UDS Debriefing

Phew, I meant to write this a million years ago.

I went to UDS Jaunty, got the shirt, came back. It was at the Googleplex, but seemingly the backwater part of it. The food wasn’t amazing, and we weren’t allowed to really wander around. So it was just a bunch of conference rooms. With weird cameras that would move by themselves and that you couldn’t turn off.

And Mountain View, California is no Prague. There wasn’t much nightlife, and you needed a car to get anywhere. So the locale as a whole was disappointing. Next time, let’s do New Orleans!

It was neat to see how forward-thinking most of the sessions were. I felt like it was more about planning for Jaunty+1 than Jaunty. Really long-term views, with an eye towards what first steps can be done by Jaunty.

I attended the Jaunty Backup session. You can even see the videos from the session, although no one was moving the camera around as people spoke, so I’m perpetually off stage right.

The session was inconclusive, and I fear I spent too much of its time talking about Déjà Dup, but I was there to evangalize I guess. I haven’t heard back, and the spec writeup seems like it’s willing to wait until Jaunty+1, as none of the current solutions are ideal.

Which is good. Throwing Déjà Dup together in time to meet Jaunty deadlines would have been tight. But honestly, I think it’s coming along fantastically. The recently released 5.0 is really hot, and could have served as a decent first draft for Jaunty.

Besides the backup session, I did a lot of work in our secret OEM Services room, and attended the odd session. It was fun.

GTK+ vs Qt

Right after I started at Canonical, I met Mark Shuttleworth at UDS.

He asked me about Qt vs GTK+, and I nervously said that I preferred the GTK+ stack, finding it more complete. He was surprised, having heard the opposite from others. I recently asked an interviewee about Qt and GTK+, and he also said that he preferred Qt’s abstractions.


On a widget-level, they’re both about the same. They both have data structure libraries, nice MVC layers, and a similar suite of built-in widgets. Pre-GIO, Qt had a leg up with a file IO abstraction. But that’s about all Qt had.

What GTK+ brings to the table is policy abstraction and system integration. The GTK+ stack gives us icon themes, system tray applets, how to launch files like the system does, printing support, and recently used file support. Qt doesn’t have a compelling answer for the above.

I wish I had said all that when Mark asked. 🙂

UDS Intrepid

So, Prague! The UDS itself was good. I mostly listened in on the mobile tracks, as I’m not embedded enough to usefully contribute. But I certainly learned a lot of face/irc-nick pairings.

UDS notes:

  • I liked the decision to move the browser default home page to a simplified layout — much more akin to the default Firefox home page.
  • UME sounds like it will make tentative motions away from the poorly-maintained Hildon framework and toward a GTK+ library that has been patched for mobile-usage (maybe like the Hiker Project) with some Clutter for glam (which is where GNOME seems to be heading as well).
  • The “lower boot time for mobile devices” session was interesting. We got Scott from the kernel team in the room and he proceeded to open a can of whoop ass on the boot time. Using iterations of bootchart on a live piece of hardware, he just pointed at seconds of the timeline and they scurried away. A lot of improvement came from not running modprobe so much, since the hardware is known in advance. Plus, some backporting of boot-time fixes in newer kernels.
  • I thought it was cute that Jono rickrolled the big social gathering at the end.

Prague notes

  • Their toilets are variable-flush, which made sense to me. You just hold it down for as long as you want it to flush. Not all toilet trips are made equal.
  • They seem to like to put some weird vinegary sauce on their corn. Didn’t like that at all.
  • “Nonstop” means “24/7.” This was interesting because you’d see signs like “nonstop karaoke” which sounded like a threat of torture, not an enticement.
  • The hotel bathroom was odd. Not only did they have a dial to turn on muzak at varying volumes, but the shower door didn’t close and only covered half the tub. So you just had to get real close and comfortable in the front, and not splash about. A real cramp in my style.
  • I had absinthe for the first time. I had it straight rather than the complicated water-over-sugar-then-flames bit. It tasted not pleasant, but it did get me reasonably drunk and left a pleasant burning sensation in my throat for a good length of time. Typical liquor experience.
  • The buildings were beautiful. There were details, decorations, and statues adorning every nook and cranny of them.
  • Soda was expensive. 0.2 liters cost as much as 0.5 liters of beer. You couldn’t just get tap water either. You had to order “still water” (differentiated from “water with gas”).
  • I really, really liked what seemed to be a standard feature on Czech (European?) menus: every item had a measurement for it. Food items would say “200g” or “300g” depending on how big the portion was. Drinks would say “0.5l” or “0.1l” (for shots, say). It was a great help in figuring out how much food came with each plate, especially when reading translated menus.
  • They used metric and 24-hour clocks. It was awesome.


