Changelog Interviews – Episode #256

Ubuntu Snaps and Bash on Windows Server

with Dustin Kirkland

All Episodes

We talked with Dustin Kirkland (Head of Ubuntu Product and Strategy at Canonical) at OSCON about 12.04’s end of life, the death of the Ubuntu phone, Snaps and snapd, and Bash on Ubuntu on Windows Server. This is the second installment of our mini-series from the expo hall floor of OSCON 2017. Special thanks to our friends at O’Reilly for inviting us to OSCON.



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Alright, we’re here with Dustin Kirkland, we’re talking about Ubuntu. Dustin, do you have a PSA for eight million Ubuntu people out there? Tell us what it is.

That’s right, Jerod. Yeah, so just yesterday 8.3 million Ubuntu 12.04, which was the Precise Pangolin release of Ubuntu…

Precise Pangolin?


Not Penguin.

Not Penguin.

Why not Penguin?


That’s too typical

Yeah, that’s too easy to get.

It’s a little weird, keep it weird.

So a Pangolin - look it up, it’s a pretty cool little animal. It rolls up into a ball…

Like an armadillo.

It’s a lot like an armadillo. Here in Texas we call that an armadillo.

[laughs] Okay…

So 12.04, LTS, we released in April 2012 - five years ago. It just end-of-lifed on 28th April 2017, so two weeks ago, basically.

Okay… But people are still running it.

Eight and a half million machines checked in at and said “Hey, give me my updates”, and updates are no longer available for 12.04 in the normal archive. So you’ve got two options. Number one, please (Please!) upgrade your 12.04 systems to 14.04 or 16.04 - we’ve got two newer LTS’s out there. You can upgrade your desktops, you can upgrade your servers… It’s a really simple, automated process. If you can’t upgrade, we do have an extended security maintenance product from Canonical where we will provide those security updates for another two years. So come talk to us, and we’re happy to help if you can’t upgrade. But by all means, upgrade if you can. We need to get the 12.04 machines their security updates.

Right. Because right now they’re just out there on the internet and they’re vulnerable, man.

Totally, yeah. Don’t use those on public Wi-Fi at the coffee shop or hooked up to your cable provider without a firewall.

Alright, so there’s that.

PSA - done. What’s next?

What’s next? The last time we had Dustin on (June 2016), Ubuntu Everywhere…

That’s right…

Now we’re talking about Ubuntu–

Mostly everywhere.

It’s already everywhere, but we’re scaling back the vision a little bit.

It’s a little different.

Refocused. Tell us about this shift in you guys’ vision.

[03:57] Sure. So I think the biggest and most obvious change is we’re mourning the death of the Ubuntu phone. The Ubuntu phone was a pretty awesome experiment that we ran for almost five years now, but the Ubuntu phone project is now no more.

It’s no more.

However, there is some amazing research and development that went into creating an Ubuntu-based operating system that could run on mobile devices. And in doing so, we now have an OS that we can update transactionally, atomically.

Really? That’s cool.

Yeah. We also have a new packaging format that looks and feels a lot more like packages look and feel like on phones. All of that work has folded into the “Ubuntu on IoT devices” effort. So the phone’s done. Android, iOS - that’s what we’re stuck with for the rest of the decade.

Right. So it’s not gonna be on phones, but it’s still gonna be on IoT devices.

IoT devices, absolutely. There’s a little Ubuntu booth over here showing off Mycroft, which is an open source digital assistant, or artificial assistant. It’s like an Alexa or a Google Home, except it’s built on top of a Raspberry Pi, it’s running Ubuntu, it has its own voice recognition software and its own backend that solves problems for you. That’s one of many types of devices that you’ll find the Ubuntu IoT story on… Drones, printers, all sorts of neat devices. So the phone lives on in IoT devices.

Okay. The ghost of the mobile phone is in IoT devices. Mycroft - I had to look it up; that was Sherlock Holmes’ brother.

