Interview: Roberto Alsina, Manager for the Ubuntu One Desktop Engineering Team in Online Services at Canonical

In this continuing series on Ubuntu One, Amber Graner talks to Roberto Alsina, Manager for the Ubuntu One Desktop Engineering Team in Online Services at Canonical. Alsina discusses what his as well as his team’s role is in reference to Ubuntu One; what he is personally looking forward to in the Ubuntu 11.10 release and shares improvements scheduled for the 12.04 LTS release. Alsina gives links to the documentation on the Ubuntu One developer’s site and more.

Amber Graner: What is your role at Canonical and with Ubuntu One?

Roberto Alsina: I manage the Ubuntu One Desktop Engineering Team in Online Services. That means, if it runs on the user’s own computer, and it talks to Ubuntu One, my team is responsible, with some exceptions.


Amber Graner: How long have you been involved with Free and Open Source Software and what made you get involved? When and how did you get involved with Ubuntu?

Roberto Alsina:I was young, naïve and wanted to do cool stuff with my computer. That was so long ago that I used to buy something called the “Infomagic Collection”, which contained strange software obtained from a mysterious place called “The Internet”. That lead me to discover there was a decent C compiler for DOS, called DJGPP (that’s basically gcc for DOS), which I could actually use. Legally! For free! Then I got Internet access, got tasked with building my university’s Internet presence (email! gopher!), discovered Linux... and haven’t really stopped since.

I became part of the KDE project very early, got some code in version 1, as a hobby programmer, while I worked as a sysadmin. Then I got hired by a Linux company (Conectiva, now part of Mandriva). They closed their Argentinian office, and I found myself unemployed in the middle of the worst economic crisis in 90 years. I then got out of that working with free software! After this I started my own company and one night at a conference I talked with John Lenton, and voilá, I’ve worked at Canonical since December 2010.


Amber Graner: As the manager of the Ubuntu One Desktop Engineering Team for Online Services, can you tell readers what your team does for Ubuntu One?

Roberto Alsina: We develop a large part of the Ubuntu One client, both on Linux and Windows, as well as the code that provides Ubuntu One support for Tomboy, Evolution, Firefox, Banshee, RhythmBox, etc.


Amber Graner: What Ubuntu One features are you most excited about? Which ones do you use more often? What parts of Ubuntu One would you like to see more users utilizing and why?

Roberto Alsina: I am really excited by the 3rd party API. Having written free software on my own for a long time, I think “if I had had that, I am sure I would have done cool stuff with it!”.
I use Ubuntu One all the time to keep my photos synced. I take lots of pictures with my phone (I am the opposite of a serious photographer) and having them automatically replicated on my notebook at home, in a folder my wife has access to--that’s just handy.

Also, using it to share screenshots, files, etc as part of our development process. It’s cool to just put things in the right place and knowing everyone on the team will get them.


Amber Graner: What excites you most about the announcement of the Ubuntu One Client for Windows?

Roberto Alsina: The chance to bring this great software to a whole new universe of people. Either because they couldn’t use it before because they were using Windows exclusively, or because they couldn’t use it on Ubuntu because they needed something that worked on Windows too.

I am a big believer on having my code used by people. It’s a rush.


Amber Graner: What do developers who want to get involved with Ubuntu One development need to know? What parts of the project would you like to see more community developers involved in and why?

Roberto Alsina: The barrier to entry is pretty low. There are decent docs on our developer’s site. The most important thing is (as it always is) to have a good idea. Which is what I want to see. I want to see things I did not think of.


Amber Graner: What do you think has been the biggest obstacles to the implementation of Ubuntu One to date and how did the team overcome them?

Roberto Alsina: I joined the team when the software was pretty well established on Linux. So, the biggest challenge we experienced was the windows port. We overcame it because I have a wonderful team of developers working with me, who were all willing to work until the port was done. While that sounds obvious (“yes, we did it by doing it”), it’s far from a small thing.

