Ubuntu’s Lonely Road

It may be lonely at the top, as the old saying goes, but apparently it can also be lonely a few notches down — at least if Ubuntu is any example.

Though not currently in the No. 1 spot on DistroWatch — for whatever that’s worth — Ubuntu is often credited with having achieved more mainstream acceptance than any other Linux distro so far. Nevertheless — or perhaps as a result — Ubuntu and Canonical are frequently singled out with sharp criticism here in the Linux blogosphere.

Linux Girl

To wit: “In the last couple of months, one thing is clear … Canonical appears to be throwing the idea of community overboard as though it was ballast in a balloon about to crash,” charged Datamation’s Bruce Byfield in a recent post entitled, “The Burning Bridges of Ubuntu.”

Internally, “the shift can be seen in the recently released Ubuntu 13.10, a release so focused on Canonical’s goal of convergence across form factors and so unconcerned with existing users that it has become the least talked-about version for years,” Byfield wrote. “Meanwhile, elections for the Community Council, which is supposed to be Ubuntu’s governing body, were apparently such low priority that they were held a month after the last Council’s term of office expired.”

Them’s grievous charges, to be sure — but do they signify a distro unmoored?

‘He’s Slipped His Anchor’

“Mark Shuttleworth has invested a lot of time and money in Ubuntu GNU/Linux,” blogger Robert Pogson told Linux Girl down at the blogosphere’s seedy Punchy Penguin Saloon. “It is his baby, but he’s slipped his anchor in FLOSS.

“Replacing consensus with dictate is not the right way to make FLOSS nor the right way to use it, for that matter,” Pogson asserted. “The power of Ubuntu GNU/Linux lies not in the funding by Canonical but in the vibrant community that pitched in to contribute.”

It’s true that “power corrupts, and Shuttleworth, on the eve of his victory over Wintel, gave up the fight for an easier path, relying on business ‘partners’ rather than users and developers to get things done,” Pogson added. “It seems he now wishes to simply make Canonical a successful business using FLOSS instead of a successful business making FLOSS.”

‘Just Another Player in IT’

In the long run, “that’s OK,” Pogson asserted. “The licenses permit that.

“FLOSS, however, will survive and thrive despite Canonical’s exit from the front lines of the battle,” he added. “Debian and Red Hat and Mint etc. will carry on towards the inevitable celebration of Wintel’s destruction on the battlefield and Freedom for software and its users.”

It remains to be seen “whether Wintel will be replaced by another set of bullies in IT,” Pogson suggested. “I think the world has learned enough from Wintel never to accept that kind of lock-in again.”

Shuttleworth, meanwhile, “may attempt to become a tyrant, but he will always be just another player in IT,” he concluded. “Ubuntu GNU/Linux, which began as a movement to treat people in IT right, may become much less, just another competitor in the IT business. That’s disappointing, but we have to accept it. The world of FLOSS is bigger than that and will carry on.”

Indeed, “when one related group of people say something critical, you can dismiss it as politics,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack began. “But when the people complaining are people as unrelated as the kernel developers and KDE, you should consider if they have a point.

“I have a lot of respect for Shuttleworth and his many contributions to FOSS, but he really needs to be better at realizing he is wrong about something,” Mack said.

‘I Can Tell Ubuntu Is Good’

Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. had a different take.

“This topic is getting me bored,” Gonzalo Velasco C. told Linux Girl. “Once again, Ubuntu is on the gallows pole. It’s nonsense.”

Ubuntu may not be a typical GNU/Linux distribution in that it has a company backing it up, he pointed out. “They have a goal. In this sense I don’t blame them for pursuing those goals.”

Though no big fan of Unity, Gonzalo Velasco C. “thanks the *buntu family for what they do,” he said. “After using more than 15 distros for real, I can tell Ubuntu is good, and I would humbly say that a lot of derivative distros should be more respectful and thankful.

“FOSS people should not attack other distros!” he added. “I am not using Ubuntu now, but I don’t spit on the plate I have eaten from.”

Two Versions

Nothing grows forever, Gonzalo Velasco C. pointed out: “People change; things come and go… Mint is not growing that much either, any more; Fedora and Mageia go up and down; Debian and PCLinuxOS are steady there; smaller rising-star distros die young… it’s life.”

Meanwhile, “Red Hat solved the community-company issue by having Fedora and RHEL versions,” he added.

“I would recommend Canonical do the same,” he concluded: “Ubuntu Enterprise, where Mark and the inner circle can do what they want, and Ubuntu Community Version, were the community can rock and roll.”

‘The Best Chance We Have’

Last but not least, “I am capable of holding two seemingly contradictory ideas at the same time,” Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien told Linux Girl.

“First, I think Canonical has an undeniable problem with the wider Linux community,” O’Brien suggested. “Second, I think it is the best chance we have for a breakthrough on getting Linux on to more desktops.”

Canonical “has certainly met the letter of the law on being open source, and I see no evidence that they will change that,” he added. “At the same time, they now have a bullseye on their backs, and a large part of the Linux community is willing to go without sleep if necessary to find things to attack them on.

“They may feel that is unfair,” O’Brien concluded, “but it is a fact, and only Canonical can change it.”

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered ECT News Editor by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


  • "I think the world has learned enough from Wintel never to accept that kind of lock-in again."

    Pogson’s wrong. The IT world LOVES vendor lock-in.

    It’s why MSFT’s marketing strategy is so successful. MSFT sells to empire-builders. Vendor lock-in makes empires stronger.

    Pogson’s mistake is rampant in the FLOSS world. It’s one of the reasons we haven’t made a dent on the desktop. It’s why we still authenticate against AD. We have no idea what we’re up against.

  • I don’t take much notice of the back biting that goes on in the Linux Community, and I’ve seen an awful lot of it since I started using linux in 2000. Tall poppy syndrome seems to be a popular pastime.

    I just look at what the results of the work being done are.

    So far it seems to me Canonical are hitting most of the checkboxes that are needed to make any Linux based operating system usable by the sorts of people I provide support to.

    Given that I see no indication that Ubuntu will ever be anything but FOSS, or FLOSS, if you prefer, in the long run all that matters to me is that Ubuntu achieves that goal.

    • Yes, thank goodness we have all the different flavours of Ubuntu and distros built on Ubuntu.

      All of these stand to gain – and in doing so, we too – when the Ubuntu ecosystem takes shape and solidfies into a connected whole – from mobile to the home, workplace, servers, the cloud, entertainment, even space and transport (a variation of Ubuntu in Google’s self-drive experiments).

      Though a late starter, Ubuntu or Canonical, has started this new alliance with commercial entities to help bring this whole ecosystem together. Meanwhile, Ubuntu’s variants and spin-offs continue to thrive in the community giving us both freedom and free beer.

      No consumer or user has to "buy" the flagship product of an organization or enterprise. There is a whole range of models to fit one’s needs and preferences.

      As long as Ubuntu sticks with its namesake providing for humanity and remaining open, anyone – anyone – can tweak and build on it more than they ever could with even Android.

      Ubuntu’s path is pretty clear – to bring everything together. Could Canonical fail? Course, they could. Nothing is written in stone. If they do, someone else will pick up the baton and continue running with it.

  • Its getting harder to take open source avangelous of the work with comments like the below:

    "It remains to be seen ‘whether Wintel will be replaced by another set of bullies in IT,’ Pogson suggested. ‘I think the world has learned enough from Wintel never to accept that kind of lock-in again.’"

    This guys talks like Windows is going out of business and there is a lesson to be learned about closed systems. And then there are the IT bullies. Hey if I make something and I decide to compile it, not give my source for free and god forbid, decide to charge for it then Im an IT bully?

    "Shuttleworth, meanwhile, ‘may attempt to become a tyrant, but he will always be just another player in IT,’ he concluded. "

    So now Shuttleworth is a tyrant because of he investing millions (of "his" own money) into the Ubuntu project (which he created) and "he" deciding its destiny.

    Im so tired of those that make nothing of value but feel they have a right to throw terms, names & accusations at those that do create.

    Creating something and giving it away is good. But so is creating and making a profit without a vote from Joe-dumbass.

    Im a network engineer & developer whom believes in being compensated on a persons product and services worth. I love open source but do not believe in being part of an open source cult!

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