Open Source

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 jackwallen.com.

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