Join us on our own very special Reddit on /r/Linuxers.

An interview with Ken VanDine, Ubuntu desktop lead at Canonical

By - | Views: 23,839

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
62 comments
Page: «4/7»
  Go to:

scaine 24 May
View PC info
  • Contributing Editor
  • Mega Supporter
Quoting: Eike
Quoting: ShabbyX
Quoting: Lycurgus87And learn to use your system, because probably (about 99%) you are the problem, not your machine, nor the software.

Oh no no no, never say that. Take any device (a computer, a door, a hose, whatever), and if most users have trouble using it, that's definitely a design flaw of the device.

Here, see this: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=yY96hTb8WgI

At work we've got, on a single walk through a single floor, doors that
* are just opened manually,
* must be opened manually, but only after you show your entrance card to some device,
* open automatically after you show your entrance card to some device, and must not be moved by the handle they've got, because otherwise, most probably, world explodes.

Please, if you constructed a door so stupidly that it must not be moved by its handle, AT LEAST DON'T GIVE IT A FU**ING HANDLE!

At our work, we do have quite a few doors with pull-handles that are push. At least the opposite isn't true, I suppose! But it does make me wonder what people are thinking when they put doors up. This isn't brain surgery you know? If you need to push a door to open it, why does it feature a pull handle?? Infuriating.
scaine 24 May
View PC info
  • Contributing Editor
  • Mega Supporter
Quoting: Eike
Quoting: scaineI agree with all of that... but it's not really relevant here, is it? His point was that if you care, you can't turn off snaps. But as a computer user (as you put it), why would you care? Just use the computer. That's what Ubuntu is good at - getting out of the way and just working.

E.g. because your primary daily driver, the browser, starts slower?

Sure, yeah. But a) only the very first time after boot and b) it's already fixed according to an earlier comment. These things get blown out of proportion, I think. Right now, for example, I'm using a LUKS-encrypted drive I ticked a box for in my Endeavour OS install. On Pop and Ubuntu, that means I type a password after the BIOS and then again to log into my desktop. On Endeavour, I type the password after BIOS and sit patiently for about 30 seconds while... something... happens. It's annoying, but... it's once a day at the most. It's a shitty design decision, but it's hardly a deal breaker.

Narrator: This was a deal-breaker. Scaine is moving back to Pop_OS at some point over the coming summer.

Okay, so yes, I'll be moving back to Pop_OS, and yes the shitty boot sequence is a contributing factor. But it's not the only reason. These things do get blown out of proportion a fair bit. I've really enjoyed my time on Endeavour.
Quoting: scaine
Quoting: Purple Library GuyI really hate having to explain this all over again all the damn time. Ahem: No.
I am a computer user. I use Linux because it is a better operating system to use. And for reasons related to the politics of open source, true. But I want to use Linux, like it's an operating system and helps me get things done that I do on computers, like playing games or doing word processing or using whatever random bits of software I feel like loading up and using for whatever comes up.
If instead I have to be fiddling with the computer to make it do that stuff, Linux is failing to be a decent usable operating system. It is instead being some sort of pedagogical tool for computer developers. I am not a developer or a programmer or a server admin or anything like that and I'm not interested in having a computer designed to teach me how to fiddle with the OS via its design flaws.

I agree with all of that... but it's not really relevant here, is it? His point was that if you care, you can't turn off snaps. But as a computer user (as you put it), why would you care? Just use the computer. That's what Ubuntu is good at - getting out of the way and just working.

So either you're not technical and don't care, or you are technical and can tinker a bit to remove snaps. Sure, it could be easier, but that's not in Canonical's interests here, so I doubt it will happen.
False premise on two levels. First, if I perceive Snaps as something that will mess with the workability of my computer, I'm going to care even if I'm not technical. I'm not sure about that, but I do wonder. Second, if I have a political interest in openness, open source, and decentralization of power, I might care about the way Ubuntu does Snaps. And in fact I do have such a political interest.
Not that it matters for practical purposes in my case, because I try Ubuntu once in a long while, last time was not that long ago, and Snaps aside I just don't really like it as much as Mint, so I went back to Mint.

But in any case I was mostly just responding to the post I was responding to, because I have something of a pet peeve about being told in effect that if computers don't work well I should just be sucking it up or going back to Windows if I'm not man enough to hack the OS. And actually, IMO even though you start by saying you agree with me on this, there's still traces of that in your reply--like I should be leaving the opinion-having to people who can rule that command line.


Last edited by Purple Library Guy on 24 May 2022 at 4:57 pm UTC
Milanium 24 May
Thanks for asking some tough questions.
mr-victory 24 May
Quoting: scaineOn Endeavour, I type the password after BIOS and sit patiently for about 30 seconds while... something... happens.
Most probably GRUB does the deceyption and GRUB lacks acceleration, (I don't know what exactly it lacks) increasing boot time.
Lycurgus87 24 May
Quoting: Purple Library Guy
Quoting: Lycurgus87I really don't get all the rant about "forced snaps", Forced means you don't have a choice.
It's not the case here.
Feel free use any other software center, or the terminal. You can turn snaps off as a whole if you don't like them.
By which you mean, Ubuntu can't stop me, if I have enough technical knowledge, from getting in there and ripping the whole Snap thing out somehow. But as I understand it you do not mean that Ubuntu has a little button in the control centre that turns off Snaps, or anything even vaguely resembling that.
And sorry, but that does not mean I "can turn off Snaps"--I can't.

