Interviews

How will changes at Ubuntu affect Kubuntu: exclusive interview with Jonathan Riddell

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There are some major changes happening at Ubuntu which pans from changing base technologies to community involvement. Ubuntu has quite some flavour and derivatives and there was some concern among the users how these changes will impact these distributions, so we reached out to two major distributions which are based on Ubuntu – Linux Mint and Kubuntu.

In this interview Jonathan Riddell the team lead of Kubuntu talks about these changes and Kubuntu’s relationship with Canonical.

Question: What’s more important for Kubuntu – KDE or the base OS – since Ubuntu is moving in a direction which is totally different from the standard Linux distributions?

Jonathan: Kubuntu is the KDE flavour of Ubuntu so the project wouldn’t exist without both of those.

Question: What strategy do you have in place as Ubuntu transitions to in-house technologies such as Mir. How will Kubuntu handle this transition to Mir and will the project use it?

Jonathan: It’s too early to tell for Mir. Mir will have an X compatibility mode and various people in Canonical have assured us that KWin and KDE apps will work fine with it but it’ll probably not be trouble free.  We will just have to wait and see.

Question:  With so many changes in Ubuntu would Kubuntu ever consider using Debian testing as a base and changing to a rolling release? Why wait for Ubuntu?

Jonathan: Since Kubuntu is the KDE flavour of Ubuntu it wouldn’t be Kubuntu is we all jumped to making a Debian based distro. Debian currently has KDE packages from a release a year old so it doesn’t make much sense to ask why wait for Ubuntu.

Question:  In general how is this transition going to affect the Ubuntu-based projects? Have you been in touch with other Ubuntu-based distros such as Xubuntu and Lubuntu? What is their take on this transition?

Jonathan: There are a number of transitions in Ubuntu currently. Mir is in a question above. Dropping Ubuntu Developer Summits is another, that’s a shame as it was a big part of what made Ubuntu a community or peers but they would have been very expensive for Canonical to run (although KDE manages to run conferences on a fraction of the budget).

Another is a proposal to drop 6 monthly releases and encourage use of the development release (or as others would say dropping “interim” releases and having a “rolling release”), this is still being discussed and Kubuntu developers have been very prominant in that discussion.  Other changes that have happened in the last year include moving developers away from unprofitable projects like Kubuntu, Launchpad and Bazaar.

In my case I found another sponsor to let me work on Kubuntu which I’m very pleased about. Launchpad and Bazaar are both in maintinance mode where new features are unlikely to get added. Also the Ubuntu release manager was made redundant which was a shame as that was a role which helped flavours like Kubuntu a lot.

Question: Since Linux Mint/Netrunner and Kubuntu are funded by the same  organization is there is collaborations between these teams?

Jonathan: One of the core Netrunner developers is also a core Kubuntu contributor so we get along great. I only had contact with the Linux Mint developer recently when Canonical claimed that they needed a licence to use the compiled packages from Ubuntu. This is a dangerous misunderstanding of copyright licencing from a company which should understand it. I advised Linux Mint to say some rude things to Canonical but I think they’re too polite for that.

Question: Any plans to change the name of Kubuntu?
Jonathan: Last year I was contacted by a nice non-profit company who want to provide a commercial support service for Kubuntu.  Of course Canonical has the trademark of Kubuntu so they had to get a trademark licence from Canonical which took many months of long and slow negotiations. It was very frustracting to have Canonical be the blocker for part of the Ubuntu community since Canonical should be an enabler for the Ubuntu community (at least when we don’t compete directly).  So we did look at changing the name of Kubuntu but were told by Mark we’d be kicked out the project if we did that which would be a worst case scenario for everyone.

Since then Canonical has started asking for donations when downloading  Ubuntu and one option is to give “Better support for flavours like Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu Slider thumb”.  Kubuntu has never received any of these funds or seen any better support, so this is a disappointing case of fraud.

[Update: Jono Bacon, Canonical’s community manager, is investigating these donations and expects the first contribution from Canonical to be made soon.]

Question: Kubuntu uses Canonical’s infrastructure, any change possible there? Is it possible for all BlueSystem funded projects to use a non-Canonical yet common infrastructure?

Jonathan: We are part of Ubuntu so it wouldn’t be possible to use any archive without becoming essentially a different project.  And I’ve no desire to, Canonical providing the infrastructure for Ubuntu is one of the main contributions they give to Kubuntu.

Question: We often hear that without Canonical Ubuntu would be nothing. If that be the case we won’t have innovative community driven projects like KDE or hundreds of other such great open source projects. Is it undermining the value of contributors? As a project leader, what is your opinion about community?

Jonathan: Canonical has upset quite a few contributors to Ubuntu Desktop by moving away from integrating community made software like Gnome and developing their own.  While that has less of a warm fuzzy feeling for those of us who love community made software I don’t blame them, Apple and Google have solved Bug No 1 (Microsoft has a majority market share) while nobody yet has got near using community made software.  So it’s quite reasonable to move to a new model.  Anyone who likes to be part of Ubuntu where the community has more say is very welcome at Kubuntu or any other sub-project which is community led.

Question: Are you also working on Tablet port of Kubuntu as Plasma Active is now running successful on devices like Nexus 7.

Jonathan: Certainly am, we have images made, alas my Nexus 7 has mysteriously stopped turning on so I’ve not been able to test them and need to track down another Nexus 7.  Always the way with engineering projects of course.

Question: As Kubuntu is part of BlueSystems GmbH together with Netrunner and Mint KDE, will we see a merge of these distros? Possibly a KDE OS, like Gnome is planning? Will they move towards Debian or stay with Ubuntu and Mir? Do we need a K-Ubuntu if Canonical is pursuing a Unity-only future?

Jonathan: Kubuntu is part of Ubuntu and has a Kubuntu Council which is constituted and has a bank account for anyone kind enough to donate money (I always get a fuzzy feeling when this happens).  Blue Systems have been lovely in donating us some money but they have no other say over us, they have Netrunner as their distro to play around with.

Swapnil Bhartiya
I have more than 12 years of experience covering Enterprise Open Source, Cloud, Containers, IoT, Machine Learning and general tech. My stories cover a very broad spectrum - traditional Linux, data center and Free Software to contemporary emerging technologies like 'serverless'. Widely Read: My stories have appeared in a multitude of leading publications including CIO, InfoWorld, Network World, The New Stack, Linux Pro Magazine, ADMIN Magazine, HPE Insights, Raspberry Pi Geek Magazine, SweetCode, Linux For You, Electronics For You and more.
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