Monday, January 26, 2009

Add and Remove Programs and Managers

Adding Programs in Ubuntu is Cool
One of the greatest things about Ubuntu is the repositories. In fact, last year when I got my first eee PC, I had to install Ubuntu on it, as the Xandros based repositories a) didn't work, and b) didn't have the software I needed, like Rails for instance.

This functionality is available from the Applications -> Add/Remove... menu item.
This brings up this huge list of literately thousands of applications that you can search for, install, and try out. Furthermore, there is essentially no risk to trying them out, as they can be un-installer as easily as they can be installed.
This functionality is often identified as a major cool think by those "I tried Ubuntu for a week" blogs. So we know that it's working somewhat.

Could Add/Remove... Be Cooler?
So the topic came up in email that:
  1. Given the app store in apple (or whatever it is called)
  2. and the app store in Android( whatever it is called)
  3. Perhaps the Add/Remove... functionality could be renamed to invite users who are familiar with these other app stores to give it a try
There was a quick email thread that discussed this. Thoughts were shared that included:
  1. Really, the whole system should be redesigned to be easier to use and cooler. See here.
  2. "Add/Remove..." already works, so there isn't a lot to be gained.
  3. Surely we can come up with something sexier than "Add/Remove..." for a name. It should be a "place" where people go to get apps, not just a task to do.
So I followed up this smaller email thread with a call for comments to the ubuntu-desktop mailing list. I followed that up with a discussion in our regular IRC team meeting. I won't bore you with the details, but the result was that the team was okay with changing the name under certain cirumstances. See our meeting minutes here.

So What's a Transitioning Manager to do?
So I took that decision and wrote back to the initiator of the thread that basically, we'll happily make the change if marketing or design comes up with a better name than Add/Remove...

She wrote back that it's my call, she was just making a suggestion.

So why is this interesting to me right now? Well, I've been managing software projects for a while. Many of them, like Ubuntu generally (obviously) and Jaunty specifically, I did not initiate, or was not present during the initiation.

Of course, managing is multifaceted, but part of it is managing the product and projects that comprise it. I find that I go through a set of phases when I start as a manager new to a product.

Phase 1: Monitoring - I understand the goals and status of the product, and I can report on them and keep everyone in sync.
Phase 2: Guiding - I can foresee problems for the team and help them avoid them. I can assist other teams. I can help resolve problems as they arise. I can facilitate discussions and team decision making. I can help the team achieve the goals it has set out for itself. I can continue to monitor.
Phase 3: Leading - I have independent thoughts about what the product should be, how it should be developed, and how the team should work. I can work with the team to integrate these ideas. I can integrated better ideas that come from the team or other sources into my ideas. I can continue to guide and monitor.

So clearly, what happened here was that I took a Phase 2 approach (which makes sense consider this was my seventh week in the job). However, the request bounced back for a Phase 3 approach.

So what to do? I do have some independent thoughts. Namely:
  1. I feel that Add/Remove... is working well enough. Existing users are irritated by changes that don't really change much.
  2. We could probably do a great job reinvesting in this feature area and making the Add/Remove... experience really great, and worthy of a name change.
  3. I haven't heard of a name to change it *to* that is cool enough to make it work it.
  4. The community of developers and contributors, and users have not had the chance to consider, respond, help, etc...
So, here's what I'm going to do:
  1. I'll let the desktop team know that I think we should invest in this area in Jaunty +1, and see what they think.
  2. Bring the designs, etc... to UDS in Madrid, and kick this off proper.
  3. If we come up with a good design given the normal Ubuntu processes, then let's do it.
I would love to see a really sweet experience that exceeds the Apple experience in terms of delighting users. So let's do this right.

Of course if I get feedback from the Desktop team that we should take another approach, I will incorporate that feedback, as that's a critical part of leading a software product team.

1 comment: