Linux

Two things Canonical can do to heal the rift in the open source community

Jack Wallen has been giving the rift between the open source community and Canonical a lot of thought. Here are two things Canonical needs to change.

This past week, after my last Ubuntu Unity article I posted, I received a lot of email regarding Ubuntu's default desktop. Some of the emails were filled with praise about the efficiency and user-friendliness of Unity. Others...not so much. But out of that influx of communications, something became very clear to me. That something is why the users that have decided to abandon Unity have done just that.

I want to preface this by saying that Unity is still my go-to desktop. Of all the desktops I've ever used (and I've used more than I can count or remember), Unity simply makes sense to me. It's logical flow of work makes my job a lot easier.

But that's not what this is about. I've already extolled the benefits of Unity enough. Now it's time to talk about the opposite side of the coin -- why users are leaving and why Canonical should actually be concerned.

Yes, I know there are political decisions that have soured the opinions of many a Linux die hard. I not only understand that -- I fully appreciate and support the ideology. That doesn't mean, for me, Ubuntu and Unity are a no-go.

Configuration, or lack thereof

As Fred Sanford used to shout out -- "This is the big one!" The amount of users who come to me saying, "I used to be able to to X with my desktop -- now I cannot." or "Why can't I make Unity behave like Y?" The only available answer is: "It's because the Ubuntu developers (and probably Mark Shuttleworth) have decided you now do it like Z." This, of course, begins to sound very much like the Apple way of thinking. In the world of OS X, you do it like Jobs or you don't do it. Simple. But the thing is, this is Linux -- users are accustomed to being able to do things their way. Customization has always been one of the biggest attractions to Linux.

At least for the enlightened,  who also happen to be the ones doing the most complaining.

If you take a look at Unity from a new user's perspective, you get a completely different opinion. I've handed quite a number of Window's converts a Unity-based desktop. Some of the reactions I've heard:

  • "This is nice!"
  • "I like this."
  • "Oh, this makes total sense."
  • "Why didn't someone think of this before?"

But to those that drank the Linux Kool-Aid long ago, Unity is too controlling, too confining, too dictatorial. Linux users are a peculiar bunch -- they want what they want and they want it to function and behave in a very precise and particular way. With Ubuntu? That old school of thought is tossed out the window. It's a "you get what you get" school of thought and it feels like it doesn't conform to the open source way.

For me? Well, I got lucky, I guess, and Ubuntu Unity looks and behaves exactly how I would like a desktop. For many others? Not so much.

Developer rift

Another issue that came to light is a bit more daunting and damning. This came to light when I discovered an issue with OpenShot, Blender, and Ubuntu 13.04. It's a bug that apparently has been around since 12.10 and it renders the animated titles worthless. When I was on the OpenShot forums I was told the developers probably won't be doing anything with that bug as they are focusing on version 2.0. The bug is an issue with the transparent backgrounds used in the animated titles. Instead of transparency, there's a light gray background which blocks the clips underneath.

That bug? Not on Fedora, Debian, Bohdi, AVLinux (based on Debian), and a number of other distributions. Any distribution based on Ubuntu 12.10 or higher -- you've got a problem. Although this isn't one of those issues where a developer (or groups of developers) are saying, "We don't care about fixing this for Ubuntu because of how we feel toward Canonical!" But the idea that there might well be developers (such as anyone associated with Wayland) who will turn their backs on Ubuntu -- simply because of decisions made by Shuttleworth -- could cause large-scale, cascading issues that could eventually lead to the entirety of the open source community turning their backs on Ubuntu.

If there is one thing Canonical should not do, it is shun the members of a community that has helped give rise to the popularity of Ubuntu Linux. If more and more developers do this, Ubuntu will find themselves with a mass of software that will no longer function. Then what? Will they do what they did with Mir and create every application in house? We all know that will never happen. Even if Canonical wanted to do such a thing -- they'd never find the capital to make it happen.

