Robert Pogson

One man, closing all the windows.

Canonical/Ubuntu Has Lost Its Way

  • Apr 22 / 2011
  • 45
technology

Canonical/Ubuntu Has Lost Its Way

Wow! Reading some rationales for Canonical’s shift to Unity, I found this gem in an article in Thinq:
“other [Linux] distributions are not as focused on bringing a free desktop to market”

Also revealed, Ubuntu does not intend to port to ARM nor to tablets…

They must have tried to change speed or direction on an icy road. They are in the ditch. As the world of IT becomes more diverse, they want to specialize in an area of zero growth, the old-fashioned desktop.

Other distros certainly are operating towards the goal of producing a great desktop product, every bit as much as Ubuntu. How Ubuntu feels that any of this is about wooing users of that other OS with prettier interfaces is beyond me. This is about breaking the stranglehold of a convicted monopolist and Ubuntu has done some good work with OEMs to open things up but the problems remaining are not glitz. People want software that works and many distros give them that.

Not planning a release for tablets is bizarre. There’s way too much glitz in GNU/Linux already. We have 3D and wobbly. What more do people need?

Go, Debian. Ubuntu has lost its way.

45 Comments

  1. Linux Apostate

    I share your pain KT Iversen, this discussion is completely off to lunch. I just wanted to make a simple point about standardisation being a good thing that sometimes only Microsoft can do! And somehow I have ended up seriously discussing a conspiracy theory in which Microsoft forces cheap printer and modem vendors to avoid supporting Linux.

    What is it with Linux people and conspiracy theories? I’ve been reading about Photoshop and Linux people are seriously suggesting that Microsoft, Apple and Adobe have got together to exclude Linux. Occam’s razor be darned, why accept simple plausible explanations when complex and unlikely ones are available?

  2. KT Iversen

    You guys, IE: Old Man, Linux Apostate, and Robert Pogson sure do go on. I really had a simple question about Ubuntu, but you three have amused (Not Confused) the issues to death. I think I’ll replace Win 7 with Ubuntu because I have such a narrow range of user intentions. ‘Nuff said!

  3. Robert Pogson

    On the contrary, aluminium is quite cheap here as we have plenty of cheap hydroelectric power.

    From Barnes and Noble’s filing:
    “32. Tellingly, although Microsoft had insisted on entering into an NDA covering these claim charts, the charts did not contain confidential information but instead did nothing more than set forth the published claims of certain Microsoft patents on the one hand and publicly known features purportedly employed by the open source AndroidTM Operating System and the NookTM on the other hand.”

    Why would M$ ask for a NDA for stuff that was not secret??? A reasonable person would believe they intended the proceedings and not the information to be kept secret. M$ wanted the FUD to remain effective as it had with Nokia and HTC and others. Now that folks can see this is SCOG v World II and that the claims are hollow, the FUD goes down the drain. If B&N had folded, what would have happened to the Nook? What would have happened to the next company M$ had visited? No tin-foil hat is required. M$ is out to rule the world and foist their third-rate stuff on us by bullying tactics and lack of choice. This is the kind of stuff they pulled with the PC but now they cannot get away with it.

  4. Harry Cox

    “M$ uses NDAs to preclude that information being publicized. As an employee of M$, you should know that…”

    This is why you fail to find employement Robert. Government workers are fully aware of your aluminum hat conspiracy drivel that anyone who disagrees with you must be an agent of Microsoft. They’re not going to take a chance on someone who’s incapable of separating their fanatical religion from reality.

    I do hope you get help though, I hear aluminum is fairly expensive up North due to shipping costs.

  5. Ken Ham

    A poster states things for fact that only insiders would know… I assume he is an insider. I am sure he/she would demand I prove my assertions. Let him/her prove he is not an insider.

    Yeah, well you state things that only witches would know, so I assume you are a witch, Pogs.

    If you don’t want us to think you’re one you had better prove you’re not a witch.

    You seriously displayed some medieval thinking in that comment. You’re the one claiming he’s an ‘insider’, so the burden of proof lies with you, the one making the claim.

