Welcome To The (Ubuntu) Bionic Age: Behind communitheme: interviewing Merlijn

Interviewing people behind communitheme. Today: Merlijn

As discussed last week when unveiling the communitheme snap for ubuntu 18.04 LTS, here is a suite of interview this week on some members of the core contributor team shaping this entirely community-driven theme.

Today is the turn of Merlijn, merlijn-sebrechts on the community hub.

Who are you? What are you doing/where are you working? Give us some words and background about you!

I’m Merlijn Sebrechts, I’m a PhD student and teaching assistant at Ghent University in Belgium.

When I went to do an internship in rural Tanzania, I brought an old Dell laptop with Ubuntu 12.10 on it. After being forced to use it for everything for three months, I was actually sad to let it go and go back to my Windows 8.1 laptop, so I removed Windows, put Ubuntu on it and I’ve been using it exclusively ever since! (and I love it!)

I’m doing research on system administration, specifically on how we can use cloud modeling languages (like Juju!) to make system administration easier. Linux can do so much cool stuff, if it’s just configured correctly, so it’s a shame that it’s so hard to do that.

What are you mainly contributor areas on communitheme?

I set up some of the building and packaging infrastructure, wrote some documentation about how to test and contribute to the theme and I helped review pull requests, sift through bugs, and joined the discussions in various places.

How did you hear about new theming effort on ubuntu, what made you willing to participate actively to it?

I think the new theme effort started with me ranting about Ambiance on one of your (didrocks’) blog posts [Note from Didier: I confirm! ;)]. You responded saying that I was free to do something about it, so I suggested getting a bunch of the community together to create a new theme?

I’ve wanted to contribute back to Ubuntu for a long time and Ambiance really annoyed me, so I was happy to help fix that. I did some drive by patches to other projects in the past (I tried to fix the “buy steam for €0” bug, but I didn’t get the PR accepted.). This is the first significant project I’m working on, so I’m proud that I can be of use, even though I didn’t really do much…

I’d encourage anyone to just get their hands dirty and go contribute to Ubuntu. The people are nice, you’ll learn a lot and you’ll find hidden launchpad corners you never knew existed!

How is the interaction with the larger community, how do you deal with different ideas and opinions on the community hub, issues opened against the projects, PR?

It’s impossible for me to keep up with the community… It’s important to keep reminding people that there’s a human at the other side of their keyboard. However, it’s also a lot of fun to see so many passionate people! My mind immediately wanders off and think of how we can use this enthusiasm better. You see so many people who are very interested and eager to help so I tried to make the documentation as clear as possible and explain in detail how to contribute to lower the barrier to start contributing code, but that only goes so far…

This isn’t really answering the question, but I think that the time you (didrocks) spent bootstrapping this whole project is very well-spent time. There are a lot of passionate people out there who can become contributors if they just get a gentle push in the back and if you let them know that you don’t have to be paid by Canonical to work on this awesome project. You should do more of this: scout the comments section for people willing to get their hands dirty and give them a cool project to get started with.

What did you think (honestly) about the decision for not shipping it by default on 18.04, but curating it for a little while? Do you think the snap approach for 18.04 will give us more flexibility before shipping a finale version?

It wasn’t an easy decision to make, I’d much rather have 18.04 ship with a new theme, but I agree that the theme wasn’t ready, especially not for a UI freeze. I’m color blind myself, so I know that it’s easy for a theme to make a system unusable. Most people use Ubuntu to build stuff, they choose Ubuntu because it helps them get their work done, and/or because they believe in “the cause”. Few people choose Ubuntu because of its beauty, so functionality is very important.

My main concern is that people should be able to install the theme without using the commandline. I have a bunch of non-techy friends using Ubuntu and each time they have to use the CLI to do basic stuff, I feel ashamed… However, the snap solves that! You open Ubuntu software, install the theme, reboot and BAM! you’ve got yourself a new theme, new system sounds, a new cursor and much UI tweaks!

Any idea or wish on what the theme name (communitheme is a codename project) should be?

The theme is shaped by the Suru design language, with its Japanese influences, and the current Ambiance theme. I have zero knowledge of Japanese, and it seems like an incredibly complex language, so It might be totally off, but translating Ambiance to Japanese gave me Fun’iki. However, I don’t want to find out in what strange and interesting ways Ubuntu will break by having an apostrophe in a them name, and I don’t like how the word looks and sounds. It doesn’t have that earthy Ubuntu feel.

Suru itself is the verb “to do”, which got me to Yaru (to do / to give) which is more informal and can be used in the context of joy and pride like proudly exclaiming “yatta!” or “I did it!”. But we have to give credit where credit is due: we couldn’t have done it without Ambiance, both the theme itself as the inspiration and the atmosphere as the motivation. We’re doing it because it’s fun, so whatever way you look at it; Ambiance gave us Yaruki: “the motivation to do”.

Although I also like the sound of “Yaru” itself so ¯_(ツ)_/¯.

Any last words or questions I should have asked you?

“Are you having fun?”

A: “Yes!”

Thanks Merlijn!

And the last interview will come up tomorrow. Do not miss it! :)

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