Bonum Certa Men Certa

Democracy is Not the Same as Freedom

UDS (for Ubuntu Karmic)
UDS Karmic Group Photo, by Kenneth Wimer



Summary: People have lost track of real mistakes that Canonical is making and instead they focus on buttons and themes

ANYONE who wishes to fork a GNU/Linux distribution can do just that, provided the GPL is obeyed and trademark law too. That's the power of Free software. Some people conflate that with democracy, which is an entirely different -- if not a Utopian -- view of the world where everyone is said to be perfectly happy based on consensus (an impossibility). In some sense, "democracy" is just a word that people like to say.



Ubuntu GNU/Linux can't be everything to everyone, which is why we defend its latest decision to change the theme and we have no problem with Mark Shuttleworth's latest response, which led to resentment or at least suspicion. Linux development and Wikipedia editing are the same. People give advice and offer an opinion for all to see, but it's a meritocracy, not a democracy.

Here is Shuttleworth's controversial message in full (it more or less repeats what Jono Bacon has been telling us in the Boycott Novell IRC channel for several weeks).

On 15/03/10 23:42, Pablo Quirós wrote: > It'd have been nice if this comment had been made > some time ago, > together with a deep reasoning on the > concrete changes that are in mind. > > We are supposed to be a community, > we all use Ubuntu and contribute to > it, and we deserve some respect regarding > these kind of decisions. We > all make Ubuntu together, or is it a big lie?

We all make Ubuntu, but we do not all make all of it. In other words, we delegate well. We have a kernel team, and they make kernel decisions. You don't get to make kernel decisions unless you're in that kernel team. You can file bugs and comment, and engage, but you don't get to second-guess their decisions. We have a security team. They get to make decisions about security. You don't get to see a lot of what they see unless you're on that team. We have processes to help make sure we're doing a good job of delegation, but being an open community is not the same as saying everybody has a say in everything.

This is a difference between Ubuntu and several other community distributions. It may feel less democratic, but it's more meritocratic, and most importantly it means (a) we should have the best people making any given decision, and (b) it's worth investing your time to become the best person to make certain decisions, because you should have that competence recognised and rewarded with the freedom to make hard decisions and not get second-guessed all the time.

It's fair comment that this was a big change, and landed without warning. There aren't any good reasons for that, but it's also true that no amount of warning would produce consensus about a decision like this.

> If you want to tell us > that we are all part of it, we want information, > and we want our opinion > to be decisive.

No. This is not a democracy. Good feedback, good data, are welcome. But we are not voting on design decisions.

Mark


People keep arguing over something as unimportant as a default theme which any new user can trivially change. This is a waste of effort because Ubuntu's real problems are different. We have a problem with Ubuntu's attitude towards Mono* (dependency increases over time [1, 2]), its relationship with Yahoo!/Microsoft [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6], and some also criticise the company's promotion of the music store/online storage (reasons vary and include the involvement of Amazon, DRM, patented formats, and so on). Here is another new rant:

Ubuntu One Music Store: Tops or Flop?



Music seems to be a viable income stream also under Linux. After Amarok and Rhythmbox have earned at least a few hundred bucks with Magnatune, Ubuntu is now breaking into the market as well.


What Canonical does here is fair enough and the company did try to establish a deal around Ogg. It's not so simple to make the market fit minority demands, rather than popular demand driving the market.

We are generally optimistic about the next release of Ubuntu and in our daily links we include a lot of positive news about the distribution. Bruce Byfield says that this next release is "Ubuntu's Most Innovative", but in his article he also casts a mistake as a merit:

Early in Lucid's development cycle, the Ubuntu Development Summit announced that The GIMP would be dropped from the default selection of software installed. Since The GIMP is widely considered an example of excellence in free software, the announcement created some controversy, but the decision was in keeping with Ubuntu's general priorities. Not only does The GIMP take up considerable space on a CD, but, more importantly, its features far exceed what beginning users could need.


For those who do not know or remember, most users voted to keep The GIMP, but their opinion was ignored or at least just ultimately rejected by the ruling majority. That's what meritocracy means and that's fine. The problem is, does Canonical realise the consequence of its actions? By ignoring a majority opinion it creates the perception that Free software is not receptive to feedback. Nowadays, our reader Ryan keeps ranting about Ubuntu being the "same as Windows" (development- and feedback-wise) and last night he argued that "Ubuntu beat Rhythmbox up and stole their lunch money. They modified the referrer in Rhythmbox and now Magnatune owes them $100. Are they really so petty that they're going to keep that money and deny it to GNOME?"

We previously explained why Canonical's search deal with Yahoo!/Microsoft was merely a case of taking money away from Mozilla -- money that was used to develop Firefox, Thunderbird, and other great software. Canonical will be paid by Microsoft (via Yahoo!) at the expense of Mozilla, which was paid by Google. That again is the type of thing worth criticising, not some petty issue to do with a default theme and buttons that can easily be changed. ____ * Some minutes ago, Popey from Ubuntu wrote: "Liking the new automatic sync feature in the latest Tomboy" (they just don't see the problems with Mono).

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