Tech: Jono Bacon (Ubuntu, LugRadio)
I caught up with Jono Bacon (homepage, Wikipedia, twitter) at the Irish Ubuntu sprint. We had a chat about Ubuntu development, Ubuntu Server, Open-sourcing Launchpad, his latest book (The Art of Community), and his music project, Severed Fifth.
Transcription was provided by Niall Campbell.
The audio and text of this interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License (BY-SA).
JB: It’s been really good. Every six months we have the Ubuntu Developers Summit, where we get together with the community and we have 280/300 people come along. In between each UDS we try and get our company together and it’s an opportunity for the company to bond and the team to bond and we don’t really do anything new we just basically sit in a room and work together and it’s been really good. This is the first day, I was in yesterday for a management sprint which was really productive but this is the first day of the proper sprint and it’s been really good so far.
DD: Ubuntu has recently released 9.04, cloud computing APIs. What future technologies are Ubuntu pushing? What do you see Ubuntu being in a year or two years time? What are you working towards?
JB: Many areas, there’s lots of UI stuff. We’ve got this incredible new design team that’s joined and they’re working very closely with the community to identify improvements and innovations in the desktop. The desktop has not really changed all that much in the last five years and as part of project Ayatana, which you can get to online, there’s many… Ayatana is like a Buddhist word which means “fear of consciousness”, and it’s basically all the things around you, and that’s what the project focuses on. It’s like a series of technologies that we’re releasing and working on and contributing to the open source desktop. It’s really funky what they’re doing. There’s also new work gone into the cloud and participating in the cloud revolution that’s happening right now, it’s still very early days but that’s looking really good. Our view with Ubuntu has always been to basically embrace technology and release the best open source software that we can.
JB: Well, he’s still my colleague. He’s still there. Ex-cohost. The open-sourcing of LaunchPad was a phenomenal contribution.
DD: We thought it was never going to happen.
JB: I’m on the LaunchPad team so it was really nothing to do with me. Various people in the company were making various noises about whether it would be desirable to have an open-sourced LaunchPad and obviously it would be. You’ve got to point the credit squarely at Mark Shuttleworth. Fundamentally that guy invested millions of dollars in the software and he open-sourced it.
DD: In fairness, he was taking all the flak when people were coming to him saying why isn’t this open-source, you’re an open-source company with a closed-source product, this is the core of what you do. Yeah, fair play to the guy, he stepped up to the critics and said, right, we’re going to squash you and this is now open-source.
JB: Absolutely. LaunchPad is an incredible project and there’s many components in it that are so useful and so fundamental to Ubuntu development and I think it made sense. Open-sourcing big chunks of code is a long and laborious job. There’s lots of very uninteresting details that have to be straightened out before it gets out there, that a lot of people are never aware of. The LaunchPad team worked really hard in getting that together and Mark Shuttleworth set the ball rolling and he made the commitment and it’s our there, and the response has been very, very positive, I’m very happy.
DD: I can imagine. Speaking of teams, and you’re pretty much the team manager of all the teams, how have the LoCo teams being going around the world recently?
JB: So good, I’m so proud of the LoCo project. I helped co-ordinate some of it but it’s really been the good work of the people involved in the different LoCo teams. We have over 200 LoCo teams all over the world. People get together and they’re passionate about Ubuntu and they spread the word and they organise booths and organise shows and all kinds of stuff. I’m really proud of the efforts there and it’s continuing to grow, I mean it’s continuing to grow all over the world, we’ve got LoCo teams in pretty much every populated part of the world right now.
DD: Is the main thing LoCo teams do translate?
JB: No the main thing they really do is advocate.
DD: So like street teams in media.
JB: Yeah, they go out and they give out flyers and CDs and they encourage people to go and try Ubuntu. A lot of LoCo teams do translations and that is definitely a core part of it but advocacy is definitely the main thing that people are attracted to.
DD: This seems to be one thing that Ubuntu are really on the ball on in terms of Linux distros, in terms of really connecting to people. They’ve got the, and I hate to use the term, the marketing side down to a tee, and they’ve got – what we need to connect it to people, in order to connect Linux to human beings. I suppose you’re partially if not fully responsible for that.
