We'll see | Matt Zimmerman

a potpourri of mirth and madness

Ubuntu Brainstorm Top 10 for December 2010

As I mentioned recently, the Ubuntu Technical Board is reviewing the most popular topics in Ubuntu Brainstorm and coordinating official responses on behalf of the project. This means that the most popular topics on Ubuntu Brainstorm receive expert answers from the people working in these areas.

This is the first batch, and we plan to repeat this process each quarter. We’ll use feedback and experiences from this run to improve it for next time, so let us know what you think.

Power management (idea #24782)

Laptops are now outselling desktops globally, and laptop owners want to get the most out of their expensive and heavy batteries. So it’s no surprise that people are wondering about improved power management in Ubuntu. This is a complex topic which spans the Linux software stack, and certainly isn’t an issue which will be “solved” in the foreseeable future, but we see a lot of good work being done in this area.

To tell us about it, Amit Kucheria, Ubuntu kernel developer and leader of the Linaro working group on Power Management, contributed a great writeup on this topic, with technical analysis, tips and recommendations, and a look at what’s coming next.

I am going to attempt to summarize the various use profiles and what Ubuntu does (or can do) to prolong battery life in those profiles. Power management, when done right, should not require the user to make several (difficult) choices. It should just work – providing a good balance of performance and battery life.

IP address conflicts (idea #25648)

IP addressing is a subject that most people should never have to think about. When something isn’t working, and two computers end up with the same IP address, it can be hard to tell what’s wrong. I was personally surprised to find this one near the top of the list on Ubuntu Brainstorm, since it seems unlikely to be a very common problem. Nonetheless, it was voted up, and we’re listening.

There is a tool called ipwatchd which is already available in the package repository, and was created specifically to address this problem. This seems like a further indication that this problem may be more widespread than I might assume.

The idea has already been marked as “implemented” in Brainstorm based on the existence of this package, but that doesn’t help people who have never heard of ipwatchd, much less found and installed it.

What do you think? Have you ever run into this problem? Would it have helped you if your computer had told you what was wrong, or would it have only confused you further? Is it worth considering this for inclusion in the default install? Post your comments in Brainstorm.

Selecting the only available username to login (idea #6974)

Although Linux is designed as a multi-user operating system, most Ubuntu systems are only used by one person. In that light, it seems a bit redundant to ask the user to identify themselves every time they login, by clicking on their username. Why not just preselect it? Indeed, this would be relatively simple to implement, but the real question is whether it is the right choice for users.

Martin Pitt of the Ubuntu Desktop Team notes that consistency is an important factor in ease of use, and asks for further feedback.

So in summary, we favored consistency and predictablility over the extra effort to press Enter once. This hasn’t been a very strong opinion or decision, though, and the desktop team would be happy to revise it.

Icon for .deb packages (idea #25197)

Building on the invaluable efforts of Debian developers, we work hard to make sure that people can get all of the software they need from Ubuntu repositories through Software Center and APT, where they are authenticated and secure. However, in practice, it is occasionally necessary for users to work with .deb files directly.

Brainstorm idea 25197 suggests that the icon used to represent .deb packages in the file manager is not ideal, and can be confusing.

Matthew Paul Thomas of the Canonical Design Team responds with encouragement for deb-thumbnailer, which makes the icon both more distinctive and more informative. He has opened bug 685851 to track progress on getting it packaged and into the main repository.

I have reviewed the proposed solutions with Michael Vogt, our packaging expert. Solution #1 is straightforward, but we particularly like solutions #5 and #10, using a thumbnailer to show the application icon from inside each package.

Keeping the time accurate over the Internet by default (idea #25301)

It’s important for an Internet connected computer to know the correct time of day, which is why Ubuntu has included automatic Internet time synchronization with NTP since the very first release (4.10 “warty”). So some of us were a little surprised to see this as one of the most popular ideas on Ubuntu Brainstorm.

Colin Watson of the Ubuntu Technical Board investigated and discovered a case where this wasn’t working correctly. It’s now fixed for Ubuntu 11.04, and Colin has sent the patches upstream to Debian and GNOME.

