Support us on Patreon to keep GamingOnLinux alive. This ensures all of our main content remains free for everyone with no article paywalls. Just good, fresh content! Alternatively, you can donate through PayPal, Liberapay or Buy us a Coffee. You can also buy games using our partner links for GOG and Humble Store.

An interview with Ken VanDine, Ubuntu desktop lead at Canonical

By - | Views: 21,475

Another fresh interview for you today, this time with Ken VanDine who is responsible for leading the way for Ubuntu on the desktop at Canonical. This will form part of a mini-series — the first already up with Aaron Honeycutt from System76.


GOL: Can you first introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

"I’m Ken VanDine, leading the Ubuntu Desktop team at Canonical.  I’ve been here for over 13 years now, and working on the Linux desktop for well over 20 years."

GOL: How did you get started with Linux and what attracted you to it?

"Curiosity… From the time I was a young child, I just had to know how things worked.  I would take my toys apart to figure out how they worked before ever playing with them.  As I got older, that translated into computer hardware, and soon after software.  I discovered Slackware Linux in 1993 and never looked back.  It was simply amazing to have access to the source code, seeing how it worked, and I quickly immersed myself into open source software as a means to quench my thirst for how software worked."

GOL: What’s it like to work for Canonical as the Ubuntu Engineering Manager? What’s your work setup like?

"Having the opportunity to work on the Ubuntu Desktop all these years has been quite the privilege, and really the highlight of my career.  During this time I’ve been able to work on many exciting projects and contribute in different ways.  Now I get to be more involved in setting direction and leading an amazing team of some of the best developers around, it really doesn’t get any better than this! "

GOL: What projects are you directly involved with / working on right now for Ubuntu?

"I lead the overall development of the desktop, which includes the distro, enterprise desktop, WSL, developer experience, and gaming experience.  With the gaming experience team being the newest, I’m the primary driver for that until we staff that team."

Pictured - Ubuntu 22.04 LTS

GOL: Does Canonical regularly speak to other businesses and developers, to try and get them to support Linux and Ubuntu?

"Certainly, we have relationships with many interesting companies, which is awesome.  And now that we’re starting to get involved in the gaming scene on Linux, we’ve found ourselves creating some more interesting partnerships."

GOL: Canonical recently announced another push into gaming. It seemed like Canonical and Ubuntu let things slide on that front — so why now?

"I would contest that we haven’t really let it slide.  For example, we’ve had long standing relationships with partners like NVidia to ensure users are able to easily use the best driver for their hardware.  But yes, we are upping our game, and getting involved in much deeper ways.  So why now?  Momentum… The landscape for gaming on Linux is improving, at a steadily increasing pace.  This momentum has sparked increased enthusiasm.  It’s the right time to increase our investment and help be a catalyst to continue to fuel that momentum.  Our engineers have the unique background to make a significant contribution to that growth, which we’ll all benefit from."

GOL: Going by various stats (like Steam), Ubuntu has been regularly falling as the main choice for Linux Gaming. With the likes of Arch and Manjaro pulling in a lot. Why do you think that is? Any more interesting plans to pull people back?

"I think this is primarily due to web searches done by users looking to solve various problems getting their games to work.  There is a wealth of information that leads to distros like Arch.  Our top priority will be to ensure users can get their games working without the need to consult those sites.  The next goal will be to improve the resources available to help users on Ubuntu when needed."

GOL: So right now, why should someone go for Ubuntu over Pop, Manjaro, Arch, Fedora and others?

"Those are all fine distro choices, and people should choose what they are most comfortable with.  I’d say people should choose Ubuntu if their priority is a Linux desktop that just works.  We work hard to provide the best user experience possible, not only with the everyday desktop experience but also ease of access to the best drivers, bug and security fixes and out of the box access to the best selection of high quality applications.  And let’s not forget our certification program that ensures that many desktops and laptops are supported."

GOL: What are you particularly excited about for the future of Ubuntu?

"Dare I say the year of the Linux desktop?  Nah… Linux has reached a point where that can no longer be the goal post, we must look well beyond that.  I’m really excited about all the ways Ubuntu is meeting the daily challenges of so many use cases, ranging from robotics, IoT, cloud, to desktop deployments in large enterprises and home users playing video games.  Ubuntu is everywhere, and I’m really excited to be part of this journey."

GOL: For all the critics of Snap packages, anything you wish to say to them?