JB: I’d definitely err on the side of partially. The Ubuntu movement is a big movement. The thing about open-source is a lot of it is top-down. You find inspiring characters who inspire other inspiring characters who inspire other inspiring characters, and every step of that layer is very important. You could say at the top of that layer is someone like Mark Shuttleworth who is the inspiring character of the Ubuntu world, but I think it cascades in many ways. I mean, every day I meet people and I talk to people who just inspire me. There’s people in different LoCo teams and different projects, in Ubuntu and outside Ubuntu that are the glue that holds everything together. It’s very tempting for us in the Ubuntu camp to be proud of what we’ve done and kind of get a little bit self-congratulatory, but if it wasn’t for X and it wasn’t for FireFox and it wasn’t for OpenOffice and it wasn’t for the Gnome project and the KDE project and BinUtils and all these.
DD: Okay but in fairness this is what every distro does, you could say the same about Fedora, you could say the same thing about Slackware, Gentoo, right? So how does Ubuntu set itself apart from these? I ready know the answer but…
JB: I think why Ubuntu is so successful can been a commitment to the ethos which has been it ‘Just Works’. Right at the beginning of the project, I remember when I first heard of Ubuntu I heard random South African dude was interesting in making an operating system that used Debian at the core and build on top of it to make a really easy to use operating system. I’d been talking for about two or three years that I felt this was the way forward.
DD: We all have, everyone who uses Debian has.
JB: It wasn’t because I was insightful, it was because it just made sense. I wasn’t the only voice, but this guy made it happen and I have a huge amount respect for that. It’s the integration and the commitment to integration and detail, and ease of use, across the products, across the server and desktop, UnR, I think that’s what’s made it happen.
DD: Is there much, I suppose, tight knitting planned between Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Server? Let’s take a wild example in the closed-source world, the likes of Exchange Server/Outlook inter-knit. Is there that kind of knit planned for Ubuntu Server/Ubuntu Desktop? Is there an advantage for me to install Ubuntu Server on my server if I have it on my desktop?
JB: I think so, if you’re familiar with Ubuntu Desktop then Ubuntu Server is going to be easy for you.
DD: Over Debian Server?
JB: I’d say so. I mean there’s slight changes in Ubuntu that are going to be in Ubuntu Server. I don’t think there’s a huge difference, I think Ubuntu Server is going to be useful for anyone coming from an open-source background. It’s a really great product, it’s a really powerful product. I don’t think there’s necessarily any particular benefit from installing it if you’ve got a Ubuntu background, just a lot of elements of it are going to be free, the feel of it will be very familiar.
DD: Moving on a little bit, you recently published a book, or at least it went to the printers, what, last week?
JB: Yeah, about two days ago in fact it went to the printers. I got an email saying they said “Yep, it’s gone, it’s done.”, which on one side is really exciting cos it’s like it’s gone to the printers, it’s done, no more book, and on the other side it’s like, oh my god, no more opportunity for changes and edits.
DD: Did Leo write the foreword for it?
DD: Yeah, and we’ve been seeing you on FLOSS recently, quite a bit.
JB: FLOSS weekly’s been a lot of fun, I went on there about three or four months back.
DD: Have you been itching to get back into podcasting and live media?
JB: I have to admit, yeah, I’ve been excited about it. LUGRadio was a lot of fun and I miss it. I’m really proud of what we achieved in four years. You know, Aq, Adam and Chris and Sparks.
DD: Are you purposefully ignoring Ade?
JB: Ade’s got nothing to do with it. Ade was just a hanger on. How could I ignore Ade. And Ade. We had a lot of presenters. I’ve been drinking a bit tonight, that’s probably why… I’m proud of the achievements we made and I’ve kind of been itching to do some podcasting again.
DD: It probably doesn’t hurt to get the word out about Ubuntu.
JB: Yeah. FLOSS has been good, it’s a different beast though. It’s fun, but it’s way more formal.
DD: It’s American.
JB: It’s American yeah, it doesn’t have that Monty Python kind of LUGRadio humour. I mean that fact we were making jokes about Richard Stallman buying a kipper, I mean kind of sums it up.
DD: Rather than making jokes about Miguel de Icaza.
JB: There were a few jokes about Miguel, but he’s a good guy, he took it in good stead. I mean, making jokes about wearing his skin is, ah…
DD: Excellent. So you released Art of Community under Creative Commons license. What does that mean for people who want to get an e-book of it, people who want to get it off Amazon?