My first reaction was “hey, that’s odd – I thought we already did that?”. We install the ntpdate package by default (although it’s deprecated upstream in favour of other tools, but that shouldn’t be important here). ntpdate is run from /etc/network/if-up.d/ntpdate, in other words every time you connect to a network, which should be acceptably frequent for most people, so it really ought to Just Work by default. But this is one of the top ten problems where users have gone to the trouble of proposing solutions on Brainstorm, so it couldn’t be that simple. What was going on?

More detail in GNOME system monitor (idea #25887)

Under System, Preferences, System Monitor, you can find a tool to peek “under the hood” at the Linux processes which power every Ubuntu system. Power users, hungry for more detail on their systems’ inner workings, voted to suggest that more detail be made available through this interface.

Robert Ancell of the Ubuntu Desktop Team answered their call by offering to mentor a volunteer to develop a patch, and someone has already stepped up with a first draft.

Help the user understand when closing a window does not close the app (idea #25801)

When the user clicks the close button, most applications obediently exit. A few, though, will just hide, and continue running, because they assume that’s what the user actually wants, and it can be hard to tell which has happened.

Ivanka Majic, Creative Strategy Lead at Canonical, shares her perspective on this issue, with a pointer to work in progress to resolve it.

This is more than a good idea, it’s an important gap in the usability of most of the desktop operating systems in widespread use today.

Ubuntu Software Centre Removal of Configuration Files (idea #24963)

One feature of the Debian packaging system used in Ubuntu is that it draws a distinction between “removing” a package and “purging” it. Purging should remove all traces of the package, such that installing and then immediately purging a package should return the system to the same state. Removing will leave certain files behind, including system configuration files and sometimes runtime data.

This subtle distinction is useful to system administrators, but only serves to confuse most end users, so it’s not exposed by Software Center: it just defaults to “removing” packages. This proposal in Ubuntu Brainstorm suggests that Software Center should purge packages by default instead.

Michael Vogt of the Ubuntu Foundations Team explains the reasoning behind this default, and offers an alternative suggestion based on his experience with the package management system.

This is not a easy problem and we need to carefully balance the needs to keep the UI simple with the needs to keep the system from accumulating cruft.

Ubuntu One file sync progress (idea #25417)

Ubuntu One file synchronization works behind the scenes, uploading and downloading as needed to replicate your data to multiple computers. It does most of its work silently, and it can be hard to tell what it is doing or when it will be finished.

John Lenton, engineering manager for the Ubuntu One Desktop+ team, posts on the AskUbuntu Q&A site with tools and tips which work today, and their plans to address this issue comprehensively in the future.

Multimedia performance (idea #24878)

With a cornucopia of multimedia content available online today, it’s important that users be able to access it quickly and easily. Poor performance in the audio, video and graphics subsystems can spoil the experience, if resource-hungry multimedia applications can’t keep up with the flow of data.

Allison Randal, Ubuntu Technical Architect, answers with an analysis of the problem and the proposed solutions, an overview of current activity in this area, and pointers for getting involved.

The fundamental concern is a classic one for large systems: changes in one part of the system affect the performance of another part of the system. It’s modestly difficult to measure the performance effects of local changes, but exponentially more difficult to measure the “network effects” of changes across the system.


Written by Matt Zimmerman

December 10, 2010 at 14:04

24 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to see folks paying attention to the suggestions on the Brainstorm site. Makes me feel like someone cares :-)


    December 10, 2010 at 19:08

    • +1
      Such coordinated and well thought out answers…
      This is a major boon!
      This kind of developer-user feedback and communication is a major plus.

      I hope devs and users from other distros can pitch in, providing feedback too. Like what other distro users feel about said issues, what kind of obstacles other devs have faced and how they fixed/avoided them.

      For the time being, this is a absolutely a step forward.

      Seung Soo, Ha

      December 11, 2010 at 03:43

  2. Fabulous to see Technical Board interest!

    I really like the way you have organized the top 10 and followed up to get feedback from some awesome developers.

    One of Brainstorm’s failings is that the current crop of moderators and volunteers are simply not capable of effectively mentoring the volume of ideas. So I feel awful that a lot of good ideas languish when I lack the time and specific knowledge to lead the author to the next step, and they get discouraged.


