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The Ubuntu-GNOME Debate Carries On (Updated)

Posted in GNOME, GNU/Linux, Red Hat, Ubuntu at 12:59 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Stone statue

Summary: Links to some of the latest takes on Canonical’s participation in GNOME

FOR background, see the previous posts on the subject [1, 2].

Greg DeKoenigsber: “It’s not about tribalism, Mark.”

It’s about accepting responsibility for your place in the world. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

With the dozens, or maybe even hundreds, of engineers in Canonical’s employ now, why do none of them do any of the heavy lifting in GNOME, or in any other upstream project, for that matter?

There’s a difference between Ubuntu and Canonical. The Ubuntu community has obviously done ridiculous amounts of good work in the open source world for multiple years, and will continue to do so. Ubuntu community members are great evangelists for open source. The Ubuntu brand machine is Canonical’s greatest strength, and a world-class model for others to follow. The existence of Ubuntu has grown the pie for open source in general.

cmsj (Canonical): “Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

I work for Canonical, so it’s hard for me to pretend I have no bias in this. I’ve been a GNOME user for much longer, but I’ve not contributed to the project in any meaningful sense, mainly because I’m a sysadmin who codes some rubbish in his spare time. Therefore you might wish to largely ignore anything I say.

I have a myriad of reactions to this, all of them my own and just as subjective as anyone else’s, but there’s one that I think is at least novel in amongst the discussion I’ve seen so far…

Where do we go from here?

Is it the case that the angry people will only ever be happy if the defensive people hire tons of engineers with a job description of “go hack cool GNOME stuff, but only within GNOME’s processes/domain”? If so, how many is enough? (Note that I am a lowly sysadmin, this does not constitute anything close to a committment to doing anything, I cannot speak on behalf of those who sign my paycheques, I speak only for myself ;)

Adam Williamson (Fedora): “The success of Ubuntu”

In July and September 2004 (so presumably also in August), Linux is at 3.1%.

In June 2010, after nearly six years of Ubuntu as the generally-perceived Linux desktop standard bearer, Linux is at…4.8%.

In March 2003, Linux was at 2.2%. So that’s a rate of growth of 0.9% over 16 months to July 2004 – 0.05625 percentage points per month. The rate of growth from July 2004 to June 2010 is 1.7% over 71 months – 0.02394 percentage points per month. The margin of error in those numbers is likely huge, because we’re playing with such small numbers, but even so, it sure doesn’t look like Ubuntu has even managed to increase the rate of growth of Linux one iota over the ‘leading desktop distributions’ that preceded it (in the 2003-2004 range that was probably Mandriva; before there was Gentoo and Red Hat Linux, and SUSE was always there or thereabouts).

It’s hard to find stats from the other places that track operating system usage that go back as far, but going back as far as they do – to around 2007 or so, usually – they seem to tell much the same story. I can’t find any which show really significant growth in general Linux adoption, or a significant increase of the rate of growth at any point in Ubuntu’s tenure.

Carlo Daffara: “About contributions, Canonical and adopters”

This is not a contest. We should be happy for every, small, large, strange or different contributions that we receive. Should it be more? Maybe. But don’t overlook all those things that are being done, some of them outside of pure code. Because, as I wrote in the past, there is much more than code in an OSS project.

Sam Vargehse: “Canonical takes much more than it gives”

Red Hat tops the list of companies that contribute to GNOME with 16.3 percent and Novell is close behind with 10.44. Neary notes that 11 of the top 20 GNOME contributors of all time are either present or past Red Hat employees.


Canonical derives the base for Ubuntu from the Debian project. It takes liberally from many free and open source software projects to produce a distribution.

While this distribution is available for free download, Canonical is also basing a business on it, and developing ways and means of making money off Ubuntu.

Nothing wrong with that. But it is reasonable to ask – how about giving back a little more?

Susan Linton summarises

Adam Williamson of Red Hat and formerly of Mandriva wondered if Ubuntu’s success is any real success at all given that Linux represents less than 5% of total desktop usage amongst computer users and that hasn’t grown any significantly since Ubuntu’s inception or rise to popularity. He did say that “if you show up with a couple of graphic designers, anyone who’s passed Media Relations 101, and a bit of cash, you can pretty much win by default, which is what Ubuntu did.”

