Negative Community Reaction Development

I’ve been thinking about what it is that cultivates a negative reaction from people who use your software and who are invested in it’s success. This line of thinking has obviously been brought about by the new Ubuntu Unity interface and the strong reactions to both technical implementation and implementation method.

Firstly I want to separate out the general masses and the competition (no offence Jeff), there are plenty of people on the internet who just love to troll and there are plenty of people in other distro that talk nonsense based on tribal affiliation. Ignore them, I’m talking about negative reactions from people who make up the fixtures and fittings in the community, for Ubuntu, this would be Ubuntu Members (but not MOTU).

I’m sure we’ve all seen comments such as:

I really liked Maverick, but now with this new Unity thing that Mark has dictated will will all be using, I guess I’ll stick around for 11.04 but then move when 11.10 comes out and we have no choice but to use Unity.

The user in the quote is frustrated that development on Unity has seemingly come out of nowhere to crush all the familiarity they used to have and in order to continue to use the latest and greatest Firefox and OpenOffice they’ll be forced to put up with design decisions that will be against their own personal internal aesthetic. They’re not wrong in their concern, but of course this is a risky move that their distribution is attempting; a massive coarse correction which delves deep into the bowls of the ship we’re all sailing in and is tinkering with the engine and reshaping the hull to see if it’ll make the thing go faster.

Much like someone below deck messing about, we can’t see what the hell is going on, all we can see is the speed of the boat. So for a while the ship starts to slow down and we start to wonder if our friendly hacker is down there hitting the engine with a wrench and drilling holes in the hull. Of course the truth is that they’re risking everything on thought out designs will the same goals as most on deck, that part needs trust.

Alternatively we read official messages like:

Unity is a new interface to attract new users to Ubuntu and to attempt to jump the chasm, not everyone will be happy with the design direction; but we can’t hold back developing a user friendly desktop operating system waiting for a consensus that will never arrive.

And this too is true, but again is missing bits of the puzzle. Nothing about this kind of press release calms the fears of users, in fact it may only work with casual users and those that really trust where the ideas are coming from. It’s just as nutty to ask everyone in a committed community to trust you while you ignore the majority of what they say in order to get on with the herculean job before you as it is for users to suggest developers are deliberately planning to remove functionally just to hear the sweet screams of users.

The key is probably trust. The community members can trust the corporate development because we’re all in the same boat and they’re hardly likely to throw us overboard and corporates need to trust their community more, they’re not as design blind as we like to think, sometimes they’re just really bad at describing why they’re having trouble. This is especially true when a community member looks after lots of ubuntu user’s computers. We as developers just need to be better at reading/translating them.

I drew this graph to try and illustrate what it is about the development method that annoys people and provokes them into irrational opposition or productive support for any given project:

What are your thoughts?

17 thoughts on “Negative Community Reaction Development

  1. I run a computer repair business and have done so fixing mostly Windows related computer and networks for over 10 years. I’ve used Ubuntu since Fall, 2006 in my business environment and use the 10.04 LTS for desktop, server and remix. Changes in the newer releases were almost always improvements.

    Not so with Unity–a desktop utility that misses the way I do my work, access my files and launch applications. Much of my stuff is Bash script driven, but I’m usually in the GUI environment because colors, shapes and placement is the way my head works. My icons are where I want them and that allows me to find them reliably every time. (At 71 years of age I should be entitled to some of the things I want.)

    My customers can make suggestions for my business and I take many of them, but they don’t get to tell me HOW to run my business. Only a few of my business associates can tell me things like that and I don’t always take their advice. Shoving Unity onto my computers isn’t going to cut it with me.

    I don’t mind experimenting with desktop versions and different distributions, but Ubuntu with Gnome 2.x is what I need and use in my business and nothing else will do.

    On a non-production tower computer I tried installing Ubuntu 11.04 and Unity failed to install–falling back to the Gnome desktop. So much for that experiment and so much for my try at USING unity. Because of the plans to not include Gnome in 11.10, I suppose that computer will never take a newer Ubuntu. The box I tried to put Unity on is an eMachine with an Intel processor that’s only 5 or 6 years old.

    So put me in the column of negative feedback about Unity. I can only hope that Canonical comes to its senses with Mark Shuttleworth by the time 12.04 comes out.

  2. Corporate method:
    Blueprint → Implemented → Positive Community Reaction → Distro Published


    For my personal purpose, I need to Gnome2 or Xfce. I’m out of target for Unity. But I know that you can’t be based on my desires…

    You are free to choose the mark-up to the distribution. Volunteers are free to decide whether to follow or not. In all these years we have followed and approved your choices. This time you should review something. Sorry.

