Ubuntu and the Unspoken Rules: Page 2

Ubuntu's disagreements with the rest of open source are really less about issues than relationships.
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However, the process of the Unity interface saw a move away from community decision-making. The process was marked by the sudden appearance of the Canonical Design Team, and widespread resentment about its veto power over the Ubuntu community. In this atmosphere, otherwise minor design choices, such as the positioning of button controls on the title bars of windows became major issues.

Shuttleworth stifled complaints by asserting his authority. "This is not a democracy," he explained. "Good feedback, good data, are welcome. But we are not voting on design decisions."

This centralized control could be justified by the need to complete Unity and ready Ubuntu for commercial purposes. However, over the last few years, it has become increasingly evident, with even long-term Ubuntu volunteers questioning the point of their efforts when they had no role in decision-making.

Today, the questioning seems to have been contained with few resignations or further complaints. But anyone who doubts that the underlying problems continue to exist has only to look at the Ubuntu home page.

The page emphasizes Canonical's smart phones, and OpenStack tools, with the downloading of Ubuntu -- the main reason most people might visit the page -- only mentioned third. To those accustomed to the give and take of decision-making in the average free software project, nothing could be more different.

Swimming Upstream

The role of Linux distributions has always been to coordinate the software produced by specialized individual projects -- the so-called upstream projects, such as Firefox and LibreOffice. This arrangement lets each project do what it does best, and assures that code improvements can be shared by the entire community.

Ubuntu, however, has a long history of building software on its own. The process began with the replacement of init with upstart, but, like most of Ubuntu's inner structure, really got started with Unity.

Faced with conflicting visions of the desktop and a development speed that was too slow for Canonical's plans, Ubuntu withdrew from GNOME and began building Unity.

Looking back, I suspect that Unity was a bigger project than Canonical expected. In fact, Canonical might have lost no time had it stayed with GNOME and canvassed support for its vision of a user interface. Perhaps, too, software like Unity might be more popular had it been developed in an upstream project in which developers with different interests might be involved. But that is entirely speculation.

What is not speculation is that Canonical became increasingly isolated from much of the rest of the community. Either it started its own projects for improving the Linux stack, or else it tried to dominate existing projects by pouring donations and work into them.

Along with this isolationism has come a general suspicion of anyone outside Canonical or Ubuntu. This tendency is particularly noticeable in the production of Mir, Canonical's candidate to replace the aging X Window System, and Canonical's abandonment of Wayland, the candidate that most of the community prefers.

When KDE announced that it had no immediate plans to support Mir and for now would concentrate on Wayland, Shuttleworth responded with an attack on those who opposed the project "on purely political grounds," commenting that "At least we know now who belongs to the Open Source Tea Party."

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Tags: open source, Linux, Ubuntu, FOSS, Shuttleworth, Canonical

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