Dogfooding Unity 8

screenshot20160506_103257823During the Ubuntu Online Summit last week, my colleague Daniel Holbach came up with what he called a “10 day challenge” to some of the engineering manager directing the convergence work in Ubuntu. The idea is simple, try and use only the Unity 8 desktop for 10 working days (two weeks). I thought this was a great way to really identify how close it is to being usable by most Ubuntu users, as well as finding the bugs that cause the most pain in making the switch. So on Friday of last week, with UOS over, I took up the challenge.

Below I will discuss all of the steps that I went through to get it working to my needs. They are not the “official” way of doing it (there isn’t an official way to do all this yet) and they won’t cover every usage scenario, just the ones I faced. If you want to try this challenge yourself they will help you get started. If at any time you get stuck, you can find help in the #ubuntu-unity channel on Freenode, where the developers behind all of these components are very friendly and helpful.

Getting Unity 8

To get started you first need to be on the latest release of Ubuntu. I am using Ubuntu 16.04 (Xenial Xerus), which is the best release for testing Unity 8. You will also need the stable-phone-overlay PPA. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s not just for phones, but it is where you will find the very latest packages for Mir, Unity 8, Libertine and other components you will need. You can install is with this command:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ci-train-ppa-service/stable-phone-overlay

Then you will need to install the Unity 8 session package, so that you can select it from the login screen:

sudo apt install unity8-desktop-session-mir

When I did this there was a bug in the libhybris package that was causing Mir to try and use some Android stuff, which clearly isn’t available on my laptop. The fix wasn’t yet in the PPA, so I had to take the additional step of installing a fix from our continuous integration system (Note: originally the command below used silo 53, but I’ve been told it is now in silo 31). If you get a black screen when trying to start your Unity 8 session, you probably need this too.

sudo apt-get install phablet-tools phablet-tools-citrain
citrain host-upgrade 031

This was enough to get Unity 8 to load for me, but all my apps would crash within a half second of being launched. It turned out to be a problem with the cgroups manager, specifically the cgmanager service was disabled for me (I suspect this was leftover configurations from previous attempts at using Unity 8). After re-enabling it, I was able to log back into Unity 8 and start using apps!

sudo systemctl enable cgmanager

Essential Core Apps

The first thing you’ll notice is that you don’t have many apps available in Unity 8. I had probably more than most, having installed some Ubuntu SDK apps natively on my laptop already. If you haven’t installed the webbrowser-app already, you should. It’s in the Xenial archive and the PPA you added above, so just

sudo apt install webbrowser-app

But that will only get you so far. What you really need are a terminal and file manager. Fortunately those have been created as part of the Core Apps project, you just need to install them. Because the Ubuntu Store wasn’t working for me (see bottom of this post) I had to manually download and install them:

sudo click install --user mhall com.ubuntu.filemanager_0.4.525_multi.click
sudo click install --user mhall com.ubuntu.terminal_0.7.170_multi.click

If you want to use these apps in Unity 7 as well, you have to modify their .desktop files located in ~/.local/share/applications/ and add the -x flag after aa-exec-click, this is because by default it prevents running these apps under X11 where they won’t have the safety of confinement that they get under Mir.

The file manager needed a bit of extra effort to get working. It contains many Samba libraries that allow it to access windows network shares, but for some reason the app was looking for them in the wrong place. As a quick and dirty hack, I ended up copying whatever libraries it needed from /opt/click.ubuntu.com/com.ubuntu.filemanager/current/lib/i386-linux-gnu/ to /usr/lib/i386-linux-gnu/samba/. It’s worth the effort, though, because you need the file manager if you want do things like upload files through the webbrowser.

Using SSH

IRC is a vital communication tool for my job, we all use it every day. In fact, I find it so important that I have a remote client that stays connected 24/7, which I connect to via ssh. Thanks to the Terminal core app, I have quick and easy access to that. But when I first tried to connect to my server, which uses public-key authentication (as they all should), my connection was refused. That is because the Unity 8 session doesn’t run the ssh-agent service on startup. You can start it manually from the terminal:

ssh-agent

This will output some shell commands to setup environment variables, copy those and paste them right back into your terminal to set them. Then you should be able to ssh like normal, and if your key needs a passphrase you will be prompted for it in the terminal rather than in a dialog like you get in Unity 7.

