Ubuntu

Ubuntu Community Turmoil - Perspective and Advice from an Outsider

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Canonical has announced quite a few things over the past couple of days, weeks and months. Many of the announcements have been quite exciting in a good way (Ubuntu Phone and Ubuntu Tablet) and some of them seem to be a little shocking... that have some in the Ubuntu Community feeling betrayed, ignored or worse.

Just to review, I've not really been an Ubuntu fan. I'm a Red Hat and Fedora fanboi. I've often been critical of Canonical although not really of the volunteer community that supports Ubuntu. You know the same old stuff about how Canonical doesn't work with upstream, they don't contribute back much, most of the work that is outwardly visible is on their proprietary stuff... they seem to get way more credit than they deserve... and they still, so far as I know, haven't figured out a way to be profitable... which I think is very important for something so many people depend on. You've heard all of that before many times from many people. Nothing new here.

A tiny bit of history - One of the things in the beginning, in my opinion, that got Canonical and Ubuntu so popular so fast was that there were a lot of end users of Red Hat Linux that were upset with a few things. The first was that Red Hat started a pay support service for Red Hat Linux where users would pay $5/month ($60 a year) for faster download speeds of updates and isos. Then Red Hat created the pay-only Red Hat Enterprise Linux... and seemed to put way less effort into Red Hat Linux 8 and 9. And of course they said flat out that they didn't think that Linux on the desktop was a viable / profitable option and they were going to put all of their efforts into Linux for servers. It took a while for the Fedora Project to be born and to actually get to a point where they were something that resembled a real community project rather than this awkward thing that Red Hat did to appease the mobs. As us Fedora folks know, the Fedora Project some time ago got to the point where it was on par with Debian (or pretty close to it) with regards to being self sustainable and having a nice set of ethics they operate by. Granted Fedora doesn't support anywhere near as many architectures as Debian does, but you get my point. Fedora (and Red Hat) do a lot of stuff and it's all based on free (as in speech) software. Anyway, I don't want to get too far off on a Fedora tangent... because I don't have much new information to offer.

My point is (I think that) Mark Shuttleworth saw the turmoil in the Red Hat community and as a result he tried to capitalize on it by saying early on that Ubuntu would always be free (as in beer) and that they were going to concentrate on Desktop Linux.

Since I've been through some turmoil with Red Hat and Fedora... it pains me to see the Ubuntu Community in the situation it is in now. The advice I'd like to convey is... relax... don't jump to conclusions... don't let your feelings get the best of you... be logical... keep doing what you've been doing... and as time passes... a lot of the confusion caused by uncertainty will clear up... and things will get way better... and you'll be happy again.

Facts for Ubuntu Developers (a different FUD) - I can understand that the non-Unity spins of Ubuntu are scared about Mir... but how is that different from the turmoil a switch to Wayland would have caused anyway? Regarding the Rolling Release move, Mr. Shuttleworth seems to be against the idea after all, so do you think that is going to happen?

Yes, Canonical is moving in some new and different directions and their vision doesn't seem to match as well as it has in the past with much of the volunteer Ubuntu community... but so what? As a community you can still do what you want to. The vast majority of the software is FLOSS and you can continue to do with it as you wish. You may have to muster more resources that were previously provided by Canonical... so you may have to work harder to move in your own direction... but don't worry... it'll be worth it so hang in there. Don't quit. Don't give up.

I could go on and on with specific examples but I think I'd only bore people and hopefully I've gotten my point across already.

Motivation, Smotivation - Why am I being supportive of Canonical? Well, I'm not really. I'm just trying to be supportive of the volunteer Ubuntu community. Ok, maybe I am trying to be a little supportive of Canonical. Being a Fedora fanboi why would I want to do that? The answer is simple really. I think there is a big enough pie for a dozen Linux and FLOSS companies. Why should Red Hat remain the beacon of success... that seems to prove to be the exception to the rule rather than the rule. Red Hat didn't want the desktop market. They made that very clear... and they picked the server market and have executed and delivered quite well in that space. Who else is trying to be a commercial success in the Linux desktop and mobile space? Do we really want a Google Everything future? Do we want Android to be the "future of Linux"? If you didn't already guess my answers to those questions... it is a strong NO. I've been hoping that Canonical would find some way to make a good profit in an ethical and community friendly way as yet another example of business success with FLOSS... and maybe they'd spark some interest in Red Hat to move into the Desktop and mobile market.

