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Donating to Free Software

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When I started using Linux in the mid 90’s almost all of the developers were part-time, even Linus Torvalds had another job and did kernel development part time. These days many of the core Linux projects (from the kernel through to Firefox) have full-time paid developers. Consequently, Open Source has been able to progress more in the last 10 years than the previous 20 years of development.

However, there’s still no independent software industry around the platform: I mean by this development shops that create application software for Linux. This is a problem. On the developer side it means we often lose programmers to other platforms as they move across to a space where they can earn a living. On the user side it prevents a range of users from using Linux because the range of software isn’t there to suit their needs. Both sides of this equation need to be solved for Linux to become a mainstream desktop platform. It’s these long terms problems that we’re trying to impact through the software center and the related threads.

If you look at other platforms, such as Mac, you see there’s a strong hobbyist or casual developer group who are very influential.  This group has often made the most exciting, compelling and breakthrough applications and utilities.  When the Mac desktop wasn’t cool (ie OS 9) this group kept the platform alive by creating great new software for users.  It’s also this type of developer who was the first to adopt the ipod/iOS application space and who has been so important advocating the platform. These developers create software because they love doing so, and they get a positive kick out of the direct and indirect appreciation from users.

Free Software developers often cite the community aspect of being in the open as a driver for working on software.  But there’s fewer ways for a user to show direct appreciation for the work. So we’ve been thinking about adding the ability for Ubuntu users to donate to free software applications that they love. It will provide a way for users to show their appreciation, and this positive feed-back will encourage the developer to keep cranking out great software.  My expectation is that the value of donations will be in users showing their love and that it will provide for the odd “free beer”.

There have been previous ideas and blueprints around donations in Ubuntu, so at UDS we discussed adding this feature to Software Center.

From a user perspective the experience will be that they’ll switch on donations and charge their account.  They’ll then be able to donate to individual applications within the software center.  It should be a straightforward user-experience but the variety of requirements to fulfill this properly is complex. There’s core problems like storing money within an account, how you process transactions and what the user can see within Software Center – I’m sure they’d like to see what they’ve donated to for example.

On the developer side of the equation the experience should be that a software project registers for donations and provides financial details. Then when some set of donations is received it’s paid out to their account. The core part of the discussion at UDS was around how you identify the right person to give the donations to.  This a difficult problem. The proposal for the initial release is that we’ll switch on donations for software which has a foundation and has the legal structures to receive donations.

It’s a really exciting idea and one I believe will make a difference to encouraging free software. If you’d like to give feedback or track development add yourself to the blueprint.

Written by Steve George

November 4, 2010 at 12:07

Dell PowerEdge Ubuntu certifications

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I hope you didn’t miss the fantastic news that Dell has expanded the PowerEdge servers that are certified for Ubuntu Server Edition. We’ve also worked with them to port and package OpenManage 6.3 to Ubuntu which is important for anyone who uses this systems management framework.

Expanding the range of certified hardware is an ongoing process and it’s worth considering why it’s important. When we started Ubuntu Server Edition one of the most significant frustrations for Debian/Ubuntu based sysadmins was hardware compatibility. While a server would “mostly” work there would be small but significant issues that prevented sysadmins being able to depend on them. Consequently, we’ve worked with the server manufacturers to expand their certifications to cover Ubuntu. By working together we’re able to test and validate the whole system, ensuring a higher level of testing.

Using certified Dell hardware with Ubuntu Server means you have the assurance that everything will work together without a hitch. Second, if you do have a hardware issue and contact Dell they won’t tell you to remove Ubuntu and put a “certified OS” on the hardware to verify the problem. Finally, if you’ve purchased Ubuntu Advantage from Canonical it means that we can resolve any technical issue in conjunction with Dell.