When you said that, I thought “That sounds like a thing I know about…” Good name there.… Check that out. Open source stuff.

Okay, so a shift in strategy, lots of things learned… Hey, it takes guts to kill your baby, as I tell Adam. We use that analogy… Sometimes you have to kill your babies.

Yeah, sometimes you have to kill your babies. It does take guts, because you were saying “Everywhere”, and phone - it means everywhere… And I guess the next best thing would be IoT devices, right? Because that kind of is to some degree what a mobile phone is, but not really.

It’s an emerging market, for sure. I mean, you guys are geeks, I bet you have all sorts of devices around your house…

A lot more devices than phones.

A lot more devices than phones, that’s right. And some devices have probably been around for a few years, and they’re not getting updates. If you wanna have some fun, go home, open up a Linux terminal and sudo nmap --fingerprint-os your entire network. Nmap will run a series of heuristics and try to guess the operating system in kernel that’s running on all of those devices. You’re gonna find a whole bunch of unmaintained Linux 2.4, Linux 2.6, 10-15 year old kernels on devices you didn’t even know were running an operating system, much less the Linux-based operating system.

That’s the problem we’re trying to solve with Ubuntu Core, Ubuntu Core being our OS for embedded devices. They’re gonna get updates, the same way Ubuntu gets updates - transactionally, safely, and without you even needing to know or worry about that.

So certainly a more secure IoT device world…


…which is a huge issue.


It’s one of the biggest issues with IoT.

That’s understating it, of course, but you’ve got baby monitors being taken over, you’ve got garage doors, you’ve got micro – who’s using an IoT microwave out there? What for?

Who knows, but it’s happening, I guarantee it.

Securing that thing.

Exactly, it’s all about the security. You know what the “s” in IoT stands for, right?

Tell me.

There is no s.

Security. [laughter] And you’re exactly right… [laughter]

I was like, “IoT - where’s the s in that?” [unintelligible 00:07:42.02] He’s sneaky, he’s sneaky.

[unintelligible 00:07:43.18] “I walked right into his plan.” [laughter]

Well, can we maybe rewind and say why you were even going after the phone? Was it simply this mission of everywhere, or was there a real reason?

[07:56] You know, we had some early partners on it. We’re all just free software – we’re here at OSCON, and you won’t find more free software - truly GPL free software - anywhere in the world than in the Canonical and Ubuntu family of software. GPL and AGPL are our default licenses; we really default to a free software world. And we were running a lot of Android and a lot of iOS devices on our persons, on our tablets, but we’ve got this innate desire to run open source and truly free software that we can inspect, that we can update, that we can fix… That was the real goal of the phone.

We ran an unsuccessful Indiegogo campaign to raise 32 million dollars to build our own hardware and OS. We raised half of that, and set the record for –

That’s a lot of money, man…

Well, we set the record for the most committed. There was over 16 million, we got over half way there to the commit, but we gave it all back when we didn’t reach the whole…

It’s a wise move.

It’s like the nugs guy. Did you guys see the nugs guy? He got his nuggets.

I did. What was it, three million retweets, or something?

He set the record for the most retweets. Do you know the story, Adam?

No, tell me.

Some guy tweeted about…

A high school kid, I think.

Yeah, a high school kid tweets @Wendy’s “What’s it gonna take to get free nuggets…?”

“How many retweets is it gonna take for me to get free nuggets for a year?”

And they said 18 million.

And he said “Consider it done.” He took a picture of that conversation, tweeted it and then it just went crazy… And he set the record; he beat Ellen from the Oscars a few years back.

Wow, that was a big photo, too…

Most retweets in history - 3.5 million, something like that… Nowhere near the 18 million, but Wendy’s gave him the nuggets.

They made good on it, yeah.

A valiant effort, nice.

Yeah, because he set the record, you know?

So it’s kind of like that, only you guys gotta give – I hope this guy doesn’t have to give the nuggets back later.

Yeah, that’s gonna be gross. [laughter]

But you guys gave the money back, so that’s… That’s the right thing to do.

