David, it's interesting that you posted about that, as it's something I've been toying with for the last couple of years. For the last few months I've been (very) slowly experimenting in my free time with an approach that I think works well, and I think it's time to tell more people about it and to ask for contributions.
Opportunistic programmers are useful to cater for here, as Debian/Ubuntu development isn't trivial, and so we are simplifying something existing, which means that it will still be powerful, which is also important. I'm not only interested in improving the experience for the opportunistic programmer though, why should they get all the cool stuff? I'm interested in producing something that I can use for doing Ubuntu development too (though not every last detail).
The project I am talking about has been christened "cambria" and is now available on Launchpad. It's a library that aims to provide great APIs for working with packages throughout the lifecycle, including things like Bazaar, PPAs, local builds, testing, lintian, etc. It should be pleasurable to use and also allow you to build tools on top that are also pleasurable. It should also allow for easy extension in to different GUI toolkits and for command-line tools, though I've only been working with GTK so far.
In addition, there is a gedit plugin that allows you to perform common tasks from within gedit. I chose gedit as it has a pleasant Python API for plugins, isn't so complicated that it takes much learning, and will already be installed on most Ubuntu desktop systems. As I said though, the libarary allows you to implement in anything you like (that can use a python library.)
I've put together some mockups that suggest some of the things that I would like to do:
The RATIONALE file includes some more reasons for the project:
Project cambria is about wrapping the existing tools for Debian/Ubuntu development to allow a more task-based workflow. Depending on the task the developer is doing there may be several things that must be done, but they must currently work each one out individually. We have documentation to help with this, but it's much simpler if your tools can take care of it for you.
Project cambria aims to make Ubuntu development easier to get started with. There are several ways that it will help. Providing a task-based workflow where you are prompted for the information that is needed to complete the task, and other things are done automatically, or defaults chosen helps as it means you can concentrate on completing the task, rather than learning about all the possible changes you could make and deciding which applies.
Project cambria aims to make Ubuntu development easier for everyone by automating common tasks, and alleviating some of the tool tax that we pay. It won't just be a beginner tool, but will provide tools and APIs that experienced developers can use, or can build upon to build tools that suit them.
Project cambria will help to take people from novice to experienced developer by providing documentation that allows you to learn about the issues related to your current task. This provides an easier way in to the documentation than a large individual document (but it can still be read that way if you like).
Project cambria will make Ubuntu development more pleasurable by focusing on the user experience. It will aim to pull together disparate interfaces in to a single pleasing one. Where it needs to defer to a different interface it should provide the user with an explanation of what they will be seeing to lessen the jarring effect.
I'm keen for others to contribute, there is some information about this in the project's CONTRIBUTING file. I'm looking for all sorts of contributions from all kinds of people and keen to help you get started if you aren't confident with the type of contribution you would like to make.
There's a mailing list as part of the ~cambria team on Launchpad and IRC channel if you are interested in discussing it more.