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Reflections on ten releases of Ubuntu

The gold master for Ubuntu 9.04 was finalized and released on Thursday, and remains a hot item for download today.  With the bits safely out the door, I paused to think about what made this release special, and soon realized that version 9.04 was the tenth release of Ubuntu.  With two Ubuntu releases each year, this means that it has been five years since I first became involved with the project.  A great deal of my time during those years has been spent working to enable Canonical and community developers to work together to produce a system that is a pleasure to use and share.

I am amazed at how much has happened in that time.  Here are some of the things which give me a sense of how far Ubuntu has come.

In 2004, Ubuntu itself was a single product which came in two parts: an installation CD and a live CD for 32-bit x86 computers.  Along the way, we’ve vastly expanded the number of ways to obtain, install and use free software through Ubuntu, having:

  • added an official 64-bit edition (5.04) and six additional ports
  • combined the installation and live CDs into a single medium which serves both functions (6.06)
  • created the Server Edition (5.10) and Netbook Remix (9.04)
  • developed a simple upgrade system which guides users to the next release when it becomes available
  • inspired dozens of derivative products such as Kubuntu and Xubuntu (five of which released new versions in sync with 9.04)
  • added installation DVDs (5.04) and support for USB flash media which can be used to install both desktops and servers
  • added a long-term support (LTS) option  (6.06)

Launchpad barely existed when Ubuntu 4.10 was released.  We were using a modified Bugzilla for bug tracking, and Debian’s dak toolkit to build packages and manage the repository.  Today, Launchpad is a central piece of infrastructure for Ubuntu:

  • hosting nearly 300,000 bug reports
  • managing official repositories of hundreds of thousands of Ubuntu packages (with even more in PPAs)
  • enabling translation of virtually every piece software in Ubuntu
  • destined to become open source later this year
  • hosting thousands of upstream projects
  • soon to be providing revision control for the entire source code for Ubuntu using Bazaar
  • providing a massive cross-referenced index of all of this data, including web APIs

The Ubuntu community, now an essential part of keeping Ubuntu going, was only just beginning in 2004.  We had a basic governance structure, a couple of public mailing lists and a wiki, mostly populated by ourselves and people we knew through the open source community.  Since then, some of the highlights for me have been:

  • the establishment of the Ubuntu Forums for users to share experiences and help each other, now with over 800,000 users and 1,000,000 threads
  • the incredible growth of local Ubuntu community teams, of which there are now over 70 worldwide and many more in the process of becoming official
  • the growth and diversity of the Ubuntu blogosphere, as reflected in Planet Ubuntu, Planet Ubuntu Women, The Fridge and other aggregators
  • the addition of over 500 official Ubuntu Members, acknowledging a sustained and significant contribution to the project
  • seeing social networking groups on Facebook, LinkedIn and other sites with tens of thousands of members
  • the celebration of Ubuntu releases through parties around the world, of which there were over 100 known for Ubuntu 9.04
  • the emergence of Ubuntu community news publications such as the Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter and Full Circle Magazine
  • the creation of Ubuntu Brainstorm to group and rank suggestions and feedback from Ubuntu users

In the beginning, of course, Ubuntu was known to few people other than its own developers.  Today, the fact that Ubuntu has touched so many lives is an important motivation for many of us to continue our work on the project.

  • we can’t be certain how many people are using Ubuntu globally, but estimate the number to be over ten million based on Internet traffic
  • Ubuntu has received extensive press coverage, including appearances in mainstream publications such as The New York Times
  • Ubuntu community members report frequent recognition of Ubuntu in public (for example when wearing an Ubuntu T-shirt) in countries around the world
  • Ubuntu has been ranked the most popular distribution in surveys of Linux users, including the Linux Foundation client survey
  • Many of our friends and family members, who are not particularly interested in tinkering with their computers, use it and love it too

Canonical, the company which has made Ubuntu possible, has changed dramatically as well.  From its inception as a startup comprised mainly of a small engineering team, Canonical has grown to:

Such rapid growth has brought about great challenges in all of these areas, and provided plenty of opportunity for personal development.  I’ve had the opportunity to work with the most talented and dedicated team of my career, a team which spans corporate, national and social boundaries.  Together, we’ve broken new ground in realizing the potential of free software.

