News and Editorials
UserLinux has been for all practical purposes dead for months now. The most immediate points of failure and a brief history were covered in last week's edition of LWN. There were no messages on the UserLinux list for over 30 days, ending when the thread titled "Anyone still alive" was started on September 3rd. UserLinux today is a non-issue and of little worth other than to learn from.
I spent a notable amount of time on this project, writing the Mission Statement and other key components. Though UserLinux has failed, at least I gained some worthwhile experience. As with other failures, there are things to be learned from an autopsy after death.
The immediate cause of death was an inability to deliver software. Today
there still is no real delivered product, over three months after the
release of Debian Sarge. A common claim was that UserLinux would have a
release out about a day after the Debian Sarge release and when
this didn't happen, confidence decreased for the project.
There was an artificial delay in the move towards the initial 1.0 release
and this had a notable, but non-fatal effect on the project. This was not
the ultimate cause of death, however, and delivering as promised a short
time after the Debian Sarge release would have livened the project back
Lesson: Dependence on outside sources can cause painful delays. Be prepared for the consequences.
The "when it is ready" mantra is not sufficient for a lot of people. They
want an estimated schedule to look at and an idea of where things are
headed. Even if one is looking at third party development, or in the case
of UserLinux, there is an overlap of developers between the project and
Debian, confidence goes up if time estimates are made. People are used to
roadmaps and popular projects such as Mozilla Firefox (roadmap) and OpenOffice.org
roadmaps as do many commercial software vendors. Yes, roadmaps are often inaccurate, but like weather forecasts,
people like an idea of what is going to happen in the future, even if
is imperfect. It helps in planning, which is especially nice if
a migration is being considered. Given that an area of interest for
UserLinux was to encourage migration from Microsoft platforms,
roadmaps would have been very beneficial.
Lesson: Don't fear the roadmap. People appreciate and sometimes even expect roadmaps.
There was no serious effort to divide the project into teams until about 10 months after the project started. The lack of teams encouraged problems with naming and engineering focus.
Not much went right with the name. The name was a nonproductive distraction to the project that was never fixed.
Overall Team Lesson: Departmentalization should have been done earlier. Teams help keep people focused on where their strengths are.
Multiple downtimes for the list seriously hurt participation, as did an
obnoxious amount of spamming on the wiki that could have been handled much
better and more swiftly.
Lesson: If web infrastructure is the primary point of contact for people working on a project, maintaining those systems is remarkably important.
Using KDE as a desktop environment alone or with GNOME was not in the best interest of the project for a variety of reasons, but some would propose that not including both desktop environments was unfair to the developers of both environments. Here is an example from the mailing list:
The concept of a non-commercial distribution with a limited set of software accompanied by certifications and ISV support is superb. The ultimate failure was in delivery. Some of the other ailments above could have possibly been solved over time. The idea was not the failure, it was the implementation.
Departmentalizing is a good idea even though it was accomplished too late and not sufficiently strong.
The Mark Protection Policy is an excellent idea. UserLinux software packages should have been named with separation from the UserLinux name earlier than they were, and the Policy itself should have been written better, but the idea is excellent. I strongly recommend Mark Protection for free software projects. Non-software organizations have learned the value of this from abuses many years ago, and it is about time free software did too. Mozilla's Firefox has protections in place today which is encouraging. Abuses like what has occurred with Debian's open use mark, as mentioned in the UserLinux Mark Protection Policy, need to be stopped.
It is most impressive how people from throughout the world will translate something of interest if given the chance to contribute. For example, the UserLinux Mission Statement is available in over 10 languages. In retrospect, this was the most delightful surprise from working on this project.
This helped people focus on the task at hand and helped explain the purpose of the project quickly to people who would hopefully consider migrating to UserLinux in the future.
Ubuntu has largely grown into the simple, effective distribution UserLinux hoped to be. UserLinux is currently hoping for resurrection. This seems unlikely.