  6. Robert Pogson

    There was no CD. Many of my employers have no systematic inventory, record-keeping or retention of software. When the PC dies, the software dies. Hence, GNU/Linux is the answer to most problems.

  7. Linux Apostate

    This is HP’s fault. They don’t support that printer any more, beyond the very basic support on the web page. There is no WinXP/Vista/7 support at all, and Win98 support is very limited.

    It looks like you have the following options:
    - use WinME/USB
    - use Win98/USB and install the drivers from the CD
    - use Win98 or ME, with the parallel port or TCP/IP connection

    Blame HP for the lack of options here. They could have made new drivers for XP etc. but presumably they felt that they’d rather make you buy a new printer. Evil HP and their capitalist greed!!

    Being serious, though, I can sympathise. It’s annoying when a manufacturer stops supporting hardware that still functions perfectly. I have a USB scanner from the Win98 era that is still useful thanks to Linux, and my SB Live soundcard won’t work with 64-bit Vista because Creative only supports the newer cards now. Still works fine in my Linux box, of course. The thing is, this is the manufacturer’s fault, not Microsoft’s. If we could be bothered, we could port the Linux drivers to Windows and get the functionality back, but this is only a cheap option if your time is worthless.

  8. can

    Um, Pogs, you need to read the page in full:

    Since the Windows Millennium operating system has the Microsoft USB files, this driver should install successfully without a previous installation of an HP printer.

    I am still at loss why you had the problem with ME.

  9. Robert Pogson

    Not likely. When I work hours to solve a problem, I figure things out.
    “As of June 30, 2007, HP’s license to redistribute Microsoft’s USB files for Windows 98 has expired and cannot be renewed. Thus, this Windows 98 driver does not include the Microsoft’s USB files. The driver will install successfully on the USB port of a Windows 98 system if an HP printer has been successfully installed on the USB port on the system previously. The successful previous installation would have copied the USB files onto the Windows 98 operating system. So, if the Microsoft USB files are already on the Windows 98 system, then this driver, which does not include the Microsoft USB files, will install successfully.”

    see HP

  10. can

    “PCs come with USB sub-systems”

    The USB controller.

    “M$ supplied a driver to communicate with that other OS about USB devices”

    Actually, drivers for USB controllers are integrated since Win95b

    “M$ ceased releasing the driver for ME after XP became the standard”

    Hm, that’s a bit odd, because ME for sure had the driver for the USB controller included already.

    It could be of course the fact that the specifc USB host controller was unknown to ME, because it was too new, but then you would need the driver for that controller specifically. And the vendor must provide it:

    http://download.cnet.com/VIA-USB-2-0-Host-Controller-Driver/3000-2098_4-10163319.html

    But, if the PC ran already ME, and ME was pre-installed on that computer, then I am certain that the drivers for the USB controller were present already.

    Aside from the USB controller, I am unaware of additonal USB drivers that you would need on ME.

    Maybe you misunderstood something back then.

  11. Robert Pogson

    PCs come with USB sub-systems. M$ supplied a driver to communicate with that other OS about USB devices. A few years ago I encountered an HP printer that needed a driver supplied by M$ to operate. M$ ceased releasing the driver for ME after XP became the standard. I had a printer. I had a PC with ME on it and HP could supply me a driver but the printer could not be used from ME. I did fine with GNU/Linux so that’s what was installed on the machine. GNU/Linux does not depend on M$. HP stated that a USB driver from M$ was required to make their driver useful. M$ stated that that driver was no longer available.

  12. can

    Pogs, you’re spewing a lot of crap here, seriously.

    “it was a USB printer and M$ supplied the USB driver for that other OS and would not allow it to be used with ME”

    What USB driver exactly? What are you talking about? The USB controller?

    “M$ supplied the USB driver for that other OS …. not allow it to be used with ME”

    .. Getting confused here. Is that “other OS” XP? So XP had a driver that ME lacked?

    You’re making not much sense here, Pogs.

    “I looked for the driver on HP’s site and they wrote that they could supply their part but not the USB part”

    Could you provide a link to that page? Because, frankly, the way you describe it makes no sense.

