The future of Ubuntu revealed

Canonical CEO
We spoke to Jane Silber, Canonical CEO, whose job it is to keep track of everything Ubuntu

Canonical is pushing Ubuntu in so many different directions. On the desktop, it has introduced Unity; on the server, it's pursuing state-of-the-art ARM and cloud platforms; and it's even trying to get Ubuntu on to mobile phones and televisions.

Trying to keep track of how all this is going, how it all fits together and what's coming next is a full-time job… which is why we spoke to Jane Silber, Canonical CEO, whose job it is to keep track of everything.

Linux Format: Let's start with Ubuntu on the desktop. The big development is Unity, and a lot of its development has been driven by user testing. Could you talk about the motivation behind that and how you've gone about finding the people to do it? It's certainly not something a lot of free software projects have experience doing.

Jane Silber: No, you're right and I think it's one of the areas where we've really innovated and pushed the envelope in terms of that approach in the free software world. We didn't invent user experience testing in any way, but we are believers in a user-centred design ethos.

As we decided to really raise the bar in terms of user experience in Ubuntu and in free software, that user research and user testing became a core plank in our approach to the design. So, from the beginning of Unity development we've done a variety of different user testing and research.

From exploring initial concepts with paper prototypes to actually getting people in and having them use the software - both during development and afterwards. Even after something's been released, we continue to test it and do milestone checks by repeating some of the same testing.

LXF: Ubuntu is a free software project done in the open, but with the testing how much do you try to do in the open?

JS: We absolutely release results of user testing, and will continue to do that. A lot of it comes up first on our design blog,, so if you're interested go there first.

But we're quite public in those. There are some things we keep private in the early stages of development for competitive or customer reasons, but in general we'll do as much of that design work in the open as possible, and release the user testing results as well.

One of the other things that we've done is helping other projects learn how to do that kind of thing. At UDS, the Ubuntu Developer Summit, we'll run surgeries where people can come in and say, "this is my favourite open source project, this is what I work on, but I'm not really a designer. How can I make it better?" And these design surgeries will both give design ideas and do a little bit of user testing on their own projects.

LXF: The other big thing on the desktop for Ubuntu is the Software Centre, which is one of the things that really makes you stand out against other distributions. How is getting third-party application developers on board going, and how successful have paid-for apps been?

JS: It's going very well. We don't have 100,000 applications like some other platforms do, but it's growing at a healthy pace and we're seeing it really being a draw for the app developers.

For example, some of the big names - such as EA releasing games on Ubuntu, and just the other week we did a co-marketing, co-launch event with Humble Bundle. I don't know the stats right now for that, but in the first 72 hours after release, we saw 10,000 downloads from the Software Centre.