I kind of think Mr. Shuttleworth handicapped himself with the "it'll always be free" comment at the beginning. I mean... ok, one or more forms can remain free but can't they also come up with some way to make a pay version too? That would be a more direct way to be profitable rather than trying to gain a massive userbase where only a small percentage of users are paying for cloud services or purchasing things where Canonical gets a small cut of the revenue... but who am I to question a millionaire about the best ways to make money?

Worst case scenerio... the bulk of the people that are the Ubuntu community now... fork off and become a renamed community... more able to focus on the goals they think are important... without needing or wanting the approval of Canonical nor Mark Shuttleworth. Would that be a lot of work? Heck yeah. Are they anywhere near that point yet? Not even close. Ideally I envision a sort of relationship similar to what Red Hat has with Fedora... between Canonical and a refocused Ubuntu Community. It depends on what Canonical really thinks about their community. I know what they say in public about them... but I don't think that is necessarily what they 100% believe.

In Conclusion - So, my advice for now... to the Ubuntu community folks is... just relax... don't get overly excited... keep doing what you have enjoyed doing... and let some time pass... and it'll probably just get all better by itself. So, boiling that down to two words, "Don't panic!". Even if your worst fears came true, and I don't think they will, you have some positive, viable paths of action.

Any questions?


Video: Ubuntu 11.10 Review

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For our Ubuntu fans as well as those who just want to learn about the upcoming release, I found this on youtube. I was hoping for HTML5 playback option, but this seems to be Flash only. The review was done from a recent release candidate that I believe will be the final release due out this Thursday. I still prefer KDE myself. :)

Opinion: On Canonical, Red Hat, and their communities

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When I can, I try to participate in The Linux Link Tech Show when it is streaming LIVE... but even when I can't I often listen to the archived recordings. When I find something interesting I'll sometimes shoot Dann Washko an email with my thoughts. This morning I found myself writing a long email to him on a subject they covered on their June 15 episode (#407). I thought I'd post it here too.

It just so happens that several of TLLTS regulars had attended the Southeast Linuxfest the weekend prior and one of the conversations that Dann encountered there was about Canonical and Ubuntu. Dann spoke about the questions and opinions he heard raised and asked for everyone else's opinions but he didn't get a whole lot of feedback so I thought I'd provide him with some.

I'll admit yet again... I'm a big Red Hat and Fedora fan and I am biased... and I sometimes even serve as an apologist for them. While I think everything I say below is "fair and balanced"... I'm sure there are plenty of folks who disagree with me... and maybe one or two who agree... I do encourage feedback and comments from all sides. Read on at your own peril. :)


Video: UDS2011, Mark Shuttleworth Keynote

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Here's a video for all of you Ubuntu fans... Mark Shuttleworth's Keynote from the Ubuntu Developer Summit.

Sorry it is Flash-based. If anyone can give me a link to an alternative format or something I can download and convert, I'll repost.

On success and failure of Linux companies

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Here's a LONG response I wrote to one of the comments to the previously mentioned blog posting (The GNOME war) that I wanted to share here as well.

nelson,

Novell has already been sold. There is an investigation holding up the original transfer date but it is very likely to go through. There will be changes in Novell. If the company taking it over didn't think they could turn it around, they would not have bought it. Turning it around might end up being breaking up all of the pieces and selling some of them, keeping some of them, and killing some of them. Who knows what will happen? We'll just have to wait.

I'm not sure why you seem to be so unhappy with Red Hat with your "while Red Hat is imposing their rules" comment. What rules are they imposing? Is Red Hat in decline? I have no idea. I can tell you that their quarterly reports have been quite positive since they went public... which is pretty rare for any technology company much less a Linux company.