"Ubuntu users aren’t the critics of snaps, and I’d argue that users are less concerned with how they get their applications.  Of course we have strong opinions on how to deliver high quality applications, in a secure and reliable way and it’s our mission to do just that.   We do hear what people say and we take the mission of providing the best possible experience very seriously, so we are always looking for legitimate ways to improve the platform."

GOL: Considering we have Flatpak, AppImage, deb, rpm and so on. What do you think about how fractured packaging is on Linux? Does Snap not add to the problems for developers?

"There is fragmentation, which isn’t surprising. I will say out of the packaging formats you mentioned, Snap is the only one that has really seen any success from ISVs.  There’s a reason why you see official snap support from major ISVs, but not the others.  Snap was one of the first packaging formats to address issues like sandboxing.  Other packaging formats following suit shows snap was on the right track.  The benefits of snap and the single source of truth store are must haves for any major vendor."

GOL: One of the potential problems with Snap is that the server side is solely controlled by Canonical and is basically proprietary. Will this be opened up? Do you see it as an issue that needs sorting?

"Anyone can create an alternate store that supports snaps.  The API is completely open as is snapd.  Having a centralized store is actually one of the strengths of the ecosystem.  ISVs want that single trusted source for apps.  I think the tremendous success we’ve had with ISVs adopting snap is in no small part due to this concept.  And I ask, is it really a problem?  Snap is completely open, anyone can see what’s being executed on your system.  The internals of the store that handles metadata just isn’t interesting."

GOL: Are you buying a Steam Deck? What are your thoughts on what it means for Linux Gaming overall?

"I haven’t yet, I wish I had reserved one earlier.  It’s a great device, and Linux was the obvious OS choice for such a device.  Valve has done a fantastic job of pushing compatibility technologies to make Linux a viable platform.  All their work has really done wonders to bring more games to Linux and I look forward to seeing where that takes us."

GOL: What’s your own personal computing setup like?

"My primary system is a Thinkpad T14, with a couple of 24” displays attached via a USB-C dock.  But of course I have quite a bit of additional hardware necessary for development and testing."

GOL: What are your top 5 favourite games to play on Linux?

"Oh, that’s a tough one.  I’ve always been partial to racing games and really enjoy any of the Need for Speed games. I’ve also been really into Raft lately as well as playing LoL, Valheim and RDR2. I’m more of a creator than a gamer, however I do have a passion for enabling users to get the most out of their Linux desktop experience."


Big thank you to Ken for joining me on this.

I'll have more interviews to come, stay tuned! Get in touch if you want to be interviewed.

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
31 Likes
We do often include affiliate links to earn us some pennies. We are currently affiliated with GOG and Humble Store. See more here.
About the author -
author picture
I am the owner of GamingOnLinux. After discovering Linux back in the days of Mandrake in 2003, I constantly came back to check on the progress of Linux until Ubuntu appeared on the scene and it helped me to really love it. You can reach me easily by emailing GamingOnLinux directly.
See more from me
66 comments
Page: 1/7»
  Go to:

Loving the interviews Liam. Solid and challenging line of questioning. Keep them coming!

As an Ubuntu user who always tends to circle back around to his roots I must agree with Ken on Ubuntu having an unparalleled user experience. It's possible the distribution just resonates with me personally but I've always loved the aesthetic and what I consider to be a very solid user interface (a quite subjective metric, but there you go).

Any how, I'm happy with 22.04 so far. Debs, snaps, flatpaks, and appimages all coexist on my system and gaming and general usage are a sheer joy and superb experience. We're all spoiled for choice these days between the sundry options at our disposal.

Great time to be a Linux desktop user
mirv 23 May
View PC info
  • Supporter Plus
Allow me to say that I like these interviews and would like to see them continue. And while I'm posting less & less, and normally try to avoid anything controversial, I happened to have been attempting to use Ubuntu recently and came across snaps....so I think it important going forward for Canonical to hear about such things. As a warning, it wasn't pleasant, and that will come through in my wording.
---------------------
Personally, I find the responses about snaps to be akin to damage control. I'm sure that's going to be a contentious point in any discussions, but:
* Ubuntu users are the ones I've seen complain about snaps. Mostly in that they were forced upon people with no real immediately visible benefits. I'm staying clear of whether there are, or are not, of actual benefit and instead saying there weren't apparent benefits and were suddenly forced upon users. That does not generally gather favour from users.
* Simply saying that anyone is free to re-implement snaps is a bit of a cop out. It doesn't attempt to answer many of the problems that have been raised regarding snaps in the past - and they are mostly about Canonical's implementation and use of them rather than the underlying tech.
* Single store controlled by one company is what ISVs want! Ok....what about users? Can a user decide to use a different store? No, they cannot, because it's hard coded to the Ubuntu Store (last I checked). Nor is it a simple matter to ensure no proprietary software is encapsulated into a snap. Nor can there be community audits on the store backend because that is proprietary.
* Side note: I walked away entirely from Ubuntu based on my recent experience with snaps. They were awful to deal with (slow to install, slow to use, no information they were being used, and no recourse when the application had problems loading or executing). I tried not to use them, but was being pushed to do so, and in the end just dumped Ubuntu entirely. Being pushed to use something, even if it's supposed to open but driven by a proprietary backend, does not make me trust the company behind it - and therefore I cannot put trust in what is used to serve up and update snaps. Pushing and forcing users into something like this is the very opposite of what GNU/Linux should stand for, and like it or not that still matters - especially when there are problems encountered and it just makes everything more difficult for the user, on their own system, to fix themselves.

