Ubuntu is a big Open Source project and there are a lot of websites in our community. The web team at Canonical literally doesn’t even know how many sites there are. We have heard there are over 200 ubuntu.com subdomains alone, but we know that there are many more that are owned by local groups and teams outside that single ubuntu.com domain.

Traditionally most of our work has been on www.ubuntu.com and www.canonical.com, but over the years, we have designed, often built and occasionally are responsible for the content of a series of key sites like: insights.ubuntu.com, design.ubuntu.com, developer.ubuntu.com, design.canonical.com. And we have often attempted to provide on-brand versions of wiki and WordPress templates.

As the number of sites grew, we got tired of re-creating grids, templates, CSS all the time.

Enter guidelines

To resolve these issues, we created Ubuntu web guidelines. Instead of sites of cobbled together CSS and a borrowed grid, guidelines gave us something far more formalised and systematic. A grid, typography, core styles and pattern, all with our beautiful Ubuntu brand guidelines. We were not only able to maintain a whole set of sites from a single hosted set of CSS files, but others could borrow and use it easily. We even transitioned the guidelines to be responsive without breaking our sites. You can read more in our series of posts Making ubuntu.com responsive.

Exit guidelines

Around two years ago, the web team started supporting the design and development of some of Canonical’s cloud apps, including Juju, MAAS, and Canonical OpenStack Autopilot installer. These apps have a different look and feel than ubuntu.com. And they often have special requirements, for example, MAAS is likely to be run in data centres without internet access for things like fonts, images, or CSS, that the guidelines did not natively support.

We looked at how to best adapt the guidelines to work with these web apps. We looked at how we were already making www.canonical.com work, essentially overriding the Ubuntu branded guidelines and decided to change the entire approach.

Enter Vanilla

For Vanilla, we wanted to start over, but not have to rewrite everything. So our quick list of project goals was:

  • Minimise the changes to our existing html
  • Create a core theme that distilled the guidelines to its basic Ubuntu-ness
  • Make everything more modular, easy to add or remove components
  • Make it easy for anyone to create themes for each new project that could borrow from other themes
  • Create themes for ubuntu and canonical websites
  • Remove our reliance on javascript
  • Make it work stand-alone
  • Make it easy to build, develop and update
  • Invite other people both inside and outside Canonical to start using the framework

The future

So now we are close to releasing the first version of Vanilla. Canonical.com and ubuntu.com will be moved over the coming months. Then we will look at moving other projects, like MAAS, jujucharms.com, Landscape to the framework.

Please keep reading these posts, you can see Ant’s first post, Introducing Vanilla. And take a look at the project on GitHub and let us know what you think.