    In my personal case, I will use 10.04 up to the EOL. Next, I don’t know. With the end of Gnome2, only Xfce will remain to satisfy my needs. Sorry againg 😐

  3. Who is this Jeff person you are talking about?

    As for me, Jef, please note that I’ve tried very to refrain from making any public statements (either praising or being critical) about Unity with regard to any specific technical implementation or its usability or design, as I’m not using it. I’m actually trying to help get Unity past package review in Fedora by helping out with package reviews.

    What criticism I have is aimed squarely at policy/business decisions which Canonical has made which potentially impact me as a downstream packager in anticipation of needing to contribute patches to Unity and its dependency stack on behalf of Fedora users at some point in the not too distant future. These issues are mostly orthogonal to what you are trying to talk about here.


  4. I think that you might be missing the point. It is not about trust in Canonical, it is simply about the fact that we don’t need another user interface. The old interface worked perfectly well and wasn’t a problem. The way that you will get more users for Ubuntu is by having better applications. Why waste your development time on breaking existing stuff when, for example, we don’t have photoshop or microsoft project that people actually need? Everyone agrees these are problems for Linux and I would love Mark to let a concentrated his effort and money on solving them and I am sure he would get the communities complete backing.

  5. The first thing that comes to my mind is the word DIFFERENT. Oh, well, I am not installing every distro that pass under my nose, but I think that all stuff in today distros is pretty much the same thing (that’s not objetive of course) We have now a new and fresh approach. Wellcome!

    And about the bad fillings with the new kid, well, Im tired of read the sort of mantra of ‘choice’ that free software gives to users. So, you don’t like Ubuntu? You have Lubuntu, Debian, Linux Mint, Fedora, OpenSUSE, PCLinuxOS and so on. Use your right to choose and choose.

    And before the flames start to touch my skin, let me say that long ago i’ve chosen Linux Mint.

    PS: excuse for my english.

  6. Great post. I may or may not like the new Unity interface, but I can absolutely understand and even support why Ubuntu developed and introduced it. The fact of the matter is that in order for Linux to be able to reach out to wider audience than the technorati something’s got to give. Linux in my eyes is about empowerment for everyone, and in order to do that it must be able to be easily usable by as many different walks of people as possible. And there has to be…well…a unity in HOW they interact with the OS. Predictabilty, stability etc. is of paramount importance to most users over customisability. Someone needs to lead that charge. With all due respect to both the GNOME and KDE camps and all the work they’ve done, if it was to be either of them to standardize the face of Linux it would have happened by now.

  7. @Jeff – You’ll have to forgive me, my jab was totally non serious and is in fact ironic considering the composure you have towards many issues.

    Unlike myself.

  8. 11.04 Unity is trying to have a common interface for all computer devices at the expense of the ability to configure a desktop to our liking, as we were able to before. Have a modern interface by all means but don’t dictate to us that you must have it this way and without the ability to customize. (OK with 11.04 there is still Gnome2 but when 11.10 arrives NO.
    Just for Info. most of my LUG members are switching to KDE and Xubuntu or are staying with 10.04 LTS.
    We are just voting with our feet I guess!

  9. Much of the Canonical hate that I’m reading on the fora sounds very similar to the anger at Microsoft that is almost constantly present. And, granted, many of us are using Ubuntu because of the failings of Microsoft, but lumping both companies into some generic, prototypical “The Man” that must be villified is an error that I think many people are making.

  10. Good post, although slightly apologetic: have you considered that the problem might lie not only in the process, but in the final product as well? That is, that you might have just got it wrong?

    I feel exactly as the first person who commented: my work flow is disrupted with Unity, it slows me down, and what for? so that Ubuntu can be different from all other distros? Difference isn’t a goodie in itself.

    I can understand the will and the need to innovate, and I’m glad that someone in the FOSS field does that instead of eternally following (I can write this only because at the same time I’m killing all my brain cells reminding me of how much in Ubuntu is a straightforward copy of MacOS … what an unusual mix!). BUT THE EXPERIMENT HAS FAILED. At least as far as me and thousands of other users are concerned. You broke rule no. 1: you fixed what wasn’t broken; stale and a bit smelly, perhaps, but also working perfectly.

    Will Ubuntu listen to its users and try to improve things for the next releases? From what I read, it’s more a sort of “yes, we didn’t get this right in time for 11.04, but will fix lots of things for 11.10”. Nothing wrong with that IF IT WAS A MATTER OF LITTLE OR BIGGER THINGS TO FIX. But here I’m afraid you got the UX definitely WRONG: how do you fix that?

    Time will tell, I guess. In the meanwhile, I’ll stick to 10.10 and have a look elsewhere, thank you.


