End of My Ubuntu Fling

English: Foto of Ubuntu&Kubuntu_CD version 9.10

Ubuntu&Kubuntu_CD version 9.10 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Been off work at my day job this week, in part to catch up on various writing projects (including updating Notes). Things were going pretty well until this morning, when ITWorld sent me their daily newsletter with the subject line “Trouble in Kubuntu-land.” The newsletter linked to this story by Swapnil Bhartiya. The Ubuntu Community Council (UCC) had apparently decided that one of its members, Jonathan Riddell, had said or done something so unspeakable and untoward toward other Council members that he was asked to “step down” as (a?) leader of the Kubuntu Project. There are two weird things about this pronouncement:

  • Riddell’s only “leadership position” within Kubuntu is as a member of Kubuntu Council (KC, the organizational equivalent of the Ubuntu Community Council)
  • The Kubuntu Council (incidentally, elected by the community) was never consulted or notified that its representative was crossing any line in the sand

A fight over transparency

As best as anyone can tell, this fight is rooted in Riddell’s attempt to find out what happens to voluntary contributions made when people download an Ubuntu release from Ubuntu.com. The short answer appears that it mostly goes to support travel by developers to conferences and trade shows. Riddell wonders if Kubuntu and the other official flavors of Ubuntu get any portion of those proceeds.

Tuesday, the Kubuntu Council had a meeting over IRC to discuss the Ubuntu Community Council’s demand. You can find the entire discussion here. Michael Hall from the UCC attended to answer questions about the UCC action. KC members kept asking Hall variations on the same theme: What did Riddell do or say that merited this discipline? Hall’s fairly consistent answer: There are private emails that one or more UCC members received that have not been made public. You should ask them; they must be really bad.

To an observer like me, it looks like Riddell is either innocent of the charges against him, or he’s an exceptionally deft sociopath, who only reserves anti-social behavior for private communication. I haven’t gone through all of the publicly available documentation of the dispute. From what I’ve read, there’s been no trolling, or other unethical, unreasonable behavior on display. I’m open to being corrected. Click the links to find the complete archive of the discussion on the Ubuntu Community Council mailing list, and the (relatively brief) collection of communications between the UCC and KC posted by Scott Kitterman.

My history with (K)Ubuntu

Forgive this personal aside. Almost from the first day I worked with Linux, and especially since Corel Linux (my first distro) died, I used to say that the folks who could put a decent installer and update system on Debian Linux would win the consumer desktop OS wars once and for all. When Mark Shuttleworth and his band of Ubuntu developers succeeded in doing that, I was excited.

I had long committed myself to openSUSE and the KDE desktop (Ubuntu ran GNOME as its default), so I didn’t immediately jump away from that commitment. I did, however, put an early version of Ubuntu on the first laptop I ever owned. I learned a bit about GNOME that way. For everyday use, I stuck with openSUSE. After awhile, I stopped upgrading Ubuntu and moved away from it entirely.

Jump to 2013, and Shuttleworth announces Canonical’s plan to build software for phones and tablets, followed quickly by the (in)famous Ubuntu Edge Indiegogo crowdfunding effort. The vision sounded terrific to me, and I even pledged the campaign to get one of those beauties that were never to be. Some folks (looking at you, Larry Cafiero) warned me that I might be heartbroken, but I pressed on anyway. I even got a contract to write a book about Ubuntu Touch. That project was put on hold a year or so ago, but you can still see the cover on Goodreads!.

I threw myself into the project with glee and perseverance, getting an Ubuntu account, signing up for the Documentation team, downloading the Software Development Kit. I even started a Notes from the Ubuntuverse blog on my author site. That didn’t last long.

First sign of trouble

Still one of the most popular posts on this blog is my response to Canonical’s reassignment of Jonathan Riddell away from Kubuntu in 2012. It came at a time when pundits were thinking the KDE desktop project was dying, and Riddell’s reassignment (and the presumed end of Kubuntu) was supposed to be a key blow. Another company, Blue Systems, decided to financially sponsor continued Kubuntu development, and Riddell continued to offer his time.

In retrospect, you have to wonder if this business is a second round of punishing Kubuntu and its most public face.

In 2013, Benjamin Kerensa withdrew from Ubuntu development to make his primary contributions to Mozilla. Perhaps it was uniquely appropriate then that the Kubuntu Council approved his membership in their community in the other main order of business Tuesday.

What’s next?

The Kubuntu Council urged the UCC to reconsider its sanctions against Riddell. If Ubuntu (and Self Appointed Benevolent Dictator For Life Mark Shuttleworth) doesn’t back off, there’s a real possibility that Kubuntu may leave the *Buntu plantation for greener pastures (like Debian). I’d support that.

Today, Ubuntu phones are available in Europe and China. If the phone is ever released in North America, I may be asked to restart my book project. Depending on what reality presents at that time, I may agree to do that, but unquestionably with much diminished enthusiasm.

In the meantime, I’m throwing myself wholeheartedly back into participation in the openSUSE community, not just as an observer and user.

