Is Ubuntu Commercially Driven?

I was reading the comments on the interesting Mint blog about Mint testing a Debian derivative so they can take advantage of rolling releases and get away from Ubuntu’s instability. Some of the comments allude to a different sentiment:

Ubuntu is so commercially driven, whereas mint is such a nice community effort, I’d be so much happier to use mint.

– fred

Ubuntu started to annoy me a bit with all this commercially oriented development of the distro.

– Miro Hadzhiev

But above all I believe that Ubuntu will change direction and become increasingly turned to a more commercial aspect. At the same time they will lose the * community * Exchange.

– F.Dionne

My response to this anti-commercial sentiment is this quote:

You keep on using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.

Simply that users and members of the community are confused by what commercial actually means. Commercial is not against the community, the community is commercial, people are employed to work on Ubuntu, work with Ubuntu and to be a part of the community. A varied commercial community would actually be kinda nice, imagine if we had a Dell community manager, or a system76 guy in IRC who was chatting away to the rest of the community of users *and* business people. Take a look at Organisations Learning to contribute to FOSS the right way.

I don’t think *making money* is the real fear of these people, I think the fear is Canonical with their often over bearing unfair influence with Ubuntu that often seems like they are on one side inviting development of their features that they decide are cool and on the other side ignoring and diminishing the features that others who are not Canonical want to work on or would like Canonical to help with.

There is also a fear that Canonical will only really want to work on what makes Ubuntu attractive to OEMs and other large organisations that they have a commercial relationship with. I know that aint true and lots of Canonical people continue to work on things which are good for the whole platform, but sometimes Ubuntu’s certainly had the flavour of feature stuffing and Mark hasn’t helped with the way he words his posts about new features in the past makes it seem like they distrust users opinions.

My personal concern is the lack of commercial involvement of Ubuntu’s users, basically it goes like this: Canonical is a business and is interested in making enough money to pay it’s developers a wage. What they work on is based around what makes money. The money comes from Dell and HP. The developers work on what Dell and HP want. Users never get a direct say in the development of Ubuntu because A) They have no commercial relationship with Canonical and B) Canonical doesn’t co-operate wonderfully on DX with other programmers (commercial or non) preferring instead to announce features at the last minute and rail-road decisions and opinions of others.

OK I’m not on a rant against Canonical, both of these might actually be solved/able:

B) We’ve seen a turn around in Caonical’s DX team shenanigans, announcing Unity at UDS was a very good thing and shows leadership instead of authority. Hopefully the flavour of the team has shifted from assuming all users are idiots and need to be told what’s good for them, to something a little more progressive.
A) If the continued redesign of the Software Center can include the ability to pay for FOSS, then we can introduce the commercial relationship with Canonical _and_ App developers and provide a way for non-technical people to have an economic relationship and thus a say in the future development direction.

All signs point to common sense and progress, mistakes were made but I don’t see more on the horizon. So lets make sure Ubuntu isn’t considered “too commercial” let’s consider FOSS “not commercial enough”, because only through demanding the right commercial terms in our transactions can we make sure that developers get to eat and users get rights to the software they use and we’re not forced to accept traditional locked down software because we’re too eager to get free beer and not responsible enough to pay for Free Speech.

Your thoughts?

Polemic Design

Between the early adopting individualists and the aesthetically pleased seems to be a rift growing wider and wider. Unity is a not customisable, read the comments too.

The culture that surrounds the community is certainly one of individualism. We like to think ourselves as cool outsiders doing something beyond the norm. There are users who don’t care so much, but the majority of us involved in advocacy and development have come to like the ownership and the sense of self style that comes with Free and Open Source Software.

The culture of Apple is a little different, it’s one of polemic design. A place where there is one right way to do something and there is a special person who will decide what that principle must be. Because this design philosophy has produced aspiring designs there are signs that others are copying. The problem is that polemics isn’t compatible with individualism, it’s not even compatible with science or rhetoric.

