Ubuntu is Not Evil
March 5, 2012
Ubuntu is certainly not evil or sinister. Nor, by extension, is Canonical. Sure they have a different approach that may not fit into everyone’s ideal way of doing things. But the things they are doing are not bad, bad stuff.
The biggest issue I feel with Ubuntu is that they take a ‘my way or the highway’ approach. To some extent this is necessary when it’s time to focus on a goal. Take Unity, for example. With each iteration things have become better, decisions have been reversed, and new ideas explored. If its project leaders, designers, programmers, etc. had been disheartened at the negative feedback, they didn’t show it outright and kept on working. People may not like it (I certainly have a hard time using it) but the work continues to this day, providing an alternative desktop environment with a different set of goals. This focus and dedication can only be achieved with a ‘my way or the highway’ approach. Others, like KDE and GNOME, have done the same and made some revolutionary changes in the process. But giving more control to the community (like Fedora), they can solve this issue.
I also feel that most Ubuntu’s work does not get adopted by a wider community beyond Ubuntu. Other distributions rarely use Ubuntu’s code within their ecosystems. I see an example of Ubuntu working with Cobbler (from Fedora) and using it as part of their Orchestra ecosystem but I don’t see Orchestra being adopted by OpenSUSE in turn. There doesn’t seem to be an effort on Ubuntu’s part to champion their technology to become a part of the Linux distribution community.
Another issue I have with Ubuntu is that their focus is too wide and not deep enough. I really can’t tell if Ubuntu wants to be a consumer OS (phones, tablets, TVs, etc.), a desktop OS (home, business, etc.), or a server OS (home, enterprise). There are certainly people working on all these things simultaneously and they are doing a fantastic job. But when I recommend Ubuntu to someone I really don’t know if their focus on consumers affects Ubuntu as an enterprise server OS. Ubuntu is trying too hard to be something for everyone and sometimes that doesn’t work out.
Of course, all these issues are my perception and it might be because I don’t closely follow the Ubuntu universe. But as a partially involved user this is how I feel. These issues do not make Ubuntu or Canonical evil but they do make it harder for me to adopt Ubuntu as my first choice when picking distributions (although more often than not I default to Ubuntu anyways).
I have deployed Ubuntu (pre-Unity) on the desktop for myself and others. I have used it as a server for different web applications. My own VPS is currently running Ubuntu 11.10 server and has been since Ubuntu 10.10. So I have nothing against Ubuntu as such.
I love Ubuntu’s pragmatism. I would love for only open source and free software to be the dominant way of writing code but it’s not practical. You can’t have $400 billion companies based only on open source or free software. So when Ubuntu recognizes this and provides non-free firmware proprietary drivers and applications, I just love it. They also focus on building on the hard work of others (Debian, Fedora, etc.) and making things easier for certain people.
Canonical is not Red Hat, and I believe they shouldn’t even try to be. Red Hat decided some time ago that to become a billion dollar company they would have to charge for the compiled binaries while giving access to the source code for free; perfectly valid and follows the free software and open source principles. Ubuntu, not yet a billion dollar company, has decided that source code and compiled binaries should be accessible without any charge. No one doubts the contribution of Red Hat to the Linux distribution community while Canonical has yet to gain that respect. If Canonical can take care of the three issues mentioned in this post, I believe they can go a long way toward becoming another billion dollar (and beyond) Linux distribution company. It may also help get Ubuntu and Canonical a more positive image within the community, getting more users and contributors on board.