    What the heck is the “USB part” here?

  13. Robert Pogson

    In the particular case I encountered, it was a USB printer and M$ supplied the USB driver for that other OS and would not allow it to be used with ME. I installed GNU/Linux and had no problem. I looked for the driver on HP’s site and they wrote that they could supply their part but not the USB part. It’s just another example of the folly of being locked-in to M$.

  14. Linux Apostate

    Why would Microsoft have to release a driver for a Winprinter made by somebody else?

    You can’t expect them to maintain drivers for every piece of hardware that was ever supported by Windows!

  15. Robert Pogson

    I used Caldera in 2000. It was far superior to any ’9x and XP/NT. GNU/Linux did not crash while that other OS usually did. As late as 2004, I found people using ’9x regularly and I could crash it in minutes with normal use. Normal for me means opening a few windows and running a browser and word-processor. What kind of usability is that? Caldera would start to swap sooner or later but it would swap correctly and eventually pull up the screen you wanted. ’9x is rumoured to have shipped with 50K bugs and no security.

    The Winmodem thing did not take off until about 1998. It is old technology now mostly used by the poor in the developed world but more widely in other regions. In northern Canada, most people still use a modem and the Winmodem is cheaper sometimes but the Chinese are cranking out hardware modems now for $20 so the era of the Winmodem has declined but they still do not release source code.

    I have seen Winprinters that could not be installed on XP because M$ refused to release a driver for them.

  16. Linux Apostate

    “A poster states things for fact that only insiders would know… I assume he is an insider. I am sure he/she would demand I prove my assertions. Let him/her prove he is not an insider.”

    You mean me? But what standard of proof would possibly convince you that I’m not?

    “The fact that very few hardware manufacturers have produced drivers for Linux with source code in spite of belonging to the Linux Foundation is sufficient proof to me that the common factor is M$, not the hardware.”

    Ah, so this is the standard of “proof” required.

    If I did work for Microsoft, which I don’t, there’s no way I’d discuss commercially confidential things with outsiders. What I know, I have gathered from others working in my business, which is embedded systems. Some of whom *do* have NDAs with Microsoft. But I work almost exclusively on Linux, so I have no connection with that.

    That aside, your Winmodem/GDI printer argument is just a conspiracy theory. I’d say the lack of Linux support was due to the cost of supporting another OS for a device already sold with tiny profit margins… but maybe that’s just what *they* want me to think???

  17. oldman

    “There’s a reason for that. M$ did not want them to do that so that it could hold a stranglehold on Internet access in the dial-up days.”

    Pure supposition without facts IMHO Pog. Linux didnt make headway in the late 90′s because is was simply trash useability wise in comparison to even Windows 9x, especially if you were running a properly provisioned system ( My last 9x system before I wnet to NT 4 was 64Mb).

    Remember the first semi useable (in my experience) Linux distributions like caldera didnt really come on the scene until a decade ago.

  18. oldman

    “A poster states things for fact that only insiders would know… I assume he is an insider.”

    What things are you talking about Pog? What I see is at most the product of someone who has a) been around for a while and b) is a good researcher.

    BTW – did you read the softmodem article?

  19. Robert Pogson

    A poster states things for fact that only insiders would know… I assume he is an insider. I am sure he/she would demand I prove my assertions. Let him/her prove he is not an insider.

    M$ contributes software for the drivers of those modems and many others. The driver uses M$’s proprietary stuff which the “partner” is not allowed to divulge.

    see http://www.56k.com/reports/ltfaq.shtml#winmodem
    “Where can I get new firmware/drivers/V.90 upgrades for my modem?
    This is one excellent feature of the LT Win Modems. No matter who sold you your modem – Compaq, CPI, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sony, etc. – the firmware is all the same. You can use any other company’s firmware with one catch.

    The only catch is that with older firmware there were separate versions for the LT Win Modem and LT PCI Win Modem. Beginning with firmware version 5.04, the LT Win Modem and LT PCI Win Modem use the same firmware, so everything is completely interchangeable (as per conversation with Lucent).

