An interview about Ubuntu Touch with Mike Sheldon from the UBPorts Telegram group chat. Mike was part of the System Apps team at Canonical for over three years. His blog is here.
Chris Do you believe there was any conspiracy sort of situation to deprive the market of an ubuntu touch device? Do you think ubuntu touch was 'ready'? If not, how far from ready-state do you think things were?
Mike Definitely no conspiracy. I don't think it was ready for a main stream audience yet, I think a lot more could have been made of the geek/developer audience though.
Mike for some people it's ready, but it really depends on your usage and technical skill level
Mike I used mine as my main phone for years (as did my mum for that matter), but I know a lot of people would struggle without access to a lot of the apps they've come to expect and there were lots of issues that needed ironing out
Mike e.g. compatibility across various car bluetooth systems was a big issue for some people, if you've come to rely on that with a phone then it's a major issue
Mike but lots of people don't bother with car bluetooth stuff, so for them it didn't matter
Chris Do you think unity 8 would have been finished if another year of development had continued?
Mike yeah, it was getting into a pretty good state; it's very disappointing that things finished when they did
Chris If you could have changed one thing about the development of ubuntu touch or unity, what would you change? in the large, as far as market, internal politics, development lifecycle etc. do you think either of these projects could have been a 'success' —what should success have looked like?
Mike well I think sticking with things longer would have helped ;)
Mike but also focusing on external developers a lot more
Mike I tried to do that as much as I could myself (e.g. making tutorial videos aimed at developers for UDM and content-hub), but the general focus from upper management I think was always on consumers
Mike and I think that focus should have come much later, after first focusing on creating something that other developers could create apps for easily
Mike there's lots of great stuff in the platform that external developers hardly knew about most of the time, because it's just mentioned in a bit of API doc somewhere without any context as to how it fits into the system as a whole
Chris Why do you think management would focus on marketing, when the product is not ready? How could a company that does software fail in this way?
Mike I don't really know, I didn't have any real interaction with anyone involved in that stuff so could only speculate randomly
Chris Were there many people working on Unity and Ubuntu Touch, or was it a small focused group? How difficult would it be for someone to gain a job working on one of these teams? What do you appreciate most about canonical's development of Ubuntu Touch? What things did they get 'right'?
Mike Well, it was a lot of people working on it from the perspective of a company of Canonical's size. Compared to Google/Apple etc. there was hardly anyone working on it ;)
Mike Google probably have more people working on their keyboard stack than we had on the whole system apps team
Mike so for the most part each app and many bits of infrastructure only had one main developer
Mike I think I was probably part of one of the last main waves of expansion, we only had one other person join our team after me; and I know competition for the position was pretty hot, we had some great candidates for it
Mike I absolutely loved working with my team, our manager was amazing. I think that was a lot of people's experience too, at the team/engineering manager level Canonical was astounding and is the main reason we achieved so much with so few resources
Chris In a broad professional sense, how has working on ubuntu touch changed you?
Mike heh, it's probably ruined any possibility of me ever wanting to work on boring stuff ;). The three years I spent working on Ubuntu Touch were some of the most fulfiling I've had professionally even if things didn't work out in the end
Chris You have good things to say about Canonical management, politically how 'aligned' do you think Canonical's management were? Were they aligned on the same page throughout most of the development?
Chris if marketing was prioritized over development it would seem that marketing executives had the upper hand over engineering layers —was this true from your perspective?
Mike I think it varied a lot depending on the level of management, at the engineering level the managers were fantastic. But higher up at the more strategic level of management I get the impression that things went in and out of favour a bit too much, stopping anything from reaching it's full potential before it was deprioritised for the next big thing
Mike I don't think there was much in the way of internal politics between departments getting in the way, and at its heart Canonical has always been pretty engineering focused (I think we had a much better time of it than the design teams for instance)
Mike it was just unfortunate things were never given a chance to mature into what they could have been
Mike e.g. first scopes are the big thing, then convergence, then snappy, etc.
Mike with everything being left at a first okayish version, but never getting to be as good as it could have been
Chris Was there an 'event' that began Canonical's disengagement with Ubuntu touch / Unity 8? or did it just occur as a slow dynamic over time?
Chris I read about an OTA update that left many meizu devices in an unsable state... did that really happen? was it a big deal inside of the canonical ubuntu touch team?
Mike not sure I can answer that one really, since it involved pretty internal company stuff
Mike I'm not aware of that, but that'd probably have been something the hardware enablement people would have looked at rather than coming anywhere near my team
Chris As Ubports and Yunit begin taking ownership of ubuntu touch / unity, what do you think are the 'key' areas of focus?
Mike I don't know what makes most strategic sense over all, but I think it's good in the early stages if people just work on whatever personally interests them so as to keep everyone engaged as things take off. Besides that, personally I'm pretty hot on making things as easy as possible for app developers.
Chris I've read about hostility and negative communication from Gnome and linux users in general... on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being completely irrelevant, how impactful was that on the development of unity and ubuntu touch?
Mike Personally I never experienced any issues with GNOME folks, plus I've got friends who hack on GNOME stuff. I think the "GNOME vs Canonical" type of stuff tends to be rather overblown
Mike Of course you get the odd comment on reddit about how what you're doing is pointless, which can be a bit demotivating at first, but you get used to it ;)
Chris Today what desktop environment do you use?
Mike Still unity7 :)
Mike Hoping to switch to Yunit in the future though :)
Mike I used to use gnome-shell though (and before that gnome 2)
Mike (and before that ratpoison...)
Chris for someone just getting involved w/ ubports, for something in the functionality range of a todo-list style app, would you recommend qml/c++ or local html5/js?
Mike I'd recommend going with QML myself, the tooling around it in Ubuntu Touch is much more mature really
Chris is it true that QML apps need to be tested by installing them on the device, because the emulator is non-functional?
Mike well, you can run QML apps natively on the desktop too
Chris Do you know, which country had the most participation with ubuntu? money-wise or people-wise?
Mike I don't know anything from working at Canonical, but from the stats on Podbird it went: Germany, UK, France, Spain, USA, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria as the top 10