Mark Shuttleworth on Ubuntu and the Linux Desktop: Page 4

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There are ways to build proprietary drivers that do violate the GPL, but there are also ways to build them that don’t. You carefully separate the various pieces of the system. Even if you do that, even if you’re within the letter of the law, it’s still a cast iron piece. And so we still say to people: this is a lump of stuff that’s fragile, and [when] we do a security update it’s going to break. When we need to move quickly, your piece, your hardware, or your virtualization platform, or your whatever, is the one that’s going to suffer – and your users are the ones who are going to suffer, and they won’t be thrilled at you for that. So the way we feel about propriety drivers is very, very clear: they’re sub-optimal and somewhat harmful.

The flipside to that is, we feel very strongly that 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, and to actually gives us ‘titanium’ components rather than ‘cast iron’ components. So that’s kind of the basis upon which we’ve made this distinction.

It was controversial that Ubuntu was willing to ship drivers that included proprietary blobs. I dislike it, but I think it was the right decision.

As far as the “Restricted Drivers Manager” is concerned, when we did an analysis, we found that most users of most distributions – even those professed to be very sort of purists about Free software – most users ended up with [proprietary] software blobs on their system, because they would just follow what ever instructions they found through Google to install to make their hardware work.

For example, you run into a situation where you want to make something work and it pops up and says, ‘Do you want this’ and you say ‘Yes,’ and you end up with proprietary stuff on your system– but you don’t know it. So we built the Restricted Drivers Manager specifically, not to help people install proprietary drivers, but to tell people what proprietary stuff was on their system. And now that’s been embraced by all the other major distributions.

I think all the other major distributions are effectively following Ubuntu’s lead when it comes to hardware management. It’s a core competence we’re set to really pioneer. So that was a really long, rambling answer.

I think your grandmother analogy was the operative analogy there.

Yeah, you can use that analogy to cover any number of sins, though. A lot of people would like us to have Adobe Flash built into Ubuntu by default. It would mean that when they hit a Web site that has Flash content, it works the first time, immediately, rather than saying ‘Do you want to install Flash?’

But we don’t do that. There are lots of areas where we specifically exclude proprietary software from the default user experience. We allow people to install that easily, but we don’t make that decision for them.

The hardware one, because it is so low level and hard to get right, we have compromised on.

Some developers say that Ubuntu has weakened Debian by enticing developers away from it, moving away from an emphasis on community to an emphasis on commercialism – how do you feel about this?

I disagree with that so very strongly. I’m very passionate about Debian – I’m a longstanding Debian developer myself; twelve odd years in the running, so I can speak with some confidence on this.

If you just look at the raw numbers, Debian has gone from strength to strength. It has more developers now that it ever has had in the past. Many of the Debian developers who joined in the last four year have come to Debian because of Ubuntu. The whole Debian ecosystem has really been dramatically changed – turned around – by Ubuntu.

And we can’t take all the credit for that. I mean, we chose Debian, we work with Debian because I and everyone else on the team here believe that it is, at heart, the right way to go about organizing the very best talent to produce a well-structured, well-organized, core of a platform.

But, we also feel very strongly that having Ubuntu adds a tremendous amount to that. And that the complementary relationship between Debian, as a core upstream community, and Ubuntu as an organization which is genuinely focused on actually delivering on a very predictable, high quality schedule – a release every six months – the combination of those two is unstoppable.

I think it’s very divisive. There are a number of folks in the Debian community who deeply resent Ubuntu. And they’re very vocal. But I think they may not be conscious of the damage they do in so strongly articulating their view.

And I, again, I have no hesitancy about the role we play. I think we’re a real force for good within the Debian ecosystem. I’ll be at DebConf in August, and have been for every year for the last five years.

In conclusion, so how was your trip into outer space? Did it inspire your approach to Ubuntu in any way?

Perhaps, yeah – I hadn’t thought about it those terms. But it’s certainly true when you have the great, great privilege of seeing the world as it really is, from that perspective, you want everything you do to have an impact that transcends boundaries. There may well be a connection there.

It was obviously a tremendous privilege, and I hope to fly again – but I don’t want to hog up the seats.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Ubuntu, Linux desktop, mark shuttleworth linux

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