Sam Varghese, known Linux detractor and journalist, reminds us that Canonical didn’t make the Top 30 in a report from the Linux Foundation on kernel contributors. On the same subject, “Greg Kroah-Hartman cited statistics that showed Canonical’s contribution to 2.6.27-rc6 was 100 patches against Red Hat … with 11,846 patches. Novell had 7222 patches.” Varghese asks what everyone’s trying to ask, “How about giving back a little more?”

Carlo Daffara, Open Source researcher, said that “GNOME is only one of the projects and they measure too little.” He asserts that “bringing Ubuntu to million of people is a contribution; every time Canonical manages to bring a press release out it is making a huge contribution.” He sums up by saying this isn’t a contest. “We should be happy for every, small, large, strange or different contributions that we receive.” Chris Jones, Canonical employee, suggested “it would generally be more useful for people to be talking about solutions than arguing about who is the most or least evil.”

Thanks to TuxMachines for these links.

Update: Here are the opinions of Linux Today‘s former and existing manager editors:

  • Canonical’s Disconnect with Linux Developer Community

    Actually, I was a bit more specific. My first reaction to seeing the table of commits was incredulousness at seeing how Canonical compared to Sun Microsystems, not Red Hat.


    Meanwhile, while I was working out my inner demons about Sun, others in the community were angry about Canonical’s low amount of commits compared to Red Hat. And the chief pitchfork carrier, in this case, was Greg DeKoenigsberg, CTO of The Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, a non-profit in Half Moon Bay, CA, and formerly the Senior Community Architect at Red Hat.

  • Ubuntu, the Bad Selfish Linux

    I have a glass half-empty type of perspective much of the time, and I’ve leveled my own share of carping at Canonical. I may have missed it, but I have never heard Mark Shuttleworth, Jono Bacon, or anyone representing Ubuntu or Canonical put down other Linux distributions or contributors. In my grumpier moments their relentlessly positive, cult-like Kumbaya-or-else approach makes me want to turn the hose on them. But I don’t remember them attacking anyone else the way they’ve been attacked.


    Who else besides Ubuntu welcomes everyone, and tries to maintain a sane, friendly community? My favorite distribution is Debian, but no way will I ever try to be contributor. If I were an ace coder I would rather eat dog doo than try to become a kernel contributor. Life is too short to waste living in a flame-proof suit. There are a lot of FOSS projects that build rational, productive communities. But none of them are as big as Ubuntu, and few place as high a priority on community-building. When the Ubuntu folks say “Anyone can play!” they mean it.

    It’s tempting to see this as plain old envy, the billionaire and his pet distro cashing in on the work of others. News flash: everyone cashes in on the work of others. What good is GNOME by itself? Or the Linux kernel by itself? Not much. It’s a giant messy ecosystem, and every part of it has an important role.

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  1. twitter said,

    July 31, 2010 at 10:33 am


    This stuff is divisive and largely unimportant. GNU/Linux and free software need marketing and Ubuntu has delivered a beautiful community vision and desktop. It’s good that people are recognizing the effort of the larger Ubuntu community. As long as Canonical does not violate software freedom, I’m happy with their work promoting and marketing GNU/Linux. The “heavy lifting” is obviously getting done and we should all be happy that people help themselves that way.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    That’s pretty much how I view it.

  2. Dr. Roy Schestowitz said,

    July 31, 2010 at 5:40 pm


    Update: KDE’s Seigo now has a long post (and discussion) about this too

    woods Reply:

    An otherwise fine post except Seigo stumbles badly in the middle.

    He points out how someone distastefully dredged up the past in the comments to Mark Shuttleworth’s tribalism-post (http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/439#comment-329612) and urges Mark to post an apology, *completely* missing the fact that Mark *did* apologize (http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/439#comment-329657) AND that the person in question thanked him for that (http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/439#comment-329666)

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