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Exclusive Interview With Ubuntu Rock Star Jono Bacon

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Jonathan Edward James Bacon or better known as Jono Bacon wears many hats. He is a writer,  software developer, musician and a very good communicator. Jono created the UK Linux website, Linux UK; created the KDE::Enterprise website and KDE Usability Study. Most notably, Jono is the Ubuntu Community Manager at Canonical. Here is an exclusive interview with Jono Bacon who once shaved off his beard for Amnesty International at LugRadio Live 2006.

Swapnil: How and when did you start using GNU/Linux? Which was your first OS?
Jono: I got started using Slackware 96 when my brother introduced me to it. This then transitioned into me using Red Hat, then Mandrake, then Debian, and finally Ubuntu.

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Swapnil: Now, the obvious question would be what pulled you towards Free Software?
Jono: I was totally fascinated with the idea of a global community of people working together on software that changed people’s lives. Back in 1998 the mere concept of communicating with other people in different countries was exciting enough, but it was at a really limited level – exchanging messages and read-only content. The idea of working together on code, documentation and other things was tantalizing to me.

Linux back then was also horrendously technical and I was morbidly curious with such complexity. For me it was the most awesome Rubik’s cube in the world that everyone was working together on to solve.

Swapnil: You worked with the KDE community and Ubuntu is primarily focused around Gnome, did you try to influence bringing the best of both world? (Mark Shuttleworth recently posted about increasing focus on qt, does that mean we will see more KDE application as defaults by 12.04? )
Jono: No, my contributions to KDE are pre-historic and the project has changed and evolved in so many wonderful ways. I think the KDE are doing a fantastic job of delivering value to their users. Ubuntu is by definition a distribution based on excellence in Free Software and Mark’s recent announcement about supporting Qt better is a reflection of that philosophy, but I don’t see a switch to KDE in our future.

Swapnil: When you look at Ubuntu which user-base comes to your mind?
Jono: Enterprise and consumer users, with key areas of interest such as the cloud. I think it has the potential for both. Ubuntu is an ethos translated in software and that ethos is not only based on freedom and sharing, but also on simplicity and elegance. Bringing simplicity and elegance to the enterprise and consumer experience is a great opportunity and Canonical is equally invested in both.

Swapnil: Canonical is striking a balance between server and consumer with slight inclination towards consumers. What challenges are there to make Ubuntu preferred OS for consumers?
Jono: I think it all boils down to simplicity. Consumers are not generally interested in computers, they are are instead interested in content, and we need to provide a simple and elegant experience in getting to and creating that content, be it apps, social media, email, multimedia or whatever else. This is why I am really pleased we are investing so much in design and having serious and long conversations about the nuances of interactions of such design.

Swapnil: Tablets are coming big way. What is the status of uTouch and what plans Canonical has for the tablet segment?
Jono: uTouch is doing great and the multi-touch team are working hard to ensure we have a wonderful touch experience, and this is deeply interlinked in Unity too. Right now Canonical has no plans for the tablet market beyond ensuring Ubuntu is optimized for the tablet experience via Unity and uTouch.

Swapnil: I think Android has snatched the tablet market. I think we needed a more aggressive approach towards this segment. It was a new market, availability of Windows applications was not a challenge as users now see it as a different platform, thanks to Apple. I believe Ubuntu could have been for tablet what Android has become for smart-phones. What is your opinion? Is Ubuntu ready for Tablet? When do we see a tablet version of Ubuntu? Upads?
Jono: I think Ubuntu is totally capable of being a great tablet Operating System, but it needs to happen at the right time. There are lots of moving parts in delivering a great tablet experience – a great app store/center, touch-ready apps, great hardware performance, access to online content etc – we are investing in many of these areas and I believe the right moving parts will line-up more and more as we continue this work.

Swapnil: There has been quite a lot criticism around using Mono based applications in Ubuntu. Canonical CTO once warned about usage of Mono. What is your opinion about Mono?  Sooner or later Microsoft will consider Ubuntu as a threat. Does it make sense to stay away from technologies dependent on Microsoft written C# or .NET implementations?
Jono: I personally don’t believe that Mono today is a significant risk. Of course, there is always going to be a risk of software patents, and I am vehemently against software patents.

My view on this is simple: I trust the Ubuntu Technical Board, as a group of individuals far smarter than I am, to make the right decision for the Ubuntu project, and they have deemed that today there is not sufficient risk for us to block Mono’s inclusion in Ubuntu.

I think it is important though for the Ubuntu Technical Board to ensue they are abreast of the Mono situation and if new evidence comes to light that we should change our policy, we should do so. I have no personal interest in Mono at all,
and I personally prefer Python and Quickly as a development platform.

Swapnil: Ubuntu enjoys one of the biggest and most dynamic communities. Search for any GNU/Linux related issue and Ubuntu forums top the search results. What is your role and responsibilities as the community manager? What steps have you taken to improve a user’s interaction with the community?
Jono: My role and responsibility is to help make the community feel as fun, engaging and productive as possible. To do this my team engage in a variety of different of tasks such as building buzz, providing tools and resources, writing documentation, creating and running campaigns, dealing with conflict where it happens, growing the community, and more.

 

Swapnil: 11.04 is all set to rock with Unity. How do you see the development  progressing, what is user’s feedback?
Jono: I think it is going really well. There is lots to do, that’s for sure, but the Unity team are moving full steam ahead. We are all hands on deck to make this a success for 11.04 but we are also looking to the community for help and support in testing and where possible working on bugfixes and refinements. Every little helps to make Unity rock in
11.04!

Swapnil: Is there any work going on with the development of Wayland for Ubuntu?
Jono: Right now, not really. It is too early. This is something we are keen to consider in the future.

Swapnil: One of the major concerns around Ubuntu is bug fixing. Some bugs stay through out the current release. Last release had a bug which made use of Tablet Pen’s impossible with Ubuntu. This release has an issue with the way one open folders — once you click ‘open with’ and select an app all folders open with that option only. Another issue is with netbooks, Dell Minis don’t wake up after suspension? How Canonical plans to keep the user experience good? What is the strategy for bug fixing?
Jono: This is part of the nature of scale – when more and more people use your software, and your software is a big collection of independent projects, you get more eyes on bugs and more bug reports get filed. Canonical is continually investing in QA more and more, but I would love to see our community embrace testing, triage, and fixing bugs more. This is something I would like to focus my team on more in the future.

Swapnil: Canonical is focusing quite a lot on look and feel recently, which is a great thing in my opinion. Look at Mac, its all BSD and FOSS but polished well. However, as I mentioned unfixed bugs lead to a bad experience. How do you maintain this balance? Is the focus on design compromising stability of the systems?
Jono: I think it is less of a difference between the lower level parts of the platform and the graphical interface, but more of a discipline in ensuring that all projects have a suitable level of maintainable and bug work going on. This is something I feel like we are continuing to improve on at Canonical; making great progress with all the things we want to do, but also ensuring we invest in maintenance. I still we can do better, but we are heading in the right direction.

Swapnil: You are a musician as well. Are their any bands which endorse the FOSS philosophy?
Jono: I am not sure of other bands who are doing it in the same way as Severed Fifth – there are other bands who are giving their music away for free, but I think that is only 1/3 of what needs to be done – there also needs to be great community and great band/fan relations to really bring the FLOSS philosophy into the music industry. That is what we are striving to do and set Severed Fifth up as a great example to other bands.

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