You know it's a weird news week when I defend Canonical. Once
again they are under attack for not contributing enough, and for
ascending to peaks of glory on the backs of Real Linux
Contributors. Um, yeah. I'm not much of an Ubuntu fan, but this
latest barrage seems based more on peeve than substance.
I use Lucid Lynx on my multimedia production PC mainly because
it has a realtime kernel and packages the FFADO Firewire audio
drivers, and I always have a the latest Ubuntu running on a test
box so I can stay up to date. My main work PC is an old Debian box
running KDE 3.5.
I get a little tired of all the Ubuntu hype and over-exuberant
fanpersons, but we all know that comes with popularity, and Ubuntu
is very popular. Back before Ubuntu it was Red Hat and Debian that
had annoying fanpersons and overheated hype. I think Mark
Shuttleworth and Jono Bacon (Jono is the Community Manager) are
more adept at deflecting criticism than addressing it. But I can't
get too worked up about this because nobody likes being criticized
and crabbed at, and the higher your profile the more people see you
as a target than a person. I've been guilty of all of these things.
Most everyone has.
Only Developers Matter
The latest salvo at Canonical came from Greg DeKoenigsberg, who
wrote the rather angry
Red Hat, 16%. Canonical, 1%. These figures came from Dave
Census. Mr. DeKoenigsberg calls these figures "absolutely
So the discussions grew, with people taking this side or that
side, and then Brian Proffitt summed it up the most succinctly in
Canonical's Disconnect with Linux Developer Community:
"That's the problem Canonical needs to address.
Developers value contribution. Rightly or wrongly, Canonical is
perceived as a low contributor."
But how is this microscopic self-centered viewpoint Canonical's
problem to solve, as Mr. Proffitt says? Greg Kroah-Hartman
criticized Canonical for not writing more kernel code. Now it's
GNOME supporters getting all mad at not seeing more Canonical
commits. They're so busy getting mad they're missing some key
points: one, they're wrong on the numbers, and two, code commits
are just one part of the Linux ecosystem.
Mr. Proffitt quotes Matt Asay:
"Important to note http://bit.ly/crPYYk (the GNOME
Census) tracks *all-time" Gnome contributions. Canonical will
never catch up w/ RHT. It's not helpful data"
He also notes
"The economy of Linux contains different kinds of
currency: users, documentation, and contributions are all separate
parts of the greater whole."
So they're basing their criticisms on bad numbers, and a very
narrow definition of what a contribution is. It seems to me the
reason for all the flames seems to boil down to one thing: peeve at
"They've been very successful at positioning themselves
as the Eternal Champion of the Linux Desktop, and positioning Red
Hat as the boring old has-beens who long ago abandoned the Desktop
fight, and just do backroom server work that Real Linux People
don't care about," DeKoenigsberg wrote."
I have a glass half-empty type of perspective much of the time,
and I've leveled my own share of carping at Canonical. I may have
missed it, but I have never heard Mark Shuttleworth, Jono Bacon, or
anyone representing Ubuntu or Canonical put down other Linux
distributions or contributors. In my grumpier moments their
relentlessly positive, cult-like Kumbaya-or-else approach makes me
want to turn the hose on them. But I don't remember them attacking
anyone else the way they've been attacked.
I'm very tired of the outmoded, self-centered perspective that only
code contributions matter. I don't know how much code Canonical
contributes upstream, or how much they write in total. They are
often criticized for not "working better" with upstreams. Again, I
I do know that it takes much more than code to make Linux
successful: marketing, user interface design, attracting new users,
documentation, partnering with Tier 1 and independent vendors,
turning users into contributors, getting Linux more into the
mainstream, and much more. Isn't it funny how all these years many
Linux fans have been wishing for someone to come along and do all
these things? And here they are, and what happens? Flames.
Canonical excels in all of these arenas, where no other Linux
distribution has had any real success. The retail desktop arena is
littered with the corpses of failures; it's an ambitious and
difficult market segment to tackle. In some ways the major Linux
distributors are just as slow to adapt as the proprietary world.
For one example, wide-screens and netbooks-- these so-called
wide-format screens are really square screens with inches lopped
off the bottom because they're cheaper to produce. I don't recall
if Ubuntu was first to tailor the graphical interface to fit better
on netbook screens (I am not counting the pitiful proprietary
efforts by the likes of ASUS and HP), but they're the most
successful, with many spinoffs. They are devoting considerable
resources to user interface design, which the traditional hard-core
only-lines-of-code-matter geeks have long neglected.
Who else besides Ubuntu welcomes everyone, and tries to maintain
a sane, friendly community? My favorite distribution is Debian, but
no way will I ever try to be contributor. If I were an ace coder I
would rather eat dog doo than try to become a kernel contributor.
Life is too short to waste living in a flame-proof suit. There are
a lot of FOSS projects that build rational, productive communities.
But none of them are as big as Ubuntu, and few place as high a
priority on community-building. When the Ubuntu folks say "Anyone
can play!" they mean it.
It's tempting to see this as plain old envy, the billionaire and
his pet distro cashing in on the work of others. News flash:
everyone cashes in on the work of others. What good is GNOME by
itself? Or the Linux kernel by itself? Not much. It's a giant messy
ecosystem, and every part of it has an important role.