You know, we went on to create the operating system, we put it on three or four devices - a couple of Meizu devices, a couple of BQ phones, I ran it on a Google Nexus for a few years… It was really some beautiful technology. I’m delighted to see that the children of that technology lives on in the IoT space, and I think that’s even more important.

That’s a space where I think open source and free software is extremely important. You’re going to want to know what software is running on your router, on your voice-over-IP phone, your refrigerator, all of those devices.

Especially when you get into the things that are vital for life, like medical things, safety things, right?

Yes, absolutely. It’s safety-critical. I was thinking more from a security and privacy perspective, but yeah, absolutely, the life-critical stuff as well.

Yeah, for sure.

If you had been successful though, would it have been a Apple iOS/Google Android/Canonical Ubuntu world? I’m just kind of curious if that’s what you were trying to do, or was it simply open source secure Linux?

The real vision was always convergence. It’s when this laptop here that you’re looking at and your phone merge into one thing, so that when your phone is nearby or touching or docked into this that’s providing the CPU memory, RAM, the disk, the storage, the network connectivity for this larger format shell that you’re in. And a bigger screen, a user keyboard to type on… But when you take that phone away, it’s got everything that you need on, so you can be just as productive on that. So we were going for convergence.

Over the course of the couple years, we showed that vision, but it’s just really hard to do when you don’t control the hardware platform and when you’re the third entrant in an already crowded market.

Well, even a company with the size and clout of Microsoft couldn’t get their mobile –

Yeah, that’s true.

I mean, they wanted to be the third runner, and they didn’t even hold on.

Yeah, that’s true.

It was an uphill battle.

[12:01] There was a lot of us fighting for third place. Blackberry… Remember ten years ago, Blackberry would have been the clear…

…leader in that.

I heard they’re coming back. They have something new out recently.

Good for them. [laughter] Good for RIMM…

RIMM is always trying to do something.

Research in Motion…

So you mentioned some things extracted from this effort - are those open source? Where are they at? Can people tap into those? Give us your take on that.

Yes, absolutely. Yes, open source, absolutely. There are two real key pieces that came out of the phone that now is the basis for Ubuntu as an embedded system. One is Ubuntu Core. Ubuntu Core is an Ubuntu operating system that - as I was telling Jerod just a minute ago - is put together in a way that we can do in-place atomic transactional upgrades.

So you download an image, a copy, a BOS that you’re going to upgrade to; that gets installed into a second location, essentially. It’s a Squashfs, it’s a special file system, and when you reboot, you reboot into that new Squashfs, that new image, and if everything goes okay, you pass your system checks, your burn-in checks, we clear the flag, which says “This is a good boot”, and then the next download can come down and will be the next upgrade. If you need to roll back, you can just switch back, reboot back into the previous Squashfs. So the first half of it is Ubuntu Core.

Quick question.

Why can’t we have that for all of our computers?

We’re getting there.

Because I’m still afraid of upgrading… I would love to have for servers, for laptops…

That’s a great question… So we’re getting there, especially on the server space. Are you familiar with Kubernetes containers? Ubuntu Core we can also use as a server operating system. You have to think about that OS a bit differently. It’s a bit of a mind-meld when you get into your root file system being read-only. You cannot modify files in the root file system; that’s really a different way of interacting with the Linux UNIX system.

So we can get there, we can run Ubuntu Core on a desktop, but your desktop’s gonna feel much more like a kiosk, at least in the near term. Now, that’s okay, and that’s actually what you want in some server applications, where what you’re doing is interesting inside of a container - maybe a Docker container, maybe an LXD machine container.. But we are using Ubuntu Core in clouds - so in virtual machines and in physical machines - to provide the same benefits that you want out of an OS for an embedded system, but for a server that you don’t wanna be afraid of upgrading. You want in-place upgrades, and we can do that safely with Ubuntu Core and applications running essentially as containers.

