Interview with Ding Zhou of Ubuntu Tweak

Ubuntu tweak is a well known application which allows Ubuntu users to tweak various aspects of their system. The founder of the project, Ding Zhou aka Tualatrix Chou, is talking to us about the nature and the usability of Ubuntu Tweak, the relation with Canonical and the future plans of the project. Enjoy

When did you start using linux and at what point did you decide to develop Ubuntu tweak?

I started using Linux when I just started my college life at late 2006. I was learning C programming then, a friend recommended that Linux is a great platform to learn programming. So I started my Linux life from the Fedora Core 6. But after just one week I switched to Ubuntu 6.10, because Ubuntu had a better community in China , and also had very good and fast repositories/mirrors. I fall in love with Ubuntu immediately, and switched from Windows in just one week.

After half years’ both happy and hard time with Ubuntu, I realized that Ubuntu was not so friendly for Chinese people, because after a fresh installation, people had to config the font, input method and many others. So I decided to develop an application to help the newbies to easily config Ubuntu.

So at July 2007, I started to develop Ubuntu Tweak. At that point, only for Chinese people, but soon I made Ubuntu Tweak be an international application and released its first version at Sep 2007

Ubuntu tweak is already a very successful project. Many Ubuntu users
use it to tweak various aspects of their system. Tell us a few words
about what Ubuntu Tweak can do.

Ubuntu Tweak can be used to toggle the desktop icon display, set the fonts, enable/disable the user switch, logo.
In the latest version of Ubuntu Tweak (0.6), you can also use it to tweak your Unity desktop.ut and shutdown functions.
You can also use Ubuntu Tweak to cleanup system cruft to free space and make system clean.

Canonical decides not to include Ubuntu Tweak in their distro by default. What does that mean? Is there some kind of risk for inexperienced users who want to tweak their system using your application?

That’s right. Because in the previous version of Ubuntu Tweak, it provided a feature to enable the popular PPA, I wasn’t able to ensure all the PPA were safe, so Ubuntu Tweak had some security risks.
As you see, Source Center has been removed since 0.6. But please don’t mix the “include default by Ubuntu” and “put into the repository”, Ubuntu Tweak first should be put into the universal repository, then can be included by default in Ubuntu.
From the bug reports and user feedback, Ubuntu Tweak has became a lot more stable and easy to use than the old versions.

What kind of support or collaboration (if any) you have from/with Canonical and the Ubuntu developers?

Of course I received some help from the company, they helped me try to put Ubuntu Tweak into repository. It is still a work in progress.
I also received a lot of help from community, people help to translate, design, test and report bugs, and some of them even submitted patch for it.

How many people are involved in the development of Ubuntu Tweak?

If you say “programmer”, I’m the only one. But we have designers: the logo was designed by M.Sharp, Kevin Chou helped to design the mockup UI of Ubuntu Tweak, it became the 0.6. And currently Jeonkwan Chan are helping me polish the UI, it will become 0.7. Anyone can be involved in the development of Ubuntu Tweak, if they like 🙂

When Unity came out on 11.04, a lot of Ubuntu users complained about the lack of configurability. What is your opinion on that, and what are the adaptability-configurability that this particular desktop environment can have?

I’d like a desktop to have adaptability-configurability, that’s the advantage of Linux, isn’t it?
For example, I don’t like the auto-hide feature of Unity Launcher, so I set it to never hide.
Actually, Unity is configurable, the only thing that Unity is missing (through the ccsm) is that you can’t place Launcher to bottom or right – that’s maybe unfriendly for the left-handedness. Hah, just a joke.
As you can see, Ubuntu 12.04 has already added the hide/show toggle, Launcher size setting in system settings, I think Unity will be more configurable in the future.

In general, do you think that the development of the Unity desktop environment was the right decision for Canonical? Was it something inevitable because of the problematic collaboration they had with the Gnome developers?

Yes, I think it’s the right decision for Canonical. If you look back three years, when Ubuntu first introduced the Indicator for GNOME Panel, it was a better design than the original GNOME Panel applet. But there’s some problematic collaboration between Canonical and GNOME Developers, so it has never landed in GNOME, until in GNOME 3, the GNOME Shell itself removed the GNOME Panel, and the design of GNOME Shell panel is almost the same as that of the Indicator. If they could share the same API, the desktop Linux world would be better.
So, between the company, community and GNOME, the different opinions for user interface finally made the Unity desktop out.
I think it’s a good thing, at least I like Unity more than GNOME Shell right now.

Although you are developing an Ubuntu specialized application, I suppose you are using another distro for more advanced users. What is your distro of choice and why?

Of course, I had played with Fedora, Arch, OpenSUSE, especially with Gentoo, I had been using it for one year long. It’s my second favourite Linux distribution, because it has one of the most advanced package management systems.
But now I only use Ubuntu for desktop and server, I also use Mac OS X. I got many design inspiration from it 🙂

Can Ubuntu Tweak, be tweaked or forked or changed a little bit, in order to become useful in other linux distributions like Fedora, or OpenSuse, or Debian? Is the idea of a “Linux Tweak” application that people would choose distro and desktop environment plausible or not?

Yes, Ubuntu Tweak can be easily adapted to be used under other distributions. Ubuntu Tweak is modular and very easy to hack.
In 2008, I released an “Ubuntu Tweak for Fedora”, but finally I gave up the maintenance of this version cause I should keep focus on Ubuntu, and I also don’t have that much energy.

So what is the future of Ubuntu Tweak? Maybe Canonical will embrace it making it a default part of their distro, or they could use it to base their own tweaking tool. What do you think and what will be your next steps?

Of course the future of Ubuntu Tweak will be bright. Hah.
I have already started the process of putting Ubuntu Tweak to the Software Center, it would be easier if users can install Ubuntu Tweak from the Software Center.
Now I’m focusing on developing the 0.7 version, It will be a better polished and well integrated version for Unity desktop than ever before, and it will also introduce some useful new features. I’d like to adapt Ubuntu Tweak to work better under Unity desktop as much as possible.
I plan to release the new version along with Ubuntu 12.04, hope everyone will like it 🙂
And one more thing to tell, I’ve already joined Canonical, in Beijing, and response for OEM things. Although Ubuntu Tweak is still a personal project and I’m not involved in the development of Ubuntu, I will try to move to the development team when possible 🙂

That was great! Thanks Tualatrix
See you everyone next Monday with another interesting interview