Ubuntu Community Turmoil - Perspective and Advice from an Outsider


Canonical has announced quite a few things over the past couple of days, weeks and months. Many of the announcements have been quite exciting in a good way (Ubuntu Phone and Ubuntu Tablet) and some of them seem to be a little shocking... that have some in the Ubuntu Community feeling betrayed, ignored or worse.

Just to review, I've not really been an Ubuntu fan. I'm a Red Hat and Fedora fanboi. I've often been critical of Canonical although not really of the volunteer community that supports Ubuntu. You know the same old stuff about how Canonical doesn't work with upstream, they don't contribute back much, most of the work that is outwardly visible is on their proprietary stuff... they seem to get way more credit than they deserve... and they still, so far as I know, haven't figured out a way to be profitable... which I think is very important for something so many people depend on. You've heard all of that before many times from many people. Nothing new here.

A tiny bit of history - One of the things in the beginning, in my opinion, that got Canonical and Ubuntu so popular so fast was that there were a lot of end users of Red Hat Linux that were upset with a few things. The first was that Red Hat started a pay support service for Red Hat Linux where users would pay $5/month ($60 a year) for faster download speeds of updates and isos. Then Red Hat created the pay-only Red Hat Enterprise Linux... and seemed to put way less effort into Red Hat Linux 8 and 9. And of course they said flat out that they didn't think that Linux on the desktop was a viable / profitable option and they were going to put all of their efforts into Linux for servers. It took a while for the Fedora Project to be born and to actually get to a point where they were something that resembled a real community project rather than this awkward thing that Red Hat did to appease the mobs. As us Fedora folks know, the Fedora Project some time ago got to the point where it was on par with Debian (or pretty close to it) with regards to being self sustainable and having a nice set of ethics they operate by. Granted Fedora doesn't support anywhere near as many architectures as Debian does, but you get my point. Fedora (and Red Hat) do a lot of stuff and it's all based on free (as in speech) software. Anyway, I don't want to get too far off on a Fedora tangent... because I don't have much new information to offer.

My point is (I think that) Mark Shuttleworth saw the turmoil in the Red Hat community and as a result he tried to capitalize on it by saying early on that Ubuntu would always be free (as in beer) and that they were going to concentrate on Desktop Linux.

Since I've been through some turmoil with Red Hat and Fedora... it pains me to see the Ubuntu Community in the situation it is in now. The advice I'd like to convey is... relax... don't jump to conclusions... don't let your feelings get the best of you... be logical... keep doing what you've been doing... and as time passes... a lot of the confusion caused by uncertainty will clear up... and things will get way better... and you'll be happy again.

Facts for Ubuntu Developers (a different FUD) - I can understand that the non-Unity spins of Ubuntu are scared about Mir... but how is that different from the turmoil a switch to Wayland would have caused anyway? Regarding the Rolling Release move, Mr. Shuttleworth seems to be against the idea after all, so do you think that is going to happen?

Yes, Canonical is moving in some new and different directions and their vision doesn't seem to match as well as it has in the past with much of the volunteer Ubuntu community... but so what? As a community you can still do what you want to. The vast majority of the software is FLOSS and you can continue to do with it as you wish. You may have to muster more resources that were previously provided by Canonical... so you may have to work harder to move in your own direction... but don't worry... it'll be worth it so hang in there. Don't quit. Don't give up.

I could go on and on with specific examples but I think I'd only bore people and hopefully I've gotten my point across already.

Motivation, Smotivation - Why am I being supportive of Canonical? Well, I'm not really. I'm just trying to be supportive of the volunteer Ubuntu community. Ok, maybe I am trying to be a little supportive of Canonical. Being a Fedora fanboi why would I want to do that? The answer is simple really. I think there is a big enough pie for a dozen Linux and FLOSS companies. Why should Red Hat remain the beacon of success... that seems to prove to be the exception to the rule rather than the rule. Red Hat didn't want the desktop market. They made that very clear... and they picked the server market and have executed and delivered quite well in that space. Who else is trying to be a commercial success in the Linux desktop and mobile space? Do we really want a Google Everything future? Do we want Android to be the "future of Linux"? If you didn't already guess my answers to those questions... it is a strong NO. I've been hoping that Canonical would find some way to make a good profit in an ethical and community friendly way as yet another example of business success with FLOSS... and maybe they'd spark some interest in Red Hat to move into the Desktop and mobile market.

I kind of think Mr. Shuttleworth handicapped himself with the "it'll always be free" comment at the beginning. I mean... ok, one or more forms can remain free but can't they also come up with some way to make a pay version too? That would be a more direct way to be profitable rather than trying to gain a massive userbase where only a small percentage of users are paying for cloud services or purchasing things where Canonical gets a small cut of the revenue... but who am I to question a millionaire about the best ways to make money?

Worst case scenerio... the bulk of the people that are the Ubuntu community now... fork off and become a renamed community... more able to focus on the goals they think are important... without needing or wanting the approval of Canonical nor Mark Shuttleworth. Would that be a lot of work? Heck yeah. Are they anywhere near that point yet? Not even close. Ideally I envision a sort of relationship similar to what Red Hat has with Fedora... between Canonical and a refocused Ubuntu Community. It depends on what Canonical really thinks about their community. I know what they say in public about them... but I don't think that is necessarily what they 100% believe.

In Conclusion - So, my advice for now... to the Ubuntu community folks is... just relax... don't get overly excited... keep doing what you have enjoyed doing... and let some time pass... and it'll probably just get all better by itself. So, boiling that down to two words, "Don't panic!". Even if your worst fears came true, and I don't think they will, you have some positive, viable paths of action.

Any questions?