Ubuntufied Flying Object
For the past few years those folks over at Ubuntu have been running their “Free Culture Showcase” competition – with the winning submissions being used to fill some of the free space on the Ubuntu CDs and ISO images. This is a great way to showcase Creative Commons works, and clarify to people that there’s more to “Free” than software.
Personally I think that SVG files are perfect for this type of competition because, unlike most media files, SVG files are their own source code. In other words the recipient of an SVG file hasn’t just got a finished product – they’ve got a file that they can dissect, examine, modify and translate without any loss of quality. That’s why I think Ubuntu (and other Linux distributions) should come with more SVG-based desktop images.
We thought we’d have a try at submitting a Greys comic to the competition this time round – and this is the result. Like all of the rest of our strips, it was created entirely using Inkscape on a couple of 5-year-old PCs running Ubuntu, so as it’s a submission for the Ubuntu Free Culture Showcase, created using Ubuntu machines, the subject matter seemed fairly obvious. There’s no requirement for the Free Culture Showcase submissions to be Ubuntu-themed – indeed it might actually be detrimental to our chances of winning, if part of the aim of the competition is to show that “Free” doesn’t have to mean “Geeky”. But we had a Ubuntu joke on our list of ideas, so it seemed like as good an excuse as any other to draw it.
With this iteration of the competition they removed the “Photo/Image” category so as not to overlap with a similar competition that is taking place to find desktop images. Clearly our comic isn’t really suited to being a desktop image, so after a little pleading and cajoling they’ve now added a category for “Other Media Submissions”. There are a few rules and requirements that cover the competition as a whole, and some specifically for the “Other Media” section. Let’s see how we do with meeting these requirements:
- • The submission must be licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike or Creative Commons Attribution license
- Our comics are usually licensed as CC-by-nc-sa, so it was no great stretch for us to switch this strip to a CC-by-sa license. You might have noticed one less icon in the bottom right of the border
- • The submission must be submitted by the author of the work
- Yep, that’s definitely us
- • Each submission cannot be larger than 0.5MB in size
- We’ve spent a lot of time tweaking and trimming this comic in order to get it small enough, but without compromising the design or style too much. If you really want the gory details, I posted this message to the Inkscape forum which covers a lot of it. Suffice to say that judicious use of clones rather than copies allowed us to reduce the file size from well over a megabyte to less than 0.5MB. We could go even smaller still by saving as an svgz file, but see below for why we decided not to do that
- • The submission must be available in a format playable by Ubuntu 10.04 out of the box
- SVG files are represented as preview icons in Nautilus (see below) and can be viewed in Eye Of Gnome and Firefox. They can also be loaded into The GIMP, but that’s being removed from Lucid Lynx by default
- • Please embed the License/Author information into the file using the file metadata
- SVG files allow for arbitrary metadata to be embedded, and Inkscape makes it easy to put the most common details in via the Document Metadata menu entry. Because of this all of our comics have had embedded metadata since day 1, and this one is no different
- • You must provide a link to the submission file
- Usually we provide links to the svgz versions of our strips at the bottom of each page (as we have at the bottom of this one), but for the purposes of this competition we’re supplying an svg file, rather than an svgz file, for the reasons described below. If you just want a copy of the file, or are looking for Easter Eggs, please download the svgz file from the link at the end of this post, as it eats up less bandwidth – but if you really want to get the exact svg file that we’re submitting to the competition you can find it here
Okay, let’s clear up all that confusion about file sizes and svgz. The SVG spec allows for compressing an SVG file using GZip, and naming the resultant file with an “svgz” extension. This leads to significantly smaller file sizes, and would have let us get below the 0.5MB limit with ease. But there’s a catch: although Eye Of Gnome displays svgz files fine, Nautilus doesn’t show preview images for them and Firefox won’t load them except via a web server which sends the correct header information to specify that they’re gzipped.
What this means, in practice, is that although svgz files are viewable in a stock Ubuntu installation, they don’t do a lot to entice the user to open them in the first place. This screenshot, taken on an alpha-2 release of Ubuntu 10.04, shows the same image as an svg file on the left, and svgz on the right. Which would you be more tempted to open?
It looks like this is a regression in Ubuntu, as it worked in the past, as described in this bug report. From our perspective, the fact that this regression currently exists in Ubuntu, and that Firefox won’t open an svgz file from disk, means that an uncompressed SVG image is our format of choice for this competition.
Now that I’ve bored you senseless with all that exposition about the specific choices made for the benefit of this competition, here’s a light-hearted “And finally…” to go away with. As the
comic strip documentary image above clearly shows, The Greys are now using Ubuntu… but it seems that they weren’t the first sci-fi standard to make the switch, having been beaten to it by Dr Who.
G2: Linux? Well, that should keep our systems secure and stable. Which distribution did you pick?
G1: We went for Ubuntu
G2: Any particular reason for choosing that one?
[Scene shows the Greys' UFO lifting off, leaving a Ubuntu logo behind as a crop circle]
G1: Something about it just seemed familiar…
[A Ubuntu logo and slogan is shown, modified to read "Linux for sentient beings"]