Ubuntu (A GNU/Linux Operating System): Past Present and Future

Author: Benjamin Mako Hill
Contact: mako@bork.hampshire.edu
Date: Fri, 26 Nov 2004 16:00:00 -0600
Copyright: Creative Commons ShareAlike License



Slide 1 - Ubuntu Symbol

I told folks in the Ubuntu IRC channel that the keynote talks at GULEV where going to be given by:

Their response was: "You're in parentheses right?" So I checked, and I'm not. But I'm very honored to be sharing a stage with all three of these speakers and with all the the local developers who have done great things for Free Software.

But the fact that I'm here gives testimony to the fact that Ubuntu has become very popular, very quickly. It has received a huge amount of press -- some people have complained even saying it is an undeserved amount of press for a new distribution. In either case, Ubuntu is an undeniable force.

So Ubuntu is also a very new project and this is my first talk only about Ubuntu (I've talked about Ubuntu and Debian together in the past). I was looking for an interesting theme to pull it together.

I couldn't think of one. So, in the grand tradition of Free Software, I am going to -- without shame -- derive my talk from the titles of my other keynotes. Maddog didn't have a title on the website so I have only the other two:

I apologize but this is the best I could come up with:

Ubuntu (A GNU/Linux Operating System): Past Present and Future


Slide 2 - Title Slide With Title Information

I'm going to:

Then I will:

The Past

In keeping with my theme, I can start with Ubuntu's. That's seems pretty simple because Ubuntu is very young.

I've added a timeline here. You can see mammals arising somewhere in the Jurassic period 200,000 million years ago and you can see Ubuntu at the end.


Slide 3 - Ubuntu Timeline

Ubuntu is young but this depends on if you count from the moment of "conception" or the moment of birth. Ubuntu is only about 1 month old.

Ubuntu developers began:

  • brainstorming and figuring out a plan in April
  • many started working full time in May and June
  • made a preview release in mid-September
  • made a full release in mid-October

Joke: It's easy to remember the release dates because we all didn't sleep for a week before any of those dates. :)

Ubuntu is a distribution. A distribution is a collection of software. In most cases, it includes the operating system and all of the applications you need. Distributions help make things more consistent and help things work together. Other distros are Redhat, Fedora, Gentoo, SUSE and Debian.

So of course, Ubuntu is built on the work of and ideas of many who have come before so Ubuntu's past is the past of others so the real project is as old as say, GNU, which turned 20 this year (nearly as old as I am). So a real description of Ubuntu's past needs to talk about this as well.


So there is this project called Debian which a distribution of software.

Question: Who knows Debian? Who uses Debian?


Slide 4 - Debian overview (can go through quickly)

I've heard Debian described as a big place with lots of packages. It is a collection of all sorts of software.


Slide 5 - Things Debian Does Well (can go through quickly)

There are great things about Debian and some less great things. What those are will depend a bit on who you ask but you get common answers.

What many people say is that are some things Debian has a history of doing very well (these things people like about Debian):


Slide 6 - Things Debian Does Badly (can go through quickly)

There are some things Debian has a history of not doing quite as well:

It's important to note that many of these things are getting better in Debian (the installer is a good one) and are merely a matter of time while some seem to be rather systemic limitations brought on by what Debian is.

Before Ubuntu there was Ubuntu


Slide 7 - Ubuntu the term

Before Ubuntu, there was, "Ubuntu."

Joke: We didn't just make this word up -- as some have accused us of doing. :)

Ubuntu is a Zulu word that in English means something like:

Humanity towards others.

Another translation would be:

The belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.

Desmond defined Ubuntu in the following way:

A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole.

—Archbishop Desmond Tutu, from "No Future Without Forgiveness"

Ubuntu is a pretty common concept in South Africa. There are pictures of billboards that people routinely send us about "Ubuntu this" or "Ubuntu that."

You may be thinking, "Yes, but what does this have to to with GNU/Linux or Free Software?" I'll come back to that in a second. I promise there's a connection.


Somewhere in South Africa


Slide 8 - Mark Shuttleworth, my boss is a cosmonaut

Meanwhile, somewhere in South Africa, Mark Shuttleworth decides he wants to give back to and get involved with Debian and fix some of those problems above (I'll go into what these are in a moment).

For those that don't know Mark:

Ubuntu is Born


Slide 9 - Ubuntu is born (big Ubuntu symbol)

Ubuntu's original name was, and I'm serious, "no-name-yet.com"

Finally, Mark settled on the name Ubuntu which he though represented the spirit of sharing and cooperation that he found appealing in Free Software.

?Joke: People say that Ubuntu is the distribution with the funny name -- but that's only because they've never heard of "Beernix, Penguin Sleuth,or Overclockix -- some of other 114 Debian based distributions.