Now, applications are the second piece of the fruits of the Ubuntu phone labor, that now fits into our entire strategy across the board. It’s a new packaging format for Ubuntu called Snap - Snap packaging. It comes from Click packaging - Click was the packaging format for the phone. That’s evolved actually into a packaging format that’s now generally useful.

Click was good for packaging the Facebook app or the calendar app for the Ubuntu phone. Snaps are much more general purpose, and we can use those to package any service or application. So it can be GUI apps for an Ubuntu desktop or tablet, it can also be server apps, it can be databases like Etcd, it can be web servers (Apache or NGINX) - it’s a fantastic, modern take on packaging.

Is that effectively a file structure reorganization to everything, like Sandbox inside of an app folder instead of spread across the file system? Is there more to it than that?

Yeah, that’s part of it, and that’s exactly where it starts. Every Snap carries with it all the files that it needs to run, which has been a pain in the RPM world, frankly.

Isn’t shared libraries, isn’t that good?

Yes, it’s good… To an extent.

Or you thought it was good for a long time.

Well, it’s good for what it is, it’s not good for what it’s not… And there’s a tautology for you.

Thank you.

[16:04] Disagree with that one, I dare you! [laughter]

This man speaks truth!

No, there are shared libraries which are part of that base Ubuntu Core image.

Yeah, so they’re available already, and you can link to them.

Yes. And there’s some that you want to come from the operating system… The low-level stuff, the glibc, the SSL, the standard libraries… But having gotten to know many thousands of developers over the years, developers want to build with the tools they want to build with, want to ship with the libraries that they want to ship with, and some languages have that natively built in. Java, for instance… As much as you either love or hate Java, if you understand how Java works, your JAR file contains all of the code that you need to run, and it’s part of its portability.

And you might have down-level versions of compression or some library like that, but you don’t care, because that’s the way your app was supposed to run.

The other way of doing it is the opposite of shared libraries, which is static compilation… Which is now again in vogue. If you don’t do anything in the Golang world, Golang is gonna want to compile statically. That’s showing a shift in the way applications are being developed, and fundamentally, snaps are a packaging format developed and fundamentally snaps are a packaging format that allows that. DEBs and RPMs don’t allow that; it’s difficult (if not impossible) to do that in DEBs and RPMs… So we’ve created a packaging format that’s modern and addresses that.

Is this moving you guys further away from Debian in terms of the likeness of the two distributions?

I don’t think so, because the underlying – there’s one binary that has to be running on the system to use Snaps, and it’s SnapD… It’s the daemon that is required to host and run. It’s a lightweight little Golang service, essentially, but we’ve ported that SnapD to Debian; it’s available in Debian, in Fedora, in CentOS, in Suse, in Arch, in Gentoo… You can use Snaps anywhere, in fact. In fact, the same Snap can run anywhere, as long as you have a SnapD that’s running on that system.

That’s cool.

Yeah. So no, I don’t think it moves us further from Debian. Deb’s not going away, but new software we’re rapidly migrating towards using the Snap packaging format. For instance, Kubernetes is a big, complicated bit of software, also written in Golang; we package Kubernetes as a Snap and deploy it as a Snap.

When we come back from the break, we’re gonna talk about Bash on Ubuntu on Windows, specifically Bash on Ubuntu on Windows server, which was announced recently at Microsoft Build Conference. We ask questions like “Why is Microsoft behind this move? What can we expect from Windows Server, but more importantly, who is asking for this and why?” Stick around.

Last time we had you on – in fact, the reason that we brought you on was the big Bash on Windows announcement last year, and we found out on that show that – Dustin was the messenger… Microsoft did a lot of the work and it was kind of their idea, and Canonical played along and that was great, it was very cool.

I think we were a little more involved than that…

Oookay, now I’m giving you not enough credit… But my takeaway was at least they came to you, and a lot of the work had to be done by them.

Yes, that’s right.

