Sunday, April 18, 2010

Where is Ubuntu going to ?

Ubuntu Lucid Lynx ???
Many voices have risen up against Ubuntu, and as it was stated before, it seems that "bashing" Ubuntu becomes almost a sport. But my intention with this article, is to make a balanced critique, without the weight of a "harsh" critique, just  emotionless remarks about Ubuntu.

Actually, what we all wonder, and fear, is: Where is Ubuntu going to ? What is the direction of one of the most loved (and hated) distributions around , the most popular, the most known Linux distro, and, what direction will it take from here.

Ubuntu, undeniably, is in a great moment, one can say that it has achieved enough traction to  trail its own way. When I first had contact with Ubuntu, and it was in the times of 6.06 and 6.10, Ubuntu seemed a better Knoppix  than Knoppix . The Distro was very promising, showing signs that it would bring Linux, until then, an arcane magic of geeks and nerds,  for the average user.

Ubuntu did not have much impact in Brazil, my home country,  as we had two national distros, Conectiva Linux, more geared towards enterprise computing, and our beloved Kurumin, a remaster of Knoppix, which, thanks to Mr. Carlos Morimoto, became a unique Linux distro,  with its magical scripts, even winmodems would work on Linux.

So, Ubuntu was not received here with the surprise and astonishment that it was greeted in other countries, mainly the United States. As I was not an Ubuntu user, I haven't followed its trajectory, until the latest versions, 9.04 and the latest 9.10, Karmic Koala.

Since the adoption of newer kernels and the hardware recognition was very good on these versions, I started to suggest it to my clients. And... What's my surprise when I needed to tinker with the latest Ubuntu.

First, it does not log on  the command line easily. The inittab does not exist. So there is no point trying to set the runlevel = 3 to log into the CLI . Hmmm ... Well, it is interesting (Is it?) to hide the CLI from new users. But, what about when you need to do maintenance on it? It is not easy to get to the command line.

So ... I installed a client's notebook with a SiS video card on it. And of course, the video configuration was the standard 800 x 600. Ahhh, easy ... Just tinker with xorg.conf and it's done... And... Where is xorg.conf ? It was abolished as well ...

So we are faced with technological decisions about Ubuntu, which are motivated by political issues and marketing.

We've seen it before, that political motives generate technological decisions. One of the largest proprietary software companies always guided their technological decisions for political reasons. Or putting  Internet Explorer inside Windows 98 guts was just to give users a better experience in usability??

So, decisions about  Ubuntu, influenced by internal politics and marketing guidelines , are leading it on tortuous path in technological means. And the tensions, between what is wanted by the Ubuntu community of users and what Canonical allows itself  to do with Ubuntu, creates friction like the episode of the position of the buttons on Ubuntu 10.04.

And then comes  Mr. Mark Shuttleworth himself and says that Ubuntu is not a democracy.

Hmmm ... The question that doesn't go away is: To get highly specialized work, Ubuntu is a community. When this community wants to be heard, Ubuntu is not a democracy ???

I think the matter of "friction" that was because of the design of the new Ubuntu,  was less caused by the design itself, and more for an outcry from the community to be heard in its desires.

Ubuntu in its new version(10.04) no longer comes with Gimp, one of the cornerstones of the Open Source movement. In its place, the F-Spot software, which has very few features, uses a library to "translate" the API it was written in(. NET) to run on Linux, and because of that, it occupies a substantial space on the disk. To be noted here that in several surveys online, most of Ubuntu users  voted against withdrawing the Gimp.

Politics are involved in shaping the direction of Ubuntu, and these politics seem to be aimed at attracting the largest possible number of users, making concessions that let older users and fans  surprised. I was hoping that Ubuntu,attracting  non tech savvy public for Linux, could show that there is something beyond the window$, that information technology is much more than pushing buttons and being a hotbed of digital viruses and pests, that a different world is possible.

But the decisions of Canonical are just repeating a familiar scenario, and to attract more users, is dumbing down Linux, perpetuating bad practices and thereby tarnishing the good name of Linux.

Canonical is not an Open Source company. Not like Red Hat, which, since its inception, followed the principles of Open Source and the four freedoms of the GPL. No, Canonical is more like  Apple. And with the direction that it is giving to Ubuntu, it will not take long for Ubuntu to be GNU  no more.(as some wanted, not so long ago, the Gnome Foundation, to let go its GNU aspect).

So if you're looking for a distro that is  community geared , with broad participation and respect for the voices of its community, look elsewhere. A disto like Debian, which is backed by the Debian foundation, or the Fedora distro, which is the free branch of the  the Red Hat distro. These distros are more faithful to the spirit of the GPL and actually hear their community. Not just the white collar executives...

Of course there are other options to Ubuntu, derived distros from it, so they do not follow strictly the designs of the parent distro: They are Kubuntu and Linux Mint. These are not so tied to the designs of the parent distro.

But after all these lines, do not get me wrong. I do not want Ubuntu to fail. No way, I want Ubuntu to succeed. But the decisions of its executives are undermining their own chances, so, Ubuntu will not stand out of the crowd, not as piece of FLOSS and neither as a proprietary system (Mac/OSXish)

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By Alessandro Ebersol with 2 comments

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