Here at the Ubuntu Conference in Mataró Spain, Canonical developers are
meeting with each other and with representatives of the Spanish government
and other guests to talk about Ubuntu and LaunchPad, an application suite
currently in development at Canonical. This article focuses mainly on the
workshops that took place on December 11, wherein government representatives
and other guests were treated to a view of some of the LaunchPad
The workshops began with an introduction by Mark Shuttleworth (right) and
Carlos González, from the Secretaria de Telecomunicacions i Societat de la
Informació de la Generalitat de Catalunya. Attendees included other
government representatives, members of the Hispalinux community, the local
press, and your roving LWN reporter.
Carlos explained that Mataró is located in Catalunya, where Catalan is the
local language and the local Linux distribution is Càtix. Other regions in Spain
have their own language and culture, and each region wants to preserve
that language and culture, and this is reflected in a variety of local
Linux distributions customized into the various local languages.
Alfonso de Cala, of Guadalinex, was the
next speaker, leading a brainstorming session aimed at identifying the
problems and frustrations of Linux developers throughout Spain. He noted
that this diversity of cultures within Spain has led to the creation of
numerous derived Linux distributions, with little or no collaboration
between developers. Not only are distributions localized for the region,
they are also tailored for use by different types of users. This has led to
much wasted effort as developers from around the country each tackle the
same problems and independently maintain a shared code base. The end
result is more fragmentation, when what is needed is more shared code and
During Alfonso's presentation we learned that the second version of
Guadalinex has been released and that thousands of people use Guadalinex in
schools, at home and at work. Guadalinex offers technical and
non-technical support. Also Guadalinex shares many of the same problems
that are faced by developers around Spain and around the world. Here is a
short list of areas, as identified by the audience, in which small
distributions, particularly those derived from larger distributions, are
- Bugs: All software projects have bugs. Many end-users don't
know how to send in a bug report or where to send their bug report.
Bug tracking is not synchronized with upstream. Users of a stable
(old) release want bugs fixed, but developers are more interested in
the newest release. If all bugs are reported to one person, that
person gets swamped, so there needs to be a better way of
determining where bugs should go. Developers want bug reports but
they don't need to wade through many reports for the same bug.
- Translations: Translations can be difficult. A user interface
might be translated many times, some translations will be better
than others, but the best translations may never be incorporated upstream.
- Support and Training: In open source software the components
of a distribution come from many sources. Who does the end user go
to for support and training?
- Hardware: Many types of hardware are supported, but a small
distribution doesn't have access to all hardware. Even a stable
Enterprise distribution needs to be able to support new hardware.
- Code Management - Branding and Configuration: Code needs to be
customized without breakage. Changes need to be compatible with
upstream. Users should be able to tweak the configuration in a way
that remains supportable.
- Standardization and Convergence: All distributions need a
standard base, a standard user interface, and standard configuration
tools. The standard needs to allow for desired diversity. It needs
to be easier for people who don't speak English to be involved and
contribute to projects.
- Certification: Companies need to run a distribution that is
certified for those third party applications (like Oracle) that they
need. Localized distributions can not get certified easily.
- Distribution creation tools: Better tools are needed.
- Release schedules: Coordinating distribution release schedules
with the schedules of including applications.
Once the problems were identified it was time to talk about how LaunchPad
might provide at least some of the solutions. The three LaunchPad
applications closest to release are Rosetta, Malone and Soyuz. We should
note here that while LaunchPad tools are designed to be used with open
source software, they will not themselves be released as open source, at
least not initially.
Rosetta: Due for its first release this week, Rosetta may be out by
the time you read this. This translation tool provides an easy-to-use web
interface for translators, making it easy for a non-technical translator to
provide a translation for an application. How does that work? Take any
application included in your distribution. The user interface is typically
presented in English. To localize the application you could go into the
code and change all the strings to the language of choice. Then you'll
have to recompile, deal with any introduced errors, and have a version of
code that is different from upstream. Worse, the process starts over with
each update to the application, even when the application's interface
remains the same.
Now imagine that you have translators from all over world who use Rosetta's
interface to edit a POTemplate (or POT file) for that application. The
application needs only to be aware that POT files exist to present the end
user with an interface in their chosen language. New translations can be
added and existing translations can be improved without any change to the
code. Rosetta keeps track of translations and can export new or improved
translations back to the original application. Rosetta can also show you
your entire distribution to see what has been translated, and what still
needs to be translated.
Right now Rosetta only works with code, changing the face of the
application for the non-English speaking user. Later releases of Rosetta
will be able to handle man pages, DocBook and OpenOffice
documents, and do spell checking. Those interested in using Rosetta may
join the mailing list at email@example.com .
Malone: Another piece of LaunchPad is Malone, an extraordinary bug
tracking tool. Malone is for developers, not for end users to fill with
their bug reports. It will coordinate with other tools such as Bugzilla,
tracking bugs both upstream and between distributions. A developer using
Malone will be able to see if a bug has been fixed, and where it was fixed
so that the fixes can be incorporated into their own distribution. Expect
to hear more about Malone in early 2005.
Leading up to a brief look at Soyuz, a central tool in LaunchPad's
arsenal, Benjamin "Mako" Hill and Ismael Olea led a discussion on
collaboration and convergence. Various barriers to collaboration and
convergence were identified, some political, some practical. The more
distribution developers can work together the better it gets. When
developers can not or will not collaborate then they will duplicate each
other's work, sometimes fragmenting the code as application A in
distribution Z diverges from the same application in distribution X.
A few of the barriers to collaboration and convergence include government
secrecy, lack of communication/language barriers, geography/time zones,
different deadlines and priorities, lack of resources, infrastructure,
branding, unrealistic requirements, different hardware/architectures, and
so on. The idea of LaunchPad is to provide tools that will eliminate as
many barriers as possible, so that all Linux distributions can share more
and developers can spend less time reinventing the wheel. Soyuz is the
package tracker, helping the developer to track the packages in the
distribution, upload and build source, track bugs, keep information about
the packages and their maintainers and provide a wrapper around the version
control system. LaunchPad's version control system is called Bazaar and
it's forked from Arch. But that's a story for another article.
This is Rebecca Sobol reporting from Mataró Spain.
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