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19 October 2012, 10:20

Shuttleworth: Secret development of 13.04's "Tada" features - Update

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Ubuntu Open In the wake of the release of Ubuntu 12.10, Mark Shuttleworth has announced a new style of development for Ubuntu 13.04, the next major version of the Linux distribution. Referring to "a few items with high 'tada!' value that would be great candidates for folk who want to work on something that will get attention when unveiled," Shuttleworth said that there will be a new process where the new features will not be talked about "until we think they are ready to celebrate". Before that time the company says it will only engage with "contributing community members that have established credibility".

Shuttleworth describes this process as the "skunkworks approach" and says that he is going with this process because they "figured out that critics will be critics whether you discuss an idea with them in advance or not". The idea behind the new approach seems to be a plan to filter out critical disruption during development to allow the developers to focus on the original vision for whatever feature is being implemented.

He suggests the projects in question for this skunkworks treatment include web, design, scientific, glitzy, privacy enhancing or analytic concepts and that all the development work will produce GPL-licensed software unless existing upstream code requires a different licence. Although the process is described as a skunkworks, Shuttleworth says there will be no NDAs required. Developers who are interested in getting involved are told to "ping Michael Hall at mhall119 on Freenode" and "bring some teflon".

The most recent "Tada" feature of Ubuntu was the late addition of Amazon Shopping lens to the Unity Dash. Included late in the beta cycle of 12.10, the introduction of Amazon search results was a surprise to many Ubuntu users who had issues with visual clutter, inappropriateness of searching and the returned results, privacy and security. That in turn led to the even later addition of an off switch for all online searching in the Unity Dash. It is unclear from Shuttleworth's announcement whether the new "Tada" features of 13.04 will be introduced with sufficient time for the community to test them or if they will be held back until close to the release of 13.04.

Update: Shuttleworth has now published another blog post saying that his previous post does not mean that the Ubuntu development process is to be any less open. Claiming that "Ubuntu set the standard for transparency a long time ago, when we invited anybody who showed a passion and competence to have commit and upload rights", Shuttleworth says the projects he is referring to are the equivalent of Canonical's personal projects. He closed by challenging people to "find another place where you can participate at EVERY level in the design and construction of a free platform that is used by millions of people"; one commenter accepted that challenge with the answer "Mozilla".

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