Expanding the pool of certified hardware is something that every Ubuntu server user can encourage. The next time you’re purchasing a server for use with Ubuntu consider if you can do the following:

a. Buy hardware which is certified

Certifying hardware costs the OEM and Canonical significant amounts of money. So by buying certified hardware you incentivise the OEM to continue certifying Ubuntu. Clearly an OEM will expand the OS support for the operating systems that sell more hardware.

b. Tell your vendor you’ll be using Ubuntu
It’s common amongst Linux users to buy the hardware without an OS and then to load it themselves. The problem is that the OEM doesn’t know the OS you care about: and it’s even worse if you buy a server with Windows on it because it’s on a special offer.

So it’s important to inform your vendor that you’ll be using Ubuntu on the systems even if you’re buying it bare.

c. Ask your vendor to certify Ubuntu
If you have an account manager and buy servers on a regular basis then ask them to request expanding certification. Every company listens to what the sales people tell them.

Separately, it’s worth knowing that if you purchase Ubuntu Advantage and are using it with certified hardware then Canonical can provide a higher level of care as we can work with the OEM if there are any issues over drivers and because we have access to the hardware. You can see everything that’s certified from Dell on the Ubuntu certified list.

Image credit: John Seb

Written by Steve George

November 1, 2010 at 08:54

Posted in Canonical, Canonical-voices, Linux, Ubuntu

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Disruptive Effects of Open Source

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I participated in a panel on the “Disruptive Effects of Open Source” at the Future World Symposium which discussed how OSS is impacting the software world, the degree of that change and the limitations.

The conference was held by the NMI whose charter is to represent and usher the interests of the electronics industry in the UK. It may not be something you think about on a daily basis but the UK has a pretty successful electronics sector with companies like ARM, Freescale, Imagination and others. Now that our political masters have got over their finance kick perhaps they’ll focus more attention on encouraging these technology sectors!

Anyway, with a electronics industry audience I was concerned to make my comments interesting and relevant. As became clear from some of the other presentations electronics companies face incredible opportunities where the number of devices and connectivity options between them are proliferating. However, there are also significant challenges as sectors converge with each other, and international competition hots up.

Glyn Moody chaired the discussion and my initial comments were to explain that Open Source is not a business model. Rather, it is a development and licensing model which brings many impacts and there are a variety of permutations for why you might use OSS or build a product using OSS. For example, in some cases organisations collaborate through OSS because there’s no value in differentiation, a “shared investment” model: a good example is Web 2.0 companies who collaborate to improve their infrastructure software. Another area is where you want to speed up the velocity of innovation. The value of  OSS is that it can create a community of contributors and advocates: a good example is the web browser where Firefox has driven significant direct and spin-off innovation.

I wanted to make sure that the audience was clear that open software is not inimitable with proprietary or mixed solutions. Since I was addressing an audience that might not know Open Source well, and whose livelihoods depend on Intellectual Property (IP) I wanted to make sure that they were clear that OSS values this just as much. Furthermore, that OSS should be a key part of any technology companies strategy as it’s a leveller of competition.

We then talked about the various rights and responsibilities that working with OSS confers, the value and opportunities around communities. I sometimes feel that in those circumstances it can all seem too much if you go from the idea of a closed ecosystem immediately to the idea of developers being able to download any piece of code from the Internet and use it. So I focused my comments on the value of vendors acting as mediators between the open-ended nature of Open Source projects and the more controlled world of a procurement policy. I’m certainly not unbiased here, but a vendor can provide lots of value by mediating this world, helping customers to navigate it, providing legal and technical support – along with the protections and reassurance that companies like to have. I wanted to make sure the audience was clear that it doesn’t have to be the “wild west” when using OSS.

In the final section the questions explored the range, limitations and future directions for Open Source. Since we were getting close to lunch I wanted to provoke a reaction. My main statement was that eventually there will be a major Open Source solution and vendor in every technology segment. The direction of Linux over the previous ten years shows the manner in which OSS expands across all niches and we can see the impact it’s had in other segments such as databases and today we see it in mobile phones. And that in any segment where there is a sufficiently wide interest in sharing the cost of development, increasing the speed of innovation through a community or rebooting the competition then OSS would eventually take place. Consequently,  I suggested that if there wasn’t an OSS competitor then a company should consider getting first mover advantage before their competitors do

I thought I’d come up with a controversial answer to the question and was quite surprised there wasn’t a strong reaction from the audience. Perhaps they considered me too tainted as an OSS vendor.

