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Ubuntu Uproar Echoes Through Blogosphere

Well it’s been another wild week here in the Linux blogosphere, but this time the cause will come as no surprise to anyone who cares about Linux or FOSS.

Last week, of course, was the week that included Oct. 18 — a date most of us have had marked on our calendars for the past oh, say, six months. Why? Because it was none other than the official release date of Ubuntu 12.10 “Quantal Quetzal,” the newest update to Canonical‘s popular Linux distribution.

Not only was the shiny new OS released; moreover, it came with a slogan that might as well have been a triple shot of caffeine for the way it energized Linux fans. Namely, “Avoid the pain of Windows 8” was text that appeared on the Ubuntu home page when the new release launched, and it caused quite a stir.

Whoops and shouts of joy could be heard across the land, and screen shots showing off the daring challenge blew past 2,500 plus-ones on Google+ in no time, such was Linux geeks’ pride in the bold statement.

‘Your Wish Is Our Command’

It was with no small sense of disappointment, then, that it was brought to light later in the day that the slogan had been changed. Replacing the original proud assertion, in fact, was the strikingly underwhelming, “Your wish is our command.”

But wait, there’s more! A collective “WTF” was still echoing through the hills and dales of the Linux blogosphere when another discovery was made, and it was perhaps even more shocking.

Specifically, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth lit yet another fire of debate when he announced a new approach for work on the next Ubuntu — version 13.04, now named “Raring Ringtail.”

‘The Skunkworks Approach’

“Mapping out the road to 13.04, there are a few items with high ‘tada!’ value that would be great candidates for folk who want to work on something that will get attention when unveiled,” Shuttleworth wrote in a blog post last week.

“While we won’t talk about them until we think they are ready to celebrate, we’re happy to engage with contributing community members that have established credibility (membership, or close to it) in Ubuntu, who want to be part of the action,” he added.

Shuttleworth admitted further down in the post that “the skunkworks approach has its detractors,” and boy was he right.

‘Shuttleworth Tires of Critics’

A storm of controversy quickly erupted in the Linux blogosphere, particularly when geeks got a load of an article on TechCrunch entitled, “Canonical’s Mark Shuttleworth Tires Of Critics, Moves Key Ubuntu Developments Out Of Public Eye.”

Such was the outcry, in fact, that Shuttleworth felt compelled to post a follow-up on Friday with further explanation.

The question now is, does Canonical’s new approach remove part of the transparency that’s at the heart of FOSS, or is it all just a tempest in a teapot? That’s what Linux bloggers have been trying to decide.

‘Totally Un-Ubuntu’

“I’m a little confused about the messages that were sent by Shuttleworth, to be honest,” Google+ blogger Linux Rants told Linux Girl.

“I kind of liked the original ‘Avoid the Pain’ slogan that first appeared on their website, and I was disappointed when it was removed,” Linux Rants added. “According to a comment on Google+ from Shuttleworth, ‘That banner was totally un-Ubuntu,’ which was why it was taken down.

“OK. Then the news appears of Shuttleworth basically taking Ringtail out of the public eye during development,” he recalled. “That seems a little odd for a distribution named for the philosophy’I am what I am because of who we all are.'”

‘I’m More Than a Bit Concerned’

Linux Rants could see Shuttleworth’s argument after reading his personal statement, he admitted.

“Canonical just wants the opportunity to complete what they’re doing instead of being judged by partially completed projects,” he concluded. Still, “it does feel like he’s removing the general community from the development process, which, to me, feels quite a bit more un-Ubuntu than a silly slogan.”

Indeed, “I’m upgrading to Quantal as we speak, but I’m more than a bit concerned about the closing of the Ubuntu development process, which seems to conflict sharply with any claims about wishes being commands,” Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza said. “I wish Ubuntu’s process weremoreopen and that they moreattention to the community, not less.”

‘Try Some Alternatives’

Similarly, “I suspect Ubuntu is running out of ideas,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack suggested.

“The new Unity doesn’t add much of anything,” he opined. “I can’t imagine why I would want unified online/offline search, and if I want to buy something from Amazon, I have it bookmarked.”

The “newfangled” way to add Web apps as desktop icons, meanwhile, “is simply another word for Bookmark, and Xfce and GNOME have been able to do that for ages,” Mack pointed out.

“At this point, even Debian can be installed without opening a text editor or touching the command line, so I would encourage Ubuntu users to try some alternatives,” Mack concluded.

“Shuttleworth has already seen the users bailing, seen the ‘rise of the ripoffs’ like Mint,” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet chimed in. “What they are doing now is throwing things at the wall and hope that they stick.”

‘Canonical, Stop Pretending’

The problem with Ubuntu is that “it is in the middle: It’s not a community distro (since what Mark says is what ends up being done, so, more like a one-man distro), and it’s also not commercial (not like Red Hat),” offered Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol.

“Come on! Canonical, stop pretending Ubuntu is a community distro and say the truth: ‘We are into this Linux stuff for the money, we want the best for ourselves, and we will keep for ourselves what we think is the best, and damn the rest,” Ebersol added.

“I am not against the company — it’s not wrong to make money on GNU/Linux,” he concluded. Rather, Ubuntu should “just be honest and clarify its intentions — it would spare a lot of trouble and flames on forums and stuff.”