QuoteAnd be a happy little pinguin as I am. And learn to use your system, because probably (about 99%) you are the problem, not your machine, nor the software. Especially if you can't install things correctly.
I really hate having to explain this all over again all the damn time. Ahem: No.
I am a computer user. I use Linux because it is a better operating system to use. And for reasons related to the politics of open source, true. But I want to use Linux, like it's an operating system and helps me get things done that I do on computers, like playing games or doing word processing or using whatever random bits of software I feel like loading up and using for whatever comes up.
If instead I have to be fiddling with the computer to make it do that stuff, Linux is failing to be a decent usable operating system. It is instead being some sort of pedagogical tool for computer developers. I am not a developer or a programmer or a server admin or anything like that and I'm not interested in having a computer designed to teach me how to fiddle with the OS via its design flaws.

If you not willing to learn you can always climb back to the nearest tree
Also if you use windows or any operating system you should learn those too at a bare minimum. It's not about you being a system admin, its about you learn to use your tools.
What will be next? The cars?? oh wait thats already happening, and its the same problem because humans getting so entitled and stupid they don't even bother to learn how to drive properly anymore..and companies adjust cars for ppl who not willing to learn to drive.
Quoting: Lycurgus87If you not willing to learn you can always climb back to the nearest tree
I have other things that I am more interested in spending time learning. You live in a society--tell me, what do you know about political economy? Are you one of the voters, or for that matter non-voters, blindly helping steer the world into a ditch? I could well argue that all the time you spend learning about the minutiae of computers would have been better spent learning about politics, economics, media concentration . . .
Do you know anything about history? No? You are doomed to repeat it. Do you know anything about art, literature, philosophy? No? You are a hooligan still in that nearest tree. Can you fix your washing machine by yourself? How about your dishwasher, microwave oven, refrigerator, hot water heater? Why don't you know about those things?

The fact is that there is too much in the world for anyone to know about all of it. And despite the arrogance of many computer enthusiasts, there is nothing fundamentally more important about that particular specialty than about many others.
Lycurgus87 24 May
Quoting: Purple Library Guy
Quoting: Lycurgus87If you not willing to learn you can always climb back to the nearest tree
I have other things that I am more interested in spending time learning. You live in a society--tell me, what do you know about political economy? Are you one of the voters, or for that matter non-voters, blindly helping steer the world into a ditch? I could well argue that all the time you spend learning about the minutiae of computers would have been better spent learning about politics, economics, media concentration . . .
Do you know anything about history? No? You are doomed to repeat it. Do you know anything about art, literature, philosophy? No? You are a hooligan still in that nearest tree. Can you fix your washing machine by yourself? How about your dishwasher, microwave oven, refrigerator, hot water heater? Why don't you know about those things?

The fact is that there is too much in the world for anyone to know about all of it. And despite the arrogance of many computer enthusiasts, there is nothing fundamentally more important about that particular specialty than about many others.

Mate you are tiny bit condescending, who think that he is better than others..and yeah that lot of populist politician will ruin this world but this not the forum for that, also I really like history especially the Roman history and I really love Orwel and Joseph Heller. And I also can fix my fucking electric devices is why? because there is a manual for them, you just read and try to do it and most of the time you will be okay.

But whats the difference? I do this as a hobbi and because I can do this. But you need the computer to work or even to be a good consumer or get your shit done...and same stands for the car. Because they are tools witch you can't stand a chance without in this world right now. And you want use those tools then you must willing to learn, how to use them. Or the other options again..the tree over there.


Last edited by Lycurgus87 on 24 May 2022 at 8:28 pm UTC
Quoting: Lycurgus87Mate you are tiny bit condescending
(snip)
Or the other options again..the tree over there.
You're condescending, says the guy who told me to climb back to the nearest tree.
But I wasn't. I am a tiny bit now: The point went over your head. The point was, there are lots of branches of knowledge that can make claims that if you don't have them you are inferior. It is rare for the claims to be valid; claims about the arts or political economy or DIY home maintenance are no more/less valid than your claim that if I don't want to learn computers I should return to the apes. Do you get it now?


Last edited by Purple Library Guy on 24 May 2022 at 9:21 pm UTC
scaine 24 May
View PC info
  • Contributing Editor
  • Mega Supporter
Quoting: Purple Library GuyFalse premise on two levels. First, if I perceive Snaps as something that will mess with the workability of my computer, I'm going to care even if I'm not technical. I'm not sure about that, but I do wonder.
It's not a false premise if you just want to use your computer, which was your example. And I agree - my example is my wife who has no idea if she's on a snap, a flatpak or deb. She just wants to use her PC. Snaps are irrelevant to her.

Quoting: Purple Library GuySecond, if I have a political interest in openness, open source, and decentralization of power, I might care about the way Ubuntu does Snaps. And in fact I do have such a political interest.
Again, sure, but that's not what you said and what I responded to. You were being "just a computer user". And I agree with you - if you care about this stuff, that changes everything.
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.