So I’m backing down on that a little bit, thank you for –

I mean yeah, it does – Windows kernel is still proprietary software that a few Windows developers at Microsoft have access to. We don’t. But we do do quite a bit of work to provide the QA, the automated testing, the upgrades and the updates of the Ubuntu image into the store…

So we’ve since moved that image from Ubuntu 14.04 to Ubuntu 16.04, which involved quite a bit of testing and QA, a few adjustments. The Microsoft team has done an amazing job responding to issues in GitHub, fixing things that were broken or not quite working right… As you can imagine, things go wrong when you’re doing something as complicated as that…

They’ve also released it out of beta, and it’s now generally available in Windows 10 on the desktop. The big announcement today at Microsoft Build - we’re at OSCON in Austin, Texas… At Microsoft Build in San Francisco, Microsoft is announcing that same Bash on Ubuntu on Windows experience for the Windows server, which has been a frequent request of Windows users. They like this Bash thing for their desktops, but man, they really wanna use this on a server.

Now you can imagine literally Apache running natively on a Windows server.

It’s kind of weird, isn’t it?

It is a little weird. SSH directly on a Windows server.

That’s pretty cool.

I mean, I think…

It’s a new Microsoft.

What are the other advantages? Why not just run a Linux server then, if you’re gonna have everything on – you know… Maybe because you still need your SQL server, or something.

Yeah, there’s absolutely a time and a place for a full Linux virtual machine, and that doesn’t go away when you need a Linux kernel, for one reason or another. Maybe you’re opinionated about what Linux kernel you need; you need a particular interface, or maybe you’re custom-compiling and you’re tuning it or tweaking it.

So yeah, there’s absolutely Linux machines running in the millions, Ubuntu machines running in the millions, instances in Azure, in Amazon, in Google Compute… So that doesn’t change. I don’t think that changes at all. If you go over to the booth here, Microsoft has a big booth, and they have one screen up - it is the Bash Ubuntu shell that Rich Turner is constantly running demos on. It’s fantastic. I like to lurk in the back, as conspicuously as possible…

He’s wearing an Ubuntu shirt that’s orange… You can’t miss him. [laughter]

Yeah, you can’t lurk.

But watching the questions that come up, and people’s heads sort of turn when they see and understand what’s going on there… I’ll tell you, to answer your question, it’s the fact that it’s instant, that when you click on that Ubuntu icon on the Windows desktop, you’re in a Bash shell immediately.

That’s cool.

Immediately! There’s no boot-up time, there’s no unclean processes or services that might start or might not start, whether you’re on a network or on an airplane… You’re in a Bash shell and it feels really native, really natural.

That’s cool.

So what does this do for a server?

What does the Ubuntu on Windows do for a server?

[24:03] Good question, and I think…

Who asked for it and why?

Lots of people, it sounds like.

Lots of people, yeah. Digging through the GitHub issues, feature requests on the Microsoft GitHub site you’ll see this request quite a bit. I think it’s the bridge between “I’m doing this on my desktop, and it’s cool, but I have this server at work” or “I have this Windows server where I want Bash. I wanna be able to grep and awk and sed through my local Windows file system.”

I think last time I shared the anecdote about how I had to modify some code on a Windows machine which I hadn’t really used in almost 20 years, and I was struggling my way through Visual Studio, when what I needed to do was replace one word in 21 files, and… Maybe there’s a way to do that Visual Studio - I don’t know how - but it occurred to me that “Wait a minute… I could literally just drop down to a Bash shell, find .-files=pipe sed, rewrite those files and I’m done. That was awesome.

So I think server users want to be able to take advantage of that as well.

Yeah. It makes sense that once you get a drink of it in one environment and you’re like “Oh, this is awesome, because I still have all my apps that I like on Windows, and I’ve got my Linux shell, which is far superior to what I had previously… But when I go to the server that I’ve been running, that I have already, I can’t use any of these tools that I have either fallen in love with or have always loved and wanted in Windows and now I have them… So I’d love to have them on my server”, especially when it comes to automation, description and stuff…

Yeah, I think it’s the power of apt… The fact that 55,000 binary packages are available in Ubuntu 16.04, one command, one click away… It’s been beautiful to watch Windows users come to terms with the fact that there’s an app store built into Ubuntu. We’ve never called it an App Store, it’s a package archive, right? But it’s fundamentally an app store where everything is free and open source software.

