Launchpad.net today started public beta testing of Launchpad 1.0, a web-based collaboration service that improves the flow of communication between different software projects.
Collaboration is crucial to free software projects, but has traditionally been difficult across communities that use different tools which don't easily exchange information. Launchpad's new approach links data from a variety of project-specific sources in different communities and presents it in a unified interface, bringing those communities closer together to solve common problems such as bugs in shared code. This public beta includes a redesigned interface that allows projects to brand their presence in the system and highlights the current activity of project members, making it easier to keep track of the latest changes.
The popular GNU/Linux distribution Ubuntu uses Launchpad to keep track of conversations across hundreds of free software communities. The service makes it possible for the Ubuntu team to coordinate work on tens of thousands of bug reports, many of which involve third-party development communities, and hundreds of feature proposals for each release.
Launchpad is also central to the development of several high profile projects other than Ubuntu, including Zope, Infrae's SilvaCMS and Jokosher. Around 2,700 projects have been registered, and while many of those do not use Launchpad as their primary hosting infrastructure their registration in Launchpad facilitates collaboration between other projects who depend on their code.
Kit Blake, CEO of Infrae said, “Launchpad connects us to our most important communities, and brings synergy to issue tracking for Silva, where problems in one component of the stack affect another up or downstream. Key components of our stack were already there: Infrae's developers run Ubuntu, we develop with Zope3, and the dLCMS product (which is built on top of Silva) has been using Launchpad for over a year. Locating the Silva issues on Launchpad was like finding ideal office space, hooked into the grid, loaded with amenities, and ripe for networking.”
“Launchpad developers are all active participants in free software projects. We've experienced first-hand the barriers to collaboration, both social and technical, and have designed Launchpad to make collaboration easier,” said Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu. “We hope to continue to improve the productivity of those who participate in the free software ecosystem.”
Community Building Toolset
Launchpad helps projects collaborate through a set of integrated tools that support community building and the daily management of a software project:
Launchpad allows individuals to form teams spontaneously around common interests and tasks. In particular, Launchpad's support for teams-of-teams allows a rich community structure with strong project hierarchies to form. The net effect is to lower the barriers to contribution and improve the levels of participation in a project. There are now nearly 1,000 teams active in Launchpad, some with hundreds of members.
Free software communities constantly reuse one another's code. In many cases, a bug is first discovered in a community other than the one responsible for the bug. Coordinating the diagnosis and bug fix requires a conversation that spans those communities. With Launchpad, communities can share bug reports and work together on solutions, even linking to bugs in external trackers, to present a unified picture of the work ongoing across each community. Since it has both email and web interfaces, the Launchpad bug tracker is attractive to new users and experienced developers alike. Jim Fulton, CTO of Zope Corporation said, “We chose Launchpad to track Zope 3's bugs because it makes it easy for us to work together as a team and to work with other free software communities. Moving from our custom bug tracker has been real smooth, because the Launchpad team have imported our full bug history.”
Launchpad.net encourages projects to take a distributed approach to code management, using the Bazaar revision control system. It is certainly possible to host all of a project's code on Launchpad, but the system is specifically designed to enable code to be hosted anywhere on the Internet and still be accessible to project members through Launchpad. In cases where projects are using the popular CVS or Subversion systems, Launchpad can maintain a continuous import of the development trunk into Bazaar. This enables new participants in the community to have full revision control of their submissions and contributions using Bazaar before they have been given formal commit access to the project's central CVS or SVN repository. Launchpad's code hosting improves the ability of the project to attract code contributions from newcomers and reduces the barriers to participation in the project's software development.
Launchpad's simple web interface for software translation shields translators from low-level complexities, while importing and exporting standard .pot, .po and .mo files. Automatic suggestions–from a library of 750,000 translated strings–and a community of 19,000 registered translators can radically cut the time required to localise a project into many languages. Launchpad keeps track of the translations for each major version of a project separately, which allows some translators to continue to improve the translations of a stable release while others begin the work of translating newer versions still under development. Jono Bacon, leader of the Jokosher audio editor project, said, “We added Jokosher to Launchpad for translations and within two weeks it was translated into twelve languages. We hadn't even told anyone we were doing it. Our community finds it easy to use and hassle-free to administer. It wasn't long before we also moved Jokosher's bug tracking to Launchpad as well.”
New features and ideas often take time to percolate. Launchpad allows the community to map out ideas for future work, and for teams to form around those ideas, helping to define and then to implement them. Launchpad does not impose heavyweight project management but supports a community that wishes to keep track of its plans, coordinating their delivery into major releases and keeping the conversation about that work organised together with the code that implements it.
The combined knowledge of the project community often makes a superb support resource. However, much of this support takes place in mailing lists and web forums where the information cannot be organized into a formal knowledge base. Launchpad makes it easy to mobilize the community to answer user support requests, and in the process creates a knowledge base of solved issues for that piece of software.
Adding a new project to Launchpad takes minutes and in most cases it is possible to migrate all historical bug tracking data into Launchpad if the project chooses to do so. Questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or posted at http://answers.launchpad.net/launchpad where the team responds to requests for assistance and information. There is also a mailing list for Launchpad users where the system is discussed; details are at https://lists.canonical.com/mailman/listinfo/launchpad-users
Canonical, a global organisation headquartered in Europe, is committed to the development, distribution and promotion of free software products, and to providing tools and support to the free software community. Canonical is the developer of Launchpad and lead sponsor company for Ubuntu, which since its launch in October 2004 has become one of the most highly regarded Linux distributions.
Download Ubuntu from www.ubuntu.com/download. To learn about commercial support for Ubuntu, Kubuntu and Edubuntu, please see http://www.canonical.com/support. For more information visit www.canonical.com, http://www.launchpad.net or http://www.ubuntu.com.
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