This guest post was written by Alan Bell.
Picture the scene: a sunny morning in a peaceful Belgian forest, rabbits playing on the grass, birds in the trees full of the joys of spring. This was the setting for the Ubuntu Developer Summit for the ‘Maverick Meerkat’ release. Three hundred or so people were assembled for a week of decision making sessions shaping the next version of Ubuntu. There were Canonical employees (Canonical is the company that produces Ubuntu), delegates from other companies and projects and also a bunch of assorted geeks from the community who were sponsored to attend. I was very pleased to be one of these.
The proceedings were opened by Mark Shuttleworth (the project’s self-appointed benevolent dictator for life, or sabdfl as he is known online), who talked about Unity, the new light version of Ubuntu that will be pre-installed as a fast-booting, touch-optimised desktop for netbooks and tablet computers. Mark went on to talk about the release of the next version, which was expected at the end of October this year (hence the 10.10 version number). He then visibly shocked the release team by announcing he wanted the release date to be 10/10/10, partly as a tribute to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – 101010 in binary is 42 in decimal!
The summit itself was unlike anything else I have ever attended. I will attempt to describe how it works. Firstly, it isn’t a conference or tradeshow and there are no sales pitches. It is a series of working meetings, lots of them. The schedule is published online at http://summit.ubuntu.com/uds-m and for each day you can see what meetings are going on in the 18 rooms available. The schedule is planned in advance, but it isn’t set in stone; sessions are added, removed and rescheduled throughout the week. This sounds a bit chaotic, but it seems to work. The rooms are laid out with microphones in the centre, which record the session and stream live to the internet. Those who want to actively participate in the session sit in the middle; those mainly there to listen and learn sit further back.
On the first day, I ended up running a session as one of my blueprints got scheduled. This was on the topic of the Alfresco document-management system and the future plans for it in Ubuntu. I was a bit unsure how the session would go as I was arriving at it with nothing but open questions; however, to my astonishment, all the right people turned up and provided the answers! We now have a solid set of work items to process in order to get Alfresco and Ubuntu working well together.
I attended several of the sessions on accessibility. Ubuntu was one of the most accessible Linux distributions a few years ago, but has not moved on in this area as much as might be expected. The accessibility team is now being revitalised with new leadership and new projects to work on. One new initiative is to create a set of design personas, well-documented fictional characters who use accessibility software and hardware to operate their computer. These will be used for encouraging application developers to consider the needs of all their end-users and to educate them on the best practices for designing accessible applications. I am also going to be looking at ways to use accessibility software to improve the productivity of currently able-bodied people – the more people using these tools, the more potential contributors there are. Perhaps using text-to-speech for instant messaging or microblogging updates would be a less distracting means of delivering this information, or maybe improving the navigation of the screen using the keyboard would give a productivity boost.
As well as technical sessions, there was a track based on the development of the community, which is a critical part of any open source endeavour. Ubuntu has a large and growing global community and it is fascinating to see how the dynamics of the community change as it grows. As part of the community track, I made some suggestions on how to improve collaboration between local user groups and small businesses when running promotional events and I will be continuing a project to improve the management and production of minutes for the many online meetings. The growth of Ubuntu in the education sector was also discussed, with several meetings on the Edubuntu project, including a discussion of a collection of applications aimed at higher level education.
It was an inspirational, exciting, friendly and exhausting week. Can’t wait for the next one.