I'll kind of stop there. Yes, I've written a snap-centric post here, but the intent is not merely to grumble - I'm actually hoping that this sort of thing is read by someone at Canonical and treated as feedback for future responses or extra weight into whatever internal discussions happen.

Oh, and no, Ubuntu is not for me personally. I think that's rather obvious by now! This was a system for someone else, but it didn't "just work" and I had to try and fix it all. So before anyone says "well just don't use Ubuntu", that's kind of the point: I don't use it because of problems like this, but might again if they were resolved.
Great talking points you brought up, huge props for addressing the issue of Snaps heads on without sugar coating it.
I'm not convinced by much of what he says though. Sounds rehearsed, like appointed suit talk. Bunch of uninsightful non-answers just pushing the usage of Ubuntu no offense.
Soltrumman 23 May
QuoteUbuntu users aren’t the critics of snaps, and I’d argue that users are less concerned with how they get their applications.

As a Ubuntu user since 06.06 snaps are probably the biggest misstep up there with MIR and we all know how well that NiH-project turned out.

My biggest gripe with snaps are that the user experience of snaps is so much worse than DEBs or flatpaks. On Ubuntu 22.04 it took 15 seconds to start Firefox on my old laptop, fifteen seconds. I replaced it with the flatpak-version of Firefox that actually starts in a reasonable time. 6 years and no meaningful improvement to snaps start up times, great work, super focused on the user experience.

Oh and it keeps the three(!) latest versions of all snaps, last time i checked that was a hard coded number. Thanks Canonical, i don't need my disk space anyway, just fill it with old snaps. Oh while your at it maybe you could mount all snaps as loop devices just to make a mess? Cool.
And i _love_ the snap folder in my home directory, just love it, because that's the only folder where sandboxed snaps can write to, such an elegant solution.

So yes, Ken, Ubuntu users are critics of snaps. Before 22.04 i just left snapd be and moved on, nothing important was "snappified" so i did not care, that changed big time when an application i need and use daily as my main browser, Firefox, became much worse by being a snap.

I'm sincerely hoping that none of Canonicals gaming efforts are being wasted on snaps, if that is the case they can just save their time and effort and not do anything at all and Ubuntu users will be better of for it.

Sorry for the rant, just frustrated with how bone headed Canonical can be when it comes to their pet projects.
AsciiWolf 23 May
  • Supporter Plus
Nice interview, but I really dislike how Canonical is forcing Snap. Also, it's really sad that Ubuntu is one of the few distros that have really bad Flatpak support with outdated Flatpak/XDG portal packages, no Flatpak support in their GNOME Software fork etc.
scaine 23 May
View PC info
  • Contributing Editor
  • Mega Supporter
Quoting: SoltrummanAs a Ubuntu user since 06.06 snaps are probably the biggest misstep up there with MIR and we all know how well that NiH-project turned out.

I've covered before how ridiculous calling things "NIH" is. It's literally how Linux evolves and becomes better. Weird that Canonical gets hate for that, but no-one bats an eyelid when Redhat decide to replace the entire sound system, or indeed, the entire fucking init system.

Flatpaks have lots of problems too - go google how well Steam runs as a flatpak. But it's gotten better. Flatpaks, generally, will get better.

So will snaps. People need to stop shitting from a great height on something that doesn't even need to affect them.

  • Slow start up on Firefox - install the deb until it's fixed. It will get fixed.

  • Don't like the snap folder in your home? Neither did I - easily fixed with a .hidden file.