The largest differences between UserLinux and Ubuntu are how they are funded and how the groups behind each distribution are designed to function. Beyond that, provided Ubuntu remains a streamlined distribution, remains free, includes a notable ISV support network, and provides a reasonable certification program. Ubuntu will largely deliver on the UserLinux Mission Statement:
Time will tell if Canonical will have commercial success with Ubuntu. They already have made successful inroads into the early adopter market. If they can cross the chasm into the early mainstream desktop market adoption, they should be quite successful delivering custom OEM install packages, certification services, and high-end customization and support services. Key areas for success will be getting large OEM PC manufacturers to create serious offerings with Ubuntu, establishing standards and tests for certifications, and getting a network of Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) behind Ubuntu Linux. This will not be an easy task, but it is doable.
New ReleasesUbuntu 5.10 preview release is available; it can be had in both installable and live CD forms. Additions include GNOME 2.12, some new administrative tools, installation onto LVM volumes, the OCFS2 and GFS filesystems, the 188.8.131.52 kernel, further improved laptop support, and more. Once again, they will mail you a copy of the final release (when available) if you ask. For KDE users, the Kubuntu 5.10 preview is also available. Edubuntu is being developed as a version of the Ubuntu operating system, which is suitable for classroom use. The aim is that an educator with limited technical knowledge and skill will be able to set up a computer lab, or establish an on-line learning environment, in an hour or less, and then administer that environment without having to become a fully-fledged Linux geek. This is our first step towards that goal." an announcement for version 0.9 of the Foresight distribution. "Foresight takes another major step forward towards usability and functionality with the first release of the 0.9 series, and having the distinction of being the first distro to offer you Gnome 2.12! Featuring a refined look and improvements in just about every area, this is one hot tamale of a release!" reports the latest releases from VLOS. There's a release candidate for VLOS 1.2.1 and the first pre-alpha version of the upcoming VLOS 1.3. VLOS 1.3 final is currently scheduled for release in January 2006.
Distribution NewslettersFedora Weekly News issue number 13 looks at the Firefox IDN buffer overflow security issue, a warning to Fedora.us FC3 APT users, meeting minutes for Fedora Marketing, Red Hat contributions, and several other topics. Gentoo Weekly Newsletter for the week of September 12, 2005 is out. Topics in this edition include major package updates for Apache, tips and tricks for tweaking kernel options, new developers, and more. DistroWatch Weekly for September 12, 2005 is out. "Last week was an exciting one - besides GNOME 2.12 and the first beta release of Firefox 1.5, four major Linux distributions have been sprinting towards the finishing line, with the brand new Slackware Linux 10.2 release now imminent and the other three following within the next few weeks. In the meanwhile, Debian has announced security support for its testing branch, a move that will likely be greeted with much enthusiasm among the Debian users. Also in this week's issue: Microsoft tries to recruit a well-known open source advocate, a brief look at Foresight Linux and a quick review of Linux+ DVD, a popular European Linux magazine."
Package updatesslib (use _datadir), umb-scheme (fix conflict with slib), psmisc (fix buffer overflow in fuser), glib2 (update to 2.6.6), gtk2 (new upstream version), file (upgrade to file-4.15), subversion (update to 1.2.3), util-linux (enable util-linux-2.12p-sfdisk-fgets.patch), e2fsprogs (new version 1.38 and bug fixes), selinux-policy-targeted (bug fixes), vte (various fixes), slib (various updates), xdelta (ported to glib-2), tvtime (update to 1.0.1), evolution-data-server (add patches), dhcp (bug fixes).
Distribution reviewsreviews aLinux v12.5. "It's been a long time since I've been this disappointed by a GNU/Linux distribution. The project's Web site set me up to believe that this was a professionally designed desktop operating environment, but it ended up being anything but. It was hard to install, hard to configure, didn't work properly on one of the test machines, and the default applications were poorly chosen. I wasn't prompted to set up a root password or any user accounts, no boot loader was installed, and networking was left unconfigured."
Page editor: Rebecca Sobol
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