Ubuntu to Prepares to Launch Updated Launchpad

A year after creating an online open-source software development community to take on SourceForge.net and other rivals, the development team at Ubuntu Linux will be the first to admit that they still have a long way to go to achieve the popularity of their competitors.

Ubuntu's beta community, called Launchpad, debuted last July and has seen a huge increase in the number of open source projects under development, from 1,500 projects at the start to about 7,000 today.

While that's a sizable increase, it still pales compared to the number of open source projects hosted on its more popular and well-known rival, SourceForge.net, where about 150,000 open source projects are availabe today.

For users, Launchpad offers an open source software hosting and development collaboration Web site similar to SourceForge.net, but there's one big difference according to Ubuntu -- code and other resources posted on the site can be shared back and forth across all the open source projects that are underway there.

That, said project manager Christian Reis, makes Launchpad a more collaborative environment for projects that could eventually refine the way open source software is developed.

Reis, known in the open source community as "kiko," talked about the scheduled debut next week of the new Version 2.0 of Launchpad yesterday at the 10th annual O'Reilly Open Source Convention. The new version will be announced next week by Canonical, the commercial sponsor of Ubuntu Linux.

On other development sites, he said, "there's not a lot of communication between" open source projects. "Launchpad, as part of it's core strategy, seeks to encourage sharing. This is where we think it makes a big difference for us."

The biggest open source development project on Launchpad is Ubuntu Linux itself, he said, including management of packages, bug tracking and foreign language translations.

And while the number of projects hosted on Launchpad has grown, Ubuntu has learned a lesson in the project's first year. That lesson, he said, is that "it's very difficult to break new ground" in the project development arena because of the entrenched nature of SourceForge.net's community. Most of Ubuntu's efforts so far have been by word of mouth, but that's a slow process.

Other large-scale open source projects are also coming aboard the Launchpad community. MySQL began using Launchpad about a month ago for its development, he said.

With Launchpad, developers don't need to get prior permission to contribute code or create a new direction in a project, unlike traditional open source software development models. Project leaders still ultimately have final say on what does and doesn't make it into the final code, but individual developers have more leeway in trying new ideas and getting feedback from others.

Here, developers can put up projects or code and "people discover it," he said.

By including Ubuntu in the pool, the development of many other related open source applications can also be found on Launchpad, including projects involving Mozilla Firefox, GNOME, KDE and others. "You really have to understand how much Ubuntu is a magnet for other open source applications," he said.

"Launchpad is about lowering the barrier for participation so that anybody in the community can come in and add a translation or make a new version of your source code or help you manage your bugs," he said. "We're mating the idea of facilitating collaboration between projects. It's the next generation of project hosting."

Unveiled last July, the Launchpad Personal Package Archive service provides a new way for developers to build and publish packages of their code, documentation, artwork, themes and other contributions to free software.

It's been a busy month for Ubuntu Linux. Several weeks ago, Ubuntu announced that for the first time , a retail boxed version of the operating system will be sold to consumers with support for $19.99 at Best Buy stores.

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