Blog Post

I want to be a MOTU, but…

…it looks to hard

Well, I just wanted to write up a quick post here and let you know that it isn’t all that hard. If you just started using Ubuntu, or Linux in general, then yes, it might be a tad bit hard at first. If you can compile and install a tarball, then you are well on your way.

But I don’t know how to use the command line… This is a big one, especially with new users, and it seems today that most Linux distributions are trying to shy away from the command line as much as possible for new users. The one thing I always tell a new user, is not to be afraid of the command line. The command line is actually easier than a lot of people think. Sure there are plenty of confusing bits, and even I still get confused after reading a man page, but there is always Google. There are a lot of great tutorials out there for the command line. If you have a great command line tutorial you think a new user could learn from, add it in the comments please.

Once you have learned the command line a bit and are comfortable, then start downloading some tarballs and following the installation instructions. With a lot of packages you can get away with the typical

./configure
make
sudo make install

Most of the time though you will run into a tarball that doesn’t compile. Typically, if the developer did everything correctly, you will see why it didn’t compile. The main reason it didn’t compile is because you are missing a dependency. All you have to do in this case is search for the dependency or dependencies that are missing, and install them. Lucky for you, 99.9% of the time the dependencies are in the repositories, so it is usually an easy install.

Doing this will also get you familiar with the layout of Linux, such as the layout of the file system, how Linux operates behind the scenes, and more. After you have this down and are getting comfortable, then the MOTU and building Ubuntu and Debian package part will be easier. Once you are ready to look at packaging, what I did was go to KDE Apps and start downloading applications and packaging them. For you Gnome people, there is Gnome Files. All of the work that a MOTU or a packager does is located in a debian/ directory. The nice thing is there is a utility that helps you do this called dh_install that will extract the tarball and setup a default debian/ directory. From there it is up to you to get that directory up to shape, and get it to build out your package.

There are a lot of great readings to get you started with packaging. I recommend the Debian Policy Manual, the Debian Developer’s Reference, the Debian New Maintainer’s Guide, and the Ubuntu Packaging Guide. I think reading the Debian manuals first, just glancing through them to familiarize yourself with things, and then heading over to the Ubuntu guide is a good bet. There is a lot of documentation to help you get started, there is also #ubuntu-motu on IRC (Freenode) to help you out, as well as our mailing list.

I know it sounds like a lot and it still may very well seem hard to you. I have seen people with no solid knowledge, brand new with Linux, get up and running and even packaging in just a few months of playing around with their system. Some of you may know Juan Carlos Torres (Jucato) from his blog posts here on Planet Ubuntu. In less than 2 years time he has not only started to pick up packaging, but he has even started filing patches for KDE applications. 2 years may sound like a long time, but the only reason it took him that long is because he spent well over a year offering more tech support on IRC for both #kubuntu and #kde, than anyone I have ever seen. We even have/had IRC channel stats to prove nobody could touch him ๐Ÿ™‚ If you want to learn it, and you stick with it, in no time you will pick it up, and before you know it, people around the world will be using the package that you have created or updated.

If this type of thing interests you, which I believe it does interest a lot of new users, then keep an eye on the Ubuntu OpenWeek stuff coming up. Also in the IRC room for MOTU (#ubuntu-motu), you can find out about the MOTU Classroom as well, where some of our top MOTUs offer classes to those who want to learn. A quick word of the wise though, try not to become impatient or down on yourself if you aren’t getting it. These 2 things can cause burnout, which you definitely don’t want. In the past 10 or so years, I burnt out once, and for 2 years I wouldn’t even look at Linux, heck, I didn’t even want to look at a computer. Patience will definitely take you a long way in free software.

Any questions, concerns, links, ideas, or whatever, post in the comments, especially if you have some really good information that might be of interest to new users. Thanks everyone, and sorry for taking what I wanted to be a quick post, and making it one large run on, hopefully it isn’t to darn boring.

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  • Josh Stegmaier

    I’d like to try my hand at packaging–and hopefully one day actually becoming a MOTU–but my main problem is that I’d like to start putting together packages from scratch for some more hands-on practice. However, I also don’t want to spend my time simply repackaging stuff that’s already in/going to be in the repositories. So I’m trying to figure out how to find programs to package that aren’t already available.

    The easiest way would be to look at what I’ve installed on my computer that I didn’t get from the repositories, but unfortunately, I only have four or five programs I’ve installed by hand, and none of those are open source.

    So, where do you go to find programs that aren’t already packaged?

  • HERE IS A LIST OF APPS THAT NEED PACKAGING.

    Well, the one thing though about packaging apps that have already been packaged, you can tend to look back at them for some help. I packaged a ton of packages that were already in the repos just so I can learn to package from scratch.

    Doing updates is fairly easy most of the time to packages that are already available. But I think packaging new files hone your skills a little better

  • I just want to point out that the link to gnome apps is incorrect. The correct one is http://www.gnomefiles.org/.

  • Inspiring post. I was actually trying to learn packaging ab 6 months ago but have not had the time to devote to it lately. I may try to get to it again. Being a MOTU is one goal that I have set for myself.

  • @Sirrus: Thanks for that, I have gone ahead and updated the link in the post.

    @Eric: That is cool that you are setting goals like that. I did exactly that as well, that way there if I was starting to feel burned out doing one thing, I could always start working on another goal to hopefully alleviate the feeling of burning out.

  • Mo

    I would love to learn packaging and to be a MOTU. It’s one way I wish I could contribue back to the community, especially to Kubuntu through KDE apps. I’ve been using Linux in general for less than 2 years and meet all your criteria ๐Ÿ™‚ In fact I actually prefer using the CLI for most tasks…I even tried to learn how to package a few months back but failed miserably. Since then I haven’t had much time to devote to it due to a new job and different schedules. So I never really trekked to IRC for help.

    As much as I would love to give it another shot and be a part of Ubuntu OpenWeek, unfortunately I’m going to be out of town for training during Open Week. Any suggestions?

  • @Mo: I think the Open Week sessions will be recorder, so you’ll be able to read them afterwards. You won’t be able to ask questions this way, but you won’t miss the main thing.

  • Thanks for the links to the Debian guides, they’ve been really helpful so far. Another thing that’s helped me out a lot has been the on the MOTU wiki.

    I’m looking forward to contributing to Hardy Heron, and looks like it’ll help a lot of people get ready to help out too ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Those links were https://wiki.ubuntu.com/MOTU/Recipes and https://wiki.ubuntu.com/UbuntuOpenWeek by the way. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    That’s what happens when I try to get fancy with HTML tags at 2:30 in the morning, I suppose.

  • My big BUTT in this is that I’m currently in school. Between work, school, and family I just can’t find the time to dedicate learning packaging. I am set to graduate Spring ’09…

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