There’s no pricing.

No. Apt-search anything you want, and it’s there.

So would it be practical then to have a Windows server running Apache or NGINX, versus Microsoft’s – was it MIS, or IIS?

IIS, that’s right.

Yeees… [laughter]

It’s practical.

Definitely practical.

Why is it practical? Why wouldn’t they just go to the Linux server in that case…

Because they maybe already have the Windows servers…

Yeah, there’s certainly reasons why you might wanna spin up a Hyper-V virtual machine on Windows and run Ubuntu or another OS inside of that to run your services. That’ll happen, and there’s good reasons to do that. Maybe there are networking reasons, or firewall reasons… You know, it’s a flat namespace, it’s a flat network space, the Bash shell on the Windows server. It’s the same IP address, all the packets that land at the IP address which is that server endpoint, all the ports are flat, so it feels like the two are one. From that perspective, that might be what you want. It also might not be what you want.

Right, but they’re not forcing it on anybody, right?

No, I’m not selling Windows, either…

Nobody came to my door and said, “Hey, you need to run it this way.”

That’s right.

They’re giving options, which is great.

But just because you can doesn’t mean you should…

Or will…

Or will… But you can.


So that’s entering beta. It’ll be in beta for a while… I just saw a friend here cross the hall…

The joy of the conferences is there’s friends everywhere.

A little friendly nod never hurt anybody…

There’s even pigeons walking around…

I know, there’s pigeons here. I don’t understand why.

So there’s no distractions at all.

Yeah, none whatsoever. What were we talking about? [laughter]

I actually don’t remember…

Bash, Windows server… I think you were trailing off on that.

That’s alright, it’s good stuff. We’re enjoying it.

So for those listening, where do they go to find out more?

[28:09] Rich Turner at Microsoft has a blog post that’s out today talking about it. This is a new thing, it’s in beta for Windows server and it will be for a while…

Does that mean you can sign up for the beta, or is it available to download for anybody?

I don’t even know, but I’m sure, yes… Absolutely.

Information’s still pending, but the announcement’s being made today, blog post going out… Gotcha.

In the keynote there’s a demo, watch it online… You guys have a list of awesome links at the end of the podcast anyway, so we’ll get you that link.

We’ll link it up in the show notes, for sure.

I love that, by the way. It’s pretty awesome. It’s appropriate, in that this is the Changelog.

Here’s the log of stuff.

We’ve gotta log the stuff… [laughter] We actually have a bot that logs.

We call it logbot.

Logbot, alright.

Nobody knows about logbot.

Now they do… Announcing logbot! Vaporware coming to an App Store not near you.

That’s right, that’s right.

It’s a figment of our imagination that we talk about…

It’s a desire, a dream… [laughter]

Paperware… [laughs]

Good. And I heard you were gonna start working on an Alexa skill for the Changelog, right?

As soon you get back to your house, you’re gonna start [unintelligible 00:29:26.16]

“Ask Changelog for episode 192 featuring Dustin Kirkland.” [laughter] I don’t know if that’s the right number…

No, you got it wrong, but Alexa would correct you, I’m sure.

Yeah, she will. She knows this stuff.

“I think you mean…”

Yeah, “Did you mean episode 1–?” I don’t know what it is…

What’s the episode number, Jerod?

“I think you mean episode 207. Would you like me to play that for you.” “Yes, Alexa.”

“Yes. Set volume to zero.” [laughter] I don’t actually wanna listen to myself.

“Play at 1.25x.”

Dustin, anything else before we let you go?

No… You guys are great, man. Thanks!

Thanks for coming in and thanks for talking about this, man. It was a lot of fun.

You bet, you bet…


Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚

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