My own struggle with polemic design is rhetoric. I’m far more interested in dialectics than positivism for certain classes of problems, but software engineers don’t understand dialectics and so tend to simply stick with dualism. As if argument was about proving the other person wrong instead of working out a solution that solves the problems and resulting conflicts.

Dualism has gotten us into trouble especially when it comes to design. We have often looked blind to design because we add options to solve every conflict. Not having design skills available in the ecosystem has meant the community has been unable to come up with solutions to complex design problems preferring to copy instead. This is why Mark says “the community can’t do design” and it’s “design by committee”.

It has frustrated me how hard it is to work out design problems in the community in the past; but I don’t think the answer is to jettison faith in the community as Mark has done. I think with the design skills people are learning from the new Canonical design team and some studying of dialectic rhetoric we should be able to come up with good designs without the need for Apple’s polemic philosophies.

Your thoughts?

Why you Should(‘nt) use Windows 7

According to Dell while I was digging on their websites about their Ubuntu support I noticed this really interesting PDF file. The text of the document is attempting to convince you to get a computer from Dell with Windows 7 instead of other versions of windows.

Note: It has long been understood that Microsoft’s biggest competitor is against Windows is Old Windows.

But the independent research they’ve put together to try and convince readers isn’t exactly very convincing, it shows most tests as favouring Windows XP over both Vista and 7 which is probably what most windows users would expect. I have to wonder if the document is a bit tongue in cheek from Dell.

Of course there is not any comparison with Ubuntu as that would mean Dell weren’t selling ubuntu machines to just geeks, so more the pity.

Your observations?

Indicator Applet: Why I like it

I know I tend to moan about a lot of things in my blog, sometimes I celebrate good work, well executed. Rarely do I get the opportunity to agree with the Ayatana/DX Ubuntu design direction. I may not agree with the group’s past choice of language communicating things to the community, but this is something I think it’s got mostly right.

OK so what don’t I like about the old notification area? Well it’s an arbitrary parent-widget, this means that it’s a container for other widgets which are not internally defined but are defined outside. This results is very inconsistent behaviour and a real problem when your trying to keep tabs on design as a distro.

For example in 10.04 I seem to have retained the notification area for the network manager, this looks out of place on the bar and doesn’t behave very nicely in a line, should someone come up with a more interesting way to show these things then all of these icons will have to be in the same system in a meta format that allows for bigger, stranger and even inconceivable future design.

Getting the system upstream…. that’s going to be the hard work considering the people involved. But I think it should go all the way to as a real standard way of doing desktop indications.

That’s not to say I’m totally happy with everything; the irrational bias against tooltips is verging on comic and mindless. I haven’t seen any real rational against text based state indication (in what ever form it’s displayed). Removal of vital state information has to be based on something solid. Hopefully readable state will still be baked into the dbus service even if it’s rejected from this particular rendition.

Functional right click removal was contentious as well but at least that’s more sensible as it means the items operate under the same rules as every other gnome-panel widget. Alas not having a “Preferences” item in that list does make it an oddball. But then that’s another problem with the design team, you can have any options as long as they’re the welded presets, that’ll be worked on I’m sure.

So despite the rough communication, it is a surprisingly good move forwards in my view for the long term with a bit of time and a bit of community relations work it could prove a popular fork outside of Ubuntu.

Your thoughts?

Restore Failure

Restoring my computer after a fresh install of Ubuntu 10.04.

What works: Firefox, miro, virtualbox, konversation, bash, inkscape and evolution data (emails and filters)

What doesn’t work: any gnome setting, evolution accounts (mail, calendar, tasks), telepathy/empathy and theme.

I suspect it’s because of gconf. The more gconf hurts me, the more I’m persuaded to carry a demonic vendetta against it’s existence. I intend at every opportunity to convince supporters of it’s irrational and quaintly naive formulation. 😉

Do you think it was gconf that caused this?

