Mark Shuttleworth addressed the audience for the kickoff of the recent Ubuntu Online Summit. In typical Shuttleworth fashion, he issued a sort of call to arms in an effort to bring the open source community together as one. To that end, Shuttleworth said:
"So, I'm issuing a call to people who participate in every desktop environment...to folks who work on all desktop environments to set aside our differences, to recognize that the opportunity now is bigger than those differences, to create experiences that span phones and tablets and PCs, to bring all of our applications, none of which are on one desktop environment or another to everywhere."
...and the people reacted. In fact, Aaron Seigo, a prominent figure in the world of KDE, called Shuttleworth out for:
"...creating schism after schism in the Linux desktop world, from Mir to Unity to making their own QML API from scratch and developing a mobile UX behind closed doors...".
The court of public opinion against Shuttleworth is that he hopes to get the whole of the open source community to help bring his endgame for Ubuntu to realization. In the eyes of those against Canonical, Shuttleworth would want Ubuntu to rise to the top of all other platforms — even to the detriment of every Linux distribution available. All of this, because Canonical decided to develop its own tools.
To this, I respond with a trip back in time to when Red Hat decided to focus entirely on enterprise solutions and spin off Fedora as a community-edition desktop, followed by CentOS as a community-edition server. There was outrage. How could Red Hat turn its back on the open source community?
Fast forward a decade or so and check the pulse of Red Hat and what and how it's doing now. Pretty well, I would say. Red Hat gives back to open source, and it has been a huge reason why Linux has made major inroads in the enterprise world.
Imagine, if you will, a world in which Red Hat didn't change its trajectory and continued focusing on the community desktop/server world? More than likely, SUSE would have picked up the slack — or, would it have continued in the same manner as Red Hat and focused on the desktop?
Do you see where this leads?
Linux has been at this same crossroad for a very long time — a point where it will take a leadership willing to make the hard decisions in order to force Linux through a very thick (and brittle) ceiling. That's what Canonical is attempting to do.
One simple goal: make the Linux desktop a household name. What Linux and open source fan doesn't want that?
I've been crying out for this for years. Now, it seems, the call needs to be a little bit louder and a little bit prouder.
If we (the Linux and open source community) want Linux to succeed as a mass-market desktop option, one thing has to happen: Every member of the Linux/open source community needs to rally behind the Linux desktop distribution that has the best chance at making the leap into the homes and businesses of the masses. Considering all that Canonical has done to leverage Ubuntu as a commercially viable option, the choice should be obvious to everyone.
Only it's not.
You see, there are a massive number of Linux fanboys and fangirls who are passionate about their distribution of choice. To each fan, their distribution of choice is the only logical solution to the age old Linux cry of "world domination."
Only it's probably not.
Nearly every Linux distribution has its pros and cons — some of those pros and cons are deal breakers and deal makers. And although my current desktop distribution is Ubuntu 15.04, I wouldn't say it is the best desktop distribution available (that title could very soon belong to Elementary OS Freya).
However, as Microsoft has proved over and over and over and over, success isn't always contingent on having the best platform. To become a success in today's world, there are so many factors that must be considered. Canonical has, very clearly, rolled more of those factors into the creation of its brand than any other desktop Linux distribution.
That's right, I said it — brand. That word is the key to a kingdom Linux has desperately wanted to rule for a very long time. Without brand, no Linux distribution will succeed to the level it needs.
Canonical gets that, and the company is doing everything it can to solidify that brand and make sure it's consumer worthy. Since Canonical brought to life the idea of convergence, it was clear the company had a master plan. Yes, part of that plan was to build some crucial systems in-house (even when there were pre-existing options available), and this brought forth the vitriol of a number of members of a few communities (think Wayland).
The truth of the matter is, many distributions could re-focus their efforts toward building a brand that people will want. But, do they have the capacity to layer the serious business of re-branding over their development prowess? Are they willing to make unpopular decisions in the name of this rebranding?
My guess is no and no.
Ubuntu, Mint, Elementary, openSUSE, Mageia, and Debian are all strong enough candidates for the desktop platform of the masses. Of those distributions, only one has enough brand momentum to pull it off.
It may not be the best flavor of Linux. It may not be the most user friendly, open, or fan-favorite distribution. It is, however, the one distribution best poised for mass acceptance. But for that to happen, the entire Linux and open source community needs to get behind the effort. That does not mean, in any way, that we all need to turn our backs on our distribution of choice; it only means joining the effort to get the one flavor of Linux with the best chance at mass acceptance in front of the masses. Once that goal is accomplished, maybe that distribution you love so much will enjoy its deserved moment in the spotlight.
But as long as the Linux and open source community continue to fight among themselves, this will never happen. Without a convergent effort from the current user base, Linux will continue to hit the same ceiling that has held it down for years.
The moment is now. The Linux community must set aside their differences and rally behind the one desktop distribution that stands a chance at succeeding with the masses. Yes, there are differences within the camps, but are those battles worth fighting when the cost is so high?
- Canonical claims LXD crushes KVM (ZDNet)
- Mark Shuttleworth: Why Ubuntu mobile really matters (ZDNet)
- Windows 10 or Ubuntu: Which will be the one OS to rule them all?
- Ubuntu 15.04: Minor improvements, major controversy
- The most obvious user for Linux isn't who you think
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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.