Friday, May 14, 2010

The Best Laid Schemes o' Mice an' Men

I've been queried about my views of Ubuntu Studio's future; therefore, I will expound some of their intricacies now.  All while serendipitously keeping your window button firmly planted on the right side of your window and in the correct order.

Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)
Intrinsically I tend to gravitate towards order and structure.  It's not a neurosis, I can function within chaos (and sometimes it is fun to do so), but I typically prefer not to do so.

Mainly it's that I'm an objective or goal oriented person and as such I find that I accomplish them more effectively with order, structure, and a plan.  Generally speaking, the trip is enjoyable but I derive a greater sense of reward from the accomplishment of Something Getting Done (huh, we've seen that before, haven't we?).

Also, as the kid who read the cereal box because I couldn't dully, sedentarily, and illiterately eat my breakfast cereal, I often ponder over topics of interest in an almost obsessive manner.  I'm not omniscient, I just have a hard time stopping my brain from devoting CPU cycles sometimes.

These are the qualities I feel I bring to Ubuntu Studio.  And hopefully an enthusiastically and passionately fresh perspective as well.

Everyday People
The most immediate goal I would like to approach would be to clearly define Ubuntu Studio's audience.  Some would argue that Ubuntu Studio has always had a definitive audience from it's inception.  Others argue otherwise, as they are wont to do.

I wasn't involved during those times so I cannot support either side.  But I would posit that in either case, both Ubuntu Studio and it's audience have evolved since Ubuntu Studio's genesis.  It would interesting to see if they have diverged and are incongruent now.

During this cycle (Maverick Meerkat) I am hoping to obtain qualitative and pervasive information about our audience and their needs.  My initial suggestion is to create an online survey, but I'm hoping we can develop other methods to supplement this approach.

The first tangible benefit of this process should be to determine how effective or successful we are in meeting our audience's needs.  Obviously, when we have a more concise and thorough definition of their needs then we are in a better position to address them.

Sing a Simple Song
Another tangible benefit, although not for our audience, is possibly reducing scope.  Now, before all two of this blog's follower email me with nasty comments and disreputable questioning of my parentage, I want to clarify my position.

Ubuntu Studio has taken a scattered and broad approach to application inclusion and fulfilling audience needs.  While I will not critique Ubuntu Studio as "bloated", I would suggest it demonstrates symptoms of limited "application creep".

I suspect that the attempts to fulfill user's needs have historically been based less on evaluating data and more on gut feelings or good intentions.  It is also possible that applications were included simply because of a "because it's available and we can" mentality.

The analyzing, inquisitive reader might have shrewd questions materialize in their heads, such as:
  • Why is reducing scope a benefit?
  • Oi, if the benefit isn't for the audience, then for whom is it a benefit?
  • To be, or not to be: that is the question
Firstly, allow me to preface my answers by stating, "An application without a need is useless indeed!"  While not quite Shakespeare (but then what is these days?), this mantra would serve us well to remember.

That bit of poetry aside, addressing the first question; reducing Ubuntu Studio's scope minimizes the workload and responsibilities of the developers.

You might have noticed that I deftly answered the second question as well in one quick, sharp witted but cleanly spoken stroke!

Additionally, it should be pointed out that removing unnecessary applications also reduces the size of the ISO that is downloaded.  This curious phenomenon benefits not only Canonical's server bandwidth but also the hapless users who have a slow internet connection.

Lastly, I would point out that the last bullet point is in fact a statement, not a question, and I retort, "Cudgel thy brains no more about it, for your dull ass will not mend his pace with beating."

Hopefully I have deflected any possible hostile or aggressive emails by demonstrating the possibly substantial and appreciable benefits from evaluating the current application scope in contrast with defined user's needs.

Admittedly, I do not expect to find large tracts of applications that will qualify for scope reduction and furthermore, staunch resistance is expected to removing those that might be considered.  Granted, the potential also exists that we find solid justification for every package we currently have, which would be equally accepted.

It's a Family Affair
Refinements in our package development and maintenance would be something else I would like to improve by leveraging our relationship with Debian.

For the uninitiated, Ubuntu is based on Debian and many Ubuntu packages are derived directly from the Debian archives.  At the beginning of each Ubuntu release cycle packages not in the Ubuntu archives are automatically synced from the Debian archives.

Additionally (and more specifically), I would be remiss to not mention that the Debian Multimedia Team provides many audio specific packages to Ubuntu Studio via the previously mentioned syncing methodology.  Many thanks to the Debian Multimedia Team, without whom Ubuntu Studio would probably be a pale shadow of what it currently is.

Also of import, Debian seems to have a very robust and active program for adding new packages to their archives in comparison with Ubuntu.

Therefore, I would like to see new multimedia packages (e.g. LV2 packages) make their way into Ubuntu Studio via Debian and the Debian Multimedia Team if possible.  Given our lack of dedicated packagers and the Debian Multimedia Team's fastidiousness (non-derogatory), this becomes a no-brainer.  Their quality and throughput is magnitudes beyond what we can accomplish given an identical time scale.