Another Bad Printer

While I go around to many places to fix computers running ubuntu, I keep running into a really dumb problem which is printing. Every one of the printers for office use I’ve had to deal with has not been listed on and OPO doesn’t have any rationale policy for contributing back PPDs when you finally figure it out.

I managed to get a Canon imageRunner2022i running by rewriting the PPD for the 2020. What do I do with this bit of work now? I can’t upload it, I can’t even contact the developers of pxlmono through any normal development channels such as irc, mailing lists or forums.

Today I’ve looking at a Konica-Minolta bizhub C350, this one is even better because it _used_ to have an entry on but it was removed. I have no idea why, but no page that explains “this printer doesn’t work” or “The driver is no longer working”.

Konica-Minolta actually have drivers available for “Linux” (what ever that is) available on their US website and they are totally useless. debs and rpms that when installed have PPDs that don’t work, files that are installed in all the wrong places and no seeming compatibility to a modern FreeDesktop.

By using the google cache I was able to view the previous contents of the C350 printer page and use a link to Minolta’s European download page where they have a link to their older driver which does work when you put the files in the right places and call them the right things.

On testing it appears as if the options for duplex don’t work, but at least it doesn’t do multi print weirdness as the c350 does. Please do post below if you know of a way to get bizhub C350s working properly (with duplex and all).

FOSS: The Consideration Bridge

A debate, seemingly endless in the Free and Open Source landscape between purest Free Software activists and Practicalist Open Source is starting to find it’s way into a recognisable, worthwhile settlement. At least in my own head.

Freedom Through Production

I’ve never been very fond of the Free Software Foundation’s recent destructive, abstinence only, political approaches to advocacy. It may seem that they’re no longer concerned with Free Software as a social issue, but as only a political issue, but I don’t believe this is the only thing the FSF is up to, only what they are most loud about in the press and the way they allow themselves to be perceived.

The difference of course is how you fight. Back in the days when the FSF was finding it’s feet Richard and others began this amazing process of taking functional proprietary tools and recreating these tools as free software, drop-in replacements. This process of “doing all the boring bits” really set the technical foundations and I think is why a lot of people were really amazed by the principled dedication and out of this grew respect.

You could of course be strong by simply denying yourself the pleasures of technology, because it’s not Free Software. But this is something that only a very small majority will do and while it does show conviction, It’s not producing anything and it implies negative guilt in those unwilling to give up their Wii or Blackberry. Protests are great, but they have to resonate with the public and can’t just be about showing how rotten everyone is for being human and wanting nice things.

I know the FSF is still producing software, taking troublesome closed software and making new free versions of it (hence OpenSocial), but the strength of that production has not been keeping up with it’s ability to be loud, vocal and political. What we’ve ended up with is a political organisation, but not a guiding light that executes and demonstrates the way forward as it used to.

My key consideration: Support Free Software, have conviction, be strong on the issues and be principled. But don’t whine protests, instead make solutions. Let creation do the talking (and advertise it) and invite others to come together to make Free Software solutions. Freedom through production.

Utility Through Liberty

The open source movement grew out of the lack of compromise in the Free Software community, but it’s grown further from being just about inviting businesses into a friendly arena and into a more pragmatics’ hiding hole, there are no difficult questions to answer, and free as in beer software is how it’s all advertised with no further explanation about how it became free in the first place.

It’s disappointing because while the open source movement should have be trying to figure out the best ways to execute Free Software ideals in a realistic economic and business sense, it instead set off with a more vague set of principles that are simply less strict, but with the same intention as the FSF. Sure there is much more practical movement, more code production, but there is also a lot of confusion and grey areas being produced which are not helpful.

How many licenses are ratified by OSS? Why did they need to ratify licenses at all? or even bother with definitions? There is quite a good set of principles right there ready to use from the FSF, all that was needed was a more business, less political direction and advertising strategy. Something that business pragmatists would look at and be happy understanding and supporting based on it’s practical benefits, but also not shy away from explaining it’s long term reasons.

