Is Ubuntu the Barack Obama of Linux?: Page 3

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Shuttleworth also spoke of a Ubuntu feature that breaks with the Linux orthodoxy: the distro’s Restricted Drivers Manager, which helps users install proprietary drivers. To the entrenched Linux faithful, this is apostasy. Proprietary software represents everything they’re against – for some, it’s the very reason they support Linux.

But, in a moderate stance that a gifted politician like Obama would be proud of, Ubuntu’s position on proprietary drivers is inclusive. Yes, Ubuntu is a true blue Linux distro, open source and proud. And yes, it also helps users who grew up in the larger world of closed source software.

Shuttleworth’s comments suggested that his decision hadn’t been an easy one. “It was controversial that Ubuntu was willing to ship drivers that included proprietary blobs,” he told me. “I dislike it, but I think it was the right decision.”

But why? Why does the well-crafted Ubuntu have to resort to including the dreaded closed source drivers?

The reason, Shuttleworth said, is that he feels very strongly that non-technical users be invited. “I’d like to be able to give Free software to my grandmother. And I’d like her to be able to put that CD in and have it come up on her computer. And I’d like her to experience all the power of Free software and thereby make a stronger economic case to the vendors to take Linux seriously.”

In short, his flexibility is not merely to sell out Linux’s core principles, but actually to further them by reaching out to a larger audience.

This one-world spirit runs throughout Ubuntu. For example, here’s an Obama-esque touch: the Ubuntu Women site, supported by Canonical, which encourages the work of women developers. In the overwhelmingly male software niche of Linux, Ubuntu Women is a progressive – and much needed – gesture of inclusiveness.

In the same vein is Ubuntu’s built-in tool to assist migration from Windows. While some Linux developers merely sneer at Windows users, Ubuntu welcomes them with a helping hand. If Obama were a software developer this would be one of the first things he’d do. The Illinois Senator never condescends toward Republicans; he once said Ronald Reagan had some good ideas – not an opinion you’d hear from Dennis Kucinich.

In the end, history is made by both the ideologues and the pragmatists, not by either acting alone. It’s shaped by both the Stallmans and the Shuttleworths, by the Kucinichs and the Obamas.

As to how, exactly, history will be shaped by either group of players is of course unclear at this point. The marketplace of PC users, like the American voters, will have the final say. We await the result.

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Tags: Ubuntu, Debian, GNU/Linux desktop, politics

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