Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Blogging about Ubuntu Issues

As Ubuntu gets more popular, I am noticing a lot more blogs about Ubuntu (such as this one), including people posting their gripes about the latest release at the time.

One thing that always amused me was how many of these people never filed bug reports about their issues, even if the issues persisted across multiple releases. Another compounding issue (and perhaps the reason these people don't report the bugs) is that they assume the bug also affects every other user of Ubuntu. However often it just has to do with some nuance of their machine, if not something they explicitly did which would logically cause the issue. Because of these two issues, many people just happily (for lack of a better word) complain about the issue and continue to be shocked that it isn't fixed, even though they never reported the issue because they assume naturally everyone else is already aware of it.

Blogging about issues is a great way to get them exposure; however, an even better way which has a greater chance of actually getting the issue solved is to find the existing bug report on Launchpad, or create a new one if it hasn't been filed, and blog about the REPORTS. This allows readers to subscribe to and comment in the bug reports, increasing awareness of the issue for developers instead of just commenting on a random blog.

Since everything is more fun with examples, let me use this ArsGeek article as an example of a pretty decent blog post. It covers the poster's issues, explains why they are important, and links to some relevant bug reports. Overall, it does a great job of explaining and detailing issues which are already known about in Ubuntu, and bringing information together. However, after researching all of this information, the poster probably could have added some more information to the bug reports, or at the very least subscribed to them. As I mentioned, when people subscribe to bugs it helps the developers get a better idea of how many people the bug is affecting, and who actually cares about it.

It also falls a little short by not reporting new bugs for the issues which weren't already in Launchpad, such as not being able to add new themes by dragging and dropping URLs. While this is indeed an excellent and very user-friendly way to add themes, would you really expect that developers are adding themes this way? And if not, how would they be aware of the issue? Of course the people experiencing the issues need to make them aware, instead of just getting upset about it.

Luckily the wonderful Colin Watson picked up on the post and filed (some of) the bugs: 252885, 252904, 252907, 252925. If you find these issues important, subscribe to the bug reports, and add any new information if you have any. Remember, if you want to get something accomplished in Ubuntu, Launchpad is your friend!

UPDATE: About 6 hours after Colin filed 252885, a fix was committed upstream for it. This really demonstrates the power of using Launchpad, and the necessity of formally making developers aware of the issues. The article was posted over 2 months ago, and who knows how long the poster was annoyed by this issue. In the end though, all that was needed was a simple bug report in Launchpad, which was fixed in about 6 hours. Incredible!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What's Coming in Gnome: Part 1

Many people criticize Gnome for being behind the times and slow to change. Being the default desktop environment of Ubuntu, Gnome's usability is quite important, so this criticism should not be taken lightly. However in this post and the next I would like to demonstrate that Gnome is moving forward in terms of usability in multiple important (and in some cases exciting!) ways. My disclaimer here is that some of these concepts and mockups are taken from bug reports and developer mailing lists, and may not necessarily be the end result of the development. As such, not all of these features may make it into Gnome 2.24 (Intrepid); I will try to note when to expect each feature.

  1. Have you ever tried to unmount a device such as a USB thumbdrive, only to receive a message that it can't be unmounted because it is in use? Certainly you have; however, it is often the case that you have no idea which application[s] are blocking the unmount! This has been a long-standing bug upstream in Gnome, and multiple developers, not to mention a Google Summer of Code 2008 project, are aiming to greatly improve this. The idea is to have a dialog which explains that the device cannot be unmounted, and list the "offending" applications. Let's take a look:

    The old dialog. Not particularly helpful.

    One mockup of a proposed dialog. Note that the Unmount option will be enabled once all the applications are closed.

    This should make using devices like USB drives much more friendly to beginning users, especially users coming from Windows where this explicit unmounting isn't typically necessary. The option to have a button to kill unresponsive applications is also being discussed, which I think could be very useful. I would suggest looking for this in Intrepid+1 if not Intrepid. For more information look at http://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=528559 and it's downstream Ubuntu bug.

  2. Currently users of metacity are unable to have individual backgrounds for each workspace that they may have (although this can be accomplished, albeit in a not particularly standards-friendly way, with Compiz). This will be an exciting and welcome addition, as the upstream bug is over 7 years old! This will also improve usability for users of multiple desktops by providing more obvious visual cues as to which desktop the user is currently in. There have already been numerous mentions of this online, so I won't dwell on this feature. I would look for this, if it gets completed (the GSoC student's blog is not particularly active, which may or may not be an indication of progress) in Intrepid+1, and possibly Intrepid.
In Part 2 I will cover a bunch of (potentially) upcoming features in Nautilus, which is Gnome's default file manager. I wanted to keep this section short so that I could group all of the Nautilus-related features together. These will include a much-needed enhancement of the Replace dialog when over-writing files, as well as the implementation of a tabbed Nautilus, and a new multiview ("columns") layout, and a few more random improvements. See you then, and please leave comments if you have any feedback!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"We don't have much time," he said, "so I'll just talk about me."

Hello, and welcome to my blog! My name is Michael and I am fairly active in the Ubuntu community. I would like to use the knowledge and experience I have gained working in the community to bring a wider audience in on upcoming features, current debates and issues, and my thoughts on the future of Ubuntu and Linux.

My focus in Ubuntu is on the end-user experience: making it as easy, functional, efficient, and polished as possible, especially to novice users. I am also recently focusing on incorporating new concepts and paradigms into Ubuntu, to keep it on the cutting edge (for those that want it to be).

A lot of my work in Ubuntu involves triaging incoming bugs. This includes ensuring these bugs contain enough information to figure out what the issue is, and if not, asking for the information that is necessary. It also includes assigning bugs (correctly) to packages, setting statuses (Confirmed/Incomplete/Invalid/Won't Fix/Triaged, etc) and importances (all the way from Wishlist to Criticial) on the bugs, and poking and prodding the right people to get them fixed when a solution is apparent.

Additionally, I also do some development in avant-window-navigator/awn-extras, as well as my own application, wxBanker. Feel free to check out my Ubuntu wiki page and Launchpad page for more information.

So where is this going? Well, in working with a lot of bugs, blueprints, packages, upstream bug trackers, and developer mailing lists, as well as more direct interaction on IRC, I get to learn about how Ubuntu is structured, how the whole process works, and what is coming in newer releases; a lot of things many people never get to learn about. In doing so, I find a lot of interesting things that people might benefit from learning and enjoy reading about! Conversely, I think many of these same things would benefit from being known about and perhaps pushed for a little more. Basically, I want to use this blog to continue my aforementioned focuses: improving the Ubuntu community and user experience as a whole, but now from multiple angles.

So as not to inundate anyone I shall end this post here. However, I have a bunch of ideas already so expect to see something exciting soon!