For me I find being practical in the immediate sense is important, but far too often this id-like satisfaction eclipses my responsibility to make sure I prepare for the future. Far too often you’ll find practicalism going hand in hand with myopia and an inability to see the future beyond next month. Even if I need to use some closed source bit of code, or some driver firmware to get everything working. I think I should always be mindful of making sure I am a) not investing further into the closed source ecosystem and that I can b) invest something into the FOSS alternatives in order to help the future of that functionality dig it’s way out of the hole.

These are long term practical and economic considerations for the open source philosophy that I wish were much more widely practised. We certainly can’t be thinking of how to construct new and exciting economic opportunities for free software development when in for example Ubuntu we shall have closed source programs with economic incentives (that users pay for) and Free Software programs with no economics beyond self interest (they’re all free and not linked to any sort of donations or investment information).

A deplorable imbalance in consideration of the future of Free and Open Source which I hope can be solved with some discussion with the distribution organisations and perhaps the organisations that manage projects financially. A standard formula and way to advertise that to end users would be most welcome.

My key consideration: Practicalism is good, but I’m weary that it doesn’t lead to complacency and myopia on the future issues. Free Software principles are very strong foundations for the long term and closed source solutions are very weak stop gaps in comparison. Be sure to invest in that long term solution even while using the short term stop gap.

Your thoughts on my whole ramble today?

Ubuntu and the FSF Ideal

Efrain of Ubuntu-ve posted A question to the loco contacts mailing list about their relationship with the FSF people in Venezuela.

Ubuntu-MA is home of the Free Software Foundation’s HQ and we get on fairly well with the FSF on a personal level. Though they have levelled criticism at us about Ubuntu containing non-free, I have in tern criticised the FSF in Boston of taking no positive action in the local community, they are far too concerned with gradios world politics to get down and dirty with installing and supporting Free Desktop machines and perhaps learn some of the reasons for being a little bit practical.

It’s an interesting relationship, but I think we all understand where each of us is coming from. The FSF seeks to be a defining entity that stands for a very precise ideal and raising awareness of that ideal through appealing to people’s politics. Ubuntu seeks to increase awareness and use of Free Software by providing products that work. So long as we in Ubuntu never forget to mention the ideals, philosophies and principles of the Free and Open Source ethos that gives us the great fortune of being able to make computers work better, then I think we have no real conflict.

Consider this flyer. An entire 1/6th of the flyer is dedicated to explaining FOSS in a friendly way and it’s certainly not trying to make light of the importance of freedom. This weekend I think people appreciated a helping hand explaining what it all means in clearer language as well as lots of practical tips.

But would the FSF appreciate that balance? Depends on the person from the FSF I think.

Your Thoughts?


We’ve been at Anime Boston today (reports will come in the following days) but it’s being held across the road from the Boston Apple Store. There was a queue outside of the Apple store for their new product… the iPad.

After the show I figured I’d go in and try it out. Obviously I’m biased and would never actually buy one. But it’s worth keeping tabs on what kind of gilded cages the fruit company is selling this time.

I’m not fond of Apple, their products are mediocre, their use of FOSS is one sided, their lock in is extreme and in my opinion should be made illegal and their censoring of the critical reporting of news about their products of company. It’s a bastion of arrogance and the kind of Machiavellian “we know what’s best for you” attitude that I utterly despise.

So it was quite hard keeping an honest judgement of their new product. It’s nice I guess, the hardware is certainly nice enough, very thin very light. Their software reminded me of Ubuntu (or is it Ubuntu that reminds me of Apple products these days), but has glaring flaws which go beyond simply not being FOSS.

The zoom makes everything pixelated, not even the icons are vector based so they look awful. This I guess is to get iphone sized apps to work at all on the bigger screen, but seriously it’s time to move to SVG for your icons and to re-render text to suite the size. Or at least at a little bit of anti-aliasing to your scale up.

