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11.08.10

What Alfresco and Android Can Teach About Ubuntu

Posted in Apple, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Google, Microsoft, Ubuntu at 8:05 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Silhouette - technical

Summary: Canonical puts its own wheels inside the GNU/Linux system, which in turn it can use to deviate further into a package that’s open but not exactly free (as in freedom)

A LONG discussion in IRC this morning revolved around Canonical. It is important to just keep an eye on what Canonical is doing, not to accuse them (based on mere suspicion) of something which they have not yet done and may never do at all.

Last month Canonical was criticised for its copyright policy in Ubuntu. Now that we deal with Unity and Wayland in future releases of Ubuntu, one might also ask about control which goes beyond copyrights. There is growing concern among us that Ubuntu does to GNU/Linux what Alfresco does right about now by going proprietary with an ‘open’ core-like (dual licensing) structure. Canonical’s current COO came from Alfresco where such a business strategy had been implemented even before he left. Hosted plans are part of it.

“Now that we deal with Unity and Wayland in future releases of Ubuntu, one might also ask about control which goes beyond copyrights.”Canonical desperately needs to hire some Free software advocates, including the likes of developers such as Alan Cox (now in Intel). Canonical adds so-called ‘pragmatists’, especially for the management (there are even hirings from Microsoft), so guidance sometimes misses the point about freedom. Just consider the Yahoo! debacle (Ubuntu sending users to Microsoft), which Canonical eventually withdrew from, only after a lot of backlash.

There is a growing perception that’s difficult to deny about Canonical building its own Android-like environment which embodies GNU/Linux but disregards developers from other companies that use the same software. Android is good at addressing Ubuntu’s #1 bug (market share), but it does very little to actually promote software freedom.

Here is a new example of a key Canonical developer promoting Novell’s Banshee, which is based on Novell’s Mono that contains Microsoft code. We wrote about this troubling subject in:

Ubuntu should not be imitating Apple or emulating Microsoft. Trying to become something they are not will leave almost everyone dissatisfied. Additionally, in order to succeed, Ubuntu should work closely with other companies. Diverging and doing things alone would leave Canonical competing quite weakly against far bigger and more aggressive companies. A lot of developers associate themselves with Free/libre software through the GPL (which Apple hates). Ubuntu should not anger “developers developers developers developers” like Microsoft is doing right now; instead, it ought to consider working more closely with GNOME and with X. It would help everyone.

“That would be because we believe in Free Software and doing the right thing (a practice you appear to have given up on). Maybe it is time the term ‘open source’ also did the decent thing and died out with you.”

Alan Cox to Eric Raymond

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3 Comments

  1. vexorian said,

    November 8, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    Gravatar

    [quote]A lot of developers associate themselves with Free/libre software through the GPL (which Apple hates). Ubuntu should not anger “developers developers developers developers” like Microsoft is doing right now; instead, it ought to consider working more closely with GNOME and with X. It would help everyon
    [/quote]
    Why X? It is not GPL, not unlike Wayland it has a license more like the FreeBSD ones.

    In desktops, we had Gnome and KDE, in apps we had plenty of options. It is surprising that until recently we weren’t aware that there are no alternatives in regards to graphics servers. I think it allowed X server to become stagnant. Graphics servers are an area in which GNU/Linux really needs help. So I am actually welcoming the idea of Wayland. Hey, it is not like Canonical is moving towards closed source apps. Unity and Wayland both are still FOSS and I think that overall, this would just increase the options for users. They cannot and won’t force anyone to use their stuff. I foresee staying with ubuntu as a distro but using the gnome desktop, and I can expect that it will be possible just like KDE fans that like Ubuntu use Kubuntu now. If it isn’t, then we can always leave ubuntu, but I think it is too soon to start flaming and spreading rumors against Canonical.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Matt Asay told me (later today, after this post) that when it comes to business models they already do fine providing desktop support. He implicitly reassured me that that Bradley’s concerns are not justified.

    twitter Reply:

    The problem that should be watched for is a lack of commitment to copyleft and software freedom which always leads to wasted effort and problems for everyone. Mark Suttleworth has denied a move towards open core, but without copyleft others will waste their time creating Tivoised or “open core” versions as telcos have done with Android. People should avoid non free versions of otherwise free software but the confusion is best avoided by using copyleft software to begin with. Developers understand this which is why the GNU GPL is one of the most used software licenses and we have such a rich free software world.

    There is, actually, a lot of choice when it comes to free software graphics. There are a lot of SVGA libraries for terminal users and portable graphics libraries used by things like Oppie, a QT environment for palm computers. There is also choice in the world of X11 with various versions of Xfree86 and X.org. X.org uses an X11 license which is free and GPL compatible. Wayland, according to Wikipedia, uses a “MIT License”, but this is meaningless because there have been many MIT licenses. The lack of attention to this detail on the Wayland site is troubling. Canonical should work to explain this issue, but I don’t see any mention of it on the ubuntu.org website.

    I think that X11 is a mature framework that people should continue to use. GPE and others have made it work on ARM and it performed very well there. This should be expected because X was made in the early 80s when computing resources were much more expensive. By the time you add network support and all of the other goodies people expect from X11 to any other framework, you end up with the same set of problems people like to complain about when they FUD free software desktops. Free software is powerful enough to make multiple desktops frameworks, so Ubuntu’s move is interesting and may work out well. X11, however, is not the root cause of bug #1.

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