Q&A: Jonathan Riddell on stepping down as Kubuntu release manager

It's a Steve Jobs moment for Jonathan Riddell who has been kicked out of his own project. Here, he discusses his future plans and what's next for Kubuntu

Jonathan Riddell


Credit: Fiona Ainslie, Scottish Canoe Association

Yesterday the Ubuntu project announced the release of version 15.10 of different Ubuntu flavors, including Kubuntu. And with this release, Kubuntu founder and lead developer, Jonathan Riddell is stepping down as the release manager of the project.

Riddell founded the project back in 2005 and led the project for over a decade. He was recently forced to quit the project after Canonical refused to acknowledge him as the leader of the project. (In an ironic twist, Kubuntu had no formal 'leader'.)

Riddell made this announcement in a Kubuntu news post and I reached out to him on Google Hangouts to talk more about it:

Earlier you gave indications that after the 15.10 release you will move on. What's future of Kubuntu now?

I've no idea, the Ubuntu Community Council have destroyed much of the energy around the project and I won't have much involvement.

There are some Kubuntu contributors who don't want it to go away and they have voted on some new council members and Philip Muškovac wants to become the new release manager so I don't think it'll die out immediately.

What is the status of other Kubuntu members, are any stepping down with you?

Rohan Garg and Scott Kitterman left the council some weeks ago. Harald Sitter is another key contributor who's moving on.

18440341308 b9db788d10 k Jonathan Riddell

Jonathan Riddell and Herald Sitter discussing the future of Kubuntu.


What are your future plans?

I expect to move upstream into KDE, it's the original and best free software community for end user projects. They're always welcoming and friendly and it functions a lot nicer than Ubuntu.

The KDE Working Group has a great track record of resolving problems, you don't hear anyone say they got bullied out of KDE or that KDE doesn't respect their licences. And Ubuntu isn't necessarily the best technology these days anyway. They've spent years developing a phone which has kept back the rest of the archive quite a lot.  We've had to put up with old versions of foundations software like bluetooth quite a lot.

Are there any KDE projects beyond Kubuntu you are involved with?

I'm the release manager for Plasma, KDE's beautiful desktop software. I've spent some time over the last week finalising what will go into Plasma 5.5 due out in December.

But KDE has always lacked a way to get its software to the end user directly and we're working on a couple of ways to try to address that, watch this space.

What's the role of a 'release manager'?

A little bit of cat herding and a little bit of coding and a little bit of working out what the project should include.

For Plasma I make the schedules, work out what software should be included, have kickoff meetings to make future plans, remind people of those plans when deadlines get near, make the code to make the tars and put up the tars on time for distros to package.

We don't have any formal procedure because we don't have much in the way of disagreements. Usually formal procedure is needed when you have money involved so some projects like Amarok or Krita have that.

It was the same in Kubuntu, we all agreed on what we wanted to achieve so the number of votes we had to have with the council was close to zero.

In the worst case for a KDE project the KDE Community Working Group can step in, which did happen with e.g. KOffice, that was painful and it resolved nicely eventually.

KDE doesn’t have any 'leader', unlike many or all open source projects, so how do they give a vision to 'KDE'?

There's advantages and disadvantages to not having a leader. I've always run Kubuntu as a project without a formal leader, that way if people want to do something they can and see if others follow.

KDE likewise doesn't have a leader, individual projects will have their own social structures but ultimately everyone can commit to everything. Of course that could lead to not being sure what the point of the project is so we made the manifesto to say what would be a KDE project, which was anything with an end user focus that the rest of KDE agreed to. So now KDE can become more like Apache project for end users and I hope to take it in some interesting new directions with that.

Lydia Pintscher, the president of the KDE e.V, has been doing a lot of working out what it should evolve into as well, worth reading her blogs.

Will you start a new distro to bring KDE to the masses, as after Ubuntu openSUSE is the only major distro which ships KDE as default?

I'm not very interested in a whole new project; it would be unlikely to get enough mindshare to make it worthwhile. That's why I'm more interested in working with KDE and working out how to get their software to more users.

How does it feel to step down from a project you created? I imagine it being like when Jobs was kicked out of Apple.

Sad that after all we created it had to end this way. I hope Ubuntu can find its sense of community again, or else be honest and become a proprietary project.

But I'm excited about the future, new projects will take me to interesting and new places. Let's see where it goes

One last question. Will you no longer have any involvement with Kubuntu project?

Oh I expect I will. These are my friends and we’re all part of the same ecosystem, and until there's a better option I have Kubuntu on my computer so I'm not cutting anything off, but others will have to take it forward if they want it.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

Download the CIO October 2016 Digital Magazine
View Comments
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies