With its focus on usability, Canonical’s Ubuntu is held up by many as the best Linux distribution of all time, and its Distrowatch rankings tend to reinforce that belief. Not only is the distro currently the most frequently downloaded from that site, but all the many ground-shaking changes it has announced promise to keep it exciting well into the future.
For those of us who love Ubuntu, then, it was both distressing and perplexing to read Bruce Byfield’s recent blog post entitled, “Ubuntu: Where Did the Love Go?”
Growing concerns and criticisms about Ubuntu’s relationship with the open source community at large are Byfield’s focus, and he comes up with a variety of possible reasons. Chief among them, however, is “the gap between the expectations created by Ubuntu and Canonical in their early days and their increasing tendency to focus on commercial concerns,” he writes.
“Instead of being the model corporate member of the community that it first appeared, today Ubuntu/Canonical increasingly seems concerned with its own interests rather than those of FOSS as a whole,” Byfield explains. “No doubt there are sound business reasons for the change, but many interpret it as proof of hypocrisy.”
‘Ubuntu’s Made Some Dumb Choices’
More than 50 comments quickly appeared on Datamation, where Byfield’s column was first published, and it wasn’t long before the Slashdot crowds got wind of the topic as well — to the tune of some 760 or so comments more.
“Ubuntu’s made some dumb choices recently in GUI layout and package selection,” wrote GameboyRMH on Slashdot, for example. “Not huge issues, but they are PITA issues and that’s what’s caused a lot of Ubuntu hate.
“Also over the years people have been getting increasingly pissed off at the fact that Ubuntu is a bleeding-edge distro and updates tend to break stuff,” GameboyRMH added. “Because of these issues a lot of people have been switching to Debian.”
On the other hand: “If people don’t like Ubuntu they don’t have to use it,” noted shellbeach. “There’s a billion and one distros out there, catering for any whim or fancy in the world … and if not, you can always roll your own. If Ubuntu changes enough to be unpopular with end users, then some other distro will catch on and we’ll all be praising that one.”
‘There Was Never Any Love’
While geeks were busy offering more such thoughts on the matter across the Linux blogs, iTWire’s Sam Varghese was moved to publish a post with his own take. Its title? None other than the provocative “Ubuntu: There Was Never Any Love to Start with.”
“People who write about FOSS are often prone to see the whole phenomenon through misty eyes, and portray the people involved as do-gooders first and foremost,” Varghese opined. “This is patently untrue — every open source project has been begun by someone who wanted to scratch his or her own itch; that it helps others is just collateral.”
More comments ensued from there until it became difficult to find discussions of any other topics going on in the Linux blogosphere. Linux Girl donned her best fire-retardant cape and set out to learn more.
‘The Real Face of Ubuntu’
“Ubuntu has only itself to blame,” asserted Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.
“Look at the heavy-handed attempt to get developers to sync their release cycles with Ubuntu’s — this goes against the ‘it will be released when it’s ready’ philosophy of most open-source projects, including the linux kernel,” Hudson pointed out. “This was a marketing-driven demand that got what it deserved: a total rebuff.”
Despite the fact that it’s been around for more than six years, “Ubuntu simply doesn’t look like it has a clear vision of what it wants to be when it grows up, or a path to profitability,” she added.
Regarding the Unity netbook interface, for example, “jumping into the shrinking netbook market with both feet is one way to be a tiny fish in a small pond,” Hudson asserted.
Bad decisions “driven by short-sighted marketing,” in other words, are “the real face of Ubuntu,” Hudson concluded.
‘Canonical Has Done More’
Slashdot blogger hairyfeet saw it differently.
“This shows just another reason why the best thing Canonical could do is to just fork the whole thing away from the ‘community’ and go off on their own,” hairyfeet told Linux Girl. “I mean, here you have the community having a fit about Canonical and them not sharing upstream, yet this simple fact is upstream doesn’t want to go where Canonical is leading!”
Linux on the desktop “still has lower numbers than the margin for error, yet does the community ever ask itself, ‘What are we doing wrong, and what is the other guy doing right?'” hairyfeet asked. “NO! Instead it must all be an ‘M$ conspiracy,’ and if people would just ’embrace the power of CLI’ — which I swear I had a Linux guy actually say to me like it is the force or something — why then things would be all hearts and roses.”
That, however, “is a lie, and Canonical and Shuttleworth KNOW this, which is why they are trying to create the first ‘Linux for humans’ instead of Linux for CS nerds,” hairyfeet added. “Canonical has done more to make Linux accessible to the masses than has EVER happened before.”
‘It Just Doesn’t Matter’
Perhaps the most philosophical musings, however, came from consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack.
“In the end it just doesn’t matter,” Mack told Linux Girl.
“Ubuntu has had a large effect on the FOSS ecosystem and many usability changes have moved upstream, where all of the other Linux distros now have access to them,” Mack explained. “If Ubuntu pushes things too far in ways that their customers don’t want, there will be another distro to take their place.”