While one of Debian's strengths lies in it's packaging, in a symbiotic twist, Ubuntu's stregnth lies in it's quantity of users.  This manifests itself, amongst other ways, as filed bug reports and patches submitted.  Therefore, we should be attempting to push bug fixing patches back to Debian where applicable rather than only patch them in the Ubuntu repositories.  Sometimes it is not applicable as Ubuntu is different than Debian and sometimes packages require specific moderations.

Reducing the delta between the Debian and Ubuntu packages will allow for auto-syncing at the beginning of each release.  Therefore, pushing patches back to Debian will not only help keep Debian and Ubuntu's package archives up to date but it will also reduce the workload on the Ubuntu Studio developers.

I believe there is great potential for both groups to mutually benefit from a closer working relationship and I hope we can explore it.

I Want To Take You Higher
Lastly I want to mention the possibility of developing new audiences.

This is not to imply that we would abandon our current audience; that would be silly given that I have discussed trying to definitively understand their needs and address them.  This has already been misunderstood so I want to say it clearly:

Engaging a new audience does not preclude continuing a commitment to an existing audience.

New audiences potentially could provide Ubuntu Studio with a substantial quantity of new users who could also go on to report bugs, help the development team or even develop their own audio centric applications.

Each of these new users, especially if it breaks out of the Ubuntu/Linux circle, could possibly engage in advocacy in a manner and effectiveness that has been yet seen.

This isn't a decision to pursue new audiences, rather, it's a decision to explore the possibility of developing new audiences.  Possible audiences need to be identified, their needs understood and our abilities to fulfill their needs evaluated before any decisions should be made.

I would expect that at the end of Maverick we might have begun to identify new audiences and their needs and might require a year (or more) to make a definitive decision, develop a plan, and begin to implement that plan.

It will possibly be a lot of work to successfully engage and support a new audience but the returns could be equally as rewarding.

In Time
Other items exist to be pursued that that not only require fewer literary tracts for explanation but also are not governed by or fit into a desirable timetable.  Some may be deferred due to interest or availability of resources, but hopefully these will all be addressed, just some sooner than others.  These include (in no particular order):

LV2 - packaging the LV2 effects, plugins, and generators started last cycle and continues to be an active goal right now thanks to quadrispro
JACK2/Pulse Audio - developing functional integration between JACK2 and Pulse Audio via dbus is another active project headed up by TheMuso
network manager - a common and familiar problem that finally received a bug report and is now being addressed, thanks to Ricardo (rlameiro) for filing the bug
update website - something that has been long overdue, we have a general direction and now hopefully progress will be made thanks to detrate.  I have high hopes that this accomplishment will have an expansive and dynamic effect with users
fill team positions - as all team positions are effectively empty, this is something that desperately needs to be addressed and i am hopeful that within the next month significant progress can be made, especially for the tech lead position
ubuntustudio-controls - updates are needed since JACK now handles rtprio and memlock in /etc/security/limits.d/audio.conf but Ricardo (rlameiro) would additionally like to explore a redesign which I would like to potentially leverage to include other activities that users routinely perform for setting up their boxes
Ubuntu Studio backports PPA - since the official backport team is pretty busy and our applications fill a niche need we might consider a backports PPA for our users, much like KDE maintains, to provide more immediate access to backported applications
documentation - more documentation is the obvious and immediate thought, but I would like to explore defining and possibly reorganizing the scopes of the wiki.ubuntu.com vs. help.ubuntu.com websites as they relate to Ubuntu Studio
decision documentation - who wants to repeat history? We should document reasons for certain decisions so that users understand why those decisions were made, plus we can keep knowledge continuity within the developer team even with member attrition.
testing procedures - I feel very, very strongly that if we want users to help us test Ubuntu Studio then we need to explicitly provide instructions explaining every step and expectation, therefore we need to develop clearly identified and documented testing procedures.  If this is effected we will significantly lower the threshold for users that might help us.  I am hoping that stochastic and I can work together to accomplish this, or at least start making appreciable progress, soon.
user communication - another topic about which I hold very, very passionate feelings.  I want to develop effective, consistent, pervasive, and thorough communication with our users to help develop a vibrant, dynamic relationship with the developers.  I believe a direct correlation will become evident between effective communication with users and their participation in development.  And this is to everyone's benefit.

 (You Caught Me) Smilin'
These are currently my immediate and foremost thoughts, more or less, about Ubuntu Studio and the its future.  Nothing shocking perhaps, but hopefully they align with the "do one thing and do it well" ethos.

I feel this is an excitingly enviable juncture in Ubuntu Studio's development and I am fortunate to be part of a project with so much exceptional potential, where we are only limited by our own desires and commitment.

Of course, this potential that would not exists if not for giants elevating us.  Hopefully all those who contribute to Ubuntu Studio's development will seize this opportunity and accomplish something worthy of having stood on their shoulders.


Lastly, please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions with me by commenting or emailing me directly at scottalavender@gmail.com.
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