab a copy, give it a read, and share it with your friends. They will thank you, and Ubuntu will grow!

Speaking of thanks, please join me in thanking Tak Ishikawa and Charlene Tessier for a job well done by heading over to their blogs and sharing your comments. Check out: "Introducing the New Gwibber Guide" (Tak) and "Be Social on Your Own Terms" (Charlene) about the making of our guide.

And finally, a huge thanks to Ryan Paul, Ken VanDine, and team for making Gwibber rock!

All community members are invited to help make "Master Social Networking with Gwibber" even better and to get it into the hands of even more people. We've set up a Launchpad Bug to help track change requests, and to gather people interested in keeping this guide current. While there, please click "this bug affects me" to stay abreast of the effort. And, if you wish to help, please leave a note in the bug's comments.

What is Awesome?

Jonathan Carter's post is awesome!

We are all fighthing the good fight, for the right reasons, and often without any support.

Thank you Jonathan for your encouragement.

Ubuntu advocates: Please persevere.

Put Ubuntu back on top.

Ubuntu Malnews, the Easy Way

I have been on a mission of late to monitor the online media for spin, half-truths, inaccuracies, and fallacies about our beloved Ubuntu. Why you ask? Because we're at that stage where code alone will not take us across the chasm. (According to one of my previous commenters, everyone who reads Planet Ubuntu has read "Crossing the Chasm" so I won't explain that.)

Malnews (n.) News about the computing industry and/or topics relating to computing technology, written with the intent to spread FUD, misinformation, and confusion (in any combination). Analogous to malware, it can be just as hostile, annoying and dishonest.

(I think I may be the first to use this term, so I figured I should at least try to define it.)

Somewhat unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of malnews.

Have you seen what I've seen lately? Wow! Pure confusion (and near hatred on Unity), the "Ubuntu is a kernel" crowd not liking the "new direction", the regulars who open with "I use Ubuntu" and then say "don't get me wrong", and then spew forth about a dozen incorrect statements. And, the guy who refuses to write about the session switcher. There's even one guy that launches into how interfaces are controversial (referring to Unity), then does the old "sleight of hand" trick substituting a quote from Linus about kernel interfaces being tricky. Some malnews is nearly magic.

So how do we spot this malnews? Sure, I could point you to the articles as I find them, but that doesn't scale. A better way is to have you use your favourite RSS reader (I use Thunderbird - based in Vancouver of course, and available in the Ubuntu Software Centre). Get that, or simply point your existing reader at this feed:

When you see a news article that smells like malnews, blog about it in a way that corrects the record. Don't bother commenting directly on that article's page or site, unless it's to steer traffic elsewhere. And, if there are inaccuracies (rather than just pure spin), then head on over to MediaBugs too:

While our developer friends merrily hack and sprint away in Dallas, the rest of us have plenty of work to do. Think of this effort as providing the air cover they need too remain focused on making Ubuntu fantastic for 11.04, and to not get demoralized in the process.

Some people might refer to this as "management". Hmm, I guess there's yet another role for us non-programmer types after all :)

This Just In: "Ubuntu Myopia Continues..."

Ever on the watch for mainstream media articles that don't quite *get* Ubuntu, yet another questionable article catches my eye.

Short summary: "Ubuntu is ruining the kernel. It's buggy and a copycat of OS X. No wonder it has so many bugs: It's based on Debian UNSTABLE. Even Dell is dropping it. And to top it off, Ubuntu is switching to Unity and not making it easy for users to opt out. Their existing user base is no longer the focus."

Got your attention? You can read the entire article here. (Then come back and read some rebuttals!)

As I've mentioned before, and even earlier , there is a growing anti-Ubuntu bias in the media that increases in proportion to Ubuntu's proximity to the chasm (i.e. its popularity). And, when we detect this bias, we need to intervene with facts.

Here are some choice quotes from the article (and my response):

1) "Not enough Ubuntu users appear to realize that not every distribution... is doing things the "Ubuntu way" with regard to buggy releases and a need to look like OS X, among other issues."

It is both inaccurate and irresponsible to equate the "Ubuntu way" with being buggy. If one makes a claim such as this, it requires proof. Show us the data. Show us how Ubuntu is more buggy than your favourite system. Or, simply quantify what level of bugs you would deem to be acceptable to retract the claim.

It is also inaccurate to portray Ubuntu as "having a need to look like OS X." If that were the case, then it would be quite easy to find design discussions and documentation that say "Our goal is to be more like OS X." Ubuntu design and engineering ideas are discussed publicly. Show us the intent.

2) "...Dell, among others, offering Ubuntu. (However, this trend seems to be slowing on Dell’s part – it’s only showing a single computer with Ubuntu on it at the moment.)"

First, let's set aside the notion that a systems vendor (like Dell) will ever give Ubuntu (or any other alternative OS) fair representation. They have built an empire on vendor lock-in-by-monopoly and that is unlikely to ever change. Having said that, there are some heroic people inside Dell who do try help get at least some Ubuntu to market. We saw them at UDS-N. And, we learned that the number of Dell systems shipping with Ubuntu and Ubuntu Light are increasing, not decreasing.

3) "Ubuntu's applications may be tweaked variants of Debian-compatible software from what is known as "Debian Unstable." Not in all cases, but in enough instances to warrant concern for some people."

This is FUD . How unstable is Debian Unstable really? Will it wipe out your system? Should we call the fire department? In fact, I would argue that the stability is far above its name and add that the the Debian community has been at this for a long, long time. They've got cred.

4) "Canonical's new "cloud" services... ensure that Ubuntu remains in the headlines even when things may still be... not quite as end-user ready as Canonical wants you to think. Ubuntu’s music service, for instance, has a long way to go in my opinion."

