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Ubuntu Perspectives: Signs of Change

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Summary: Analysis of Canonical's latest moves, which are being defended by some and severely criticised by others

UBUNTU is an important part of the GNU/Linux family and we defend it at every chance, always giving it the benefit of the doubt. Some readers pressure us to change the tune, which would be hard and counter-productive. I have personally used Ubuntu at some capacity since its very first release (which I was using at work).



In the interest of presenting perspectives of other people and showing Canonical where it can improve, this post accumulates mostly criticisms of the company's latest moves.

“Canonical has already employed other ex-Novell employees and some might attribute Mono affinity to this.”"PyCon sprint for Windows support" is the title of a post right here at Canonical.com. It made Pamela Jones (over at Groklaw) write "Blech."

We previously defended this strategy, which we believe to be a case of Canonical reaching out to Windows users. In relation to the Yahoo! deal signed by Canonical [1, 2], Jones wrote: "And if Microsoft offers you money, will you change it to Bing? Wait. Is Yahoo not Bing, if you stop and think about it a little? Microsoft has plenty of money, so if money is all it takes to undermine and corrupt what I used to think of as a FOSS project, it will happen."

This is why we prefer not to openly criticise (or "attack") Ubuntu; it would only serve Microsoft if unnecessary infighting was to occur. Novell is a different case because it uses its beloved software patents to directly discriminate against other GNU/Linux vendors and it publicly aligns itself with the monopolist. Microsoft is not completely external here; we have already shown how at least one former Microsoft employee entered Ubuntu, which probably means that Canonical HR did a poor job.

"Shouldn't we leave the [Microsoft] elephant alone and stop poking it with sticks? Well, the problem is they aren't going to leave us alone," said Jeremy Allison some weeks ago. We wrote about these remarks in [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]. He also warned about Mono in Ubuntu [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]. Robert O'Callahan from Mozilla wrote some more things about Allison's public appearance at LCA 2010:

Jeremy Allison's talk about Microsoft was good. We've feared Microsoft for so long it's become almost unfashionable, but I think Jeremy is right to keep reminding the free software community of the danger there. He talked about Microsoft's attempts to take over the Web, and kindly mentioned Firefox's role in pulling us back from that brink. He made the point (which I think is too often overlooked) that which company one works for is almost always an individual moral choice and we should hold people accountable for it ... we can't let people off the hook by saying "oh, the company I work for is just evil and I can't do anything about it". The focus of his talk was the suggestion that Microsoft is gearing up for an all-out patent war on free software. I don't know if this is true --- honestly, I expected them to do it long ago and I'm not sure what's been holding them back --- but we certainly do need to keep aware of the possibility. Jeremy suggested that Microsoft will promote "RAND" standards --- standards covered by patents whose licenses would require a "Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory" fee, which sound good except that for free software, any non-zero fee is a show-stopper. In fact, as I discussed later in my talk, RAND-encumbered standards won't fly in the traditional Web standards world --- e.g. CSS and HTML5. We have a very good situation there, where everyone understands that any suggestion that can't be implemented in Gecko (MPL/LGPL/GPL) or Webkit (LGPL) is simply a non-starter. However, we do face a very serious situation in video, where the licensing isn't even RAND, and possibly in other technologies such as touch interfaces. It was good to be able to use some of these issues that Jeremy raised as launching points for my talk.


"How will Ubuntu's move to proprietary software affect the free world?" is the title of this post that Groklaw pointed to last week, adding: "Some of the responses are downright worrisome." Yes, Jones too is concerned that Ubuntu neglects the "Free" in FOSS.

This brings us to the next subject, which is Matt Asay. We have written about his appointment twice already [1, 2] but what we have not yet mentioned is that Matt Asay almost went working for Microsoft some years ago. He wrote about it, but a lot of people do know this. Also, we have not yet mentioned the timing of his departure from Alfresco, which intersects Alfresco's departure from the GPL. Novell used to pay Matt Asay's wage, which is another important fact that Ghabuntu mentions:

A founding member of Novell's Linux Business Office and an early influencer and participant in the company's move to Open Source, Matt Assay will bring to Canonical and the Ubuntu project an in depth knowledge of commercial marketing of open source


Canonical has already employed other ex-Novell employees and some might attribute Mono affinity to this. Several months ago, when a former Microsoft employee who now leads Ubuntu's desktop endeavours called for the removal of the GIMP, we immediately responded and later pointed out a reader's opinion that Paint.NET might be added next. Now, watch this new Mono project called Pinta, which strives to mimic Paint.NET.