I saw this a month ago on Boing Boing and meant to blog about it. Wubi is a Ubuntu installer for Windows that appears to make it drop-dead easy. Now, I haven’t actually used Wubi, so your mileage may vary, and it may eat your babies.

It looks like create a file system inside of a Windows file, so there’s no messy partitioning. You can uninstall your install like any Windows program. You boot to Ubuntu through the boot loader on startup. If you decide you love it, you can later migrate your data to its own partition.

Pretty neat, and a painless way to fiddle with Ubuntu.

Softcore Mikix

I’m writing this entry in Ubuntu, after installing it over the weekend on a lark. Ubuntu replaces Gentoo and possible marks a turning point in my geekhood.

I’m not 100% sure why I decided now was the time to make the switch, but it had been brewing for a while (ever since Ubuntu was first released, actually). I think I just finally got tired of tweaking. I’ve always enjoyed fixing breaks and toying around with the undercovers of Linux, and I still do. But just a little less.

So I wanted a slightly more integrated, easy to use distro. But not one that sacrifices access to the latest and greatest. I can’t completely abandon the bleeding edge. Ubuntu seems like it gives me the best of both worlds.

This easing of my nerdcoreness concerns me a bit, as it seems to be a trend. I haven’t worked on my personal projects (xpad, gmult, GNOME) for quite a while. Long enough that others have started to fill in for me. I get my coding fix at work these days, I guess.

All in all, I’m spending less time on the computer and more time outside lately. I’m not sure how I feel about that. :-/

Ubuntu First Impressions

I just downloaded and played with the Ubuntu Linux 4.10 preview LiveCD. (A LiveCD is one that you can boot into a working Linux, without touching the hard drive. A sort of try-before-you-buy.)

I occasionally find myself in the position of helping new users of Linux and try to keep up to date on distributions. The most important question to be able to answer is, Which distribution do I use?

My thoughts on new users is that new-user-friendly defaults, GNOME, and a decent package manager for future tinkering are all musts.

I have not known any distribution that fit all these requirements. Debian had decent GNOME support and a great package manager. But it also had the worst defaults of almost any distribution and requires significant work to get a workable installation. Of the RPM distros, SUSE and Mandrake were OK, but they both had an aura of KDE that I didn’t like. Red Hat was the best I knew, having good defaults and excellent GNOME support. Not only did it use GNOME by default, but it has adopted the GNOME aesthetic of simplicity. However, it also happens to have a terrible package manager. Dependency hell is not something a new user wants to deal with while trying to install a third-party package. It also has a couple annoyances like no MP3 support.

Most often I would have users do a hand-held install of Debian and would remain in constant communication while they discovered all its quirks.

Hence my interest in Ubuntu. I booted it up and was pleased with what I saw. It had the Debian core and thus its amazing package manager, but managed to avoid its most egregious faults. It is pretty and functional by default, has quick release schedules, hides details from the user, has a polished install program (although Iwould have liked to see a graphical one), and has excellent GNOME support.

The default GNOME install was a tweaked version of 2.8.0, which is nice. It allowed all the great system configuration stuff that Windows users have come to expect in graphical form, due to gnome-system-tools and synaptic. I liked the inclusion of synaptic; allowing users to avoid command lines is a top priority.

It also had a few other niceties for migrating users. The default browser was not Epiphany but Firefox, which will be immediately recognizable to many Windows users. It installed OpenOffice by default, which is a great Microsoft Office clone. The regular mix of top-notch programs was there: Gimp, Gaim, Rhythmbox, Totem, and friends.

I noticed the inclusion of HAL due to GNOME 2.8, which I haven’t seen in action before. If it behaves like it promises, that’s a great addition. I’m interested to see if Windows shares will show up without prodding. GNOME 2.8 also has VNC support by default, making my job as tech support guy easier.

I’m not yet convinced enough that I want to switch to it myself from Gentoo, but I definitely want to play with it more. If I do end up installing it, I hope to write more here.