    Incidentally, this does not work with most other modems. For instance, Rockwell chipset modems start out the same, but individual vendors (Hayes, Motorola, etc.) customize the chips and firmware before selling the modems. That’s why there are no generic firmware upgrades for Rockwell chipset modems. Likewise for Cirrus Logic or U.S. Robotics chipset modems.

    The other advantage of LT Win Modems is that installing new firmware can’t possibly damage the modem. In contrast, with most modems there is a slight chance that upgrading the firmware will damage the programmable ROM chips.

    Here are a few sources of LT Win Modem firmware and drivers. If you are experiencing problems or slow connects, it’s always a good idea to get the most recent firmware.”

    They did the same thing for some printers. It is a form of lock-in having devices that only work with that other OS.

    See GDI Printers.

    Generally, M$ makes these interfaces available only to partners who sign an NDA.

    The winmodems were widely produced from Lose ’98 onward. The fact that very few hardware manufacturers have produced drivers for Linux with source code in spite of belonging to the Linux Foundation is sufficient proof to me that the common factor is M$, not the hardware.

    IBM, for instance, a major contributor to the Linux kernel has these restrictions on code in windmodems for thinkpads from way back:
    “Actions Licensee May Not Take
    Licensee agrees to use Machine Code only as authorized above. Licensee may not do any of the
    following:
    a. otherwise copy, display, transfer, adapt, modify, or distribute (electronically or otherwise) Machine
    Code, except as IBM may authorize in a Machine’s user documentation or in writing to Licensee;
    b. reverse assemble, reverse compile, otherwise translate, or reverse engineer Machine Code unless
    expressly permitted by applicable law without the possibility of contractual waiver;
    c. assign the license for Machine Code; or
    d. sublicense, rent, or lease Machine Code or any copy of it. “

    Now, nothing prevented manufacturers from making their own user-mode interface to software modems, but most of them did not. There’s a reason for that. M$ did not want them to do that so that it could hold a stranglehold on Internet access in the dial-up days. GNU/Linux could hardly make any headway until broadband/ethernet became standard.

  20. oldman

    “M$ uses NDAs to preclude that information being publicized. As an employee of M$, you should know that…”

    How do you know he is an employee of Microsoft Pog?

    Or are you assuming that anyone that differs with you is automatically a microsoft employee? Not a very accurate assumption IMHO.

    You would do well to review the wikipedia article Softmodems at

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Softmodem

    Interestingly “Winmodem” is a U.S. Robotics brand name. It has nothing to do with microsoft.

  21. Linux Apostate

    Were any Winmodems manufactured by Microsoft? Or even built to Microsoft specifications? Maybe you can point to a specific example.

    There are some hardware standards that owe a lot to Microsoft, such as USB. In the early days Linux support for USB was absolutely awful, but Linux has subsequently benefited enormously from this open standard. Every USB memory stick, hard disk, keyboard, or mouse uses exactly the same protocol. This is a good thing. Thankyou, Microsoft.

  22. Robert Pogson

    I seem to recall winmodems that had closed drivers.

    I seem to recall SMB/CIFS was a moving target before the EU ordered them to divulge.

    M$ will do anything to increase lock-in whether or not it causes any benefit or hardship to users. They even made XP and “7″ incompatible when it came to networking, etc.

  23. oldman

    “M$ has a habit of making standards that have to be reverse-engineered by outsiders…”

    By my recollection Pog, Microsoft’s “habit” as you call it was in standardizing software API’s for their own purposes where either no standards existed or where the standards were judged by them (rightfully in most cases) as inadequate for their purposes.

    I can recall NO cases where they “imposed” any hardware standards that we harmful.

    At any rate, google still has the opportunity to define a reference design or designs that represents the minimum recommended features that the different classes of Android mobile device should have.

    Or do you like the idea of as many kernel’s are their are phone or tablet manufacturers, all in the name of freedom of course.

