One of the major advantages of open source software development is the collaborative efforts between the members of any given project. But what happens when projects don’t talk to each other? That’s where a web-based collaboration service like Launchpad comes in.
At least, that’s what Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, Ltd., trusts will happen. Canonical is the commercial force behind the Launchpad web service, which not only allows project teams to work with each other, but also facilitates upstream and downstream communications between different projects, something that Shuttleworth believes the open source community could use a hand with.
Today, Launchpad.net started the public beta testing of Launchpad 1.0. While Launchpad is not brand new, its developers believe that it has reached a milestone point in its development to warrant a point release.
Launchpad has been around for some time, but unlike Canonical’s flagship product, the Debian-based distribution Ubuntu, Launchpad hasn’t garnered a lot of media attention. But even outside of the limelight, the project has been growning steadily in both complexity and in numbers: according to Canonical, nearly 2,700 projects are registered within Launchpad, including Zope, Infrae’s SilvaCMS, Jokosher, and–naturally–Ubuntu.
It is easy to think of Launchpad as another SourceForge-like collaboration tool, but Shuttleworth was quick to point out in a Sunday interview with LinuxPlanet that this is not the case.
“It’s not meant to replace SourceForge, Google Code, or CollabNet… it’s meant to compliment these tools,” he stated.
Shuttleworth explained that in many instances, free and open source software developers tend to work well together, within their own projects. But there are times that inter-project communication does not flow as well. An example would be when there is a bug in one project that falls within the purview of several projects. Oftentimes a separate bug report will be filed within each project’s bug tracking system.
“Unless someone is really fanatical about tracking that particular bug,” Shuttleworth said, “it’s going to be very difficult to determine when that bug gets closed.” Not to mention where the fix actually is.
Launchpad is designed to plug into a variety of different development and collaboration tools to help various communities converse automatically when they otherwise might not be able to. Launchpad’s approach links data from a variety of project-specific sources from different source and presents it as a single, aggregated form of data.
The 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.
For Shuttleworth, this kind of communication is critical.
“Upstream communication is the heart of the open source development process,” he declared. Ubuntu’s relationship with its upstream-related project, Debian GNU/Linux, seems to be a big reason why Canonical recognizes this particular need in the development company.
Ironically, there are some in the Debian community that are less than enthused about the use of Launchpad–not because of what it can or can’t do, but because of its proprietary license.
Shuttleworth maintains that some of the Launchpad code has been released to the various translation communities already, in order for them to better work with the Launchpad interface. Canonical has also released some of the underlying code to web application developers so plug-ins to Launchpad could be built more easily. But while his company has made some strides to open some of the Launchpad code, Shuttleworth defends the need to keep Launchpad closed for now.
The big reason is the very nature of the Launchpad project itself: “it’s designed to centralize the various collaborative infrastructures that exist,” he said. “If we opened the code there could be two or three Launchpads out there, and that would defeat the purpose of having a single reference point.”
Launchpad helps projects collaborate through a set of six integrated tools: team management, bug tracking, code hosting, translating, blueprint tracking, and answer tracking. The service can be examined and used at Launchpad.net.