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September 12, 2011
Are you an app developer with an “itch to scratch,” or an independent programmer eager for more exposure to the open source channel? If so, the Canonical team is building a site just for you, to help you integrate your work into Ubuntu. Here’s a look at what the company has done so far.
The developer portal of the Ubuntu website, developer.ubuntu.com, has been around for a while now, but Canonical employees David Planella and John Oxton made its expansion and design the focus of a recent session during Ubuntu App Developer Week. The proceedings of their discussion reveal some important insights into Canonical’s plan for engaging new developers and expanding Ubuntu’s application profile.
First of all, as Oxton explained, Canonical’s focus in building the site is not to cater to large-scale developers who have already made their mark in the open source ecosystem, such as those behind LibreOffice or Thunderbird. Canonical certainly wants to continue working with such developers, but since their applications are already “advanced and relatively mature and, importantly, already on Ubuntu … we aren’t really targeting developers of these kinds of apps because they are already working it out.”
“Instead,” Oxton said, “we want to start a dialogue with individuals, or small teams, with an ‘itch to scratch,’ or small indie developers/companies who are already making small, useful or just plain cool apps for other platforms.”
Oxton showcased different iterations of design proposals for the Ubuntu App Developer Site intended to cater to such programmers. The first version, available at madebymake.com with login “developer” and password “ubuntu,” was superceded by a second sketch designed to make it easier for the site’s users to get directly to the process of building applications.
The central resource around which the site is focused is Quickly, a tool that aims to streamline the development of applications on Linux by tying together and simplifying the different parts of the process, from programming to GUI design to packaging.
Whatever the particular components of the developer website end up being, Canonical’s conscious choice to focus on bringing developers from smaller organizations to the Ubuntu table is significant.
Calls for Ubuntu to support more big-name apps from the closed source world, such as Photoshop or Microsoft Publisher, have long been a feature of Canonical’s discourse with Ubuntu users. It appears, however, that the company hopes to expand Ubuntu’s app repositories not by bringing well-known commercial software into them, but by focusing on independent applications that already exist on other platforms and whose developers might be interested in porting them to Ubuntu if they had an easy way of doing so — which the Ubuntu App Developer site should provide.
Some users will likely complain that Ubuntu will not be fully competitive with closed source operating systems until it can seamlessly run all of the dominant commercial applications available on Windows and OS X. But realistically, Canonical’s decision to focus instead on smaller projects is one that makes more sense, and which can be accomplished in less time.
Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.
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