Portrait of Edd Dumbill, taken by Giles Turnbull

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On GNOME 2.8 and Ubuntu

This past week has seen two software releases I'm very excited about.

First among these is GNOME 2.8, the latest version of my preferred desktop environment. The new release contains many incremental usability improvements, and one major new feature, the integration of the Evolution mail and groupware client.

Evolution's inclusion means that the desktop can start integrating that most important of resources, the people you know. I have high hopes for seeing various buddy lists and other access control mechanisms, not least my own Phone Manager, adopt evolution-data-server for contact management.

I've been running GNOME since the pre-1.0 days, and I've never been happier with it. Heartfelt thanks to everyone involved in this release.


A Linux distribution from new open source company Canonical, Ubuntu is based on Debian. I've been following the development of Ubuntu for a little while, and I'm excited now they've issued their pre-release preview and are seeing some good adoption.

Their own web site decribes Ubuntu's aims pretty well, but the appeal for me is simple. A newly installed Ubuntu system looks pretty much the same as my Debian unstable system after I've finished configuring it. A single CD installs a really workable desktop environment with all the esssential components.

All of that wouldn't be enough to reassure me, though, if Ubuntu wasn't built on Debian. Debian has been my Linux distribution of choice for many years now. Through its distributed development process Debian manages to move quickly and have a strong emphasis on choice, yet retain integration as an operating system.

That is, Debian's unstable distribution moves quickly. I'm excited that Debian itself is near another stable release, but these events are sadly sparse. This is fine for a server distribution in a slowly changing environment, where I have several Debian stable boxes doing excellent service, but is frustrating on the desktop.

In such a rapidly developing environment such as the Linux desktop, more frequent updates than Debian currently manages are beneficial. Ubuntu's release schedule is anchored to that of GNOME, which gets around this problem. Of course Ubuntu doesn't, as far as I am aware, intend to address as broad a user base as Debian itself does. This makes the more frequent releases more practical.

I'm insanely pleased by Ubuntu, yet I don't want to neglect or ignore the fact that it's only possible because of the Debian project itself. I suppose there's a risk that some Debian contributors might feel others are taking credit for their work, or that Debian is now somehow devalued. I hope that feeling doesn't happen, as the truth is that Ubuntu validates the concept and operation of the Debian project. In the long term I don't see how Debian can do anything other than benefit from another distribution based on it, in terms of publicity, bug fixes and new users.

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