Getting traditional apps

Now that you’ve got some apps running natively on Mir, you probably want to try out support for all of your traditional desktop apps, as you’ve heard advertised. This is done by a project called Libertine, which creates an LXC container and XMir to keep those unconfined apps safely away from your new properly confined setup. The first thing you will need to do is install the libertine packages:

apt-get install libertine libertine-scope

screenshot20160506_105035760Once you have those, you will see a Libertine app in your Apps scope. This is the app that lets you manage your Libertine containers (yes, you can have more than one), and install apps into them. Creating a new container is simply a matter of pressing the “Install” button. You can give it a name of leave it blank to get the default “Xenial”.

screenshot20160506_105618896Once your container is setup, you can install as many apps into it as you want, again using the Libertine container manager. You can even use it to search the archives if you don’t know the exact package name. It will also install any dependencies that package needs into your Libertine container.

screenshot20160506_105942480Now that you have your container setup and apps installed into it, you are ready to start trying them out. For now you have to access them from a separate scope, since the default Apps scope doesn’t look into Libertine containers. That is why you had to install the libertine-scope package above. You can find this scope by clicking on the Dash’s bottom edge indicator to open the Scopes manger, and selecting the Legacy Applications Scope. There you will see launchers for the apps you have installed.

Libertine uses a special container manager to launch apps. If it isn’t running, as was the case for me, your legacy app windows will remain black. To fix that, open up the terminal and manually start the manager:

initctl --session start libertine-lxc-manager

Theming traditional apps

screenshot20160506_122713187By default the legacy apps don’t look very nice. They default to the most basic of themes that look like you’ve time-traveled back to the mid-1990s, and nobody wants to do that. The reason for this is because these apps (or rather, the toolkit they use) expect certain system settings to tell them what theme to use, but those settings aren’t actually a dependency of the application’s package. They are part of a default desktop install, but not part of the default Libertine image.

screenshot20160506_112259969I found a way to fix this, at least for some apps, by installing the light-themes and ubuntu-settings packages into the Libertine container. Specifically it should work for any Gtk3 based application, such as GEdit. It does not, however, work for apps that still use the Gtk2 toolkit, such as Geany. I have not dug deeper to try and figure out how to fix Gtk2 themes, if anybody has a suggestion please leave it in the comments.

What works

It has been a couple of months since I last tried the Unity 8 session, back before I upgraded to Xenial, and at that time there wasn’t much working. I went into this challenge expecting it to be better, but not by much. I honestly didn’t expect to spend even a full day using it. So I was really quite surprised to find that, once I found the workarounds above, I was not only able to spend the full day in it, but I was able to do so quite easily.

screenshot20160509_121832656Whenever you have a new DE (which Unity 8 effectively is) and the latest UI toolkit (Qt 5) you have to be concerned about performance and resource use, and given the bleeding-edge nature of Unity 8 on the desktop, I was expecting to sacrifice some CPU cycles, battery life and RAM. If anything, the opposite was the case. I get at least as many hours on my battery as I do with Unity 7, and I was using less than half the RAM I typically do.

screenshot20160509_103139434Moreover, things that I was expecting to cause me problems surprisingly didn’t. I was able to use Google Hangouts for my video conferences, which I knew had just been enabled in the browser. But I fully expected suspend/resume to have trouble with Mir, given the years I spent fighting it in X11 in the past, but it worked nearly flawlessly (see below). The network indicator had all of my VPN configurations waiting to be used, and they worked perfectly. Even pulse audio was working as well as it did in Unity 7, though this did introduce some problems (again, see below). It even has settings to adjust the mouse speed and disable the trackpad when I’m typing. Most imporantly, nearly all of the keyboard shortcuts that have become subconcious to me in Unity 7 are working in Unity 8.

Most importantly, I was able to write this blog post from Unity 8. That includes taking all of the screenshots and uploading them to WordPress. Switching back and forth between my browser and my notes document to see what I had done over the last few days, or going to the terminal to verify the commands I mentioned above.

What doesn’t

Of course, it wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows, Unity 8 is still very bleeding edge as a desktop shell, and if you want to use it you need to be prepared for some pain. None of it has so far been bad enough to stop me, but your mileage may vary.

One of the first minor pain-points is the fact that middle-click doesn’t paste the active text highlight. I hadn’t realized how much I have become dependent on that until I didn’t have it. You also can’t copy/paste between a Mir and an XMir window, which makes legacy apps somewhat less useful, but that’s on the roadmap to be fixed.

Speaking of windows, Unity 8 is still limited to one per app. This is going to change, but it is the current state of things. This doesn’t matter so much for native apps, which were build under this restriciton, and the terminal app having tabs was a saving grace here. But for legacy apps it presents a bigger issue, especially apps like GTG (Getting Things Gnome) where multi-window is a requirement.

Some power-management is missing too, such as dimming the screen after some amount of inactivity, or turning it off altogether. The session also will not lock when you suspend it, so don’t depend on this in a security-critical way (but really, if you’re running bleeding-edge desktops in security-critical environments, you have bigger problems).

I also had a minor problem with my USB headset. It’s actually a problem I have in Unity 7 too, since upgrading to Xenial the volume and mute controls don’t automatically switch to the headset, even though the audio output and input do. I had a workaround for that in Unity 7, I could open the sound settings and manually change it to the headset, at which point the controls work on it. But in Unity 8’s sound settings there is no such option, so my workaround isn’t available.

The biggest hurdle, from my perspective, was not being able to install apps from the store. This is due to something in the store scope, online accounts, or Ubuntu One, I haven’t figured out which yet. So to install anything, I had to get the .click package and do it manually. But asking around I seem to be the only one having this problem, so those of you who want to try this yourself may not have to worry about that.

The end?

No, not for me. I’m on day 3 of this 10 day challenge, and so far things are going well enough for me to continue. I have been posting regular small updates on Google+, and will keep doing so. If I have enough for a new blog post, I may write another one here, but for the most part keep an eye on my G+ feed. Add your own experiences there, and again join #ubuntu-unity if you get stuck or need help.

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New Ubuntu Community Donations report

Somehow I missed the fact that I never wrote Community Donations report for Q3 2015. I only realized it because it’s time for me to start working on Q4. Sorry for the oversight, but that report is now published.

The next report should be out soon, in the mean time you can look at all of the past reports so see the great things we’ve been able to do with and for the Ubuntu community through this program. Everybody who has recieved these funds have used them to contribute to the project in one way or another, and we appreciate all of their work.

As you may notice, we’ve been regularly paying out more than we’ve been getting in donations. While we’ve had a carry-over balance ever since we started this program, that balance is running down. If you like the things we’ve been able to support with this program, please consider sending it a contribution and helping us spread the word about it.

 

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Help make Gnome Software beautiful

As most you you know by now, Ubuntu 16.04 will be dropping the old Ubuntu Software Center in favor of the newer Gnome Software as the graphical front-end to both the Ubuntu archives and 3rd party application store.

Gnome Software

Gnome Software provides a lot of the same enhancements over simple package managers that USC did, and it does this using a new metadata format standard called AppStream. While much of the needed AppStream data can be extracted from the existing packages in the archives, sometimes that’s not sufficient, and that’s when we need people to help fill the gaps.

It turns out that the bulk of the missing or incorrect data is caused by the application icons being used by app packages. While most apps already have an icon, it was never strictly enforced before, and the size and format allowed by the desktop specs was more lenient than what’s needed now.  These lower resolution icons might have been fine for a menu item, but they don’t work very well for a nice, beautiful App Store interface like Gnome Software. And that’s where you can help!

Don’t worry, contributing icons isn’t hard, and it doesn’t require any knowledge of programming or packing to do. Best of all, you’ll not only be helping Ubuntu, but you’ll also be contributing to any other distro that uses the AppStream standard too! In the steps below I will walk you through the process of finding an app in need, getting the correct icon for it, and contributing it to the upstream project and Ubuntu.

