In recent months, several reports have been release detailing how little Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) contribute to upstream projects, such as Gnome and the Linux kernel. Last week, Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical’s founder and the “benevolent dictator” of Ubuntu, release a blog post defending Canonical’s position. You can read the full post here, but I think these two quotes sum up the feeling behind Mark’s post:
I didn’t found Ubuntu as a vehicle for getting lots of code written, that didn’t seem to me to be what the world needed. It needed a vehicle for getting it out there, that cares about delivering the code we already have in a state of high quality and reliability. Most of the pieces of the desktop were in place – and code was flowing in – it just wasn’t being delivered in a way that would take it beyond the server, or to the general public.
As a community we are deeply satisfied to see people *using* it to solve problems in their lives. That’s more satisfying to us than stories about how we made it faster or added a feature. Of course we do bits of both, but this is a community that measures impact in the world rather than impact on the code. They are very generous with their time and expertise, with that as the reward. I’m proud of the fact that Ubuntu attracts people who are generous in their contributions: they feel their contributions are worth more if they are remixed by others, not less. So we celebrate Kubuntu and Xubuntu and Puppy and Linux Mint. They don’t ride on our coattails, they stand on our shoulders, just as we stand on the shoulders of giants. And that’s a good thing. Our work is more meaningful and more valuable because their work reaches users that ours alone could not.
I must say that I agree with Mark here, I think too many people (especially the anti-Ubuntu crowd) in the Linux community spend too much time looking inwards, wanting to make things better for the people already using Linux. Whilst this in itself is admirable (and necessary, otherwise we’d never move forward), some people seem to take the attitude that opening up their community to outsiders (or, worse still, newbies) should be avoided at all costs.
These people, in my opinion, are the ones holding Linux back, and they have been doing so for a long time. Yes, code contribution (in all forms) is important to ensure that Linux remains competitive, but, as Mark says, there’s plenty of people doing this already. When Canonical launched Ubuntu, this wasn’t where the gap lay – the gap was in getting this awesome collection of open source software out to the general public. And by public I don’t mean mailing-list reading techie geeks, I mean the average desktop user on the street, to whom a computer is something to use to email Auntie Sue in Canada, write up the kids’ school projects and post cute photos of baby Jimmy to Facebook.
That’s not to say that I think Canonical shouldn’t be pushing fixes back upstream – they most definitely should. If they fix a bug in, for example, Gnome or Shotwell or Firefox, or even the kernel, that fix should be sent back upstream so that Linux users in general benefit. But that’s shouldn’t be the most important contribution metric – without Canonical and Ubuntu, Linux wouldn’t be nearly as mainstream as it is today.
If the Linux community were a corporation, Debian might be the Maintenance team, ensuring product stability and Red Hat might be the R & D team, delivering new features; they’d probably also be the Corporate Sales team. Canonical, however, would be the Marketing team, making the occasional suggestion for product improvement, but mainly grabbing the high street consumers’ attention and making them want what we’ve got to offer. All parts are equally important and all functions benefit all others.
So, come on guys, let’s not fight amongst ourselves – there’s a whole world of Windows and MacOS users out there waiting to be introduced to our great community and there’ll be plenty of time to debate Ubuntu vs Fedora vs OpenSuse etc with them once we’ve got them through door. At the moment, Ubuntu’s our best bet for doing that, so let’s celebrate Canonical for what they bring to this wonderful, diverse world that we call open source!