This month marks my four year anniversary at Canonical. What a four years at has been.
I traditionally write up a little retrospective each year, but or some reason ‘four years’ feels a tad more special than usual, and I am not really sure why. Maybe it’s because great things come in fours. Well, Megadeth and four cheese pizzas do, but you get my point…
For this anniversary I want to build on the blog entries that many of my friends and colleagues in the Ubuntu community have been writing about how their work is helping Free Software. Before that I want to prefix this with where we stand today compared to four years ago.
Six years ago I believe that Ubuntu changed desktop Linux. Of course, this had nothing to do with me. I wasn’t involved back then; it was the fantastic work of the original gangstas such as Mark Shuttleworth, Matt Zimmerman, Robert Collins, Scott James Remnant, Jeff Waugh, Benjamin Mako Hill and others who got this train on the rails. They all have my unending respect: they took the fantastic and inspiring rock that is Debian and they built on it to create something different. It was fresh faced, innovative, and had a wicked-cool tan. It inspired me to use and advocate Ubuntu, and ultimately see if I could fit in in a world populated by such original gangstas. Fortunately, the original gangstas was rather nice and welcoming gangstas…
Back in the early days, Ubuntu targeted a very different demographic of user. Ubuntu was shooting to capture the hearts and minds of those passionate about Linux but who wanted a devilishly simple experience. Two years in, Canonical let me join the ride as Ubuntu Community Manager. My goal was aligned with that of Ubuntu: to help build a community that embodied the values of Ubuntu; open, accessible, rewarding, and ultimately…just a tonne of fun.
Getting back to the blogging meme of how our contributions help Free Software, I see my role as largely to help enable and encourage others to do great things. I see myself as a facilitator; someone who tries to help others to have the tools, resources and motivation to further Free Software. Most people know of my affiliation with Ubuntu, but I have also done this with other projects such as Severed Fifth, Jokosher, LugRadio, Shot Of Jaq and others. By definition, I see what I bring to Free Software is in helping others to do great things for Free Software; they are the real people who deserve the credit and hugs. Every day I feel blessed by the wonderful people that I get to work with, both in Canonical and in our wider Free Software community. Even Aq.
Getting back to four years at Canonical, the shape of Ubuntu today is quite different to four years ago. As I mentioned earlier, four years ago Ubuntu very much served enthusiastic Linux fans who wanted a simple experience, but today…I believe we are stood staring at a much wider demographic of people who we can bring Free Software to.
I am proud to see how successful Ubuntu has been. As one of many proud fathers and mothers of the project, I am proud to see how much progress we have all made together. At every Open Source conference I see a large number of Ubuntu laptops, I see Ubuntu machines on trains, in airports, and coffee shops, you can now buy laptops with Ubuntu pre-installed, and Ubuntu and Linux are no longer things that you typically need to explain to people.
In the software industry we often talk about crossing the chasm, and I believe Ubuntu has the ability to cross that chasm.
I have never believed that more so than I do today.
In the last six years I feel Ubuntu has transformed from a sleek experience in a community predominantly populated with heavily technical people, to a sleek experience that is also interesting to a wider community that still includes these technical peeps, but now includes those who think of their computers less as computers and more like appliances. Members of my family use Ubuntu. I know young kids who use Ubuntu. I know many schools who use Ubuntu. More importantly, they are all using Free Software; Ubuntu just brought it to them in a way that makes it accessible and in a form they can understand and work with.
While I believe we are on the edge of that chasm, let’s not get too complacent. We have lots to do to get over it. The chasm is big. While we have made tremendous progress, we now need to unpick and understand every detail, nook, and cranny of what our users expect and how they define quality, and I believe that now more than ever we have the opportunity to get over that chasm, but the only way we can do it is together. Looking around at our incredible community, I know we can do it.
Just think of the potential. Just think of the impact on people’s lives we could have. Just think of all the benefits we feel as Free Software users today, and imagine all those benefits being enjoyed by the wider world.
Getting over that chasm is not going to be smooth sailing though. It is going to be a bumpy ride, and we are going to need to pull together and lean on each other to keep up our motivation and focus in getting there. We are going to need to make some hard decisions. We are going to have to question and challenge the culture and assumptions we place in ourselves on this side of the chasm if we are to understand the opportunities on the other side. We are also not going to make everyone happy all the time. We may even lose some people as we get over the chasm; that’s fine though, if Ubuntu loses those folks for whatever reason, Free Software doesn’t.
I am proud of Ubuntu and never before in my career have I ever felt so positive about a project I am involved in really changing people’s lives for the better. While Ubuntu is the vehicle, the payload is Free Software, and we have the opportunity to spread it far and wide. Now we face the real challenge, but everyone has a piece they put in the bridge that will get over the chasm. We need developers, testers, translators, an army of advocates and enthusiasts, artists, designers, and more. As I said earlier, I am a facilitator, and I am passionate about helping our community to help build that bridge. Let’s roll.
So this was my experience and how I feel I help Free Software and my belief in what we can achieve – I would love to see you folks blog about how you feel you help Free Software and what potential we can bring!