‘They Are Doing a Fantastic Job’

What most people seem to miss “is that Ubuntu’s user base is not primarily the individual geek user the way it is for most other distros,” noted Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien. “They are targeting large enterprise-level and above installs, like the entire school system of a country. So they will not do things the way Mint will, for instance.”

All in all, “they are doing a fantastic job of getting Linux on desktops,” O’Brien concluded. It’s just that they are “doing it in a way that annoys a certain segment of the community.”

Last but certainly not least, “Ubuntu is huge compared to every other distro,” blogger Robert Pogson agreed. “It has an order of magnitude more users and naturally draws more criticism for every change.”

‘Good for Canonical’

At the same time, “Canonical is having growing pains and may well function better working in the attic,” Pogson admitted. “It’s a matter of scale: The more information exchanged between the community and the leadership of the organization, the more difficult it is to consider everything and to respond to everyone.”

Bottom line? “Good for Canonical,” Pogson said. “They will do what they feel they need to do and get on with it.

“They plan to be on 5 percent of shipping x86 PCs next year,” he added. “They had better be ready for scrutiny, and that may mean more compartmentalization.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

4 Comments

  • Well they say only good products come from companies and people who make money making them. I would say that is true. After all Linux for the most part has been such a hobby OS because nobody has much financial gain from making it any more then a hobby. But I agree if Ubuntu is going to try and make money its going to have to test and polish its OS distro’s a little better in order to make people appreciate the effort.

    • The problem is they are destined to fail, just as Linspire, Mandrake, Xandros, and many other have before them, why? because the redistribution cause is made of fail, that’s why.

      Lets face it, if they were allowed to give away the source code without you turning around and using it to compete, without giving them a cent for the work they put in? Then frankly Linux would have passed OSX years ago and would be well on the way to passing Windows now, because it would make economic sense for companies to pour millions into it. it would even solve "the printer problem" that gave us the GPL in the first place, as RMS would have been free to modify that code for his own use, even share what lines he changed, just not give away the complete product of their labor.

      Lets be honest and cut the bull folks, there is really only THREE ways to make money in FOSS, and that is the services model, selling hardware, or the tin cup begging model. Now the last is pointless, as you’ll never get a steady enough income to do any real planning, and the other two? Simply can’t compete on the desktop. The majority of desktops and laptops are bought by home users and SMBs so that kills #1 as they don’t buy support contracts, which i think the whole concept is "iffy" in that it gives you an incentive not to make your software "too good" else why would they need your support? And on the second front you simply can’t compete with the likes of Dell and HP when it comes to economy of scale, and with trialware frankly Windows costs them next to nothing for the basic and Home SKUs so even being free gives no advantage, which of course TINSTAAFL as to compete with Windows and OSX you’d need to sink a cool 50 million plus into Linux to smooth out the rough spots and put the proper polish on it.

      The mistake Shuttleworth made was going with the GPLed Linux in the first place, history has shown us you simply can’t make enough to keep the lights on much less truly innovate unless you ignore the desktop and fight RH for some server share, so instead he should have went with BSD where he could have shared his changes to the underlying subsystems with mainline just as Apple does while keeping the GUI proprietary. This way he could have sold the desktops for…oh lets say $15 a copy, undercut both Windows and OSX and STILL have made enough money to truly build a successful desktop.

      Instead mark my words Canonical will join Xandros, Linspire, and all the other failed distros on the scrapheap of history, the users will go with "Bob’s distro" because its free and they simply won’t see the improvements on the desktop front like they did under Canonical. Sad but true folks there truly is no free lunches.

      • "… Sad but true folks there truly is no free lunches."

        When comes to a particular individual yes, there is/can be a "Free Lunch". While someone or something spends the time, energy, resource, and/or (often but not always) money, people tend to, more often then not, mean free to them. In this respect the statement of no "free lunches" is very much false, as the non-producer of the item that is recieving it did not spend the time/energy/resources and/or money to make/obtain the object, or even service in question.

        • I’m sorry but somebody ALWAYS pays, they pay in time, sweat, and work, and in the case of Linux as I have explained several times here about the "busted toilet problem" the work simply doesn’t get done at all on the desktop side because the corporations, and oh yes the "Linux is volunteers!" is a total myth, more than 70% of the code is paid for by various corps like Red Hat and IBM, simply can’t see a return on investment and since they don’t use linux desktops why should they spend any money on them? its the server where they make their money so that is what gets the improvements.

          Mark my words Canonical will be dead in less than 2 years, it’ll end with Shuttleworth trying to find a buyer and when he fails he’ll "Give Ubuntu to the community" which will be a nice way of saying he is washing his hands of it and there will be no more money for developers. Then it will be no better than "Bob’s distro" where you have the same Debian server bits with a few badly done desktops packages bolted on, no different than how Taco Bell is 400 variations on meat, cheese, and beans.

          Again if you want to stand toe to toe with OSX and Windows you’ll need 50 million minimum to bring the polish up and buff out the seriously rough edges but thanks to the redistribution clause its practically impossible to make your money back, as Canonical is finding out, much less make enough to keep improving the product. this is why Linux will gain on the server but never the desktop, companies can make money off Linux server with the services model.

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