    December 10, 2010 at 22:56

  3. At my employer the desktops often accrue uptimes of months (mine currently has 85 days). There aren’t any network disconnects or reconnects during this time. After a month or so a clock can be off by several minutes.

    For the default desktop perhaps ntpdate could be launched by anacron weekly?

    (I’ve been solving the problem by installing ntpd.)


    December 11, 2010 at 05:10

    • This is certainly possible; could you add your suggestion to the Brainstorm thread if it hasn’t been mentioned there already?

      I’m compelled to mention the much more serious problem of not getting critical security updates on those desktops…;-)

      Matt Zimmerman

      December 11, 2010 at 11:26

    • You’re using ntpd for it’s exact purpose, it’s supposed to keep the clocks in sync so you don’t need to ntpdate in cron.

      Perhaps the solution here is to consider ntpd by default or add it to your standard desktop config (or kickstart or whatever)


      December 12, 2010 at 23:59

  4. FWIW, the preselected login thing happens on both OSX and Windows.

    Jo Shields

    December 11, 2010 at 11:05

  5. It’s very amazing thing happening here. I am very glad to see the developer’s response. Keep it up. All the very best.- Bas from India


    December 11, 2010 at 11:46

  6. I listed John Lenton’s title incorrectly: he was recently promoted to senior engineering manager for the whole Online Services department. Congratulations, John, and apologies for the misprint.

    Matt Zimmerman

    December 11, 2010 at 22:35

  7. […] (Matt Zimmerman), технический директор компании Canonical, опубликовал официальные отзывы представителей технического […]

  8. […] (Matt Zimmerman), технический директор компании Canonical, опубликовал официальные отзывы представителей технического […]

  9. Although I’m primarily a Fedora user, I do use Ubuntu systems as well. I think something like this is great. I really hope it survives and becomes a truly quarterly tradition. It’s already awesome enough that I feel like the Linux community listens via bug reports and stuff (unlike MS) and this just takes it to another level. Even if you can’t please everyone, you can at least let them know they were heard.

    Eric Mesa

    December 13, 2010 at 17:29

  10. […] problemas actuales o bien nuevas características de cara al futuro. Os dejamos a continuación las 10 ideas más populares de este mes de diciembre con sus respectivas respuestas del equipo técnico de Ubuntu. ¿Tienes […]

  11. […] Your ideas are being seen and discussed, and some are being implemented. See Zimmerman’s full post for the entire December batch and additional […]

  12. It was about time. The Ubuntu Brainstorm has been existed for how long, years? And only now someone is paying attention. Now let’s see how far this goes.


    December 13, 2010 at 23:18

    • I didn’t mean to give that impression. We’ve reviewed the content there many times before, but on a rather ad hoc basis and without much transparency. By actively responding rather than just reading, we want to avoid the feeling that nobody is listening (even though in fact we were).

      Matt Zimmerman

      December 14, 2010 at 10:47

  13. […] Board has been reviewing the most popular ideas so far, and last Friday Ubuntu CTO Matt Zimmerman published on his blog the first of what will be quarterly batches of 10 to come under scrutiny. Along with […]

  14. Thanks a ton for taking the time to do this! I hope it becomes a regular thing.

    Vadim Peretokin

    December 23, 2010 at 23:48

  15. […] Ubuntu Technical Board reviewed the most popular ideas a couple of weeks ago and CTO Matt Zimmerman published on his blog the first of what will be quarterly batches of 10 ideas to come under scrutiny, with an […]

  16. […] offa new tradition of a quarterly review of the most popular Ubuntu Brainstorm ideas. He did the December review, now it was my turn to coordinate the March […]

  17. […] Board has been reviewing the most popular ideas so far, and last Friday Ubuntu CTO Matt Zimmerman published on his blog the first of what will be quarterly batches of 10 to come under scrutiny. Along with […]

  18. […] the most popular Ubuntu Brainstorm ideas (previ&#111&#117&#115 reviews conducted by Matt Zimmerman and Martin Pi&#116&#116&#41. This time it was my turn. Apologies for the la&#116&#101&#32arrival of […]

  19. […] a solucionar problemas actuales o bien nuevas características de cara al futuro. Aquí dejamos las 10 ideas más populares de este mes de diciembre con sus respectivas respuestas del equipo técnico de […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: