Comparing Maemo & UbuntuMay 3, 2010 5:49 pm community, freesoftware, maemo
While I’ve occasionally been critical of Ubuntu as a project, it is a distribution with very open processes, for the most part.
I’d like to compare the experience of a casual Ubuntu user, an engaged Ubuntu user, an Ubuntu developer, and an upstream application developer to the equivalent MeeGo or Maemo experiences.
The casual Ubuntu user gets regular stable updates on a predictable schedule, with long-term supported versions less frequently, but still on a predictable schedule. Stability, releases, this user doesn’t want to know what happens behind the scene, he wants to get software when it’s “done”.
The engaged Ubuntu user can activate an unstable development distribution, and see the work going in as it’s being done! He updates daily, gets the latest and greatest, and occasionally stuff doesn’t work, but he doesn’t mind. The information how to do this isn’t on page one of ubuntu.com, but it’s there, and engaged users tell each other about it.
The Ubuntu developer can participate in the creation of the process by packaging his favourite software, pushing it through a public (although occasionally real-time & in-person) process for inclusion in the holy grail – default installation, or presence on the install CD. He can take care of packaging, shepherd the package through QA, ensure that problems get reported upstream and in general ensure that his package is a good Ubuntu citizen. Even if he doesn’t get the package in the default install, which is quite tough, he can follow public community processes to have it available in the Universe, available to every single Ubuntu user through a simple search of available applications.
The upstream developer doesn’t really care that much about Ubuntu. He develops his application, sees bug reports coming in from users & developers & downstream packagers. He adds features, and concentrates on what he loves best – coding the best app he can.
Now, compare that experience to Maemo, to see how we compare:
For the casual user, not much changes. He gets the software on a device, when it’s “done” (and the definition of done is considerably different for a phone than a PC distribution).
For the engaged user, who wants to follow the bleeding edge, the story gets murkier. In the Maemo world, hardware and software releases have been closely related. Without a Beagleboard or a prototype N900, Fremantle wouldn’t have been very useful. But even operating system updates like the upcoming long awaited PR1.2 are not packaged and prepared in public, so even existing N900 owners can’t follow along with the cutting edge.
There is a promise that the first release of MeeGo will work well on the N900, so potentially there is an opportunity for the engaged MeeGo user to follow along with unstable development – on condition that, like the engaged Ubuntu developer, they’re prepared for the occasional bricking & reflash. But the UX software for MeeGo is being prepared for release – we are told that some closed components are being opened, some others are not ready for release yet. So it is not (yet) possible for an engaged MeeGo or Maemo user to follow along & install a base alpha or beta distribution and update or reflash regularly.
For packagers who would like to propose their software for inclusion in the default repository, or even on the default install, of MeeGo or Maemo, there is not (yet) a clear path to get involved in the process. I could start working on a Maemo port of QuteCom, Shotwell or some other software, but if I did, there’s no way for me to get that software included by default. The current Extras/Extras-testing policy of Maemo has been heavily criticised by some developers – so it might not even be easy for me to make my software available to a large number of Maemo issues.
The upstream developer experience doesn’t change that much. Upstream developers still shouldn’t care about what packagers are doing, and should be concentrating on making the best apps possible. But for major parts of the MeeGo platform, namely the UX projects, the upstream and downstream will be hard to separate. As an upstream developer, I care about being able to follow commits, read Changelogs, do code review, develop and propose features, fix bugs and so on, in the open. For unrelated upstream projects, things also change – due to form factor and UX guidelines, the developer really needs to do a tailor-made UI for MeeGo or Maemo, requiring effort not being spent on features. And because you’re doing embedded development, your development environment becomes that much more complicated, with emulators and cross compilers and SDKs.
The embedded world is a special place, a lot of things change from desktop development, and some of those changes come with the territory. You’re going to have to work with a device emulator, and anything that requires a SIM card, the GPS, camera, accelerometer or any other hardware features, well, you’re going to have to wait for a device to make 100% sure those work. But we can certainly bear in mind the Ubuntu user experience(s) when we are designing the MeeGo community, and ensure that their experience is just as open.
That means open code, and more importantly open processes. It means an engaged user being able to use software that isn’t ready, a packager being able to propose software for inclusion in the OS and ensure its availability to all users of the distribution by following a well defined process, and a developer having a great experience helping to develop great applications.