JB: The reason why we did it, was when I was interested in writing a book about community management and community building, I though it was really important the community had access to that book. When the book is complete and it’s ready and it’s proofed and complete, we need to provide people with access to the information. Saying the only way you can get access to this information is if you pay $36 or $39, seemed unreasonable. It’s not within the spirit of community, you should provide people with access to the information. What we should also provide people with is the ability to support the project, the ability to to step forward and say “I’m going to stick my $39 down on the table to support the idea of a creative commons book.” so that’s basically what we did. And O’Reilly were very, very, very open to it, and credit to them.
DD: O’Reilly are a very forward-thinking House. The other creative commons project you worked on recently was Severed Fifth. Explain Severed Fifth in a nutshell.
JB: So Severed Fifth in a nutshell was, I was hearing all this talk about Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails and how they’ve embraced Creative Commons and how this was changing music and all the rest of it.
DD: Was Radiohead creative commons with In Rainbows? I thought it was just free. I know Year Zero was CC but not In Rainbows.
JB: I thought it was CC, I may be wrong. I was hearing about some established artists who were talking about how they were licensing music under a free license. It’s very easy for them to say that because they’ve built their reputation on the traditional music industry. I was thinking, what happens if you’re a completely unknown artist like I am. My idea was to write an album and to see how far we can push it, when I’m completely unknown. So I bascially wrote ‘Denied by Reign’ which is the first Severed Fifth album. I wrote the songs and then recorded them in my home studio, all the guitars, the drums, the bass, the vocals, did it all myself and then basically released it under the creative commons license, the idea was then to push it hard and see how far I could push it. The problem is that just as that project had kicked off, that’s when the book came along, and I couldn’t turn the book down. So Severed Fifth was sacrificed a little bit in order to write the book, but the book’s done now, and I’ve just started writing the second album.
DD: I don’t mean to insult your musical prowess, but how much is a producer needed in the process of creating an album? How much is it necessary for any genre of musician to have a producer, and therefore that follow on is, is it necessary for them to have a record label?
JB: I think it’s really important to have someone who can produce a great album, so you really want to have a good producer. You hear some free music and it’s just crap, and some that’s really good. With Severed Fifth, I produced it myself just because I knew I could get a reasonable result and I didn’t have to invest money in a producer. But yeah, if you’re going to release an album, make sure it sounds good, and that might mean paying going an paying someone $250 a day to record it, or €250 or £250 or whatever.
DD: Sure sure sure. Are you personally going to be touring with the album?
JB: The plan was to with the first one, but with the second one I’d like to. I don’t know how far. Because I wrote it at a solo album, it’s very difficult to play everything at once, live.
DD: Maybe you can do it at book signings.
JB: Yeah! The plan is to put together a band and start playing some gigs. I starting playing about three or four weeks back with a guy locally, Phil, on guitar, and he was learning a bunch of the songs, it sounded great.
DD: Brilliant. Definitely looking forward to it. To finish up, I’ve heard rumours that Mr.Shuttleworth is fond of roofs in hotels.
JB: Fond of what?
DD: Roofs in hotels.
DD: Roofs, as in, get on the roof.
DD: I’m not asking you to confirm or deny this, but do you have a similar perchant for getting on the roof of a building, when you’re somewhere new?
JB: Getting on the roof?
DD: Yeah! Is this a Canonical thing?
JB: A, I have no idea about Mark getting on roofs.
DD: I’m not asking if you do.
JB: He may do, he may not, that’s news to me, but it terms of me… it’s a roof. I don’t have any particular affiliation with a roof I mean I’ve never really intended to get on a roof. I like to get on a roof if there’s a nice view or if it’s warm outside, but no. So where did you hear this? Where did you hear this rumour?
DD: Someone drunk in the pub last night, some drunken Texan. I’m not going to reveal names.
JB: Some drunken Texan? Does he work an Canonical?
JB: He works at Canonical. So I know who that person is. And he says he’s got a thing about roofs?
DD: Yeah, apparently. He was chatting about how “Mark’s gonna kick my ass if I come in drunk tomorrow.” and I was like “Oh, what’s Mark like?” and he says “That guy, all he talks about when we get to a new hotel is ‘I’ve got to get on the roof, have you been on the roof yet? Have you seen the roof of this place?’” and apparently, very third-hand at this stage, Mark is a fan of the roof.
JB: Well, good to know, I had no idea, that’s news to me.
DD: Thank you very much, and I’m sure I’ll chat to you again.
JB: No worries, thanks.