Entitlement? No. Sharing? Yes.

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.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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9 Responses to Entitlement? No. Sharing? Yes.

  1. >>Sure, Ubuntu could work out in the end but I am unwilling to go along for the rough ride.

    What I said was that MY WAY may work out for Shuttleworth. I’m taking THE HIGHWAY, and I expect it will work out for me just fine. Before I read the article, I had the sense that people were way too mad at Ubuntu. I wish that Sam Varghese had made that simple argument, instead of talking about a sense of entitlement by people making choices they had every right to make. I’ve rarely read something so dumb by an author whose work I had previous enjoyed so much. The nihlistic point about selfishness was the low point.

    By the way, I like Unity. I wasn’t about to switch, and I’m pretty much renouncing Ubuntu because of the restricted repositories in the live CD, but it was an interface that required virtually no configuration to be usable, and unlike Gnome shell, it kept the Desktop metaphor intact.

  2. Yonah says:

    Sam may be correct if he clarifies his statement by saying, “the primary motivation in most cases, which if not primary is always present, is selfishness.”

    Even picking up litter is something good for myself because *I* want a clean environment. How could an artist become great if he does not take joy in his own creations? Without selfishness, the results wouldn’t be good.

    Interesting you should bring up raising a child. In China, a child’s primary duty is to take care of their parents when they become old. So, in fact, a Chinese mother who cares for her child is actually investing in her own future. I consider my own mother. Sure, she took care of me, but she also WANTED to have a child, for her own reasons. You can NEVER eliminate self, though many like you have tried to write it out of the equation.

    For better and worse, selfishness is a normal part of humanity. It’s also why capitalism works as well as it does. Though I wouldn’t argue that it’s perfect.

  3. Sure, Ubuntu could work out in the end but I am unwilling to go along for the rough ride. If they want to do bleeding-edge stuff in a popular distro, they should keep it as an experiment as Debian does.

  4. I’m grateful to Ubuntu for popularizing Debian. and for introducing me to sudo.

    I remember that sudo annoyed the hell out of me at first, because I hate change when it isn’t my idea, but now I usually prefer using sudo to logging in as root. Using root privileges while remaining my normal user self means that if I’m using ZSH, I won’t suddenly be yanked back into BASH, and tilde ~ still means my regular home directory and not /root, a place that I rarely need a shortcut to. Plus, I live alone, so I can can use sudo without a password for a computer that I never share with anybody.

    I don’t like where Ubuntu is going now. What the use of restricted repositories on Live Ubuntu signifies to me is that Ubuntu isn’t much interested in live media. I already suspected that, by the way that the reason for a live cd is always to “TRY UBUNTU”. It’s never a tool that has its own special uses.

    I believe that read-only live media has security applications that haven’t been discussed very much (the whole fixing with a reboot thing.) I’m using my own slax-based cd (kiara.blogspot.com) to provide a stable, secure environment for running legacy software (Slackware 12.2 with KDE 3.5.10). Ever try running a live CD, mounting a partition on the hard drive as home, and setting up a normal user account? I call it “live-rooting”. The / remains physically read-only, which is as secure as it gets, but ~ saves your media files and Desktop configuration. I’ve got a machine with my slax-based live CD installed to a fat32 partition, and it runs like I haven’t seen KDE run in years. And it’s set up to be read-only.

    So I do think Ubuntu is showing a lack of vision by restricting the Live CD, but you never know. My current favorite Debian distro
    is Kanotix, run by KANOS, who made an unpopular decision a few years ago to switch from Unstable to Stable debian repositories. Developers left him en masse to form Sidux, which later became aptosid. Meanwhile Kanos didn’t release a new Kanotix for a long time. Kanotix was presumed dead (by me, at least). And now, Kanotix is back with one of the best Debian- based distros I’ve ever seen.

    So maybe Shuttleworth’s insistence on “my way” and others choosing the highway will work out well for everyone in the end.

  5. Yep. The debian-installer appeared Nov. 2004 and it rocked.

    I came to Debian after my encounter with Ubuntu at Easterville. That was in 2006/7. I think Ubuntu was a good distro then but it did not offer much that Debian did not have and Debian certainly has all I need. I am sure other distros have improved as well and occasionally I will install one in a virtual machine, where it belongs… Real machines deserve Debian GNU/Linux.

  6. Correction: Meant to say that I would bluff my way through a WOODY install, not a Sarge install.

    And I also meant to say that my new favorite DEBIAN is Kanotix, not my favorite Ubuntu.

  7. At one time, the bit about Debian being hard to install was not strictly FUD. The first Debian I ever installed was called “Woody”. It came on seven CDs, and the installer would ask about 20-30 hardware questions, and I usually wouldn’t understand them. I’d have to bluff my way through a Sarge installation. Thank God for defaults! The Debian-installer project came to fruition sometime around 2004 with a web-based installation of Sarge, and suddenly Debian really was the UNIVERSAL OPERATING SYSTEM, for beginners as well as advanced. Sarge from the net was the first linux I’d ever seen that would come with the repositories set up, and that was huge for me back then. I would tell everyone at justlinux.com that Debian was the perfect distro for beginners, and no one really believed me, but Ubuntu proved me right.

    I really dislike Ubuntu 11.10. The kubuntu version has a weird bug in which KDE applications look more like Unity than KDE. I recorded that here:


    Just today, I discovered that new Ubuntu live CDs have restricted the repositories. In other words, the /etc/apt/sources.list file now looks like this:

    deb cdrom:[Ubuntu 11.10 _Oneiric Ocelot_ – Release i386 (20111012)]/ oneiric main restricted
    deb http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ oneiric main restricted
    deb http://security.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ oneiric-security main restricted
    deb http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ oneiric-updates main restricted

    The repositories are all restricted by default, which means I’m not allowed to use them. I can’t add software to the ramdisk while running the live CD, or even when using a flashdrive with a a peristence file that’s supposed to same my installs.

    Why is Ubuntu restricting this? Is the distro that’s giving out 5 GBs of cloudspace free to everyone trying to save a little bandwidth? It is because this will make it harder for someone to make his own customized Ubuntu CD?

    Who cares? Somebody finally crossed a line, and *buntu no longer interests me, even though I was able to hack my way back into the Ubuntu repositories by copying the restricted URL into my browser window, and climbing back up the repository tree. Not to be overly dramatic, but Ubuntu is dead to me. My new favorite Ubuntu is Kanotix.

  8. Amen.

    I remember when I first looked at GNU/Linux. The search engines lead me to Caldera because everyone reported it was easy to install. Later, I got the wanderlust and used Distrowatch every time I wanted to try another distro. I went through Mandrake, K12LTSP, Fedora, Slackware, tomsrtbt, LOAF, SystemRescueCD, DRBL, Clonezilla, Ubuntu and finally Debian GNU/Linux. I went to Debian GNU/Linux last because people said it was hard to install. That was pure FUD. I found Debian very easy to install. The repository thing was the only mystery to it but that was not a problem during installation.

    Underneath, most distributions of GNU/Linux appear the same to me, Linux kernel + GNU Utilities +GUI + Apps. Of course the GUI is optional.

  9. What I thought was weird about the Varghese article, aside from the odd abortive swipe at Bruce Blyfeld, was the term “sense of entitlement” assigned to the phenomenon of users talking about switching distros. Users DO have the right to switch distros. Their sense of entitlement is, in this case, right on the money.

    But Shuttleworth’s going to do what he wants. I happen to think that’s the way it should be, but it’s the way it is, regardless. Everything else is commentary on Shuttleworth doing what he wants, exccept for the commentary on the commentary.

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