Building The Kitchen Sink

Wow.

Yesterday I posted some ideas about building sub-team in the Ubuntu community optimized for power users and the needs of folks who love to tweak, tune, customize, hot-rod and otherwise amp up their desktops. Within 24-hours there is now a mailing list with nearly 100 members, IRC channel (#ubuntu-power-users on freenode), wiki site, and active discussion going on on the list. Thanks also to Mike Basinger for agreeing to admin the mailing list, and Jussi for keeping an eye on the IRC channel.

I already talked about some areas in which I think the team could bring huge value. These include:

  • Documentation – helping to answer common power user needs such as – how do I install a different window manager? How do I know which configuration tools to install? How do I rebuild a kernel on Ubuntu? How do I tweak my hard drive params etc?
  • Support – I can see the mailing list and IRC channel being a good place for folks to have discussions around various power user needs.
  • Events – organizing education and learning events for more advanced Ubuntu usage and configuration needs.

There was another idea which I suggested which I want to delve into in a little more detail.

If you look at Unity, some of it’s customization potential is exposed in the Unity user interface itself, but much of it is hidden (so as to provide a sleek and uncluttered experience for end-users), but you can still access this functionality under the covers. Tools such as Simple CCSM, and more recently Gunity and Confity are providing tools to access these lower-level configuration options. Of course, this is exactly the kind of awesome that power users love! Trouble is…there is one problem…


Terrible acting.

Well, not really, but related…

Fragmentation.

In the same way there are 86 different versions of CSI [citation needed], there are multiple configuration tools each that have different ways of working and different levels of functionality.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we had a single customization environment designed for Power Users…the Ubuntu Kitchen Sink if you will; a single application that supports multiple plug-in that provides you with a plethora of check-boxes for switching on and off all kinds of different things.

To be clear this would not be like the GNOME Control Center: that is designed for end-users to provide a sane range of commonly-required options that users may want to customize. I am talking about a post-installation tool designed for hungry hot-rodders, more along the lines of GConf, but inside a consistent tool that provides functionality across the desktop and it’s foundational layers.

Digging Deeper

Before I go on, everything here is a pretty unformed idea. This post was inspired by a discussion that Jorge and I had about this and some of the recent interest in building configuration tools in Ubuntu. The goal here is to trigger a discussion about how to move forward. I suggest you join the mailing list to get involved in fleshing out a solution. Again, usual caveats about how I am a terrible UI designer…

So this is the idea:


Ubuntu Kitchen Sink.

Imagine a single unified application with a series of plug-ins available for configuring different parts of the system. Those of you who yell at kids to get of your lawn will probably remember LinuxConf (the app) along these terms from many moons ago. This idea is similar, but not quite the same.

My thinking is that there could be a single app (the Ubuntu Kitchen Sink) that provides a means to embed detailed configuration panels that expose many of these underlying parts of the system. There could be panels for Unity, Compiz, GNOME, the Kernel, Hardware, and anything else. Given that the focus is on Power Users, anything and everything should be able to be exposed as an option; there should be no concern for confusing the user with too many options – the goal here would be completeness…check-box heaven if you will…a haven for click-happy config junkies.

With this application users would be exposed to a single interface and we would encourage the Ubuntu Power User community and others communities to create plug-ins that could be exposed inside the interface. In my perfect dream world these plug-ins would just be configuration files that essentially link check-boxes to a helper app that performs the config change (this would lower the bar for the creation of plugins), but if the plugins are small bits of code that programmatically make the configuration change that could work too.

In this brave new world, instead of hackers creating tools like CCSM, Gunity and Confity, they would instead create plug-ins for the kitchen sink. These plug-ins would then be packaged and made available in the Ubuntu Software Center. For users you would just download the kitchen sink from the software center and then you could install plug-ins that interest you.

So that is it. I think this vision could provide (a) a much more integrated bells-and-whistles configuration experience for the hot-rodders among us, (b) provide a great standard environment for tools-makers to expose configuration options in a way that an established userbase can enjoy, and (c) consolidate the community so we get better testing, bug control and QA for config panels.

Are you a coder who would like to make this a reality? If so, join the mailing list and let’s talk. :-)

  • Paul

    This goes directly against the GNOME philosophy and as such will be a massive undertaking requiring significant human resources and future maintenance commitment. Why make a cart from square wheels? The functionality you seek is present and working now in Kubuntu’s System Settings. Your efforts are better directed there, polishing what already exists.

  • http://www.theinternationalincident.com Tyler Regas

    Jono: regarding the Kitchen Sink portion of your post, I loathingly refer you to Microsoft’s MMC snap-in architecture for global, unlimited components management. For better or (mostly) worse, the Microsoft Management Console introduced in Windows 2000 brought the idea of an uncurated bucket into which one could toss countless management user interface “snap-ins” into one place in the name of convenience.

    To the contrary, it’s done nothing but complicate things. It doesn’t help that even Microsoft seems incapable of compiling a reliable, stable snap-in. Don’t even get me started about Microsoft’s Frankenstein, Small Business Server, and it’s unified management console (hint: SBS2003’s was just a load of links and bad UI redressings, SBS2008 won’t load half the time, and that’s on a fresh install).

    If only to avoid the horror of sharing a design ethic with The Beast from Redmond, please do not pursue this course of action. It will NOT end the way you’d like it to.

    Tyler

  • ethana2

    You mean like customizing gconf-editor to where my grandma could use it?

  • http://jjesse.wordpress.com Jonathan

    All documentation should be incorporated into ubuntu-docs instead of yet another manual or documentation guide that has to be updated, such as Ubuntu Manual, OMG Ubuntu’s documentation, etc… “Power Users” documentation could be incorporated as a separate topic under the topic based help system. I don’t see the need for creating a seperate system documentation.

    Would be nice to keep things incorpoated within the existing system.

    Jonathan

  • http://ronan.jouchet.fr Ronan Jouchet

    Hi Jono,

    Ubuntu Tweak might be this kitchen sink, you should give it a try. A major new version (0.6) is on the way and incorporates some of the ideas you are mentioning. See http://ubuntu-tweak.com/

    Cheers.

  • http://milky.manishsinha.net Manish Sinha

    Ubuntu Tweak can be a good candidate provided it’s enabling untrusted PPA/Repositories can be disabled

  • Argyris

    I recently discovered Ubuntu Tweak, and I found it very useful. In fact, it would have been even more useful if I hadn’t already found various and sundry hacked solutions for many of the things it very neatly displayed.

  • http://www.omgubuntu.co.uk/2011/05/ubuntu-power-users-taking-ubuntu-further/ Ubuntu Power Users: taking Ubuntu further

    [...] idea that Jono Bacon is particularly effusive about is the creation of an ‘Ubuntu Kitchen Sink’-style [...]

  • Petski

    I think it’s worth looking at http://ubuntu-tweak.com/

  • Josh Melling

    That sounds great! as long as you incorporate all The compiz settings

  • bochecha

    “To be clear this would not be like the GNOME Control Center”

    But it would be like Gnome Tweak Tool: http://live.gnome.org/GnomeTweakTool

    It is basically a “framework” applications which loads “tweaks” and displays them in a consistent interface (much like your mockup). Each tweak is a simple Python file, so it shouldn’t be too hard to add your own Unity-related tweaks.

  • http://blogubuntu.com/ubuntu-kitchen-sink-unificando-la-configuracion-de-ubuntu/ Ubuntu Kitchen Sink, unificando la configuración de Ubuntu

    [...] Tweet De momento sólo se trata de una idea que parte del Ubuntu Community Manager Jono Bacon, una aplicación (Ubuntu Kitchen Sink) que [...]

  • http://www.oil-portraitpainting.com Portrait painting

    I also find there are many good tools can be used, but Ubuntu Tweak is still not very all-around.

  • F30

    I think his ‘Kitchen Sink’ could also be a great place for a re-appearance of the ‘Computer Janitor’, which is going to be removed from the default installation with 10.10. Keeping your system ‘clean’ is a task which I guess most non-pro users aren’t particularly interested in, so it would perfectly make sense to put it aside to the other tweaking options.

  • http://kori.tulibu-dibu.com kori

    I really don’t want this to sound harsh, but here’s a couple of points:

    1) “Power users” should not need a shiny GUI to click on in order to customize their operating system. This is, after all, GNU/Linux, not 90s-era Macintosh; a distinct difference has to be made between the concept of user friendliness, and dumbing it all down.

    A user that isn’t familiar with (most of) his system’s configuration files can not be referred to as a power user, and if they are in fact familiar with them, they wouldn’t need the tool in the first place.

    Modern Ubuntu users should take example from oldschool/minimal users who still prefer *boxes over gnome2 (not to mention unity or gnome3), and who generally refrain from visual configuration tools at all (think arch), but who are capable of amazing desktop customization.

    2) If all of the configurable applications have their own plugins for the Kitchen Sink, these plugins will need separate maintenance as well. This is cumbersome and will offer plenty of room for deprecation. To me, this is the single largest development challenge. It also sounds like bad system design.

    3) Then again, if you feel like it, go for it.

  • http://loganseeley.tumblr.com Logan Seeley

    The point of a tool like this is to simply make it easier for power users. How much easier is it to simply click on a check box than edit a config file? Not to mention the fact that it provides a consistent interface for it.

  • http://ubuntumug.wordpress.com/2011/05/27/ubuntu-power-users-first-meeting/ Ubuntu Power Users: first meeting | A mug of Ubuntu

    [...] about what actions can be done in this cycle. A very important part of our mission is to build the Kitchen Sink: a single application that supports multiple plug-in that provides you with a plethora of [...]

  • http://www.stainlesssteelsinkshq.com Stainless Steel Sinks

    I could definitely use something along these lines – I am far from being a power user and have no plans to become one, and Unity has really got me stumped…

  • Anonymous

    We definitely now need a tool like this, sure it’s not 90’s Mac era but neither is it command line central I think you will find the vast majority of the user-base  would now want to use a GUI instead of Vim :p after all Linux is now operating in the 21st century