Anyway, going back to Asay, here is what he wrote in his personal blog:

All day Friday, congratulations hit my Twitter account (mjasay). I got dozens of emails, too, and 50+ comments on my CNET blog where I announced the change. It was overwhelming, because I (perhaps like you) normally assume that no one is that interested in me.


Hopefully none of those messages were from Microsoft, which used to take him out to lunch and other places in attempt to acquire his love. Microsoft calls this "schmoozing". At least he did not end up working for Microsoft; in fact, he went the other way to become a big fan of Apple and their products, which he is miserably trying to characterise as open source (they are just about as closed as something can get, as iPad shows perfectly well [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]). Matt Asay will also need a new E-mail address. mjasay@mac.com does not work well for a Canonical employee.

The founder of the Free Software Foundation Europe writes in reply to Jan (from Red Hat): "RT @jwildeboer: @mjasay making Ubuntu OpenCore now? ;-) > He ;) But seriously: Congratulations, @mjasay!"

This notion of "Open Core" (like Mono) for a project such as Ubuntu would not so far fetched. The Source wrote about reasons why Matt Asay joining Canonical is mostly bad news:

Good Thing

For Mr. Asay, this is a good thing: he will greatly expand his influence, and be able to impose his philosophy on what is arguably the most popular distro.

Bad Thing

For everyone else, this is a bad thing: he will greatly expand his influence, and be able to impose his philosophy on what is arguably the most popular distro.

Ubuntu is already under too much influence from anti-Free Software, pro-Commercialization / pro-Fauxpen Source thinkers. They hire ex-Microsoft and ex-Novell employees, brook virtually no discussion on fundamentally divisive technologies like Mono and Moonlight, and put profits ahead of both user experience and ethics by making Microsoft the “opt-out” default search provider. At best, this mindset considers the Free Software foundation of GNU/Linux an inconvenience or distraction.


Our reader Goblin wrote the following post regarding Canonical's decision to drop OpenOffice.org from a minimal version of Ubuntu. He is going further than that:

Ubuntu has been receiving quite a bit of attention on Openbytes. I was (and still am) optimistic regarding possible native Linux proprietary software being offered to users, but what with Gnome being the flagship DE for Ubuntu (led up by Microsoft MVP Mr De Icaza and the “gift to the world” Mono), Ubuntu having the “good ship Yahoo” (bound for Microsoft) as its default search engine, I can’t help feeling that as it stands now Ubuntu 10.04 is far from “Lucid”.

And what of Gimp? Reports from Alpha’s of 10.04 state that the package is still present. Are Canonical going to remove it and if they do is that for the opportunity of a proprietary option or are they going to try it on with a Mono app?

Canonical has, in my opinion a rather large responsibility and a great opportunity. There can be little doubt that Ubuntu is one of the most, if not the most popular Linux distro’s and is many users first experience of the Linux platform. If Canonical decisions and actions are seen as a poorer cousin of Microsoft then I would predict its user base would decline. As Ive said before I believe had Novell not signed “the deal” with Microsoft, it would be Novell in the position that Canonical is now.


Yesterday we showed that Microsoft takes over companies from which it is removing the GNU/Linux focus. We used FAST as an example. Richard Rasker wrote: "Hm, haven't we seen this before -- Microsoft buying a mixed OS outfit, then dropping the non-Windows part, even if it doesn't make sense? The names Hotmail and GeCAD come to mind ..."

"It looks like a divide and conqueror plan to me," says Locutus in his latest headline:

Being a large and world wide company with deep pockets and short arms they can afford to take the long term view of something. They seem to be relying on the fact that peoples memories can be short sighted. So they buy a company which supports operating systems other than windows and then over time they reduce the support for the other operating systems.


We also saw that happening to Novell, Xandros, Corel, and others. We hope that it is not happening to Ubuntu. Later on we will write about what Microsoft is doing to Facebook, which runs on the LAMP stack.

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