For another thing, FOSS software companies require "a product sensitivity and a community sensitivity to succeed. You need to make a great product, but you also need to be respectful of your community. I've been working with Canonical for about four and a half years, and I feel that Mark [Shuttleworth] designs a lot of product strategy, and he's deeply involved in the community. He sees what's necessary and does it." According to Bacon, efforts are already being made to expand the contributors on sub-projects such as Unity beyond the current core of Canonical employers.
According to Bacon, this perception is often lost "because the legend of Mark Shuttleworth is out there. A lot of people who have never met him and never worked with him have views about him. I've worked with him quite a bit and I think he's phenomenally talented at what he's doing. I think that the sensibility of him and the other senior execs will help to make sure that we stay on the right path."
And if that doesn't happen? Then "if it goes downhill is when I leave Canonical," Bacon says flatly. "Because I'm not going to be part of a company that's going to abuse what I think is an important mission."
Bacon repeatedly told me that Ubuntu and Canonical were capable of mistakes. For example, he cites the abrupt appearance of the Design Team a couple of years ago as "something we could have done a much better job on. The Design Team did come from nowhere. Mark hired them when he started getting interested in the interface side of tings. It was culturally a very different group coming into Canonical; they took up this whole part of the office with notes and drawings stuck to the walls and culturally they were unfamiliar with IRC, mailing lists, and a lot of the norms of open source development."
Consequently, the Design Team's ability to make decisions affecting a release temporarily disturbed many Ubuntu criticisms. Now, though, Bacon claims that "the design team today is in a much better state" and has largely overcome its "teething problems."
The same is true of the relationship problems that Canonical faces. For instance, relationships with KDE have improved because leaders on both sides have made an effort to interact more. Relationships with Debian have also improved since a rocky start, largely because "there's been a lot of effort placed into the relationship. It's like a relationship with a wife: the best relationships are the ones where you work at them."
Similarly, Bacon characterizes most of the issues between Ubuntu and GNOME as temporary rather than systemic. "Where I feel Canonical is innovating is bringing more work closer to the distribution, where you have both the upstream and distribution perspective. But this is new, and it's going to take some time, in the same way that it took a little time for the Design Team to settle in.
"The most important thing we need to banish from both distributions and upstream is any sense of entitlement. The moment entitlement sets in, things perish. It's a partner relationship."
Companies are organic groups of people," Bacon says. "And organic groups of people make good decisions and bad decisions. I think that, by and large, Canonical's decision making has generally been good, but there have been a few skirmishes and mistakes and mis-steps along the way.
"But ultimately, the users are going to decide. It doesn't matter what Mark Shuttleworth says about Unity, or what I say. It doesn't matter what anyone says about Unity. If users think it sucks, they ain't gonna use it. We can just all do our best to make our users happy."
ALSO SEE: Ubuntu: Where Did the Love Go?