Also, the support we got from our beta testers in this last stage was incredible. When you are one of the first to try something really new, it’s a lot of work! We would get a bug report and
have the tester do things, try this, try that, send us that file, and we got a ton of useful feedback that way.


Amber Graner: What new and improved features can users expect to see with the Ubuntu 11.10 release in October. What can users look forward to in the 12.04 LTS release of Ubuntu One.

Roberto Alsina: The most visible feature will be the ability to search for music available in the Ubuntu One Music Store directly from the Music Lens. A major goal for this cycle was also reaching feature parity between our supported platforms, which will allow some interesting improvements in 12.04 with our new Ubuntu One Qt UI. Also, we expect to have proxy support done, and increased Unity integration.


Amber Graner: With UDS-P (Ubuntu Developer Summit for the planning of the 12.04 LTS release) currently scheduled for the first week of November 2011 what will the Ubuntu One team be working on. Are there any blueprints already filtering in?

Roberto Alsina: We tend to work in a slightly different manner than other areas of Canonical, in that respect. We discuss things at UDS, particularly aspects of our roadmap that impact the Ubuntu desktop. Since our roadmap is based on a multi-platform cloud service, we tend to plan in a more traditional product development way, by listening to our users, prioritizing requirements and scheduling work.

However, we do have plans! The biggest feature we are missing (both on Linux and Windows) is proxy support, which is probably the most requested feature from our users. Also, we need to add some features to the Windows version (shell integration, for instance), and we need to align our Linux and Windows code-bases (the Windows version is Qt, while the Linux version is Gtk).

Plus, of course, the usual improvements, bugfixes, etc.


Amber Graner: How do you see Ubuntu One changing the desktop landscape and promoting the use of and migration to Linux via Ubuntu?

Roberto Alsina: Making part-time Ubuntu easier. If you can be confident that your documents and files will always be available for you, it does make things easier. And I am confident that many who try Ubuntu Linux will like it and stay with it.


Amber Graner: As a member of the Ubuntu One team what accomplishments have surprised you most and why? Were there any features and implementations that some thought couldn’t be done? If so what were they and how did you all implement them?

Roberto Alsina: As I said, when I joined, Ubuntu One was already a full-featured service. Some of the things the team did for the Windows port were pretty clever! They are rather technical in nature, but for example, on Linux you can have files with names that are not possible on windows, and figuring out a workaround for that was interesting.


Amber Graner: Is there anything about Ubuntu One that I haven’t asked you about that you would like to tell readers now?

Roberto Alsina: Ubuntu One for other Linux variants? - While we can’t commit resources to maintaining, say, Ubuntu One for Debian, we are happy to help others make it work.

Ubuntu One for KDE -- This is one of our oldest bug reports, and having been involved in KDE for a long time, it’s one that really nags me. The new UI is based on Qt, and we are being careful to be platform-independent as much as possible, so soon the KDE community will have a much easier client to port. I intend to hack on it during my free time, but there is not much of it, so I would love some help.

Amber Graner: Thanks Roberto for taking the time to discuss Ubuntu One, you and your team’s role and what you are looking forward to in the Ubuntu 11.10 release and sharing improvements scheduled for the 12.04 LTS release as well.

For more info on how you can participate in and contribute to Ubuntu, visit:


Follow along as Ubuntu enthusiast and Community organizer Amber Graner helps put the "You" in Ubuntu.

Amber Graner is an active Ubuntu community member and organizer who encourages everyone around her to participate, support, and learn about Ubuntu and Open Source. With a smile and a sense of humor, Amber reminds people that there is a place for everyone in the Ubuntu community – regardless of technical skill level (or lack thereof). She is constantly looking for people, places, and events within the Ubuntu community that help inspire Ubuntu users to participate actively within the Ubuntu community. Email Amber at amber AT ubuntu-user DOT com.


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