A moment of history

I’ve been asked more than once what it was like at the beginning of Ubuntu, before it was a company, when an email from someone I’d never heard of came into my mailbox.

We’re coming up on 20 years now since Ubuntu was founded, and I had cause to do some spelunking into IMAP archives recently… while there I took the opportunity to grab the very first email I received.

The Ubuntu long shot succeeded wildly. Of course, we liked to joke about how spammy those emails where: cold-calling a raft of Debian developers with job offers, some of them were closer to phishing attacks :). This very early one – I was the second employee (though I started at 4 days a week to transition my clients gradually) – was less so.

I think its interesting though to note how explicit a gamble this was framed as: a time limited experiment, funded for a year. As the company scaled this very rapidly became a hiring problem and the horizon had to be pushed out to 2 years to get folk to join.

And of course, while we started with arch in earnest, we rapidly hit significant usability problems, some of which were solvable with porcelain and shallow non-architectural changes, and we built initially patches, and then the bazaar VCS project to tackle those. But others were not: for instance, I recall exceeding the 32K hard link limit on ext3 due to a single long history during a VCS conversion. The sum of these challenges led us to create the bzr project, a ground up rethink of our version control needs, architecture, implementation and user-experience. While ultimately git has conquered all, bzr had – still has in fact – extremely loyal advocates, due to its laser sharp focus on usability.

Anyhow, here it is: one of the original no-name-here-yet, aka Ubuntu, introductory emails (with permission from Mark, of course). When I clicked through to the website Mark provided there was a link there to a fantastical website about a space tourist… not what I had expected to be reading in Adelaide during LCA 2004.


From: Mark Shuttleworth <xxx@xxx>
To: Robert Collins <xxx@xxx>
Date: Thu, 15 Jan 2004, 04:30

Tom Lord gave me your email address, I believe he’s
already sent you the email that I sent him so I’m sure
you have some background.

In short, I am going to fund some open source
development for a year. This is part of a new project
that I will be getting off the ground in the coming
weeks. I don’t know where it will lead, it’s flying in
the face of a stiff breeze but I think at the end of
the day it will at least fund a few very good open
source developers for a full year to work on the
projects they like most.

One of the pieces of the puzzle is high end source
code management. I’ll be looking to build an
infrastructure that will manage source code for
between 100 and 8000 open source projects (yes,
there’s a big difference between the two, I don’t know
at which end of the spectrum we will be at the end of
the year but our infrastructure will have to at least
be capable of scaling to the latter within two years)
with upwards of 2000 developers, drawing code from a
variety of sources, playing with it and spitting it
out regularly in nice packages.

Arch and Subversion seem to be the two leading
contenders for “next generation open source sccm”. I’d
be interested in your thoughts on the two of them, and
how they stack up. I’m looking to hire one person who
will lead that part of the effort. They’ll work alone
from home, and be responsible for two things. First,
extending the tool (arch or svn) in ways that help the
project. Such extensions will be released under an
open source licence, and hopefully embraced by the
tools maintainers and included in the mainline code
for the tool. And second, they will be responsible for
our large-scale implementation of SCCM, using that
tool, and building the management scripts and other
infrastructure to support such a large, and hopefully
highly automated, set of repositories.

Would you be interested in this position? What
attributes and experience do you think would make you
a great person to have on the team? What would your
salary expectation be, as a monthly figure, for a one
year contract full time?

I’m currently on your continent, well, just off it. On
Lizard Island, up North. Am headed today for Brisbane,
then on the 17th to Launceston via Melbourne. If you
happen to be on any of those stops, would you be
interested in meeting up to discuss it further?

If you’re curious you can find out a bit more about me
at www.markshuttleworth.com. This project is much
lower key than some of what you’ll find there. It’s a
very long shot indeed. But if at worst all that
happens is a bunch of open source work gets funded at
my expense I’ll feel it was money well spent.

Cheers,
Mark

=====

“Good judgement comes from experience, and often experience
comes from bad judgement” – Rita Mae Brown


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