I'm a fan of Ubuntu; I have been for a very long time. It would be a great shame to see all of the hard work the designers and developers have put into this platform to go to waste. I would like to see two things happen:

  • More customization options for Unity
  • Canonical and Shuttleworth making amends for the rifts they have caused between the open source community and Ubuntu

If those two things were to happen, Ubuntu could find themselves back in the hearts of the open source community. That step would go a long way to solidify Ubuntu as the open source desktop for a new revolution.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

11 comments
millercl
millercl

I don't like being told what UI to use or not. Disliked them taking my ability to choose. Thats why I don't use the doz unless I have too. Some one tel

Slayer_
Slayer_

You can just go to the Ubuntu website and pick a different version of their OS that has a different default GUI. Problem solved. The Linux guru's couldn't figure that out?

ctoc1usa
ctoc1usa

From the comments above mine I had not used all the options available to me when I was running Ubuntu 11.10 within windows vista. I will have to clean my machine of by putting the Vista Disk In or changing to Windows 7 with a new number from Windows. That so I can see and experiment. I've got to buy a larger hardrive, put either in Windows 7, Windows 8 because I like the linux desktops and the Gnome

wolsonjr
wolsonjr

Left Ubuntu long ago and never looked back.

ctoc1usa
ctoc1usa

I don't understand the need for unity, I always liked the older versions of Ubuntu because of the simplicity but now I am confused by the use of unity. I will have to buy another computer later to see how the Ubuntu latest operating system works on a modern labtop. If like it I will probably love it but for right now, on the old hardware I am running I can't see using it.

janitorman
janitorman

That's why I use Xubuntu. Very customizable, easy for a "Noob" Windows User, readily available. Unfortunately, it won't be supported by Canonical much longer. There are so many other distros out there, though, it doesn't matter to me. I also don't think Canonical will care if they lose me to something else. Their purpose isn't to support any and every potential Linux Desktop user out there. The die-hard Linux old-timers most likely will customize their own desktop, using something like Debian, Fedora, Arch... The newbies will probably pick the new "most popular" Mint. EVERYONE uses Google's Android.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

The reasoning behind Ubuntu, as in out windowing Microsoft in the appliance user desktop space is the bit that doesn't interest me. I can see the advantage to Cannonical, I can see advantages to appliance users. For me personally, I see none. Each to their own.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

If it's true that Unity has that "you get what you get" Apple-like flavor to it, it's not true that it's the only thing you can get. Unity is only one of many desktop environments that are provided with Ubuntu or supported by Ubuntu (xfce, LXDE, KDE, Mate, Cinnamon, Enlightenment, et al). Unity happens to be the default desktop when you do an install (from the Desktop DVD; the Server DVD lets you pick from several options), but why does the thinking of so many keep tripping over this and falling into the fallacy that "Unity is forced on you". It's not; it's just the default -- a changeable default. (I always install Gnome Shell myself.) Perhaps everyone is concerned because Ubuntu on tablets and smartphones will be Unity -- it's one of the primary design drivers for the UI, after all. Is that an (indirect) indication that so many believe that the 'desktop unification' is going to happen? I think it will happen, but am I (a Gnome Shell user) worrying about that? Not really; I think Gnome 3 will be tablet-friendly, too. In any case, I can just switch between desktops if/when I use Ubuntu on mobile. After all, I switch from Windows 7 at work to using Ubuntu at home. No big deal. Another consideration: Unity is still evolving -- so its criticisms have a "remove from the shelf by date" tied to them. Lets see where Shuttleworth is taking it. But by all means, if you don't like it, use whatever you do like. What other OS allows you that kind of freedom -- the ultimate customizability is being able to change your entire desktop UI at a whim. And still be able to run your OS and apps.

ahanse
ahanse

They may not like the terse nature of Apple applied to them BUT who is selling stuff AND making lots of money, actually obscene amounts. If what you say about the rumblings by some has any truth, then that explains why Linux desktop has languished in the doldrums. Canonicals’ endeavours I assume are to make a Linux desktop suitable for the masses, one to excite but it looks like they may fail before they can even gain any momentum. Pity about that. The old proverb "too many cooks spoil the broth" certainly rings true.

extremeskillz
extremeskillz

As an experience Linux user I find myself like you Jack. I use Ubuntu for everything and love Unity. The customization is the only thing that I wish could be expanded on. I did however install tools like Ubuntu Tweak and Unity Tweak Tool to get it my way and I am safe to say I am a happy Ubuntu user who uses it to administer Windows systems. I can say that Canonical should not ignore their users but also to continue on the good work with an excellent OS.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

If Canonical stops supporting it (directly), I expect another group will take it over. A similar thing happened when the Gnome team dropped Gnome 2: It was forked, renamed Mate, and today Mint provides it as (one of two) default desktops. I don't think it's likely that "menu-based" desktops will disappear from the Linux world. If there's demand, there will be a group to provide...

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