Ubuntu Membership

Launchpad asked me if I wanted to continue to be an Ubuntu member. I thought about it, and have decided that I don’t. The one thing I’ll miss is being able to post to Planet Ubuntu. But I have to be honest, there isn’t an Ubuntu community any more. There’s a Canonical community, an ubuntu-users gaggle and maybe an enthusiasts posse. But no community that makes decisions, builds a consensus, advocates or educates. It’s dead now, it’s been that way for a while.

Hopefully this post will make it to the planet before my membership expiry stops it. I’ll still be working and using Ubuntu, launchpad, bzr, maybe even ubuntu phone and tv. I won’t stop championing Free Software, economic involvement and good design either. Important principles for me. In fact nothing about what I do, projects I work on will change. This is just a realisation moment that Ubuntu doesn’t have a peer community to be a member of.


You were warned plenty. It’s not your fault. You had to deliver decisions against the best interests of the Ubuntu peer community and in favour of the Canonical community. Driving so hard towards product nirvana that peer relationships were driven into the ground. I’m sure you disagree that the community is dead, but eventually those scales will fall or the fake smile will stop. I don’t know what kind of Community you want, but it sure isn’t the peer community I signed up for.


Unless you can see a way forwards to rebuild this broken dream, disband. Focus your great skills on Debian. I’m sorry we couldn’t make it work, we were overpowered.


Keep up the great technical work. If your working on Ubuntu, don’t let the death of the community disrupt you. Let it pass like the breaking of an ulcer and carry on with your important and excellent work. The lack of a community outside of your company is not an impediment or even a problem to making great software. Keep calm and code on.

I’ll be making apps and code, most likely targeting Ubuntu. App developers need not change their behaviour, being an app developer doesn’t make you part of the old peer community. Just devs making good apps that should target all distros. Release your code, don’t get locked in, earn your bread, keep up the good work.

Everyone else: Good Luck, Code Speed.


32 thoughts on “Ubuntu Membership

  1. Why not get involved with another Linux community (Fedora, Debian etc) and redirect your energies where they can be truly appreciated. I left Ubuntu (as a user and developer) a while back and have found the Fedora community to be as excellent as I once found Ubuntu to be.

  2. I can totally understand your perspective on this, there are quite a few people who are wrapping up their obligations and commitments and disengaging gracefully in this way. I think Canonical kind of want to reboot the community relationship, so that there is a clearer separation, with Canonical providing the platform, the developer community writing apps for the platform and users using the apps. There is some evidence to suggest that this might be working and they might be attracting a new and different community, it is going to take a few years to figure it out.

  3. I can fully understand you. I haven’t taken any decision yet (I don’t know when my annual membership will expire), but I’m feeling the same sensations. The Community is not like it was before.

  4. I agree with everything you’re saying right up until you say that’s why you’re leaving the membership programme.

    The community *will* die if everybody rage-quits.

    I’m serious. If you consider yours a voice worth hearing (and while we disagree sometimes, I strongly think that it is) you owe it to the silent community, those who agree with you but who can’t post to the planet themselves, to make that voice heard.

    Get your membership back and use it to protest and give voice to the people Canonical are steamrollering past.

  5. I share some of your concerns, Martin. While I haven’t been as active lately because of work, I _have_ watched numerous changes and felt disquieted.

    It would appear that Canonical has a chance to create or provide an amazing ecosystem of digital devices that are integrated as well, if not better, than Apple. I feel they are making the right decisions to support that goal. Frankly, I support this.

    I believe that this is a transitional phase. The community as it has existed is changing, going through a metamorphosis, and a new community, one perhaps more potent and powerful, will develop and break out of its cocoon, ready to dominate the world.

    I do not believe I am part of that new community. While I support Canonical’s goals (at least what I suspect them to be), I am not interested in actively developing them. Not out of spite, simply because this is not interesting to me at this time.

    What I really want is to help bring an incredibly open, awesome, powerful operating system, tailored for content creation and super easy to install and use, to those who wouldn’t have something similar. I’m not sure I will be able to do that anymore. Perhaps the world has moved on.

    I read Jan and Fab on G+ deride Canonical/Ubuntu. It seems that Jan and Fab are trying to hold Canonical and Mark to a very rigid, narrow definition of FL/OSS. I’m not saying Jan/Fab are wrong, but this doesn’t mean that they are right. While Mark isn’t following the strictures of FL/OSS as Jan and Fab might prefer, I feel that Mark is still going to bring “Linux to the masses”.

    The year of the Linux desktop is never. But perhaps, Mark and Co. can make every year from now on the “Year of the Linux Everything”.


  6. Well written, and very accurate. I’ve deactivated my memberships for the same reasons.

  7. I think that the community will re-emerge in a different context. I’ve been watching your blog for years (while I was writing a popular Ubuntu blog which predated OMG and friends),. I still remember the first time you posted about Mission Control.