KDE Gardeners: Community Stepping Up

Since we’ve written several posts recently about open source communities, let’s highlight one more example of community members seeing a problem and trying to solve it.

English: Logo of the KDE Project "KDE, K ...

Logo of the KDE Project “KDE, K Desktop Environment and the KDE Logo are trademarks of KDE e.V” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

KDE is the oldest graphical desktop environment for Linux, and I’ve used it since the day I installed Corel Linux in 2001 (forgive me if I’ve offered those two facts a hundred times before). It’s a big, complicated software collection (with 300+ software repositories), now undergoing its third major overhaul to KDE Frameworks 5 providing the technical underpinnings of the accompanying Plasma 5 Desktop. In all that time, there are going to be bugs that remain unsolved, and applications that grow stale.

Enter the gardeners

Spanish KDE developer Albert Astals Cid came to the annual Akademy conference with an idea: Put together a team to name and find people to fix longstanding bugs and important, but unmaintained projects. What became the KDE Gardening Team.

The Gardeners are different from the project’s quality assurance team, though it chooses a “Bug of the Month” that needs some attention. It’s really kind of a triage or rescue squad for KDE applications. As described in both Cid’s introductory blog post and the Gardening Team’s main page:

The mandate of the team is to:

  1. Find *really* important bugs and ping people to fix them
  2. Find stale reviewboards and ping people to review them
  3. Bugzilla gardening, close old products etc
  4. Find projects that need love and give them some

I love this description from the Gardeners’ page on the KDE Community Wiki of what qualifies as the “Bug of the Month”:

Those bugs often raise endless discussions from frustrated users about how KDE developers do not care. The truth is, most developers are not even aware of them, because the issues do not happen on their system.

The current “Bug of the Month” is a fun one, dating back to 2011, with 65 comments: “When I opened my laptop from sleep, and … logged in and saw my desktop this crash report was there.”

First sign of progress: K3B has a new update

The Gardeners’ first “love project” revived the venerable CD manager, K3b. Version 2.0 was originally released in 2010, and v2.0.2 came out a relatively short time after that. Since then,  developers had worked on v2.1, fixing some bugs plaguing existing users, but never getting released.

After the Gardeners’ applied some love to the project, K3b v2.0.3 came out a few days ago!

Next in line for some love is KRecipes. This recipe manager works pretty well by all reports, but was last released in November 2010. Incidentally for any technical writers reading this: the KRecipes Handbook (user guide) is not yet complete for the KDE 4 version of the software. Should you be inclined to help, see the current text here.

Once this project makes progress, KTorrent is likely the leading candidate for the next Love Project.

Got some free time?

The KDE Gardening Team is now composed of around a half-dozen contributors to the Team mailing list. You can view the archives and subscribe to the list on this page.

I’d like to spotlight other communities’ smart activities here at Notes from the Metaverse in the future. If you’re participating in something cool, or know of a similar project to the KDE Gardeners, let me know, either by email, or commenting on this post.

In praise of open source communities

English: Conceptual Map of the FLOSS (Free/Lib...

Conceptual Map of the FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) Polski: Konceptualna mapa FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the best things about free and open source software (FOSS), and Linux in particular, is the community spirit. Many of the people who use and build these bits of code are genuinely passionate and dedicated to the products and projects they are involved in.

In the FOSS world, a development team is the core of the community, and the symbol of one’s demonstrated ability is the right to commit source code to the core software. Bigger communities, like openSUSE and Ubuntu, have structures for other community contributors.

The openSUSE Project logo

The openSUSE Project logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been a proud member of the openSUSE Community since nearly the beginning in 2007. To be a community member, the openSUSE project board of directors confirms your “continued and substantial contribution to the project.” My primary contribution was having written openSUSE Linux Unleashed and the many posts I’ve written on openSUSE and other FOSS topics. Learn more about the openSUSE Community here.

Tux, the Linux penguin

Tux, the Linux penguin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Goes to show how wired in I am to the world of Ubuntu, but I completely missed Ubuntu Community Appreciation Day yesterday. I’ve been involved with (mostly as an observer) the Ubuntu community for the last year or two, but I’ve played with Ubuntu regularly for much longer.

Ubuntu has a similar membership process as openSUSE, described at the Ubuntu Community site. Someday, I hope to join this community as well.

While I will not suggest for a moment that these communities are electronic Lake Wobegons, peaceful and friendly at all times, I will say that I typically find them helpful places. Then again, occasionally fights break out over issues like systemd (like this one, that ran for over a month!) religious wars between distributions, desktops, and text editors, and whatever else annoys people on a given day.

As we approach Thanksgiving in the United States, it’s a good time to think about giving back to your favorite open source software. A long time ago, I had some suggestions for working with free software if you don’t code. Many of the items on the list involve contributing to the community (filing bugs, getting help, giving help) and overall the list still looks pretty good to me.

If you’re already part of an open source community, you certainly have my appreciation, today and every day! If not, and you use the software, think about giving back.