I see some people complaining about their stock prices and valuation... but what tech company on the stock market isn't overvalued? To me the stock market is fundamentally broken but that is a completely different topic so I'll leave it at that.

Oh wait, let me bring up one example. Apple. A while back I read some report where a leading PC magazine had one of their guys dig deeply into Microsoft's yearly earnings reports. The gist of the article was that the author believed he had discovered that Microsoft had moved around various things in their financial reporting to hide the fact that they had lost 1% of the desktop marketshare. Ok, let's think about that for a second. Who did they lose it to? Let's just say all of the 1% went to Apple. Last I checked, and I haven't checked in a while, Apple was very high up on the stock market. They are seen as the darlings of the tech industry... making the cool products... having the best usability... advertising on US TV (I don't know about the rest of the world) with a budget of tens of millions of US dollars. Sure they sold a ton of iPhones but the Android army has come into being and has hit them hard. The iPad has done quite well (15 million sold(?) with the iPad 2 coming out today)... and no one else in the market seems to have an inroad to significant marketshare in the "tablet" arena (which I don't even believe is a legitimate genre although Miguel de Icaza definitely disagrees with me buying his third iPad today). How are they doing with the desktop OS marketshare? They are supposedly selling lots of laptops... but in one of their best years in recent history... they have managed to pull 1% of the marketshare away from Microsoft? 1%? That's all? Yet they are a darling of the stock market... and the envy of the GNOME and Canonical developers.

Of course if you listen to others, the desktop is dead and there is no reason to care about it anymore... and FOSS developers should start working on cloud apps before it is too late... and some say it is already too late.

Wow, I'm getting off on some tangents. In any event, you can see that the tech industry is a tangled web of twisty little passages... all different. :) (Who knows where geeky reference comes from?)

Also, I'm not sure where people keep coming up with this figure that Ubuntu has "60% of the Linux desktop marketshare". I have no idea if it does or not... but determining that is near to, if not completely, impossible. For the sake of argument, let's say it's true. Have they been able to turn a profit yet? If not, why not? How much of the marketshare will they have to gain BEFORE they can turn a profit? Stupid question. Having marketshare for something that is free doesn't make you successful. In fact, it can be a dead albatrose hanging around a company's neck. That is the situation Red Hat found itself in before it decided to go the enterprise Linux route.

Some say it is because Mr. Shuttleworth, who you obviously see as another legendary hero like many see Steve Jobs, has made it impossible for Canonical to make a profit because he has tried to focus the company in too many directions... meaning that no particular direction gets enough focus to be successful. Others might say that doing that is like throwing many things at the wall and seeing which ones stick. He keeps throwing things, and so far nothing has really stuck... nothing that will make the company profitable. I'm not saying that Canonical won't figure it out. I certainly hope they do... because the Linux market needs more FINANCIAL successes... not less.

If Red Hat and Novell falter (which I don't think is going to happen)... while it might shift some customers over to other companies... it will make Linux seem like a less stable technology platform to pay for and invest in. Red Hat has shown that it can be done by having positive financial statements quarter after quarter... all while releasing everything they do as FOSS... and you want them to be taken down? You do know how much they contribute to the Linux kernel, gcc, GNOME, x.org, etc... right?

I do know that if Novell fails or Red Hat falters... any people they have to shed will most likely be snapped up by other companies. Linux can survive the loss of Linus and Linux can survive the loss of one or more of its major distros... but we'd like to do more than survive.

If you ignore everything else I write, please realize that there is plenty of room for more than one or two successful Linux companies. We all do better, when we all do better. :)

Just because you see Arch and Ubuntu and not much else used in your neck of the woods doesn't mean that is how it is everywhere else. Red Hat and Novell are doing well in the "enterprise" space and CentOS is doing quite well too. Debian also.