    Starting several years ago (8.04 by my memory) I actually started advocating Canonical taking more control of the core, streamlining what is included in Ubuntu, and moving the packaging community into the PPAs.

    Canonical is trying to build a developer platform. I hope that they are successful. If they are, I believe that there will be a vibrant open-source developer community based around Ubuntu.

    Either that, or they pull a Nokia. We’ll see.

    Anyway, sorry to see you go. I’ll keep following you.

  8. This is exactly what I wanted to say, but feared saying it because I thought it might defame a former employer.

    You are 100% on the money though. There isn’t a community anymore. I suspect the reason is that it never could have worked. Ubuntu’s mission is to spread free software into the mainstream, and I think its become clear that the Google Model has become the most viable way of achieving that end.

    There will always be the niche of “the community” made up of the Debian’s and KDE’s of the world, but I think its unrealistic to assume that we can have both world domination and “the community” at the same time.

  9. This echoes many of my own thoughts about Ubuntu rather well. Busy with university and with little time for much active contribution, I’ve taken this time to try and decide a philosophically sound position about my software usage. For a while recently, I abandoned Ubuntu for Debian, preferring initially its large-scale community organisation built around consensus, but I was often dismayed by the processes that emerged from that world: the pace of development – which has been improving – and the endless bikeshedding and trolling on the development mailing lists.

    I eventually came to the conclusion that Debian is a wonderful and passionate community, producing excellent software, but at the cost of lumbering inefficiency. Ubuntu, by contrast, takes all that is best from Debian, and adds to it some technical leadership.

    Whilst that leadership is often controversial, it has a vision, and it is quite ruthless. I wish it were more open in its decisions and early development processes, but I have come to believe that leadership is ultimately important — and it is what the free software bazaar has needed for a long time.

    Of course, strong leadership comes with the cost of losing community involvement in the decision-making process, and I think that’s what you are getting at about the death of the community.

    I don’t think the community has died. I think it is healthy, and vibrant, but I think it is upstream. The bazaar is mature now, and the hubbub isn’t disappearing — but it isn’t with Ubuntu. Ubuntu “buys up” the best that the bazaar has to offer (at least with regards to its beliefs about its own interests, in the short or long term), and these actions demonstrate to those who hold the market stalls what is valued and what is less so.

    Ubuntu is controversial when it doesn’t just buy from the bazaar, but builds the foundations for its own cathedral. That route is dangerous, but at least it is a GPL cathedral – and the store-holders of the bazaar are free to rebuild it.

    I don’t think the hope is lost, but I think the (free software) world has matured and changed its shape. Its new shape, I believe, is not one to fear.

  10. Hey DoctorMO,

    I’ve been reading your posts on the Planet for years now, and they are a large part of why I read Ubuntu Planet at all. I’m sad to see you go. Are you moving on to community work at Debian?

  11. Well said. Thanks for posting this, it covers a lot of my thoughts about the current state of Ubuntu.

    “The community *will* die if everybody rage-quits.”
    I think it’s reasonable to conclude that Ubuntu itself will die too. Much as Canonical seem to be trying, they can’t run a distribution on the backs of just employees, especially given that they aren’t making a profit as it is with the help of volunteer work.

    And this is sad. And it’s also entirely necessary. At some point, it becomes a moral imperative to vote with your feet when you’ve tried your best (as I believe doctormo, and me, and other Ubuntu Members who have left did) to correct things and it hasn’t happened and the situation is untenable. Doing otherwise implies endorsement of what is quickly approaching a mockery of open source development processes.

  12. DoctorMo and to some extent Alan Bell,

    I have to agree with Alan, from an outside looking in perspective, it does feel like a reboot of the relationship. And really, based on the business goals, the adoption goals, Canonical has to adopt a more Google like model to development to compete moving forward. They have to control the platform definition would the product they support. This is very different than the Debian model. I simply don’t see how they are going to get to where they want to go by continuing to be an expansive collection of packages in the Debian derived style.

    And Canonical has to go further than this, they are going to have to control a very well documented and well designed API as part of their SDK and long term app ecosystem management. I expect them to end up forking qt5/qml to be able to generate the API they need and to be able to provide backward compatibility at the API level (similar to how Google’s API forward rolls).

    I could stand on my soapbox and be super critical of the decisions and to fan the flames of discord, but really even if these decisions are badly timed, it finally feels to me like Canonical is starting to be more honest with regard to their business interests and how those interests interact with community. To summarize in a cynical tweet length comment, Canonical ran out of Kool-aid.