  • Snaps too big? Well, last I check was a while back, but Firefox was around 200Mb. If you're on a low-resource system that you care about Mb instead of Gb then sure, maybe snaps aren't for you. But then, neither are Flatpaks or AppImages.

Can't speak to the Loopback issue because in 20+ years of Linux, I've never, ever had to check my /dev/loop devices. Ever. Maybe I'm lucky that way.

But bottom line, why all this weird hate? It feels like the usual anti-Canonical sentiment. Other, far worse technologies aren't grilled like this. I just don't get it.
View PC info
  • Supporter
For what it's worth, I started using Ubuntu some 11 years ago, and stuck to Ubuntu for quite a few years. This year around February I installed Ubuntu 21 again. I would agree with Ken's statement that they haven't let it slide.

On the other hand, we users have started distro-hopping and some of the distros have really brought up some really nice and unique features to the table. And then we started comparing Ubuntu to those. I'd say that Ubuntu just has more competition nowadays.
mirv 23 May
View PC info
  • Supporter Plus
Quoting: scaineI've covered before how ridiculous calling things "NIH" is. It's literally how Linux evolves and becomes better. Weird that Canonical gets hate for that, but no-one bats an eyelid when Redhat decide to replace the entire sound system, or indeed, the entire fucking init system.

Don't worry, I had _plenty_ to say about that too. So did many others at the time, but the discussion has gone on long enough that it's become background noise.

Quoting: scaineSo will snaps. People need to stop shitting from a great height on something that doesn't even need to affect them.

Slow start up on Firefox - install the deb until it's fixed. It will get fixed.

Don't like the snap folder in your home? Neither did I - easily fixed with a .hidden file.

Snaps too big? Well, last I check was a while back, but Firefox was around 200Mb. If you're on a low-resource system that you care about Mb instead of Gb then sure, maybe snaps aren't for you. But then, neither are Flatpaks or AppImages.

Well snaps are being forcibly pushed on people, so it's worth discussing the matter. You mentioned to install the deb - well, actually, this is something I did try and it turned into a complete mess (and was still trying to shove the snap on me). Wasn't for firefox, but the same principle applies.
Maintaining the .hidden file doesn't fix the problem, it hides it. I don't actually have a horse in that particular race, but I think a worthy discussion deserves more than "just hide the problem" - e.g what really is the issue, what is a better solution, etc?

....and well yes, snaps do concern me on another system I have input on, and it uses Ubuntu currently (for historical reasons). If there are planned updates to it in future, then it will no longer be using Ubuntu simply because so much else exists that is better suited to that environment, and the management of it. Which starts to lead into: where is Ubuntu now useful over something else?
scaine 23 May
View PC info
  • Contributing Editor
  • Mega Supporter
Quoting: mirvWell snaps are being forcibly pushed on people, so it's worth discussing the matter.

Yeah, they should be discussed, definitely, and improved. But it's rarely covered in a consistent way. Canonical get a lot of flack for stuff that nearly every other member of the Linux community gets a free pass on.

Canonical are definitely "forcing" snaps, because they're a success story on other Ubuntu platforms like IOT and the independent vendors that Ken mentions. Hopefully they address the various shortcomings in the desktop clients quickly, because rightly or wrongly, they're already pushing people away from desktop Ubuntu.
CyborgZeta 23 May
Quoting: scaine
Quoting: SoltrummanAs a Ubuntu user since 06.06 snaps are probably the biggest misstep up there with MIR and we all know how well that NiH-project turned out.
Flatpaks have lots of problems too - go google how well Steam runs as a flatpak.
I've been using the Steam Flatpak since December, and it runs pretty good. You don't get to use the latest Mesa though; have to wait for the SDK/runtime to update.

Personally, I don't like Snaps on the desktop. I hear they're fine for IoT or whatever, but I don't use any of that stuff. I'm a Linux desktop user; I don't have a server, an SBC for IoT, or anything like that.

I'm not a programmer or developer either. Just a regular computer user.


Last edited by CyborgZeta on 23 May 2022 at 4:50 pm UTC
While you're here, please consider supporting GamingOnLinux on:

Reward Tiers: Patreon. Plain Donations: Liberapay or PayPal.

This ensures all of our main content remains totally free for everyone with no article paywalls. We also don't have tons of adverts, there's also no tracking and we respect your privacy. Just good, fresh content. Without your continued support, we simply could not continue!

You can find even more ways to support us on this dedicated page any time. If you already are, thank you!
Login / Register

Or login with...
Sign in with Steam Sign in with Twitter Sign in with Google
Social logins require cookies to stay logged in.