  24. Linux Apostate

    “ARM is still a novel environment in personal computing. The OEMs and Google can get together and work out standard drivers or something to make it all work. ATX is what made PCs work so well. Intel and others collaborated on standard interfaces.”

    Bingo! We have a winner!

    This is exactly what I’m saying. (Except… ATX???)

    But it’s not the OEMs and Google who are driving standardisation. It is Microsoft. I think both Android and Ubuntu will benefit from their standard in the long term, but they still got there first, when no other vendor felt that the issue was even worth thinking about. Google totally missed the opportunity with Android, concentrating instead on their Dalvik failtrain.

  25. Robert Pogson

    Our desktops had none of those problems; only a few used wireless and the PCI card had a kernel module in the default kernel.

    ARM is still a novel environment in personal computing. The OEMs and Google can get together and work out standard drivers or something to make it all work. ATX is what made PCs work so well. Intel and others collaborated on standard interfaces.

  26. Linux Apostate

    At least your XP images could boot.

    So you needed extra drivers. Annoying, yes, but not a big problem. Linux has the same issue with WiFi and graphics cards when the drivers aren’t in the mainline kernel.

    But before you can even have a problem with the drivers you have to get the kernel loaded and running! And that’s the problem.

    Simple example – you can’t take a kernel for a BeagleBoard and boot it on an iPhone. Cortex-A8 CPU in both cases, but a completely different architecture. The kernel won’t even be able to decompress itself.

  27. oldman

    “When I did my imaging last year for XP. I tried to get one image that would work on all PCs. Could not do it.”

    That does not mean that it can’t be done. The correct way to do this is to build a golden image master by picking your best image and then adding the additional drivers to the filesystems. The whole is then tied together by syspreping your image. WHen the image is laid down and booted, the sysprep process will used the vendor inf files to install the mouse.

    This is how vendors like dell do it This is how I did it.

    Of course this requiring your investing time and effort in a system that you despise ideologically. Better to declare the process impossible and boot linux.

  28. Robert Pogson

    There are only a few SoC devices out there but dozens of OEMs using them. The OEM picks one and sticks with it. No problem.

  29. Robert Pogson

    When I did my imaging last year for XP. I tried to get one image that would work on all PCs. Could not do it. We had about six different types of PC and I needed two images for XP but only one for Debian GNU/Linux. XP wants a different driver for each mouse for instance whereas GNU/Linux treats mice as generic by functionality. Even with two images for XP, I would often boot mouseless and have to wait while XP found a driver.

  30. Linux Apostate

    *sigh*. No, every ARM-based SoC is different. Different memory map, different interrupt map, different peripherals. Every SoC requires a different BSP.

    Whereas a kernel for a generic x86 PC will also boot on any other x86 PC. There is one BSP for all PCs. This is a good thing.

  31. Robert Pogson

    Many suppliers of PCs provide updates for software they install, at least restoration or backup facilities. Many GNU/Linux distros support their OS with package management and repositories. Google has not chosen to do that and re-invents the wheel. Eventually they will adopt a similar system as the distros because it works. An OEM that intends to sell millions of copies would make an effective repository, restoration and backup system. They could sell the idea as an added feature.

    ARM’s idea is a “system on a chip”. That is an architecture. Some copy ARM’s architecture, more or less exactly and add stuff on a small circuit board for additional features. The biggies alter what goes on the chip for more features. see http://www.arm.com

  32. Linux Apostate

    “Canonical does not need to support ARM. The OEMs who install it on their systems and release it to consumers will do that.”

    Well… not really. Would you want to be dependent on your OEM for kernel updates? Android has really suffered from that. It’s a bad idea. No wonder Google is trying to drop it.

    “ARM attempts to provide everyone with standard platforms but any OEM adding peripherals still has some work to do.”

    No, ARM doesn’t. They provide CPU cores and some other IP. The architecture is up to the system builder. It’s always been like that; every ARM development board I have ever seen, including those from ARM, has had a completely different architecture and required a totally different BSP. That’s fine for embedded systems but not a good idea for general purpose computers. Microsoft knows that, and is trying to fix it.