Here’s to the next ten releases!


Written by Matt Zimmerman

April 27, 2009 at 12:35

13 Responses

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  1. Have a whisper in Mr Shuttleworths ear about this…


    Paul Hovell

    April 27, 2009 at 16:37

  2. Correction….

    Parts of Launchpad are destined to be open sourced this year. The most critically important components to Ubuntu release workflow, Soyuz and CodeHosting, are not being opened as Canonical has deemed these components too critical to their business to release as open code.


    Jef Spaleta

    April 27, 2009 at 17:13

    • It gives me great pleasure, albeit delayed, to point out that you are wholly incorrect on this point.



      July 21, 2009 at 11:12

      • When I wrote that.. I was correct. Its a bit revisionist to suggest otherwise. I’m ecstatic that Canonical came to their senses and openned up Soyuz.


        Jef Spaleta

        July 21, 2009 at 16:24

        • If you’re going to talk in terms of destiny, Jef, you’ll be held accountable for your predictions. Canonical has long said that Launchpad would become open source, and now it has.

          I’m sure you will find other things to heckle us over, but I’m glad this one has been put to bed.


          July 21, 2009 at 16:30

  3. 10 million… based on internet traffic.
    Care to go into detail on that? Which traffic are you monitoring exactly and how?


    Jef Spaleta

    April 27, 2009 at 17:16

    • I would also be very interested to get a direct link to the internet traffic/data you’re referring to.


      June 9, 2009 at 08:59

    • We log connections from Ubuntu systems to various network services which are provided by Canonical itself.

      This is not an exact science. The use of these services is not mandatory for any user, we only identify users by IP address (to protect privacy), and many of these resources (such as security updates) are widely mirrored to local servers.

      This is why these figures are always qualified as estimates. In my opinion, they are reasonable estimates based on available data.


      July 21, 2009 at 11:21

      • Be clearer.
        Are you counting unique IPs across multiple services?

        Which network services specifically?

        Are you using a scaling factor of any kind to account for activity you can’t count like mirror activity or the effect of ip address sharing?

        What is the time window over which the stated numbers are counted? Is this a running total of unique IPs since 2004?

        Write up the methodology…put it in the wiki.

        Jef Spaleta

        July 21, 2009 at 16:28

        • The answers to your first and last questions are both “no, of course not”.

          I can’t indulge you further on this point. If you want a copy of the scripts, you’ll have to write to Mark and request their release. I don’t see much value in it, myself. You are quite welcome to disregard the figures if you feel they are not credible enough for you. They are estimates only.


          July 21, 2009 at 16:35

          • You need to realize that all experimental science ultimately relies on estimation. So its a bit ironic for you to call the way your estimation is done as not an exact science. Thanks for the chuckle. You seem to be missing the point. Algorithmic estimation is both exact and is a science as long as your methodology is valid. The methodology used to generate numbers is more important than the numbers themselves.

            All this cloak and dagger stuff is getting old.
            You know how you are making your estimates.. I don’t.
            You have confidence in your estimates, yes? Then you should be equally confident in your methodology, why make such an immense effort to keep it hidden? Its your choice to withhold information with regards to methodology. There is no privacy disclosures by exposing the algorithm that explains how the logged information is parsed.

            Writing Shuttleworth personally? That’s a thought. But that suggestion its ultimately a dodge. You stated the numbers in this blog. You are the source of information. You are the one who should be prepared to point to a publicly communicated methodology. The point isn’t for me to get the scripts under NDA. The point is transparency.


            Jef Spaleta

            July 21, 2009 at 17:16

            • Jef, I won’t be baited in this way. I’ve faced down worse trolls than you. :-)

              The only bit of this worth responding to is your assertion that I am the original source of information. I am not. I do seem to have neglected to cite the New York Times article on Ubuntu from January.

              If you’d like to question the validity of the reporting, you are welcome to address your concerns to the editor of the Times.


              July 21, 2009 at 18:03

  4. Tux Radar published this retrospective which looks at more detail at the changes over these ten releases: http://www.tuxradar.com/content/road-jaunty-look-back-ubuntus-history


    April 27, 2009 at 17:48

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