1) Pick an App

Because the AppStream data is being automatically extracted from the contents of existing packages, we are able to tell which apps are in need of new icons, and we’ve generated a list of them, sorted by popularity (based on PopCon stats) so you can prioritize your contributions to where they will help the most users. To start working on one, first click the “Create” link to file a new bug report against the package in Ubuntu. Then replace that link in the wiki with a link to your new bug, and put your name in the “Claimed” column so that others know you’ve already started work on it.

Apps with Icon ErrorsNote that a package can contain multiple .desktop files, each of which has it’s own icon, and your bug report will be specific to just that one metadata file. You will also need to be a member of the ~ubuntu-etherpad team (or sub-team like ~ubuntumembers) in order to edit the wiki, you will be asked to verify that membership as part of the login process with Ubuntu SSO.

2) Verify that an AppStream icon is needed

While the extraction process is capable of identifying what packages have a missing or unsupported image in them, it’s not always smart enough to know which packages should have this AppStream data in the first place. So before you get started working on icons, it’s best to first make sure that the metadata file you picked should be part of the AppStream index in the first place.

Because AppStream was designed to be application-centric, the metadata extraction process only looks at those with Type=Application in their .desktop file. It will also ignore any .desktop files with NoDisplay=True in them. If you find a file in the list that shouldn’t be indexed by AppStream, chances are one or both of these values are set incorrectly. In that case you should change your bug description to state that, rather than attaching an icon to it.

3) Contact Upstream

Since there is nothing Ubuntu-specific about AppStream data or icons, you really should be sending your contribution upstream to the originating project. Not only is this best for Ubuntu (carrying patches wastes resources), but it’s just the right thing to do in the open source community. So the after you’ve chosen an app to work on and verfied that it does in fact need a new icon for AppStream, the very next thing you should do is start talking to the upstream project developers.

Start by letting them know that you want to contribute to their project so that it integrates better with AppStream enabled stores (you can reference these Guidelines if they’re not familiar with it), and opening a similar bug report in their bug tracker if they don’t have one already. Finally, be sure to include a link to that upstream bug report in the Ubuntu bug you opened previously so that the Ubuntu developers know the work is also going into upstream to (your contribute might be rejected otherwise).

4) Find or Create an Icon

Chances are the upstream developers already have an icon that meets the AppStream requirements, so ask them about it before trying to find one on your own. If not, look for existing artwork assets that can be used as a logo, and remember that it needs to be at least 64×64 pixels (this is where SVGs are ideal, as they can be exported to any size). Whatever you use, make sure that it matches the application’s current branding, we’re not out to create a new logo for them after all. If you do create a new image file, you will need to make it available under the CC-BY-SA license.

While AppStream only requires a 64×64 pixel image, many desktops (including Unity) will benefit from having even higher resolution icons, and it’s always easier to scale them down than up. So if you have the option, try to provide a 256×256 icon image (or again, just an SVG).

5) Submit your icon

Now that you’ve found (or created) an appropriate icon, it’s time to get it into both the upstream project and Ubuntu. Because each upstream will be different in how they want you to do that, you will need to ask them for guidance (and possibly assistance) in order to do that. Just make sure that you update the upstream bug report with your work, so that the Ubuntu developers can see that it’s been done.

Ubuntu 16.04 has already synced with Debian, so it’s too late for these changes in the upstream project to make their way into this release. In order to get them into 16.04, the Ubuntu packages will have to carry a patch until the changes that land in upstream have the time to make their way into the Ubuntu archives. That’s why it’s so important to get your contribution accepted into the upstream project first, the Ubuntu developers want to know that the patches to their packages will eventually be replaced by the same change from upstream.

attach_file_to_bugTo submit your image to Ubuntu, all you need to do is attach the image file to the bug report you created way back in step #1.

launchpad-subscribeThen, subscribe the “ubuntu-sponsors” team to the bug, these are the Ubuntu developers who will review and apply your icon to the target package, and get it into the Ubuntu archives.

6) Talk about it!

Congratulations, you’ve just made a contribution that is likely to affect millions of people and benefit the entire open source community! That’s something to celebrate, so take to Twitter, Google+, Facebook or your own blog and talk about it. Not only is it good to see people doing these kinds of contributions, it’s also highly motivating to others who might not otherwise get involved. So share your experience, help others who want to do the same, and if you enjoyed it feel free to grab another app from the list and do it again.