  33. Richard Chapman

    It’s beginning to look like a race to “Who Will Invent the Next Great User Interface!?”, without bothering to ask if one even needs to be invented. Maybe these things EVOLVE!

  34. Robert Pogson

    That’s how I feel about it. It’s like seeing an associate have a mental breakdown. They are successful with what they do. Where’s the need for revolution? I don’t see the “attract users” from that other OS thing working. People like small cheap computers and they don’t much care about software as long as it works and gets out of the way. Maybe they feel they must “unclutter” the desktop. That doesn’t work for me and many people I know who need things in certain places in order to get to them quickly. Drilling down in menus or typing key-combinations to get something is alien to many people. It is far from “intuitive”. People have learned since birth to see things and reach for them. It looks like the new interfaces are about retraining people, something people resist. I see the things they think will “attract” are really going to repel many. There are those who like touchy smart phones, mostly young folks with good eyes and fast fingers. There are more who liked things “the way they were” more or less. It’s human nature. Ubuntu seems to want to change human nature, a long shot.

  35. nightgoblin

    Well, this is puzzling. First they design new smart thingy-like interface from scratch, then they decide not to support smart thingies. What’s going on in Canonical?

  36. Richard Chapman

    It’s easy to add more features by simply adding more code. Unfortunately when you’re starting with a base of 40 million lines of code (as in Vista) and you want to add more features while stuffing your OS into ARM, it’s not going to be easy. Microsoft may have trimmed down the code base some the Windows 7, or maybe not but either way they have to do more with less. That should make for a very interesting end product.

  37. Robert Pogson

    Canonical does not need to support ARM. The OEMs who install it on their systems and release it to consumers will do that. One of the reasons Google is holding back Android 3 is to make sure the first major players have a solid installation which the rest can aspire to matching. Canonical will also work with OEMs to tune the system for their particular devices. ARM attempts to provide everyone with standard platforms but any OEM adding peripherals still has some work to do.

    As long as M$ does not embed M$-only stuff Android/Linux or GNU/Linux will have no trouble running on it. I don’t expect M$ to be very successful in ARM so there will be lots of devices built with nowhere to go. That is excellent for GNU/Linux. I remember many of M$’s releases that were late for many reasons. I expect “8″ will be no different. There is talk of beta-testing this fall. It could be a year or more before there is any possibility of a release, an eternity in the world of ARM. Look at the delays Android has had with 3.0 and no legacy cruft to accommodate… Android and iOS together will ship many millions of devices in a year. I hear the channels of supply are already maxed-out. There isn’t a lot of room in that for M$’s vapour-ware.

  38. Linux Apostate

    ARM support as in “support for the ARM ISA” is easy. ARM support as in “support for every ARM-based architecture” is very, very hard. Especially when you consider customer support and testing!

    Some of the guys over on Linux Hater are talking about Linux’s buggy support for WiFi and suspend on their laptops. Now that’s an old story you’ve heard many times, and it’s the reason I bought a Thinkpad, but it got me thinking about ARM and the complete lack of any sort of standard architecture outside the CPU.

    If right now Canonical has trouble supporting all the PC-compatible laptops (and tablets), how much worse will it be when they’re not PC-compatible at all? When every model of laptop (or tablet) has a completely different and totally arbitrary architecture in which the only common factor is the ARM CPU? When every model needs it’s own kernel?

    It will be next to impossible to support that. No surprise that Canonical are not even going to try.

    However, I think that’s only a short term thing. You know that Microsoft has already specified a standard architecture for Windows 8-compatible ARM-based devices? It’s currently still under NDA, but when compatible devices have been manufactured, there will finally be some standard ARM architecture for Linux to aim at. Every ARM device will be able to use the same kernel. The testing and support effort will be greatly reduced.

    Just another thing to thank Microsoft for?

  39. Dann

    Since Ubuntu is based on and similar to Debian, which as ARM support, I am surprised that Canonical has not gone in that direction. Obviously they’d lose some apps in the process, but agility is what saves FOSS software and sets it apart.

    Taking Ubuntu away from FOSS will kill it slowly.

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