An interview with Ken VanDine, Ubuntu desktop lead at Canonical

By - | Views: 21,490

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: «4/7»
  Go to:

scaine 24 May
View PC info
  • Contributing Editor
  • Mega Supporter
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.
Eike 24 May
View PC info
  • Supporter Plus
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!


Last edited by Eike on 24 May 2022 at 3:17 pm UTC
Eike 24 May
View PC info
  • Supporter Plus
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?
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.
mirv 24 May
View PC info
  • Supporter Plus
Quoting: F.Ultra
Quoting: mirv
Quoting: Eike
Quoting: scaineb) I wondered if it was just Poettering-hate.

That was my impression as well.

And while I can't say much about this person, in general I'm of the opinion that social competence does matter, not only technical one, as open source should be about working together.

Actually I think this was the core of the problem. PulseAudio was not ready for primetime, but it was forced upon everyone, and it had (has) some major issues - which is why pipewire is taking over.
Systemd has some design decisions that I personally find design flaws, and was something similar - pushed on people, and then grown to encompass more functionality than emacs. I think by now it's probably stable enough to be acceptable (I still won't allow it on my rig), but you're absolutely correct - had there been more social competence, more engagement with the community, perhaps the drama would have been less or avoided.

I still recall a talk, I forget by who, where a question was asked about the instability of systemd at the time, and the response was "oh but it's software and that happens". That kind of response was indicitive of a software engineer who obviously doesn't care about professional development and probably hadn't heard of test suites and CI setups. It did not inspire confidence in any project they were involved in.

Yes pulse was pushed out by Ubuntu before every single ALSA driver (the main problems lied with the ALSA drivers and not with pulse itself) worked great with it, but then if one want's to hold off a new piece of software until it's perfect then you have to hold it off indefinitely. As someone that works in the software industry (kinda), the real QA only comes once you have released the version in the wild, until then you can do all sorts of crazy tests and still the first customer will find 1000 ways to crash it. Just look at how often MS have to go back on their updates to Windows 10/11 because it breaks things for end users and don't say that MS doesn't spend millions on QA.

systemd was pushed on users by distro maintainers since they saw the extreme benefits it had for them over sysv. I would very much like if you could find that interview though because AFAIK instability have never been a case for systemd, it working as a replacement for init have been rock solid since day one.

comparing it with emacs is reaching to be honest, it's not systemd the init replacement that have grown functionality, it's systemd the project (that consists of several binaries) but it's easy to conflate the two due to them using the same name and the systematic denial to see them as separate things by the anti-systemd people.

Would be interesting to hear what you think are design flaws in systemd, not to start some flame war but to hear what your thoughts are. I'm not a systemd dev so have no stake in the design choices.

To be fair, I've had continued problems with PulseAudio that were entirely resolved by purging it from the system and relying on ALSA more directly, or using apulse as PA proxy. These were not ALSA driver problems, these were "no sound, no possibility to get sound, pulse was seemingly doing whatever the hell it wanted regardless of configuration or attempts to restart the service". My favourite was ignoring the mono sink and outputting to speakers that didn't exist.

And true enough that internal QA cannot hope to cover all the myriad configurations and setups out there, there was still a level of rolling out that could have been handled better. A response to buggy software by saying what is akin to "deal with it" will never sit well with me. While I don't roll out to millions, I do manage such changes to customers and if I gave that kind of response, I'd basically have been fired immediately. I certainly hope this wasn't company policy and instead just the one developer, and I'm quite certain the Wayland rollout has been informed from failings with pulse in the past, but anyone with a level of influence over a project and having that attitude is bad.

Systemd being a name that covers multple projects is itself something that could be addressed, but not a technical issue itself. And I'm also not going to suggest sysvinit was perfect (goodness no), or that I'm a system init maestro (obviously I'm not one of those), or even that systemd (init) is entirely bad (because it's not, at least by now). I am, however, rather concerned about the code complexity and just how susceptible it is to security flaws, especially given the level of control over the rest of the system. Sure, security flaws are elsewhere too, but I'm one who suscribes to the old unix philosophy of keeping everything as simple as possible, do one thing and that one thing right, and systemd does away with that. I'm also against the kind of spread of scope - there's software that now relies on systemd (init) that ideally shouldn't have to know about the init system at all. That makes software updates start to become a bit of a nightmare, impacts maintenance, increases points of failure, etc. Could argue that's not systemd's fault, but it kind of is by encouraging such things through feature creep. Roll it out into something else (and yes, that's been done, acknowledged).
I've also personally suffered systems that refused to boot because systemd wasn't recovering properly. Root cause was not systemd, but it was clobbered far too easily and locked up everything else. On non-init, I've had problems with logging, I don't even know what was going on with timesync and ended disabling the entire damn thing until a full OS reinstall was done, and a bunch of other problems that probably bias me against the whole project.

...this is far too much text. I'll start to wind down my contributions on this thread.
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.
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.