Ubuntu’s Raring Ruckus Much Ado About Nothing

I have been an ardent supporter of Ubuntu for a while now and had the amazing opportunity to attend UDS and meet the amazing people behind the distribution. This includes Canonical employees and community contributors from around the world including Mark Shuttleworth himself.

It was with sadness that I watched Mark’s blog post twisted and turned in to something ‘ugly’. Here are a few of the twisted headlines:

Key parts of Ubuntu 13.04 will be developed in secret, to escape the critics’ ire

Ubuntu moves some Linux development inside

Canonical’s Mark Shuttleworth Tires Of Critics, Moves Key Ubuntu Developments Out Of Public Eye

There are others, but what I find interesting is that the headlines were so far from reality. We all suspect why that would be… to get more clicks. Sensational titles that stir strong emotions make for great hit counts. Fortunately for the bloggers and associated sites I have a higher standard of Ethics so I will not name names, nor will I claim that I know their motivations.

For those that have not seen it here is the part of Mark’s blog post that is being distorted.

So, we thought we would extend the invitation to people who trust us and in whom we have reason to trust, to work together on some sexy 13.04 surprises. The projects range from webby (javascript, css, html5) to artistic (do you obsess about kerning and banding) to scientific (are you a framerate addict) to glitzy (pixel shader sherpas wanted) to privacy-enhancing (how is your crypto?) to analytical (big daddy, big brother, pick your pejorative). But they all make the Ubuntu experience better for millions of users, they are all groundbreaking in free software, they will all result in code under the GPL (or an existing upstream license if they are extensions to existing projects). No NDA’s needed but we will need to trust you not to talk in your sleep ;) . We’ll also need to trust you to write code that is thorough and tested, stuff you’ll be as proud of as we are of the rest of the Ubuntu experience. Of course.

Mark Shuttleworth

I put in red the key parts of this text that caught my eye. I am not sure how extending an invitation or producing code under the GPL is a bad thing. I am not sure how an honest person could produce a headline claiming that Mark did this because he was ‘tired of critics’. I saw this as a positive opening up of projects like Unity; an opening up in the infancy stage of the project. That is a positive step towards more openness while preserving the ability of Canonical and Ubuntu to make headline release splashes at tech events. Those ‘splashes’ and headlines allow the distribution to pierce the popular media and gain recognition in global computer user population who goes to a big box store to buy a computer. Seriously go ask a non-tech minded computer user what Fedora is and they will tell you it is a type of hat. Ask them what Ubuntu is and you have a far, far better chance of telling you that has something to do with a computer. I, in fact, had this experience Thursday night at my last Linux User Group Meeting (LUGOR) when a young college student stumbled upon our meeting.

student: What meeting is in here?

linux user 1: It is a Linux user group.

student: What is Linux?

Fedora user: You know, like Fedora.

student: It is a meeting about hats.

Ubuntu user: Have you heard of Ubuntu?

student: Yeah, that has something to do with computers, right?

That exposure is important for Ubuntu, Canonical and Linux as a whole. I understand the need for ‘splash’ and ‘magic moments’ in the process of growing a community.

There is another aspect though. Why does the first iteration of a piece of code have to be completely public? Is there some requirement that it must be? I have no issue with someone,  or a group, who has an idea trying to build their first release in a small circle. I would take issue if they did not open up the code after or were unwilling to take feedback and improve the code. What is happening with 13.04 is a more open environment than what happened before, not a more closed environment.

Now, over the years Canonical has invested extensively in building components to help grow and improve the Ubuntu experience. Examples of this include Unity, Juju, Launchpad, Bazaar, Ubuntu One, and various other projects. The majority of these projects are fully open and anyone can participate in them.

Jono Bacon

So, in the future we can expect the community to have people ‘sitting at the table’ with Canonical developers when projects like Juju, Ubuntu One and Unity are being born. I see this as an amazingly good thing. An amazing amount of trust being extended by Canonical and the individuals working on the projects. I also think it will help produce better results and stronger first release code.

