There has been a little bit o’chatter on the tubes recently regarding quality and our recent release, Ubuntu 9.10. There we were on Thursday, champagne in hand, kicking a new release out the door and while I have seen countless reports of happy users with effortless upgrades and hardware and software working better than ever before, there are of course some reports of things going less-well, some broken upgrades and unexpected quirks.
Those of us involved in the Ubuntu project, like anyone involved in any kind of endeavour, are emotionally invested in our work. When we hear of problems, it hurts us, and it is tempting to get a little defensive and find fault in those who criticise. Well, I don’t want to denigrate the experiences of our users who face problems: if something goes wrong, that user’s experience is genuinely marred. Irrespective of whether the fault was in our package, with hardware, with networking, in the upstream version of the software or elsewhere, that user had a bad experience, and we need to come together as a project to help prevent these problems from occurring again.
What I am conscious to do though is to put things in a little bit of perspective. It is tempting to believe that the sky is falling when we see patterns of negative outcomes: that is the way human beings are wired up. This concern can be further confounded when journalists write articles that look at a portion of the picture; a news-wire always makes things look more worrying than they really are. Then again, that’s what journos do: they look for patterns and they report on them. Hell, I used to be a journo, and that is what I was expected to do with the publications that I wrote for.
In the interests of keeping things in perspective, I just wanted to remind us all of some of the things going on in the background that I think are worth remembering. Take these for what they are, but I think they go a long way in helping to understand the picture before us.
Firstly, criticism is a sign of success. Ubuntu is arguably the most popular Linux distribution in the world, and has been growing every year since it started. This release of Ubuntu outdid each previous version in terms of how much data we shifted on release day. “With enough eyeballs all bugs are shallow” is one of the foundational attributes of Open Source and therefore it is not entirely surprising that when we kicked out a new release of the world’s most popular desktop Linux distribution, there were more eyeballs, more hardware, more networks, more devices, more configurations, more expectations and therefore more opportunities for things to go awry inside these attributes. If we then combine this with the natural inclination for human beings to communicate complaints as opposed to share praise, it is also not entirely surprising that we see these patterns before us, and that journalists report on said patterns.
Around the time we set the Karmic Koala loose, many comparisons were made to Windows 7. Of course, Windows 7 has generated an incredible amount of press, and the mere fact that we are being compared to the most dominant Operating System in the world is something that I consider an achievement. 11 years ago when I joined the Linux journey, it took 2 weeks to get the bloody thing installed, there was barely any device support, you needed a degree in rocket science and integration was something that happened to other people. Microsoft never stood still and we needed to catch up, but today we are direct competitors. This is a tremendous testament to the upstream community and the Ubuntu community for building an integrated system.
There is one key difference between our quality story and Microsoft’s though: we are transparent. You can download all of the source code that comprises Ubuntu, you can see all of our bugs, you can see all our patches, and because the software is free, you can download it freely and try it out, if only for shits and giggles. With a transparent development and quality assurance process, a culture of openness and transparency develops and we are all frank and honest about defects. Speaking as one dot on the Internet, I work for Canonical, a company directly invested in Ubuntu, and I feel comfortable reporting public bugs and defects in Ubuntu and I feel comfortable talking about what rocks it and what ails it: it is part of the Open Source culture in which we all exist. I love this attribute of free software: we are not afraid to talk about problems, and due to the open nature of our environment, the opportunity exists for success.
Fundamentally, if someone experiences problems with software, we need to resolve those problems. The global Ubuntu family is proud of all that we have achieved so far on this journey and we are firmly committed to the road ahead. Karmic was a ballsy release: we shipped some adventurous new technology and in the short six-month cycle that we are committed to, we tried to ship the most exciting, feature-full and compelling release that we could. It is this exact reason that attracted me to Ubuntu back in 2004: it was a project that was unafraid of pushing the envelope. The difference is that now we have millions of people who are judging our work, many of which have stories that we will never hear.
We have a tremendous opportunity to embrace these challenges. With our Ubuntu Developer Summit coming up in a few weeks, and with us focusing on a Long Term Support (LTS) release that is underlined by stability and enterprise-grade maintenance and support, we have an opportunity to really indulge in stability, QA and testing. As ever, this is a story in which we can all play a part and I welcome you all to join us.