The apps were limited, even the demos with a ton of stuff installed. It all seemed very mediocre. There was stuff for reading, stuff for watching, stuff for listening. Nothing for making of course, the new generation should be contented with simply consuming “what is best for them to see”TM and not bother with making things. Ironic considering that Apple’s main line of computer is misconceived as an artists/designers platform by many ignorant people.

Apparently the CPU in these Pad devices is proprietary, not an intel, not an Arm, some custom Apple thing. So it’s unlikely to ever run any Linux variant. Which is a deep backtrack for freedom of hardware platforms.

So how does this change what we do in Ubuntu? Well I don’t think it changes what we do very much. We may need to have some new UI considerations if we want Ubuntu pre-installed on tablets of competing manufacturers. But that’s Canonical’s job and the community isn’t really involved in that process since there are very few solid products the community can get hold of to try and experiment with new ideas and advice for new users.

I’m sure we’ll have something to offer eventually though, but I think the FOSS community is going to be playing catchup so long as the IBM-a-like hardware manufacturers are behind the curve in delivering workable alternatives to the iPad that are popular with FOSS users.

What are your thoughts?

Bruno on Economics

Bruno Girin today wrote a very comprehensive comment about my previous blog post about Free Culture.

I thought it was good enough to post as a full post and also add my own reply at the bottom:

It’s all down to the concept of scarcity, which is the corner stone of market economy. Market economy works something like this: when a resource is scarce somewhere, you will look for a provider than has a surplus of that resource and is ready to exchange it against something you have that he wants. For example, Argh went hunting and has a lot of meat but no fruit. Urgh went collecting fruit and has a lot of fruit but no meat. Argh and Urgh agree to exchange meat against fruit to address their respective scarcity problems.

Money is the same, it’s just a resource that’s easier to carry and exchange than a wheelbarrow of strawberries. But it only works because of its scarcity. If everybody became a millionaire overnight, money would lose its value. And here lies the rub in buying over the net. You can’t buy with virtual money because it can potentially be duplicated so you have to come up with payment mechanisms that can link a virtual buyer and a virtual seller to a real buyer and seller that have real money and goods. The infrastructure to do this is far from simple and doesn’t cross borders easily. It is also hampered by the fact that on the net you are anonymous. Interestingly enough, payment is lot easier on a mobile phone because your phone is linked to a SIM card, that has a number, that is administered by a network operator that allocates it to a real person that is billed every month or has pre-paid for usage of the mobile. So payments engines have a way to link the purchase to a real person and therefore real money: bill the network operator and the operator will forward the bill to the buyer. You can’t do that on the net because you don’t have this chain so you have to devise ways to re-construct the chain for every single payment.

The other aspect about the net and computing that scuppers all economic models is the fact that it has completely changed the concept of scarcity. In the real world, duplicating an object takes time and effort, whether it’d be a pencil or an aircraft carrier. This gives you automatic scarcity and you can attach a price to it. In the virtual world, constructing an initial prototype (whether it be a computer program, a song, a book, a 3D aircraft carrier) is time consuming but duplicating it is easy and virtually free. So there is no scarcity on the objects anymore, there is scarcity on the skills required to build the original prototype. So if you follow standard economic principles, once a digital object is built, its price falls to 0 because it costs nothing to duplicate and there is no natural scarcity; the only possible scarcity is artificial and enforced through things like licenses, DRM, etc.

So free culture isn’t killing our culture or economy, it’s just applying the scarcity principle in market economy to digital goods. The problem is that all standard economic models are based around physical goods where there is a cost associated with duplicating them and don’t work anymore in a situation where duplication is free. In particular, the real world depends a lot on middle-men who can source a particular scarce resource, whether it be grocery retailers or music shops. They add real value to the supply chain in the real world but that value drops significantly with digital goods. So they basically find that they are out of a job in the digital world and aren’t too happy about it, which is probably where this accusation that free culture destroys our culture and economy stems from.

I can tell you what is scarce: people’s time. If someone can work out an economic model where people are paid for the work they perform and not for the copying of that work. We’d probably have a better argument for all kinds of Free Culture including Free Software.