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Interview With New openSUSE Chairman Vincent Untz

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Vincent Untz was recently appointed the Chairman of openSUSE Board. It was a great opportunity to speak to Vincent and understand the role of the chairman. Since Untz has been a Gnome release manager we also discussed the Gnome development. Read on…

Congratulations for becoming the ChairmanĀ  Now, what roles and responsibilities does this position bring to you, in other words what does the openSUSE chairman do?

Untz: Thanks, I’m really excited about joining the Board as Chairman!

I guess the first step is to explain the role of the openSUSE Board. It’s a group of six people (five members elected by the community and one Chairman appointed by SUSE). The Board exists to serve and guide the community and the project, for all the non-technical aspects. This includes how we organize the project and the community, legal and financial aspects, but also our relationship with our various sponsors.

It’s some kind of soft leadership, I would say.

Now, the Chairman is the Board member who is, well, chairing the Board. What this really means is that the Chairman is there to make sure the Board keeps being active and useful. He’s also there to help ensure long-term continuity in the Board.

At least, that’s the way I see it. I don’t believe the Chairman should be much different than any other Board member. The position obviously means something to the external world, though, so some additional visibility comes with it. Which I guess is why I’m here answering your questions.

Let me take this opportunity to mention that we’ll have our annual elections in the next few months, and therefore people who might be interested in running for a seat in the openSUSE Board should start thinking about it now!

openSUSE Conference is coming, what will be the agenda at the conference?

Untz: Indeed, the openSUSE Conference will occur from October 20th to 23th in Prague. Everybody who is around shouldn’t hesitate to drop by, especially as we’re co-locating the event with three other events: SUSE Labs, a Gentoo Miniconf and LinuxDays. It will be fantastic, for sure!

The schedule of the openSUSE Conference is visible here.

There are sessions to learn about the latest news for specific projects (Wayland, LibreOffice, ownCloud, etc.), about learning to use some technologies (packaging, AppArmor, and more), about the community (our ambassador program, release management, our travel support program…). There will even be a session about Watson, IBM’s super computer that won to the Jeopardy’s champion!

Oh, and we just had a call for BoFs sessions, so there will be more unconference-style sessions on top of the sessions already published in the schedule.

Personnally, I will most likely focus my time in the sessions related to our community, and the challenges we’re facing. I’m also quite eager to take time to chat with everyone about our project: this will be a great way to gather feedback and input for the Board. And meeting everyone in the community is the best part of the conference!

You have been a Gnome Release Manager, 3.x release is going through a transision and taking same kind of beating as KDE took when they moved to 4.x or Ubuntu took with Unity. That’s normal, people like status quo. I have been a long time GNOME user and I liked the changes (that’s personal). There are some valid and practical criticism such as extensions stop working with latest release and leave a bad experience…(for example 3.6 is out and a majority of extensions have stopped working) so what is Gnome team doing for issues like these?

Untz: First, I would actually disagree it’s taking the same kind of beating as what KDE got when they moved to 4.x. For KDE 4.0, the vast majority of people were complaining about the stability issues; and that was not surprising, as 4.0 was actually more targetted towards developers than towards users. Some miscommunication happened there.

For GNOME 3, the complaints we receive are generally about the change in the user experience. People were really fond of what we achieved with GNOME 2, and some didn’t want any real change. As a community, though, we wanted GNOME to move in a new direction, towards a new vision. We believe this vision is better than the GNOME 2 one, and we’re working hard to satisfy our users. We are definitely listening, and working on addressing the issues people see with GNOME 3, while still standing true to our vision.

Our iterative process of releasing GNOME 3 enabled us to deliver a steady flow of improvements in the GNOME 3 experience since April 2011. This is why we’ve seen in the last few months more and more people starting to speak up about how they really like GNOME 3. Admittedly, what we are doing is not what everyone expects from us (we can’t please everyone…), but I believe we are doing something right. And many users tell us so.

For the specific issue you mentioned about extensions: we’re working on improving the management of extensions. There will likely be automatic updates of extensions in 3.8, for instance (check this out). The fact that extensions stop working after an update to a new version of GNOME (3.4 to 3.6, not 3.6.0 to 3.6.1) is caused by the lack of API guarantees inside GNOME Shell. It will take some time to get this right, in the same way it took time for Firefox to keep extensions enabled by default after an upgrade.

Untz with Swapnil Bhartiya during LinuxCon

You initiated the AppStream project, what is the status of the project at the moment?

Untz: It’s moving slower than what we had hoped, but mostly because everyone who has interest in the project is extremely busy with other projects.

The good news is that we had a great Google Summer of Code project by Matthias Klumpp, that brought some pretty good results:
– much improved PackageKit, thanks to several optimizations and support for parallel transactions.
– many speed improvements and fixes to the software-center fork (as a reminder, we decided to fork because Canonical did not want to drop the CLA required for contributing).
– AppStream Core: a set of utilities to access information from the AppStream database.