    If I were going to be critical of something, I just wish Canonical had decided to do this new development under the Unity brand, and let the Ubuntu brand be a fully community project brand. They don’t need to do this new app platform work under the Ubuntu brand. They could do it all… all the multi-platform convergence stuff under the Unity brand in a little pocket universe inside the larger Ubuntu project. The Ubuntu desktop could die, replaced by the Unity platform product and the “Ubuntu Project” could live on as more community led if Canonical would just let go of the Ubuntu brand, instead of trying to co-opt the value inherent in the brand to build the new platform thing they want to build.

    I think the power of the Ubuntu brand is the community…not Canonical’s engineering. I think the power of the Unity brand is Canonical’s engineering and design…not the community. The branding choices being made right now, to position the new platform as a new “Ubuntu” product don’t play on the existing branding message as I understand it. But maybe its just me.


  13. “But no community that makes decisions, builds a consensus, advocates or educates”.

    Thanks for completely dismissing LoCo’s work. I am really pround of my LoCo, ubuntu-mx, which spends a lot of time building consensus, advocating and educationg.

  14. Jef, as always you have an insightful addition in your comment. I was commenting only a few minutes ago about how ok it would all seem for Canonical to have been more honest sooner that it wasn’t interested in a community that “helps build Ubuntu” but instead wanted app partners and downstream advertisers to push their core goals which they controlled.

    Perhaps the employees themselves couldn’t bring themselves to cut the cord and have been stringing along a community expectation that was simply impossible.

  15. Oli – There’s nothing to rage quit from. I never left Ubuntu, Ubuntu left me. To paraphrase. I’m certainly not angry or mad, nothing about recent decisions have annoyed me. I’m actually interested in the rolling release strategy, the online UDS makes sense. I’ll be following them in their announcements. But we have to be clear, we can’t be strung along on a promise of a dream and Canonical must be honest with what it expects from it’s partners.

  16. So without going into the long history of these project, I just wanted to say that there has been a big push from inside Canonical to be more open and interactive with the community. As a result of this, many of the things that had been worked on behind closed doors has recently been pushed out into the open.

    Ironically, in announcing all of these projects one after the other, we ended up giving the community the exact opposite feeling about what we were doing. While internally there were many people saying “I’m so glad we can finally talk about this openly, I hated having to keep it secret”, from the community side we’re getting feelings that we’re becoming even more secretive.

    I understand that, at this point, it’s difficult for me to ask you to trust that we’re already making the necessary changes to become more community involved. But as a friend I wanted to say that we know how you and others in the community feel about what has been happening, and that we are already taking positive steps to correct it.

  17. Martin,

    It is sad to see you go and I have some of the same concerns you do. I do think there are people at Canonical who are putting their business before the Ubuntu Community. I do think community input in decision making is nearly obsolete.

    But I do not believe walking away is the solution… I think sticking in and blogging about what you see and championing the community is the way to protect Ubuntu.

    Know that you are not alone and I have personally heard from someone on the community council and developers who also feel like Ubuntu Community is becoming a Canonical Community.

  18. Doctormo and Micheal Hall,

    There is a perception problem inherent in the announcements over the last year or so. Because Canonical did such a very good job of positioning the-Ubuntu-that-was as a truly open governance model and downplaying the internal Canonical business interest impact, the current process of actually opening up and being more honest about the demarcation between product strategy and community ownership it ends up tasting like ashes to contributors who were participating in the-Ubuntu-that-was.

    Why? Because, being emotional animals, contributors bought into the “U”topian vision of the Ubuntu-that-was because it was so ambitious and communicated a bold promise to build something better. And everyone, Doctormo included, who stood up and contributed, who worked to try to turn the promised vision into a reality should be applauded for stepping up and taking the chance and follow Mark Shuttleworth’s lead. I’ve no interest in making this “I told you so” moment or pointing fingers at individuals and suggesting that the experiment to build the-Ubuntu-that-was was over because they individually or collectively failed. I might be a hyper-rational skeptic, but I’m not going to berating anyone for standing up and participating in the Ubuntu experiment when I was not ready to put my faith in the vision. If anyone failed, I failed in my self appointed role as loyal opposition to cut through the hype with constructive critical analysis often enough to warn the ship off the rocks. The Minnow it was lost, the Minnow it was lost.

    But what I would ask of Doctormo, and others who feel like he does now, to really think about what a new balanced, honest and sustainable relationship between Canonical and externals could look like if the Ubuntu project started afresh right now. Throw out the governance model as it exists today, wipe it from your minds. How do you build a project from which you can synthesize multiple platform products. (Unity, KDE active, gnomeOS) each backed by a different business entity (blue systems, canonical… others) as well as legacy desktop environments (KDE, xcfe, lxde openCDE) with no direct corporate backing

    I’d ask Micheal Hall, and other canonical employees with privileged information concerning project strategy developments to also ask the same question of themselves.

    How can you rebuild the governance and the branding so business interests and community interests can coexist without having business interest decision making end-up bombshelling into the community space causing external contributors to have to scramble to respond? How can you build the community space so you can still grow pocket communities without the weight of the community processes acting as inertia hold back the speed of product development?

  19. FYI, the overall RSS feed for this blog is at http://doctormo.org/feed/

    I couldn’t find any link for it, DoctorMo; I had to guess the URL based on the link for the feed of comments for this entry. It would probably be wise to make a link to the overall feed somewhere so that people can easily keep up with your blog now that you’re not on Planet Ubuntu.

  20. Great post, I feel the same way, although I’ve moved away from ubuntu since over 1 year now.

    The other thing I would mention in your post, is that it’s sad how they’re requiring copyright assignment. This is to the detriment of Free Software. So I would encourage users to keep contributing, but preferably to debian, and also to ensure that they use a GNU type license, and don’t ever sign the CLA.

    Best to you!

  21. DoctorMo: As an “ordinary user of Ubuntu” since 2006 with various versions since Edgy Eft, I’d first like to thank you for the years you’ve stayed the course. Your posts on Planet U. have always been thought-provoking and interesting. Shedding your membership in Launchpad frees you up and allows for great new directions. I wish you well. God speed ahead! (Canonical has the real loss.)

  22. @Sam Spilsbury

    so the most viable way to spread free software is to have lots of money coming from a unrelated business and to do it in a way that do not really promote community ( cause there isn’t a community contributing to chromeos or android, afaik ) ?

    That seems neither sustainable ( ie, what if side business has issues ) nor really helping the ethos of free software ( because that’s what we try to share, the ethos, not the product because we like the product ).

  23. This has happened before. In some ways, it’s early 2008 and late 2011 all over again. Many community members and leaders seem to feel taken for granted, unappreciated, and voiceless in the decisions.

    2008, in response to community demand, led to Brainstorm and an expansion/reorganizing of the Community Manager roles, and a lot of talk about more openness.

    2011 saw the community Leadership Team, another expansion/reorganization of the Community Manager roles(s), and led to release of the Unity design guide, much more blogging by the designers and engineers, the Skunkworks invitation, and -ultimately- open requests for community input and participation before a couple big decisions…like a Rolling Release or replacing X with mir.

    Community disgruntlement has happened before. It is happening now. And it will happen again.

    But I see Canonical really trying to encourage community participation and involvement. More than ever before. It hasn’t been handled terribly well by the engineers nor by the community, and that mishandling has allowed rumors and speculation to bloom early this spring.

    At UDS, I saw frank and open discussions on the merits and challenges of the proposals…exactly what I had hoped to see.

    If you decide to leave the community, please know that you will always be welcome. But please reconsider, and please don’t take rather unpolished proposals and rather awkward communication skills as a massive sea change intended to somehow reduce the community role or disrespect your valuable contributions. Instead, view them as quite rough drafts ready for your input.

  24. I think what was once called the Ubuntu Community should redefine itself. It has long been hurt by Canonical’s use of favoritism and fixers, so it now simply being ignored should be looked upon as a kind of blessing and opportunity.

    I had read Sergio’s opinion that Canonical is in effect forking itself between Ubuntu and the other now more fully community built derivatives as a whole (over Mir vs xorg/wayland among other things). This is where what was once called the Ubuntu community could find a new and essential role, in working to better bring together these derivatives (Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Kubuntu, etc) which retain goals connected to real users and software freedom.

  25. @doctormo Yes, but Canonical’s contributor agreement says that they can use proprietary licenses.

    “We may license the Contribution under any license, including copyleft, permissive, commercial, or proprietary licenses. As a condition on the exercise of this right, We agree to also license the Contribution under the terms of the license or licenses which We are using for the Material on the Submission Date.”


  26. I agree with this. The feeling of Canonical’s absence has become me.

    Good thing there are alternatives.

  27. Juanjo: So very interesting. Thanks for pointing out section 2.3 of the new Harmony CLA that was touted as being much better than before – turns out it’s pretty much the same situation: you waive your rights to ensure that your contribution stays Free Software.

  28. …And by “waive your rights to ensure”, I mean “you cannot prevent your software from being made proprietary” (the English language can be a double-edged sword sometimes ;).

  29. Scott Lavender said:
    “What I really want is to help bring an incredibly open, awesome, powerful operating system, tailored for content creation and super easy to install and use, to those who wouldn’t have something similar.”

    I think that ship has sailed. There used to be talk of bridging the digital divide, bringing working desktops to people who could only afford second- or third-hand computers. It was supposed to be a lean but featureful operating system that could be installed on a computer that would only accept a CD as install media. It’s not anymore. Now you either need a DVD drive or a computer new enough to boot from USB. And I think that idea has been abandoned.

    Ubuntu isn’t about bringing computing to those who otherwise could not afford it anymore. It’s become about toys for those well off enough to be choosing whether their “spare” computing device should be an iPad or an Ubuntu tablet.

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