  11. I really hope Canonical guys can understand people are not necessarily “against Unity for the sake of it”.

    Experimenting / pushing new stuff is good. But releasing a major stable version of the most user-friendly & well know Linux distribution with *tons* of bugs & regressions is NOT acceptable.

    It is *usable* but there are too many rough edges, overall instability for many of us (even without Unity but with the new Compiz version). It doesn’t only affect the user interface, but other stuff such as the audio player, gstreamer, VDPAU/VA, U1, LibreOffice etc etc. have serious regressions since 10.10. Sure, depending on your use, you may not encounter them.

    I really think Mark should either :
    – explain publicly that non LTS versions are not stable
    or – rethink the development model

    Because, in the end, what counts the most is the reliability of software. And this Maverick to Natty transition looks like a public beta.

    (There are also many things to be said regarding the overall design, and political decisions, but it’s not the most crucial here, IMHO)

    (Sure, there are so many good things too, but bugs spoil everything)

  12. PS : I’m definitely not a Ubuntu hater (user since 2006 and still today and I support Canonical financially when I can) — but I’m starting to be embarrassed about the new direction and have some trouble recommending people to install it, now.

  13. I enjoy exploring new UIs. My 60+ year-old dad does not. The first UI my dad learned how to use was Windows 95. One thing Microsoft does right is appeal to people like my dad by keeping the UI consistent from release to release. In 2008 I finally dragged my dad kicking and screaming from Windows XP to Ubuntu. His biggest issue during the transition was learning a new UI. He even made me change his background colour to blue so as to feel more “at home”! Needless to say, when Lucid came out we put the window buttons back on the right. Now you’re telling me he has to learn a radically new UI all over again. I understand this may be necessary from a technical and development perspective, but it certainly doesn’t make me or my dad happy.

  14. My position is that unity should be in debian experimental in the first place , this way there are many more eyes and testers after that moved to testing and then after seeing all the bugs and problems should be moved to testing and then ubuntu lts

    Ubuntu failed by not using the community power
    yes feedback and many eyeballs before the release really counts

    I think Linux 3d desktop should evolve in something better than what is on Mac and Windows side.

    In a way is good that we move towards a better desktop even if is forced upon us at the moment .

    But please don’t copy cat that and give the user the power to move it’s panel wherever it wants , Linux user is not dumb and should be threated with Respect.

  15. Martin,

    No offense taken. I just take every opportunity to make the public record clear as to my opinion and my agenda. I’ve no problem with Unity as a technical deliverable as yet another environment option among many others. And just as I don’t comment on technical specifics of KDE or XFCE because I don’t use those environments, I’ll refrain from commenting on Unity as an upstream project.

    But I do question Canonical’s continued insistence that copyright assignment be required for projects they initiate. This is a real and lasting barrier to entry to contribution. I’m not looking forward to the day when I’m going to be asked to sign the Canonical contributor agreement in order to see a patch I’ve developed to fix a bug in Fedora’s Unity binaries accepted in the upstream project. That won’t be a fun moment for anyone involved.

    I also question Canonical’s business strategy around expending precious manpower resources in creating the 3 different “Unity” branded UI concepts in quick succession with no long term roadmap discussion out in the open as far as I can tell. First the Mutter based one that Ubuntu Light was developed around, now the Compriz one (no Ubuntu Light), and then the qt based Unity(which is clearly aimed at Linaro and ARM OEMs). Does Canonical really have the manpower to keep both compiz Unity and qt Unity alive as projects? Canonical’s entire history with UI design doesn’t suggest that either UI will last more than a couple of releases before its cast aside for the next effort in order to garner interest from the next OEM looking to pay Canonical for something “different”.

    But none of my questions really relate to how I or anyone else should feel about Unity as an end-user deliverable. My questions are more about the long term sustainability of how Canonical builds projects.


  16. My 2 cents.

    Unity sucks. I could post all of the things about “memory musicle”, relearning things, how it affects Power Users vs “Average Joe”, etc, but we’ve seen this behavior before from Canonical ala “ButtonGate”. At least you can use gconfig to mvoe the buttons over, but moving from Unity to Gnome2x post-11.04 is much harder.

    I will stay with 10.04.xLTS until EOL, then move on afterwards to something else unless 12.04LTS has an option to use gnome2 (or if gnome3 doesn’t have an option to look, feel and operate like gnome2). Not sure where I’ll go.. GNewSense, Debian, Linux Mint, or perhaps this:

  17. Mark has a choice between pushing his new design on user community and be a revolutionary figure, or to stay with mainstream and listen to what the people want. He chose revolution approach, and sounds like he shows traits of a dictator (albeit, with a pleasant PR so far). Nevertheless, his idea may be to shut down Ubuntu altogether, who knows?.. If so, he is doing everything in his power to kill his creation.

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