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Your donations at work

I’ve just published the most recent Community Donations Report highlighting where donations made to the Ubuntu community have been used by members of that community to promote and improve Ubuntu. In this report I’ve included links to write-ups detailing how those funds were put to use.

Over the past two years these donations have allowed Ubuntu Members to travel and speak at events, host local events, accelerate development and testing, and much more. Thank you all who have donated to this fund. You can help us do more, by donating to the fund and helping spread the word about it, both to potential donors and potential beneficiaries.

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Don’t be afraid of women in tech

It’s incredibly disappointing that I even feel the need to write that headline, but recently a story has hit the interwebs that’s nothing short of fearmongering against an already beleaguered minority.

The truth is that women in open source are some of the nicest, smartest, friendliest, most inspiring people I have ever met. They work on it for the same reasons I do, because the like the projects and they like the people in them. I’m a better person, and a better contributor to the open source community, because I had (and still have) the opportunity to work with them and learn from them.

If you miss out on that opportunity just because somebody’s friend thinks there’s a conspiracy against him, you’re only hurting yourself. Treat people with respect and kindness, and they will do the same to you.

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Phones and Desktops converge at Ubuntu Online Summit

With the release of the Wily Werewolf (Ubuntu 15.10) we have entered into the Xenial Xerus (to be Ubuntu 16.04) development cycle. This will be another big milestone for Ubuntu, not just because it will be another LTS, but it will be the last LTS before we acheive convergence. What we do here will not only be supported for the next 5 years, it will set the stage for everything to come over that time as we bring the desktop, phone and internet-of-things together into a single comprehensive, cohesive platform.

To help get us there, we have a track dedicated to Convergence at this week’s Ubuntu Online Summit where we will be discussing plans for desktops, phones, IoT and how they are going to come together.

Tuesday

We’ll start the the convergence track at 1600 with the Ubuntu Desktop team talking about the QA (Quality Assurance) plans for the next LTS desktop, which will provide another 5 years of support for Ubuntu users. We’ll end the day with the Kubuntu team who are planning for their 16.04 (Xenial Xerus) release at 1900 UTC.

Wednesday

The second day kicks off at 1400 UTC with plans for what version of the Qt toolkit will ship in 16.04, something that now affects both the KDE and Unity 8 flavors of Ubuntu. That will be followed by development planning for the next Unity 7 desktop version of Ubuntu at 1500, and a talk on how legacy apps (.deb and X11 based) might be supported in the new Snappy versions of Ubuntu. We will end the day with a presentation by the Unity 8 developers at 1800 about how you can get started working on and contributing to the next generation desktop interface for Ubuntu.

Thursday

The third and last day of the Online Summit will begin with a live Questions and Answers session at 1400 UTC about the Convergence plans in general with the project and engineering managers who are driving it forward. At 1500 we’ll take a look at how those plans are being realized in some of the apps already being developed for use on Ubuntu phones and desktop. Then at 1600 UTC members of the design team will be talking to independent app developers about how to design their app with convergence in mind. We will then end the convergence track with a summary from KDE developers on the state and direction of their converged UI, Plama Mobile.

Plenaries

Outside of the Convergence track, you’ll want to watch Mark Shuttleworth’s opening keynote at 1400 UTC on Tuesday, and Canonical CEO Jane Silber’s live Q&A session at 1700 UTC on Wednesday.

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The next UbuCon is in Orlando, Florida!

Photo from Aaron Honeycutt

Nicholas Skaggs presenting at UbuCon@FOSSETCON 2014

Thanks to the generous organizers of FOSSETCON who have given us a room at their venue, we will be having another UbuCon in Orlando this fall!

FOSSETCON 2015 will be held at the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista‎, from November 19th through the 21st. This year they’ve been able to get Richard Stallman to attend and give a keynote, so it’s certainly an event worth attending for anybody who’s interested in free and open source software.