On top of that, openSUSE is already distributing the AppStream metadata in the repositories. This means once we have a rocking tool to manage applications, it will be immediately useful.

And related to this topic, the GNOME Design team has created a design for a Software application that would perfectly meet our goals. I’m pretty sure it will build on top of what people have created for AppStream.

Contrary to those efforts we are seeing more duplication now. What is your opinion about Ubuntu’s Unity which is based on Gnome or Cinnamon?

Untz: I care about our freedom, so I cannot be opposed to people going their own way! But I’m obviously a bit sad to see this duplication, especially as it means we all have to move a bit slower because we don’t all work on the same project. Fortunately, both Unity and Cinnamon are using many GNOME technologies that we can share and collaborate on, and that limits the duplication of efforts. I really hope there won’t be divergence of needs for those technologies, so we can keep it that way.

Now, if you ask me “which desktop is better?”, obviously, GNOME is my answer. But to be honest, I haven’t played with Unity nor with Cinnamon recently, and thus I can’t really comment about the user experience they offer. I’m more interested in the back-story, though.

In the case of Unity, I think the current way it’s being developed clearly shows that Canonical wanted to tightly control the development of their desktop experience, and Canonical would not have been able to have such control of GNOME. It was probably unavoidable to have Canonical go with its own project.

As to Cinnamon: I’m actually unclear why it did not stay as a set of extensions for GNOME, and why it was decided to fork gnome-shell and mutter. Especially mutter: I don’t think it would have been issue to keep using it, and looking at the fork (called muffin), I don’t see that many changes there. Again, it’s fine to fork, but I do not know exactly why it was needed instead of making gnome-shell more extendable for the Cinnamon needs.

Why is there no Ubuntu One client for openSUSE whereas there is ownCloud client?

Untz: I think the Ubuntu One client is free software, right? So I guess it’s simply because nobody cared enough about it to package it. I actually never heard anyone asking for it.

What is the target user-base of openSUSE as there are still some quirks for an average home user — adding a printer can be a bit of a challenge, where a user has to add herself to groups. What I want to understand is when we look at Ubuntu or Linux Mint we see average home users who don’t need to be experts in computers, where would you place openSUSE?

Untz: [Hrm, I don’t think the user has to be added to groups to add a printer. At least, I’ve never had to do thatĀ  So this specific example sounds like a bug.]

A few years ago, we had a long discussion about our strategy and our mission statement. The result has been published here and there is a specific mention of our target users: we are looking at users “who are interested in computers and want to get work done, experiment or learn”. I would say this is a bit more oriented towards power users than the average home users, but we obviously don’t want to exclude average home users.

In terms of features, this target audience leads us to care a lot about stability (which means, sometimes not adopting latest bleeding edge technologies) and freedom of choice (we have amazing support for GNOME, KDE, XFCE and more), but also powerful choices like our rolling release (Tumbleweed) to get more recent software while keeping a stable core.

If you look at our project, we are doing a lot around tools and about enabling people to contribute. Just take a look at the Open Build Service for instance: it enables people to build packages in a very simple way, and it makes it simple for people to contribute to openSUSE itself — it’s just a few commands. (Btw, this is what makes Tumbleweed so ridiculously easy to maintain) With such tools, we obviously want to attract users that are willing to dive into the distribution machinery and contribute.

All in all, I think we’re targetting a slightly different audience than Ubuntu and Linux Mint, although I believe we’re working hard to not alienate that audience either in openSUSE.

Tablets are the new ‘platform’, what plans do the openSUSE have for the tablets?

Untz: There is no specific plans for tablets in openSUSE right now, but this is mostly due to the way we work as a distribution: openSUSE is actually quite true to the upstream experience, and therefore we rely on our upstreams to first provide a great experience for the tablets. What obviously matters in that case is the user interface. So it’s actually more of a question for upstream.

I know that GNOME is making solid progress towards good support of touch-enabled devices (first step towards tablet). On KDE’s side, the Plasma Active effort is where tablet work is happening; and this is already packaged in openSUSE, obviously.

Another curious question, why is openSUSE missing from Raspberry Pi?

Untz: It’s simple: until recently, we didn’t have an official port for ARM. But we have a very active team working on it; we actually just released our first RC1 of the ARM port of openSUSE.

This effort involved working on our build infrastructure to enable ARM builds, and also fixing many packages which had issues compiling on ARM. While there is no Raspberry Pi image yet, Bernhard M. Wiedemann published a few weeks ago some unofficial image.

All in all, this is definitely coming, and there’s strong interest in ARM support in the community. Come to the openSUSE Conference, the ARM team will have several sessions about ARM support.

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