So there you go, I managed to learn something about the electronics industry and just about avoided telling them that they should Open Source everything immediately! I’m sure they’ll invite me again next year.

Written by Steve George

October 13, 2010 at 17:05

Posted in Canonical, Canonical-voices, Linux, Ubuntu

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IBM DB2 on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS

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One of the impacts of everything going digital is that the amount of data we store and use is exploding. This gets a lot of attention in the Web 2.0 area, but it’s equally true in enterprises.  In many ways databases have been revolutionised by Open Source, I find it hard to imagine the Web without MySQL or Postgres.

That’s at the volume and scale end of the spectrum, in the hard-core enterprise Oracle and IBM remain the power houses that corporate customers use for their mission critical deployments. As a market it’s worth 19 billion dollars according to an IDC report: Oracle has 44% of that market, and second is IBM DB2 with 21%. So I was very happy to see that the IBM DB2 team has certified Ubuntu 10.04 LTS for IBM DB2 7.2 .

This means that the whole suite of DB2 Enterprise Server Edition, DB2 Workgroup Server Edition, DB2 Personal Edition and DB2 Express Edition are validated on Ubuntu 10.04. It’s obvious that this is an important validation for Ubuntu as it demonstrates that the IBM DB2 team believes Ubuntu is an important platform to validate against. That’s not new, as IBM previously validated 8.04 LTS, but it’s worth drawing attention to because the enterprise server space is conservative and this shows IBM’s long-term commitment.

In terms of how partners interact with Ubuntu it’s also pleasing the way that the IBM DB2 team has been able to efficiently update the certification to the next LTS release. The fixed release cycle, every two years, means they know exactly when the next LTS will be available and can calendar it into their development cycles. And that is a benefit that’s important for ISV’s because validation is expensive and uncertain, so making it that little bit easier is a good thing!

While we’re on DB2 I’ll point you at the DB2 Enterprise-C virtual appliances on Amazon EC2.  The objective is to enable developers who are already using DB2 on Ubuntu to have an option on the Amazon cloud, and for those that love Ubuntu and would like to try DB2 an easy route to do so. So check it out!

Written by Steve George

September 2, 2010 at 18:40

Landscape release press coverage

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The new release of Landscape in time for the Ubuntu 10.04 LTS release attracted some nice articles in the Linux press. The majority of the features this time around are designed to help enterprise Ubuntu users who are managing a large number of systems. If you have hundreds of servers in your enterprise then you need to be able to see the “Landscape of your deployment” and react to issues quickly. There’s more detail on the main features in my previous Landscape post.

First up is Sean Michael Kerner at Linux Planet who did a nice write-up titled Canonical Landscape 1.5 Extends Ubuntu Linux Management for Enterprises on the release.  He pays particular attention to the enterprise authentication and the LTS upgrades with a nice quote from Ken Drachnik:

“We find that most enterprises are using LTS’s, so as part of this release, we wanted to have the automated ability to just click a button and say ‘Yes, upgrade me’ and then Landscape would automatically download the packages and do the upgrade”

Over at The Register, Timothy Prickett Morgan focuses talks about the Cloud aspects of the new release in his article Canonical updates Landscape manager. With UEC a key part of our server product and the work we’re doing on Amazon EC2 there’s lots of interesting things that Landscape can do to help users manage Ubuntu in these environments.

Finally, Joe Panettieri at WorksWithU discusses Landscape 1.5: The Implications for Ubuntu Customers and Partners where he summarises the key elements of the release and considers how the Amazon EC2 management might be of interest to partners.   He specifically asks for examples of how Landscape is being successful with corporate customers. And as if by magic we can point him at this case study by PlusServer AG which we just put up, and it’s definitely worth a read!

Written by Steve George

June 3, 2010 at 18:08

Ubuntu Systems Management update

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We released a new version of Landscape our management service for Ubuntu last week. There’s a slew of new features including server templates, simple upgrades and enterprise authentication support.  Whether you’re managing a few systems or as many as Google the new features make system administration simpler!