I think your supposition that if someone uses distro X in high school and/or college they will refuse to work for a company that doesn't use distro X... is silly. Or maybe you were saying that the company they work for will be forced (somehow) to switch to distro X because that's what their new employee(s) use. Riiiiiiiiight. That might be true for major OSes... but not from one flavor of Linux to another. Distros are 95% the same software and switching between them is not so difficult.

Thanks for the discussion, Scott Dowdle


Reponse to "The GNOME wars"

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I saw a posting on Fedora Planet entitled, The GNOME wars and just had to respond. Since I put some effort into my comment, I decided to post it here as well.

Nicu,

Your statements are a gross oversimplification of the situation... specifically with regards to GNOME 3 / Shell and Ubuntu Unity.

To date Canonical still has not learned how to properly collaborate with all of their upstreams. Some they have, some they haven't. GNOME is one that they haven't. It took Novell and Red Hat a while to get it right with GNOME and they made their share of mistakes along the way... or at least that is my understanding. The main problem is that in its dealings with GNOME, Canonical would provide completely done software/libraries without much prior collaboration with the GNOME developers on why the library was needed, what needed to be in it, and if any other already existing libraries could have accommodated some or all of the functionality. Just like with Linux kernel development, the developers prefer to be in the loop on developments and having some input and feedback rather than getting a big code dump out of nowhere.

Did Canonical read into that... that Red Hat, which does employ some of the top tier GNOME developers, was trying to block their code? Maybe they did... who knows. Was Red Hat actually trying to block their code? From the top (Red Hat management), absolutely not. That doesn't mean that one or more developers didn't turn their nose up at Canonical, which is possible... but I strongly doubt it. GNOME is a mature community with a wide range of participation from many companies (including Red Hat) as well as independent developers... and Red Hat does not control GNOME.

What we have here is Canonical wanting to have more control over the things that they care about (usability)... with the GNOME and Canonical developers having clashing differences in design decisions. That's all. While some may have reasons to play it other ways, that doesn't make it true.

I actually WISH there were a "war" between Red Hat and Canonical because that would be mean that Red Hat cared more about the desktop. Fedora cares about the desktop, but Red Hat, not so much. While Ubuntu Server may be becoming more popular on servers, I don't think it has eaten into Red Hat's business too much. Even if it had, and Red Hat was trying to be at "war" with them, I doubt they'd do it through GNOME. Ubuntu Server doesn't even ship with a desktop environment.

Who will win? No idea. I'm not even sure there has to be a winner. I've tried both GNOME 3 Shell (in Fedora 15 Alpha) and Ubuntu Unity (in Ubuntu 11.04 Alpha 3). GNOME 3 Shell seems much more polished and streamlined to me. I still haven't quite figured out Unity. If Unity matures and is liked by enough people, other distros will probably add it as an option. If GNOME 3 Shell does well, perhaps Canonical will change its mind. In any event I don't think we'll be able to tell much from the initial releases of either one. It will take time and a few release iterations for things and users to settle.

Having both, at least for the short term, will be a good thing as each project will work harder to compete with the other. For the long term, I'm not sure.

As always, I appreciate your postings as they make me think... and quite frequently, respond. :)

TYL, Scott Dowdle


BozemanLUG: Feb 2011 Meeting Report

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The meeting went pretty well last night although the attendance could have been better... but hey... it was darn cold outside so the weather wasn't co-operating.

In attendance were: Anish Bharata, Scott Dowdle, David Eder, Srinivas Gumdelli, Walter Neary, Jordan Schatz

Srinivas gave a presentation on Web-based Desktops / OSes and briefly demoed EyeOS. He also showed a short (~15 minutes?) video of Richard Stallman talking at a recent conference. I don't recall the name of the conference and I can't seem to find a copy of the speech online so if someone could provide me a link to that, I'd appreciate it. I also loaned out the books Free as in Freedom and Just for Fun to Srinivas and Anish.

I (Scott) showed GNOME 3 Shell on Fedora 15 Alpha, and Unity on Ubuntu 11.04 Alpha 2. Walter helped out showing Unity. We discussed how the upcoming releases of Fedora and Ubuntu will have a radically different user interface replacing GNOME 2.x... and how users might react to the changes. We also talked a about the community response to the KDE project's transition from the KDE 3 series to the 4 series and how that might be some indicator of how the changes in GNOME might go.

