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An interview with Ken VanDine, Ubuntu desktop lead at Canonical

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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.
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62 comments
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scaine 24 May
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Quoting: mr-victory
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.
Yep. I didn't want to go into the detail, but that's exactly what's happening. On Ubuntu, they quite rightly don't LUKS /boot, so you get a nice plymouth-based decrypt prompt and it's fast - really fast. But on Endeavour they also LUKS the /boot partition and a) it's slow and b) looks like shit because it's pre-plymouth. Stupid solution. More secure? Sure. But goddam, I'm not an MI5 agent. I just want to secure my /home - I wouldn't even bother with LUKS at all if they still had /home encryption... I forget what that was called, but it was found to be vulnerable, so LUKS it is.
F.Ultra 25 May
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Quoting: GuestTo 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.
While your problems very much could be related to pulse (I do not want to convey the idea here that it's the most bug free software out there [somewhat due to the complex nature of the problem it is trying to solve which pipewire have demonstrated since some people for whom pulse worked perfectly well pipewire doesn't at all]) even problems like this could be due to errors on ALSA; the whole architecture in pulse depends upon the rewind functionality of ALSA, something that no other software uses and it turned out that a lot of drivers therefore also had massive problems with it (aka completely untested feature in the drivers). Granted one can blame pulse for using that feature when it was so badly supported.

Quoting: GuestAnd 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.
If that indeed was the answer then yes that is both a horrible and idiotic answer. Just like you I would be without customers if I had that attitude (basically also why we gain customers from competitors, but I digress).

Quoting: GuestI 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.
And I would argue that the old way with lines upon lines of bash scripts was a way more complex and error prone world. But yes there will always be a tradeoff between functionality and more chance of security problems due to more lines of and more complex interactions of code. And there are no objective truth here, myself I subjectively like the features more than I'm afraid over the added complexity, others are free to do a different tradeoff analysis and that is of course fine.

Quoting: GuestSure, 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.

Does those softwares really rely on the systemd as init or are they relying on some D-BUS interface provided by various applications in the systemd project? In any case this is of course due to the project providing functionality and services that other software writes find useful, I get that it sucks for people not wanting to run systemd or not wanting to write software providing similar functionality using the same D-BUS namespace but at the same time should be forbid developers from providing great features?

Quoting: GuestI'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.
I can see how such a situation can be frustrating enough to be mad at the entire project, I've had similar experience with various pieces of software (hello macOS) that made me hope that they would freeze in hel. The irony of it all though is that if something, systemd brought excellent logging to Linux with the journal (I'm not a friend with how it handles tab-completion though) so unfortunate that we don't have a time machine so we could get back to your machine with the systemd-timesyncd so figure out what it was, perhaps sitting behind the machine the both of us would have showed you exactly why I like systemd and how I see the journal as a life save. Or the result would have been the same, who knows when it comes to software :)

In any case I asked for your reasons and I thank you for providing them. I fully understand that you don't want to make this into a debate and I see no reason for it to be that either. As I said I was simply interested in your experience since you sounds like a sane person (you don't want to know how many insane anti-systemd people I have talked to on Slashdot or Phoronix over the years) and I'm glad that I was right :).
F.Ultra 25 May
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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!

Probably designed by the same geniuses that designs the self scanning check out stations that have a touch screen and then either a IR reader for a card (drivers license in this case) or VISA/Mastercard touchless reader and if you accidentally scan your card before touching the screen it locks with a "you must touch the screen to begin before you scan your card". Ok so why is the damn scanner even active before I touch the screen if this is so important and secondly why is it so important?

Not to mention how completely AI-less they are, here I am using a machine that requires me to have a visa card (which the banks over here only hands out if you are 18+) and have the shop member card (which again they only hand out if you are 18+) and I have bought stuff for say €200 but I no I also have bought a few energy drinks (which the store on it's own have decided to have a 15 age limit on) so now it have to blink red until some underpaid clerk 15 minutes later can come to my aid and logon, click "age verified" so I can continue.

Because the modus operandi of some pre-teen wanting to buy an energy drink (which is not illegal. again the age limit is set by the store) is to steal some one else visa card, their store membership card and then also spend €200 on other stuff...
Lycurgus87 25 May
Quoting: Purple Library Guy
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?


Yes there are lot of branch of knowledge and you don't need to know all but...and this is a big but, usually you don't need to know all that because you don't want to use it.

BUT if you want to use something you have to learn it.
Also you don't understand basic package management and yet somehow you qualified to say that snaps are wrong. HOW would you know exactly? Also there are plenty of google finds if you really want to know how to remove it. You know..instead of speak of "forced" snaps.


Last edited by Lycurgus87 on 25 May 2022 at 6:43 am UTC
Eike 25 May
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Quoting: F.UltraProbably designed by the same geniuses that designs the self scanning check out stations that have a touch screen and then either a IR reader for a card (drivers license in this case) or VISA/Mastercard touchless reader and if you accidentally scan your card before touching the screen it locks with a "you must touch the screen to begin before you scan your card". Ok so why is the damn scanner even active before I touch the screen if this is so important and secondly why is it so important?

