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.
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.