Sam Varghese is at it again, writing about things he knows well in IT. Occasionally I disagree with him and this is one of those times.
Sam wrote, “People join the Ubuntu community – or any other free software or open source software community for that matter – for their own selfish reasons. Every human act, no matter how altruistic it may appear on the surface, is ultimately selfish.”
This is preposterous. While it may often be true it is certainly not generally true. Does a mother change diapers for years for selfish reasons? Tell me. What are those reasons? There are certainly times when people do things for altruistic reasons: self-sacrifice, planting a tree, picking up litter, and creating, using and distributing FLOSS. There is a lot of altruism to go around.
Sam’s main thesis is that users of a distro have no right to demand direction in the organization of a distro. That’s wrong. Without diverse people demanding a lot a distro can lose its way and become less than it could be or even die. Many heads are better than a few. We’ve seen a lot of distros die but more spring up. Some have no merit at all and deserve to die while others bring forth great riches. A wise woman once told me, “Judge a tree by its fruit.” Distros that are open and accept criticism as input can and do become great and greater. A distro that ignores that input from users has nowhere to go but down. It does not matter how superb a product is. If the users are not there it’s irrelevant.
The Ubuntu distro became large and important because of it’s roots. “One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.” – Desmond Tutu
It was one thing when Mark Shuttleworth formed a different kind of distro which invited people in. It’s another when Mark sets his own course and casts people like me overboard. The “walled garden”/”my way or the highway” approach does not work well in FLOSS. Even Linus who is the ultimate “benevolent dictator” type listens and responds to criticism and accepts that GPLv2 was one of his smart choices. GPLv2 ultimately lets anyone disagree with Linus to the point of forking the project. The reason that Linux hasn’t forked nine ways to Sunday is that there is consensus that Linux is working well. The vast majority of users of Ubuntu are not developers so they cannot do that but they can hunt for another distro. I think that’s what Distrowatch is seeing. Mint, Fedora and openSuse are getting a total hits per day count three times what Ubuntu was getting at its height. That says something and Mark Shuttleworth should listen. Are OEMs going to sell his product if the users don’t want it? Is this the “night of the long knives” where the people who brought Ubuntu to prominence are to be cast aside for the possibility of greater commercial acceptance? Where do people get these strange ideas?
Mark Shuttleworth has done the world a great favour in producing Ubuntu. I agree 100% with many of ideas about how smooth a distro should be. Quoting from his blog,
“We also need to do justice to the fact that 12.04 LTS will be the preferred desktop for many of the world’s biggest Linux desktop deployments, in some cases exceeding half a million desktops in a single institution. So 12.04 is also an opportunity to ensure that our desktop is manageable at scale, that it can be locked down in the ways institutions need, and that it can be upgraded from 10.04 LTS smoothly as promised. Support for multiple monitors will improve, since that’s a common workplace requirement.”
Excellent ideas, but he’s foreclosing on thin clients, one of the best ways to scale-out desktops. One of the reasons why I fled Ubuntu years ago was that it just was not suitable for thin clients. For example, there was a printing-monitor widget that was checking the print queue, on the terminal server every second for every user and I had 153 of them. That was useless traffic for the CPUs and the network. I also had a simple update of an icons package break the display manager. What’s with that? How does that make things scale? Now, he’s cast out X which works beautifully for thin clients. Then GNOME…. What next? All of the stuff I and many others need from a distro are being taken away without reason.
A distro is like a child or a family. It is no one’s possession. It has a life of its own. If you hold a bird in your hand too tightly it will die. Same thing applies to a distro. Diversity gives a distro strength and endurance. Monoculture makes it brittle. Ubuntu is breaking.