Right, we've got the same with our attendance recorder! (Yeah, for some weird reason, this is a thing where I'm developing software...) If you try to use the touch screen with the hand you're holding the card, card is registered first and device is confused...
Eike 25 May
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Quoting: Lycurgus87
Quoting: Purple Library Guy
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?

Yes there are lot of branch of knowledge and you don't need to know all but...and this is a big but, usually you don't need to know all that because you don't want to use it.

BUT if you want to use something you have to learn it.

Also you don't understand basic package management and yet somehow you qualified to say that snaps are wrong. HOW would you know exactly? Also there are plenty of google finds if you really want to know how to remove it. You know..instead of speak of "forced" snaps.

If I get a car, I want it to drive, decently, and without me needing to know how to tune the motor. And I'd still feel qualified to say e.g. that the acceleration is not as it should be.
ShabbyX 25 May
Quoting: Lycurgus87
Quoting: Purple Library Guy
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?


Yes there are lot of branch of knowledge and you don't need to know all but...and this is a big but, usually you don't need to know all that because you don't want to use it.

BUT if you want to use something you have to learn it. ...

I used to think like you, opposing simplifications to computer software (or as I would have called it, stupidification) when I was young, because "you need to know exactly how computers work, otherwise you lose your smartness". Some bs like that.

I was wrong, and hope you can take this chance to learn this well.

Just because you have to use it, doesn't mean you need to understand it. You in particular may be smart and curious and capable and willing to understand, which is a great thing. Most people however are either incapable or unwilling to learn about everything.

And please understand that this sort of talk also drives people away (don't get defensive please, and appreciate the feedback), so be mindful of the effect of your statements on people who are showing an interest in Linux.
Quoting: Lycurgus87
Quoting: Purple Library Guy
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?


Yes there are lot of branch of knowledge and you don't need to know all but...and this is a big but, usually you don't need to know all that because you don't want to use it.

BUT if you want to use something you have to learn it.
Also you don't understand basic package management and yet somehow you qualified to say that snaps are wrong. HOW would you know exactly? Also there are plenty of google finds if you really want to know how to remove it. You know..instead of speak of "forced" snaps.
OK, so first, go back through the thread and figure out that I didn't actually say any of what you're now saying I said, and that those things were in fact said by other people. Then if you've got a lot of moxie you'll come back and admit your mistake.

And, yes, you need to learn to USE it. So for instance, to use a washing machine I need to know the difference between delicates and heavy load, cold water and hot on the dials and buttons. If I'm good I'll also know something about the impact those settings have on different clothes. I don't actually need to know how agitators work, where the fan belts are in the guts and so on, in order to either use it or conclude there's something wrong, my clothes aren't getting washed, or acquire an opinion about whether side-load or top-load are better, or conclude that washing machines last far less long than they used to and realize that this is actually a planned thing so they can force me to buy a replacement.

Similarly, in order to use a computer I need to know how to use a mouse and generally navigate a WIMP interface, ideally something about how files and folders work, have a feel for how software tends to lay out its menus and commands, that kind of thing. As a bonus it's nice to know some things about how computers and operating systems and so on work at an abstract level. There are fuzzy edges, but this is largely distinct from what I need to know to be a proper computer enthusiast, or programmer, or sysadmin (In point of fact I happen to know a couple of things beyond what I've itemized, but those are not things I would need to know to use a computer). But this is all I need in order to, say, conclude that my system gets buggered up when I install certain software. It's more than I need in order to evaluate political arguments about computers. And so on and so forth, as per the washing machine analogy. Your claims about what opinions people should be allowed to have are false and ignorant. Nobody even makes these arguments about most other machinery and technology we use and interact with every day, it's almost entirely a computer snob thing (sometimes a car snob thing, and in both cases it usually has male chauvinist undertones), although I've never before met anyone going so far as to say that if I don't want to be a computer enthusiast I've lost my qualification to be human ("nearest tree").
Eike 25 May
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Quoting: Lycurgus87What 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.

Cars might be a good comparison: Yes, you should know how to "drive" your computer. But you shouldn't need to be able to fix its "motor". Yes, that's of course a nice thing to know, but most won't, and that's all fine.
3zekiel 26 May
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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.

While social competence does matter, having a certain quantity of out-of-the-box / potentially slightly authoritarian (within reason) persons can be useful. Those personalities tend to be much better at going against the stream, and push more ambitious projects (such as pulseaudio). It's all a matter of balance though, the person can not be a pure asshole either, but being socially awkward, very (too) sure of themselves and slightly authoritarian can actually be useful in some scenario. You also can not only have persons like that, just a few, with persons used to them as buffers usually. At least that's from my experience.


Last edited by 3zekiel on 26 May 2022 at 3:11 pm UTC
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