Landscape’s objective is to make managing and monitoring hundreds of Ubuntu systems as easy as looking after one. Whether you’re managing some Ubuntu desktops, or looking after a Web server farm Landscape lowers the complexity of administering those systems: no-one wants to apply patches to hundreds of machines manually! For IT managers this means that Landscape makes system administrators more effective and efficient. Landscape also ensures that deployed Ubuntu systems are secure with maintenance patches and upgrades.

Landscape is provided as a software service so every six months Canonical releases a new version that is available to all subscribers. There’s also an on-site version available to customers that have security policies or regulations that prevent them using a SaaS management platform. In line with Ubuntu 10.04 the main features of the new version are:

Package profiles
Many sites have sets of servers that do similar jobs, for example “web serving“. Ideally you want those machines to have the same set-up reducing management overhead.

The ability to create templates of the packages installed on a particular system and then apply those to different machines makes it easy to replicate a standard install. It also ensures that you maintain consistent profiles across your systems as time goes by. Finally, if you need to re-provision or expand resources you can use profiles to ensure it’s a repeatable process. Package Profiles is really great for managing configurations.

Release upgrades
If you’re managing more that a handful of Ubuntu systems then doing upgrades is going to take a lot of time. Whether that’s every six months in time with the standard releases, or every two years for the LTS releases, it’s a significant commitment. To reduce that overhead you can now do upgrades between releases using Landscape.

Upgrades between releases are always complex so this doesn’t remove the need for backups and careful attention. Nonetheless, if you’ve used Package Profiles, it will be easier to test an upgrade on a test system and then when you’re happy apply it to all the deployed systems using the same package profile. Rather than having to access every machine and do the process by hand you can upgrade a group at a time.

Enterprise authentication
Enterprises commonly have a corporate standard for authentication such as LDAP or on a Microsoft Windows network Active Directory. The new version of LDS connects to these systems authenticating administrators from the existing authentication system. This ensures that customers can simplify their authentication set-up and enforce authorisation from a single corporate directory.

There’s more information in the press release and you can read more about it in the Canonical blog post or try it out with a free trial.

Written by Steve George

June 1, 2010 at 18:32

Canonical’s Ubuntu support scope

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What software will Canonical provide support for? That’s probably one of the questions you were asking if you read my previous post about commercial service subscriptions and bug resolution. Or perhaps not, but it’s a rhetorical device that suits me for this post!

Generally speaking for an application to be supported as part of a service subscription it has to be within the Main repository. This is because applications within the Main repository receive public maintenance (bug fixes and security updates) for the life-cycle of the release.

In order for an application to move into Main it goes through a stringent security and quality assurance assessment. As part of this review Canonical’s engineers inspect the code and ensure that they are able to maintain it. Consequently, those engineers also provide bug-fixes and maintenance for Canonical customers.

I find it interesting that generally the ability to maintain and fix code is one type of developer skill-set, while writing new features is a different one. Colin Watson recently told me that an early manager had told him that there are two types of developers in the world, those that create things and those that finish them off. Intuitively that feels right to me and by definition a distribution is focused on the latter where integration, polish and quality assurance rule.

The second issue is how do you know which software is covered within the Ubuntu service that you subscribed to? Some Linux distributions deal with this by covering all the software that they physically ship to customers. However, in Ubuntu’s case most users receive the software electronically so this doesn’t work. Second, the Main archive and seeds are relatively fixed and don’t map well to a subscription service for a particular target market. Essentially this means it’s hard to reflect the services within the technology.

Consequently, when a customer purchases a particular service subscription they receive a Service Description. This describes the scope of support, the bug-fixing coverage, the legal indemnification, the software components covered and the response levels. For example, a consumer desktop service wouldn’t cover complex integration problems with a Microsoft Windows network, while this would be critical for a corporate subscription designed for customers with legacy networks. Effectively, the description tries to describe the types of use-cases and categories that are covered.

I hope this has given a bit of insight into how Canonical does support and bug-fixes for our customers.

Written by Steve George

May 14, 2010 at 19:11