Please note that this is my opinion and from my vantage point. I fully acknowledge that others have different frames of reference and are entitled to their opinions.

6 Responses to Ubuntu’s Raring Ruckus Much Ado About Nothing

  1. Martin Owens says:

    I wonder if lack of interest in the development of smaller or more technical projects creates the required seclusion resources necessary to try new things and get a release ready without having all one’s failures from the process pointed out.

    I guess the theory is that Ubuntu’s wildest features are not technical enough to hide in plain sight and Ubuntu itself is too big to be ignored creating all sorts of unwanted attention from well meaning users.

    But this is just pure speculation and idle thought.

  2. Mick says:

    I think you may not realize how stuff do work in the media. Most of the time, unless there is someone to make a splash, just discussing it on the list will not change anything. IE, buzz doesn’t happen by magic, you have to work for that, unless that’s highly controversial ( of course, but I doubt that’s the reason why stuff should be kept secret ).

    So saying “we want to keep it for the start behind closed doors to make a big splash” seems weird to me. Take a look at Android/Ubuntu. The prototype of Dalvik running on Ubuntu was announced and demoed around Q1 in 2011, and yet few people relayed that in the press ( in fact most people forgot that ). The same goes for Unity when this was just Ubuntu Netbook edition. Or the same for most features that were discussed at UDS.

    Given the feedback on the whole Amazon/Unity integration, I think being fully open is required to miminize such problem in the future. Right now, this will just make some people to feel excluded ( hack, maybe that’s even why there was such article ) because they are not in the cool club and while I know the goal is to open more in the end, in the short term, this is unfortunately not the best decision ( IMHO). IE, if you try to be open, do not say loudly “we will be open but we cannot say what or why and we will just be open by being closed at the beginning”. No need to be a English major to understand the message doesn’t go well.

    And yet, I agree, I think the whole press totally misunderstood the announce and that’s just sad. But given the fact that Ubuntu cater to certain types of users who are keen on discussing endlessly drama ( if you see comments on omg ubuntu, you may see what I mean ), there is a positive incentive to have the most sensationalist headline for a website ( quite ironic when the reason for being silent on projects is to be able to make headlines ) because most of them get money by having visitors. So sensationalist headlines are the price we pay to not not pay for our newspapers.

  3. Reblogged this on anthonyvenable110 and commented:
    I was concerned at first but I checked it out and now I understand

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  5. Jo-Erlend Schinstad says:

    First, let me emphasize that this is not based on Shuttleworths post. It’s a thought that’s been brewing in me for a long time, ever since the patent wars really went snowball.

    For almost all kinds of development, complete openness is the best approach. If we want to design user friendly things, then the least experienced users should be invited to join the discussion. But there are some kinds of development that probably shouldn’t be discussed in public. Let’s say someone comes up with a software concept that is so revolutionary that it’ll be referred to as the anti-gravity of software. Designers in the proprietary software companies want to impress their bosses, so they listen to these mailinglists. While the discussion on the mailinglist is just getting interesting, the company’s lawer is already in a taxi headed for the patent office. And if you think this doesn’t happen in real life, ask Savannah Carroll how she feels about Lindex (which has nothing to do with software and _nothing_ to do with Linux :))

    There is no defense against this, because proprietary designers work in secret, while we work in the open. There is no common timeline to compare in order to prove that the idea was stolen from the open community. The only possible defense that I know of, is prior art. It will be easy to prove when certain products hit the market and if you can hit the market before the proprietors get government protection, then you’re in the clear. Then the proprietary companies will have to prove that they came up with the idea first, which they won’t be able to.

    I believe that we need arenas where we can discuss those mind boggling ideas without the risk of those ideas being used against Free Software at a later time. And I don’t believe in NDAs, because I believe people break vows of secrecy all the time. We need a network of real trust; people who has demonstrated over time that they would never _want to_ sell out, because they believe in a future of openness. Once the first generation of the implementation is out in the open, then it is protected and then there’s no need for further secrecy.

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