This is vague. The implication here is that it's a publicity stunt and not ready for prime-time. False. I've been using Ubuntu One since it came out and (with the exception of brief period during Lucid's development cycle) it just works.

U1's music service seems to work too. Hmm. I wonder where it needs to go that's so far away ;) Unfortunately the author doesn't tell us.

5) As Ubuntu pushes on, they will be releasing their next version with a new shell based on GNOME, called Unity. Advocates are quick to point out that it's "easy" to change this over to a regular GNOME desktop shell, yet I have yet to find the big round "easy button" that will make this possible for users of all skill levels."

It's easy to change this over to a regular GNOME desktop. Oh no! Busted! I might be an advocate. Seriously though, that "big round easy button" is but a Blueprint and some code away. If someone wants it, they can quite easily get working on it. And even if that never materializes we'll still have the session switcher. Mission accomplished.

6) "my concerns with Ubuntu stem from the distribution becoming so big and mainstream that we see it losing focus on what is truly important – their existing user base."

I actually have to agree on this one, but likely not in the way the author intended. When we look at Ubuntu's current user base we're looking primarily at innovators and early adopters. For Ubuntu to grow and thrive (i.e. cross the chasm), we need to massively broaden its appeal. Stated another way: Your use case may not be the only use case that matters. Ubuntu is indeed for everyone. (Read that twice.)

So, going forward what should we do when we encounter articles like this? If there are factual errors then head on over to MediaBugs and get the bugs logged. In the case of bias, correct the record: Write your own article.

Remember, Ubuntu is a community project and we are all its PR team. Please do your part to help set the record straight. Amplify the signal.

Let the Arms Race (and Spin) Begin

Over at a security company website (which I won't name), there's a story about some new malware (in this case a trojan) that potentially afflicts the Android platform.

Who cares, right? This is Ubuntu-land. And in our land, we have no viruses, trojans, and similar nuisances.

That's likely true but please don't breathe a sigh of relief just yet. There are two very real risks we (as Ubuntu contributors) must consider.

Risk #1: Perception (by Spin)

This is the primary risk. Will people perceive that an Android risk translates to an Ubuntu risk? My guess is they will. In fact, my guess is they will today.

Why? First of all, most people get their "information" from the mainstream media. This is the same media that *loves* (and profits from) a good scare story. Stuff like spooky malware, evil "hackers" (a term which they will never get right), leeks (those tasty vegetables) that can be obtained from wikis (that aren't really wikis), and tales of strange darknets, to name a few.

Secondly, nearly all of this same media can neither grasp nor communicate that "Linux" is a kernel, and the way this kernel gets patched, packaged, distributed, wrapped, and supported varies widely across systems that use it. Or stated mathematically: Ubuntu <> Linux <> Android. In fact, malware can (and usually does) have nothing to do with kernels (or Colonels for that matter). Neither point matters though. To them it's all "Linux", and so it will also be that way in the public (for now).

You can bet that as I type this little article there are teams of writers working on stories with headlines like "Massive Trojan Attacks Open Source", or perhaps "Major Linux Virus Hits Internet", or even "Ubuntu: You're Next!" (I haven't checked in the past few hours. Perhaps they already have. You can tell me in the comments.)


Changing people's perception will require a strong dose of media bug reporting, error-correction and education. The kind of tasks that PR firms usually do. In the case of Ubuntu, a community project, guess who the PR firm is? You guessed it: All of us.

Practically, what can "all of us" do? First, we can tell all of our friends and families the truth about Ubuntu and its relation to this current story (i.e. none). Start with your circle. Tell the people in your Local Community too.

Secondly, if you spot an article on the web that sounds like one of the examples above, or misrepresents the facts please report them to MediaBugs: "a service for correcting errors and problems in media coverage." This is a very effective approach as it forces accountability by shining a spotlight on writers of these stories misrepresentations. Repeat offenders can lose reputation very quickly.

Thirdly, you can blog about it yourself. Spread facts that overwhelm the fiction. In other words, "Amplify the Signal."

Risk #2: An Actual Arms Race

The attack vector in the Android case reportedly was "third-party app markets". Evildoers grafted some extra code onto seemingly legitimate applications, inserted those modified apps into the market and that was that. Instant distribution of malicious code.

So, how many of you (or your friends) download .deb or .tar files from random sources and install them? In any system, even Ubuntu, this is pretty simple. Or, do you like to add PPA's to get extra (or newer) packages that aren't yet in the Ubuntu Software Center? If so, you are potentially at risk of inviting malware into your favourite system. (I'm not saying it's likely, nor am I saying it's happening. However, I am saying it's *possible*.)


If you've been around Ubuntu for even a brief period, you'll already know that we have the fabulous Ubuntu Software Centre. It's the official distribution channel for thousands of quality apps that have been packaged, signed, and vetted by experts in our community (Debian and Ubuntu.) Please use it. Don't add random software from other places. I know this may be a hard habit to break, but please break it without further deliberation.

If you are an Ubuntu developer, and have the opportunity to harden Ubuntu in a way that eliminates this attack vector, please blueprint it and start working on it ASAP. For example, what magic would it take by someone outside (the ethos) of Ubuntu to add (or tempt us into adding) a second (but illegitimate) "Ubuntu Software Centre" to our system? Let's ensure that this action remains an increasingly challenging task. Lets do it programmatically and proactively so we don't end up with the same nonsense that plagues the proprietary software world, and seemingly now the Android world.

I for one don't ever want to see a virus industry (the modern day equivalent of a protection racket) in Ubuntu-land. I hope you don't too.

Now, it's off to the races!

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