Shuttleworth at LinuxCon: Will Ubuntu Lead Free Software?: Page 2

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The first clue to Shuttleworth's perspective is that all his examples are based on projects that are conglomerations of many projects -- either distributions like Ubuntu or desktops like GNOME or KDE. He is talking about large projects that are sub-divided into many little ones. I have to wonder, though, whether smaller projects or less diverse ones like would benefit from cadence as much as other distributions.

The second clue is Shuttleworth's emphasis on cadence. This is a subject that would almost certainly seem less important to a community developer. Commercial developers see an obvious advantage to regular releases because they make bringing a product to market easier. By contrast, community developers are less likely to see the need.

Community developers may even worry that keeping to a regular release schedule can conflict with quality. That is why the most community-oriented distributions, like Debian or Fedora, either resist cadence or quickly let it slip when problems emerge.

By contrast, an attitude of "I don't want it good, I want it Thursday" is all too easy to fall into if you a commercial developer. Everything from shipping to marketing and publicity depends on the software being ready in time.

In fact, Shuttleworth's speech is riddled with words that indicate that his main concern is business. The name of the keynote is "Coordinated Software Releases, the Linux Ecosystem, and the Impact on the Global Marketplace."

Moreover, several times he uses managerial and marketing buzzwords. For instance, while he talks about "the free software process" of development, he makes it synonymous with "crowd-sourcing," a related phenomenon, but one that tends to be more controlled from the top down. He talks, too, of the need to "go from good to great," echoing the title of a business best-seller released a few years ago, and refers to "taking free software to a larger consumer audience," a goal that might surprise those who think that the goal is users' control of their own computing.

All these points are obvious once you start to analyze the keynote. However, what is important to notice is that little except the title -- which tends to get lost -- emphasizes the perspective. Instead, Shuttleworth talks throughout as if what he is advocating will aid the whole of free software, a viewpoint that is at the very least debatable.

Making up your mind

Nothing is innately wrong with Shuttleworth's perspective. Nor should Shuttleworth be attacked for promoting his own interests or accused of attempting to mislead the free software community. His sincerity is not in question, even if some of the details of his vision may be.

However, because of Shuttleworth's position and talents, his views tend to be reported without being challenged. Moreover, because he is clear-thinking and knows what he wants, people may move to implement his vision without examining it, regardless of the fact that some points of it may be less desirable than he suggests.

If you support his managerial, commercial perspective, you may see no reason to question that cadence, quality, and design are the keys to free software's future. But, if you have a different perspective on free software -- especially a community one or an activist one -- you might want to be more cautious.

Is cadence necessary? Does it conflict with quality? Is design already receiving sufficient attention? Is greater participation an unalloyed good? Such questions are all worth pondering.

Then, if you do decide that you support Shuttleworth's vision, you can do so with more confidence for having examined it. Alternatively, if Shuttleworth's vision of free software is not yours, you might want to modify it, or even suggest another view of the future altogether. The future of free software is too important to leave any one person, regardless of their contributions or talents.

ALSO SEE: Ubuntu's Shuttleworth: Planning to Overtake Apple

AND: Mark Shuttleworth on Ubuntu and the Linux Desktop

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Tags: open source, Linux, video, software, Ubuntu

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