In terms of the Ubuntu Linux Distribution, "Ubuntu" refers primarily to the cooperation inherent in the Free Software or Open Source development model.

Richard will talk a lot more about this soon so I won't go into any more depth here than necessary.


That brings us the present (or at least the not-so-distant past) and to the Ubuntu project.

Ubuntu in a Nutshell


Slide 10 - Ubuntu in a nutshell (go through quickly)

If you look at this at this, this looks like a lot like my list of Debian criticism of Debian that I gave earlier.

Lets go back to those criticisms people have with Debian as a way of getting at what Ubuntu does well.


Problem: "Releasing frequently and/or predictably;"

People are upset because Debian doesn't release:

This introduces security issues as well because people expect frequent releases:


Slide 12 - Our release plan

Solution: Ubuntu will release Every Six Months!

Canonical hired Jeff Waugh, the release manager for GNOME to release Ubuntu every six months coordinating with GNOME release schedules. It also pays developers to make sure that it happens.


Problem: Ease of use (especially the installer) for beginners

This problem is relatively self-explanatory.


Slide 13 - usability

Joke: About the Pope. Lets stop talking about the grandmothers and focus on software that is "easy enough that the pope could use it."


We don't have to be everything to everyone. We don't have to run on every architecture.

Desktop Integration


Slide 14 - Emphasis on the desktop

We support a small subset of Debian:

My highlighting a small subset of Debian, we can focus on just getting it right the first time.

Packages included in our last release included:

Talk about the way everything work together out of the box rather as opposed to the Debian way.

That said, Ubuntu can also be run on servers. We've done so well with the desktop that people don't think that it could also be a server based operating system.

Accountability (in the corporate or institutional sense)


Slide 15 - Support/Canonical

Joke: You may notice a similarity between the Ubuntu and Canonical logos. That was completely accidental. :)

Problem: Debian isn't accountable in the corporate or institutional sense

People want someone to turn to for support or service. They wan to be able to call up the authors. Debian's structure makes it very difficult for Debian to provide this in meaningful way.


Canonical offers a single support place for services contracts.

Transition: You may be thinking here: "But what about the things Debian already does well?" We don't to sacrifice these things so we've tried to find ways of balancing this while also not duplicating the work in Debian.



Slide 16 - balancing big and small

Joke: We're not interested in beating anybody anyway! That just wouldn't be in the spirit of "Ubuntu."

As mentioned before, Debian is big in terms of both packages and the number of developers. Clearly, Ubuntu can't be bigger than Debian so we'll just collaborate:

Ubuntu only contains 2000 supported packages but everything else in Debian is included in universe so you don't have to give up anything to use Ubuntu.

Thie situation is the best of both worlds.



Slide 17 - philosophy

We keep Debian's commitment to Free Software. Our principles are, in spirit, similar to the Debian social contract and our licensing guidelines are similar to the Debian Free Software Guidelines or the Open Source Definition.

Note: Page through the philosophy point by point

Joke: I wrote the free software philosophy page and made it as radical as I could. Everyone actually agreed with me which was a great surprise!

Other Benefits We'd Like To Keep


Slide 18 - Other things we like to keep.

We borrow heavily from Debian in these and other areas.

In terms of package tools, we use apt-get and the like. We are also building new functionality into the tools by paying the package maintainers to do the work on their own tools, that go back to Debian:

We've hired to the dpkg, apt, and synaptic maintainers to improve their tools and to add new features.

Other Places Ubuntu Focuses


Slide 19 - places we focus (GNOME and ]Python)

Python: One goal is "python everywhere." It is the energy that surrounds us and binds us as Jeff Waugh has said.

We are working hard to have everything extensible by Python. Mark loves Python.

GNOME: A great platform for GNOME developers, testers, and users. Ubuntu will continue to carry the latest GNOME releases as soon as they become available.

We're also into security. No open ports by default. No root password (only sudo) and more fun and very productive and useful stuff -- especially when you're handing the distro to people who don't have a lot of experience.

To Fork or Not to Fork


Slide 20 - A fork?

Ubuntu is, under most traditional definitions, a fork. That said, Ubuntu is not a traditional fork:

Warty Warthog: October 20th


Slide 21 - Warty Warthog 4.10 Release

Joke: We didn't make the version number 4.10 so it would look like we'd released a lot. Since we have time based releases, we use date based names so you will always know when software was released and, as a result, know how long it will be supported with security fixes and such.

Packages included in our last release included:

For the following architectures:


Joke: Finally. We get to the future! Well, in the talk at least. :)

Hoary Hedgehog


Slide 22 - Hoary

Feature goals include:

Ubuntu is going to continue doing what it is does. Ubuntu didn't announce until it had code to show. We want to be judged by:



Slide 23 - How to get Ubuntu

You can get Ubuntu either: