Documentation Updates Reflect Appeal to Developers by Ubuntu
Packaging software for Ubuntu might not be the most difficult task in life, but it’s not the simplest, either. Fortunately, that’s set to change for the better, thanks to major revisions to the Ubuntu Packaging Guide, which reflect the premium Canonical is placing on attracting more developers to the Ubuntu platform. Here’s the scoop:
At first glance, Debian packages — i.e., the .deb files used to install most software on Ubuntu — seem pretty simple. They’re basically just the data needed to run a certain application, bundled together with information telling the system where to put it.
Anyone who’s ever created .deb installers, however, knows that building them is not always as trivial as one might hope. Some of the packaging tools available are redundant, and different people recommend different approaches, making it difficult to figure out where to start. Packaging for a different architecture or release, meanwhile, adds a whole new level of complexity.
With these difficulties in mind, Ubuntu developers and community members long ago developed the Ubuntu Packaging Guide to help software developers navigate the various intricacies of Debian packaging, so they can distribute their work more easily to Ubuntu users. Unfortunately, however, as Daniel Holbach wrote recently on his blog, the Guide has grown too long and complex over the years, which is why he and other contributors at the last Ubuntu Developer Summit brainstormed a strategy for transforming the information into a set of task-based articles. In Holbach’s words:
The idea was to write the articles in a task-based manner. So if you want to patch a package and get it included in Ubuntu, there will be an article for that. If you want to update a package to a new upstream version, there’s going to be an article for that as well, and so on.
The Bigger Picture
I’ve written a lot recently about different initiatives within the Ubuntu camp intended to make life easier for software developers. The revisions to the Ubuntu Packaging Guide represent another endeavor in that vein.
And while efforts like this one might seem noteworthy only for people who write software for Linux, they also underline the substantial emphasis Canonical has placed in recent months on attracting new developers to the Ubuntu platform, which is big news for the Ubuntu world as a whole.
After all, it seems to me that the real target audience for revamped packaging documentation isn’t open-source programmers, the vast majority of whom have been exposed to Debian packages for ages, and whose applications are already available in the Ubuntu repositories. It’s for people writing commercial programs, often based on closed-source code, who aren’t used to working within an ecosystem where Debian and Ubuntu have predominated for years.
In other words, Canonical wants to entice developers whose applications are not yet packaged for Linux, or are available only for Red Hat-based distributions, to build Debian packages — and then, of course, push them out to end-users through the Ubuntu Software Center.
That’s a heady task, but Ubuntu’s future is bound to it.