Firefox Divides the Development Team
What broke the camel's back turns out to be a discussion about the inclusion of Mozilla Firefox in Gobuntu. It was only days beforehand that Mark Pilgrim, an influential technology writer, described this as the reason for failure in Gobuntu.
Firefox is widely known as an open source success story, but it is does not meet the requirements of free software. A few such issues led to the creation of a sibling project called IceWeasel, which is intended to resolve issues pertaining to artwork. A controversy revolves around the Firefox logo and its effect on derivatives (forks). In the developers' mailing list, Mark Shuttleworth insisted that maintaining two copies of the codebase of the Firefox browser -- one for Ubuntu and one for Gobuntu -- will have "such little benefit." Several volunteers immediately begged to differ in off-list conversations that we saw.
Outraged by this apparent disregard for the significance of the issue, Robertson-Turner responded, "It's time that Gobuntu started living up to the 'very strict' policy that motivated it's inception, otherwise it will be nothing more than a different-colored Ubuntu, with a slightly smaller kernel." And he concluded that "That isn't quite the vision that got me excited enough to want to get involved in this project."
The Gobuntu Laptop
Towards the end of Robertson-Turner's involvement, which ended just recently, the main concern about the project had a lot to do with goals, maybe even a hidden agenda. "I've discovered the truth about Gobuntu. Essentially ... it's a hardware experiment," he tells us. He then refers to the idea involving a laptop, as mentioned at the beginning of this article. He likens it to a contest where people run a poll out of sheer curiosity.
Shuttleworth, however, begs to differ. "Contrary to the assertion made by Keith, there are no other private agendas or conversations about Gobuntu," he states in our correspondence with him.
With the vision of pre-installed Ubuntu laptop that was devoid of proprietary drivers in mind, he calls this idea a response to Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop per Child. Shuttleworth's blog post, which spoke about working in collaboration with a laptop manufacturer to produce a system favorable to free software drivers, certainly rang a bell here.
In Robertson-Turners view, "It's an experiment to produce a laptop independent of proprietary drivers (GPU, Wi-Fi, etc.), presumably so he can then capitalize on the idea. This ambitious statement did not escape a solid counter argument from Shuttleworth, who stepped in to clarify:
"A key point, though, is that the idea of the free-software-only laptop and Gobuntu are entirely orthogonal and independent of one another. I've had a number of people say they would like to know if such a laptop existed, so I invited people to register their interest in that idea separately from Gobuntu," says Shuttleworth. He clarifies that the two ideas are not by any means connected "except in the obvious way that both are about demonstrating a commitment to free software."
Gobuntu can hopefully be improved by reminding Canonical that the project should stick to things it was intended to achieve. As promised, it should also be driven by a community, as opposed to becoming a project that -- at least in part -- absorbs criticism against inclusion of proprietary components in Ubuntu. At worst, this is perhaps a case of capitalization. The project can -- and probably should -- be built to provide what free software enthusiasts sought in the first place. Only then can it make a big impact and draw a community large enough to help it grow and thrive.
Shuttleworth asserts that "Gobuntu is about building a platform that expresses freedom in software and in content. Debating what constitutes freedom is essential to the process of building it." The latter part -- the part about debating freedom -- seems to contradict the experience of at least two Gobuntu developers whom we heard from. The project may be suffering from a disconnect, or simply a case of miscommunication.
Canonical is already responding to these issues. "I'm personally quite positive that the project will soon be pointed in the right direction," adds Matthew East, so it is encouraging to know that the problems are already taken into consideration and addressed.