UbuCon itself will be held all day on the 19th in it’s own dedicate room at the venue. We are currently recruiting presenters to talk to attendees about some aspect of Ubuntu, from the cloud to mobile, community involved and of course the desktop. If you have a fun or interesting topic that you want to share with, please send your proposal to me at mhall119@ubuntu.com

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Share a link, win a Mycroft!

mycroftMycroft, the open source Artificial Intelligence project currently on Kickstarter, has teamed up with Ubuntu to give away a free device! They’re in the final days of their campaign, and need your help getting it to their goal. So we’re having a contest to spread awareness of their campaign, and whoever helps them the most can win a free Mycroft device of their own.

To enter, you need to create a unique link for yourself using the URL below. Replace {yourname} with your Launchpad nickname (or Twitter handle if you don’t use LP). This link will redirect viewers to Mycroft’s Kickstarter campaign page, and record a referral for you. Then share your custom link through blog posts, Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere else that you can reach people who would be interested in supporting the project.

http://start.ubuntu.com/contest/mycroft-campaign/?user={yourname}

The user with the most clicks on their link will be given a Mycroft Extendable unit ($149 level on Kickstarter), which makes the HDMI and GPIO ports easily accessible for hackers and makers to extend it’s functionality by connecting it to other devices.

But wait, there’s more! The top three referrals will have their names added to Mycroft’s longterm memory. This means is that they will be a permanent part of Mycroft’s programming and will be read off to users in response to a specific question (to be determined).  Think of it kind of like an easter-egg in Mycroft’s code to immortalize your role in making it a reality.

Winners will be calculated at the end of the campaign, and contacted via Launchpad (or Twitter), so make sure your custom URL has the correct name in it. Don’t forget that this contest will run until the end of the campaign, not just until they reach their initial funding goal, so keep sharing your link until the very end.

Good Luck!

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Ubuntu Global Jam Packs are back!

Picture by Aaron HoneycuttThe next Ubuntu Global Jam is coming up next month, the weekend of August 7th through the 9th. Last cycle we introduced the Ubuntu Global Jam Packs, and they were such a big hit that we’re bringing them back this cycle.

Jam Packs are a miniaturized version of the conference packs that Canonical has long offered to LoCo Teams who show off Ubuntu at events. These smaller packs are designed specifically for LoCo Teams to use during their own Global Jam events, to help promote Ubuntu in their area and encourage participation with the team.

What’s in the Global Jam Pack?

The Global Jam Pack contains a number of give-away items to use during your team’s Global Jam event. This cycle the packs will contain:

  • 20 DVDs
  • 20 sticker sheets
  • 20 pens
  • 20 notebooks

There will also be one XL t-shirt for the person who is organizing the event.

Who can request a Global Jam Pack?

The Global Jam Pack is available to any LoCo team that is running a Global Jam event. It doesn’t matter if your team has verified status or not, if you are hosting a Global Jam event, you can request a Jam Pack for it.

How do I request a Global Jam Pack?

The first thing you need to do is plan a Global Jam event for your LoCo team. Global Jams happen one weekend each cycle, and are a chance for you to meet up with Ubuntu contributors in your area to work together on improving some aspect of Ubuntu. They don’t require a lot of setup, just pick a day, time and location for everybody to show up.

Once you know when and where you will be holding your event, you need to register it in the LoCo Team Portal, making sure it’s listed as being part of the Ubuntu Global Jam parent event. You can use your event page on the portal to advertise your event, and allow people to register their intention to attend.

Next you will need to fill out a community donations request for your Jam Pack. In there you will be asked for your name and shipping address. In the field for describing your request, be sure to include the link to your team’s Global Jam event.

Need help?

If you need help or advice in organizing a Global Jam event, join #ubuntu-locoteams on Freenode IRC to talk to folks from the community who have experience running them. We’ve also documented some great advice to help you with organization on our wiki, including a list of suggested topics for you to work on during your event.

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Call for UbuCon Speakers at SELF

Ubuntu is sponsoring the South East Linux Fest this year in Charlotte North Carolina, and as part of that event we will have a room to use all day Friday, June 12, for an UbuCon. UbuCon is a mini-conference with presentations centered around Ubuntu the project and it’s community.

I’m recruiting speakers to fill the last three hour-long slots, if anybody is willing and able to attend the conference and wants to give a presentation to a room full of enthusiastic Ubuntu users, please email me at mhall119@ubuntu.com. Topic can be anything Ubuntu related, design, development, client, cloud, using it, community, etc.

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