Fri, 14 Jan 2011

New project to discuss

Reading Scott's recent announcement on his move to Google was both surprising and a pleasure. Surprising, because it'll take time to stop associating his name to Ubuntu, Canonical, and the nice experiences I had while I worked with them. A pleasure, because his blog post was full of reminiscences of the very early days of a project that ended up being way more successful in just a few years than probably anyone in the Oxford conference could imagine. Scott, best of luck for this new adventure!

Scott's write-up includes a sentence that made me remember I had been wanting to write a blog post related to all of this, but was pending Mark Shuttleworth's permission for posting:

Ok, Mark wasn’t really a Nigerian 419 scammer, but some people did discard his e-mail as spam!

― Scott James Remnant

Many know the story of how I ended not being part of the “Super-Secret-Debian-Startup” Scott mentions. I even wrote about it in a blog post, 3 years ago:

[...] nothing beats the next email which sat for some dramatic 6 months in my messy inbox until I found out in the worst of the possible scenarios. Let's go back to late February, 2004, when I had no job, and I didn't have a clue on what to do with my life.

From: Mark Shuttleworth <>
Subject: New project to discuss
To: Jordi Mallach <>
Date: Sun, 29 Feb 2004 18:33:51 +0000

I'm hiring a team of debian developers to work full time on a new
distribution based on Debian. We're making internationalisation a prime
focus, together with Python and regular release management. I've discussed
it with a number of Debian leaders and they're all very positive about it.

I'm not sure if I totally missed it as it came in, or I skimmed through it and thought “WTF?! Dude on crack” or I just forgot “I need to reply to this email”, but I'd swear it was the former. Not long after, popped up, the rumours started spreading around Debian channels. Luckily, I got a job at LliureX two months later, where I worked during the following 2½ years, but that's another story. I guess it was July or so when Ubuntu was made public, and Mark and his secret team organised a conference (blog entries [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]), just before the Warty release, and I was invited to it, for the same reasons I got that email.

During that conference, probably because Mark sent me some email and I applied a filter to get to it, I found the lost email, and felt like digging a hole to hide for a LONG while. I couldn't believe the incredible opportunity I had missed. I went to Mark and said "hey, you're not going to believe this", and he did look quite surprised about someone being such an idiot.

I wonder if I should reply to his email today...

When the usual suspects in the secret Spanish Debian Cabal channel read this blog post, they decided Mark deserved a reply, even if it would hit his inbox more than three and a half years late. :)

With great care, we crafted an email that would look genuinely stupid in late 2007, but just arrogant and idiotic in 2004, when “Ubuntu” was just an African word, and the GNU/Linux distribution landscape was quickly evolving ―at the time, Gentoo Linux had the “posh distribution” crown, that Debian had held for quite a few years. I even took enough care to forge the X-Operating-System and User-Agent headers so they matched whatever was current in Debian in February 2004, and of course, top-posting seemed most appropriate.

So Mark woke up that Monday, fired up his email client, and got... this:

Date: Mon, 1 Mar 2004 09:47:55 +0100
From: Jordi Mallach <>
To: Mark Shuttleworth <>
Subject: Re: New project to discuss
Organization: SinDominio
X-Operating-System: Debian GNU/Linux sid (Linux 2.6.3 i686)
User-Agent: Mutt/

Hi Mark,

Thanks for your email. I nearly deleted this e-mail because for some
reason I thought it was targetted spam.

Your project looks very interesting, almost like a dream come true.
However, I feel a bit uneasy about your proposal. Something just doesn't

Why would someone start a company to work on /yet another/ Debian
derivative? Have you heard about Progeny's sad story? I think it's a
great example to show that Debian users don't want Debian-based distros,
they want people to work on the "real thing". Besides, I don't think
there's much more place for successful commercial distros, with Red Hat
and SuSE having well-established niches in the US and Europe.

Also, why focus on Debian specifically, Why not, for example, Gentoo,
which has a lot of buzz these days, and looks poised to be the next big

To be honest, I think only a few people have the stamina or financial
stability to undertake a project like this, so I'd like to know
a bit more about you, and details on how you plan to sustain the

Those are the main issues that worry me about your project. Other than
that, I would be interested in taking part in it, as I'm currently
unemployed and working on something Debian-based would be just too good
to miss.

You can reach me at +34 123 45 67 89, or if you feel like flying people
around Europe, I probably can be in the UK whenever it fits you.

Thanks, and hoping to hear from you again,

On Sun, Feb 29, 2004 at 06:33:51PM +0000, Mark Shuttleworth wrote:
> Hi Jordi
> We haven't met, but both Jeff Waugh and Martin Michelmayr recommended that
> I get in touch with you in connection with a new project that I'm starting.
> I'm hiring a team of debian developers to work full time on a new
> distribution based on Debian. We're making internationalisation a prime
> focus, together with Python and regular release management. I've discussed
> it with a number of Debian leaders and they're all very positive about it.
> Would you be available to discuss it by telephone? I'm in the UK, so we
> could probably find a good timezoine easily enough ;-) Let me knof if
> you're keen to discuss it, when and what number to call.
> Cheers,
> Mark
> --
> Try Debian GNU/Linux. Software freedom for the bold, at

As you can imagine, his reaction was immediate:

Date: Mon, 22 Oct 2007 11:13:54 +0100
From: Mark Shuttleworth <>
To: Jordi Mallach <>
Subject: Re: New project to discuss

Jordi! I just got this now! Did you recently flush an old mail queue?

With thanks to all the Spanish Cabal members who were involved!

Teehee that gave me a chuckle and fond memories too!

Posted by JaneF at Fri Jan 14 21:03:50 2011


Posted by Jordi at Fri Jan 14 21:11:47 2011

Dear God that's a lot of comment spam...

Posted by Steve Kemp at Sat Jan 15 01:21:02 2011

Parece que estamos en la semana internacional de la nostalgia, todos recordando viejos tiempos y contando batallitas...

Posted by Quique at Sat Jan 15 11:05:56 2011

Ya te digo, pero que conste que lo mío ha sido por alusiones. :D

Posted by Jordi at Sat Jan 15 12:46:14 2011

Comedy gold!

Posted by gold at Sat Jan 15 12:48:27 2011