I think this was Walter's first meeting but he is very active in the #ubuntu-montana channel on the Freenode IRC channel. It is hard for Walter to attend meetings because he usually works evenings.

Jordan was a first time visitor. He is an independent web developer who specializes in LAMP programming. He mentioned he is looking for an accomplished Java programmer for one or more upcoming projects... so if you know anyone, please speak up. I hope our group interested him enough to attend future meetings. I asked him if he had anything he might be interested in giving a presentation on and he said he would consider doing two if there was interest: 1) NoSQL databases, MongoDB as an example, and 2) The Lisp programming languages. I told him that I was interested in both of those topics so hopefully we can get him to present one or both of those over the next few meetings.

Below are some links to articles or videos that were mentioned during the meeting.

The eyeOS web desktop
First look at Ubuntu "Natty" and the state of Unity
Why is Ubuntu 11.04 switching to Unity?
Shuttleworth: Unity shell will be default desktop in Ubuntu 11.04
Revolution OS documentary (Flash video)

General Discussion - Topics that came up included...

Jordan passed around his current generation Amazon Kindle eBook reader so we could see the eInk display it has. I asked him if he had seen the OLPC's display (because it has a monochrome mode similar to an eInk display) and he had not. I was going to show him an OLPC but all of them were checked out.

We talked about the recent Apple laptop product announcements and the new I/O port technology from Intel that they are the first to introduce named Thunderbolt (formerly Light Peak) While Apple is the first to market, expect to see Thunderbolt from all other PC makers real soon now.

Walter showed us pictures of the computer system he pieced together and talked about his three HD displays.


LXC: Ubuntu Working to Improve Containers

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I'm not familiar enough with Ubuntu Development to know just how far this might go but at the very least it appears that some Ubuntu developers have identified as a goal to make LXC usable for production stuff and to put it on par with KVM.

How to make LXC ready for production?

The linux container tools (http://lxc.sourceforge.net) raised some interest for the community but there are crucial functionalities which are missing. The purpose of the session is to identify these missing functionalities and prioritize them in order to have a ready for production component for the Natty server delivery.

CloudServerNContainersFinetune

Make the use of containers for service segregation on par with KVM in terms of functionality and transparancy.
[...]
Joe is a system administrator who wants to start a temporary image to run postfix. To save on resources he runs it using a container. He wants to be able to update the image without fear of updates un-doing hacks needed for containers.

Jane is a system administrator who wants to be able to mix containers with KVM VMs through libvirt. She wants libvirt to auto-start containers, and virt-manager to cleanly shut down the containers.

So far I see identification of problems and need for various features... and a LOT of "todo" lists. I hope they get a significant chunk of that accomplished... so that it can filter back upstream and be used by other distros too.


My Linux Experience

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In the vein of recent posts, I thought I might take a second to explain how I came to use Ubuntu. My first Linux experience was with Red Hat 5 or 6 I believe. I got CD out of the back of one of those Teach your Linux books. I was probably 16 at the time, and I knew a fair bit about computers but nothing serious. But I could whip up a little Turbo Pascal and QBasic :) Anyhow, I was of the mindset that "Hacking" was cool, and Linux popped up a lot in 2600 and Phrack magazines. I remember it took me the better part of a whole weekend to install it to the point where I could finally bring up an X server with the tiled background and big black X. Getting it to use the dial up modem and connect to my ISP took several more hours. I played around with it for about a week I think, concluding "this is neat, but I'm not really sure what to do with it."


An Application Dock for Linux

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I am a PC, Mac, and Linux user. At night I dual boot between Vista and Ubuntu and during the day I use a Mac almost exclusively. As a result, there are many things I like about using my Mac at work and would not mind seeing them on my home desktop. Since buying a Mac right now for personal use is out of the question I have to make do with what I already have. At any rate, one of the Mac features I actually like is the Dock.


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