CyberTech Rambler

November 3, 2008

Ubuntu’s Linux contributions

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:37 pm

People are accusing Ubuntu for not contributing to Linux. I disagree because I do not think the word contribution should be limitted to source code contribution to the kernel. I think Ubuntu is contributing to Linux, just not in the traditional sense.

At the minimum, Ubuntu gives GNU/Linux a good PR. If you ask me which distribution you should play with if you are a Linux virgin? I will say Ubuntu. Ubuntu is sufficiently polished and dummy proof.  Live CDs are nice, but installing from Live CD is difficult. Moreover, since the installation CD and Live CD is the same one, I don’t have to explain that when they get to the website they have to select to download a Live CD, not the installation one.

Ubuntu’s strength is user engineering. Ubuntu is one of the distribution that are more likely to listen to the users and cater for their needs instead of developers. While Linux’s developers do “eat their own dog food”, developers and users view of what a computer should be is different. Let’s face it, developer has the “curse” of knowing how the computer work and Unix developers are a particular bred that knows how to do the same thing 5 different ways with at least 5 loops you have to jump through whichever ways you choose ;-)

Want an example? See Shuttleworth’s latest post on the FUSA applet design.

Ubuntu seems to be following the traditional example of someone learning Linux. You start with the big thing, i.e., getting the distribution installed (in Ubuntu’s case, on a lot of computers), then start playing around with applications before finally go in and play with programming. And with programming, you start small, i.e., creating applets before diving in and out of the big piece of collaboration code, e.g., GNOME or the kernel itself. It is just a matter of time before Ubuntu finds the need to contribute to GNOME or the kernel, if it haven’t decided that it need to.

Ubuntu is not without flaws. Adam will happily points you to a few. I don’t necessary agrees with Adam but I can see his points.

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7 Comments »

  1. The thing is, all the things you talk about don’t actually help with Linux *development*. If I accept them unchallenged for the purposes of argument, all they do is grow the user base. Which a lot of people confuse with improving Linux development, but which is not in fact the same thing at all.

    All distributions are built off a huge pile of other people’s work, going right back to the early days of GNU. Ever since distributions started up it’s been an implicit part of the bargain that, where possible, they use their resources to contribute back to the upstream development: the creation of the building blocks without which they themselves could not exist. The objection raised by the Novell folks is that Canonical – despite its huge resources – is breaking this tradition by taking upstream development and giving virtually nothing back.

    Whether they’re correct is, I think, not a settled issue – there’s yet to be a comprehensive survey of work done on major projects like GNOME, X.org, KDE, and OpenOffice in addition to just the kernel, which Greg focused on – but it’s important to recognize that the fundamental point is valid. Distributions should contribute to the development of the code without which they are nothing. ‘Contributing’ in other fashions does not negate this principle.

    Comment by Adam Williamson — November 3, 2008 @ 4:48 pm | Reply

  2. I don’t like how Ubuntu is “contributing” to translations. For Slovenian translations it is the distribution with the worst translations. And why this is so? Because they don’t use the high quality translations from upstream, like any other normal distribution does. No, they have to selfishly fork the upstream translations and enable any incompetent translator to do the damage to the translations without any control. It really looks like Ubuntu is more about quantity and not so much about quality. Another thing that worries me a lot about Ubuntu is how their users don’t know a lot about philosophy of free and open source software, they mostly act as pasive consumers, instead of getting to know the full power of free and open source. Again some form of prefering quantitiy over quality. I really hope Ubuntu changes their current practices and start to realize how important upstream projects are. Until then I will not support nor recommend Ubuntu.

    Comment by Jure Repinc — November 4, 2008 @ 3:41 pm | Reply

  3. Ubuntu’s contributions have only begun. Mandriva is more than twice as old. It has spawned a few distros such as PCLOS and that in turn has spawned even more. In four short years Ubuntu has grown to be the most widely used distro. It has spawned many distros and they grow almost daily.

    As Williamson points out, everybody builds on the work of others. That is what is great about open source. You can fork it as much as you like. This is both the strength and weakness of Linux. It gives us choice and diversity, but it fragments the body.

    Ubuntu is committed to open source. It is not a commercial enterprise. You can’t pay for Ubuntu, even if you wanted to. It is free as in beer, as well as being free as in liberty. How many distros now use the Ubuntu installer? I can think of many. Ubuntu does not get credit for this, but it is just something that is being copied. Then there is Launchpad which is something that began with Ubuntu, but others are starting to use it.

    Ubuntu has Brainstorm which is as far as I know unique to them. However, it is an idea that can be copied. But, some distros don’t want user input. Their idea is for a top down approach and that is why Ubuntu has succeeded. They care about users and want their input and users know it. Users will forgive you if you make mistakes as long as they feel you have their best interest at heart. This frees them to take risks in ways that other distros can only dream about.

    There are other contributions such as the usb installer and cleaner included with the latest release which aren’t earth shattering or anything special, but they were released as open source so that anyone can use them. This is modest, but a departure for Ubuntu. previously they had relied on Gnome utilities. We can only speculate where this will lead. More is sure to come.

    Comment by linuxcanuck — November 5, 2008 @ 12:24 am | Reply

  4. @Adam

    I understand that a lot of people see Linux development as contributing to the kernel. They have a very *valid* point here. However, I tend to see Linux, or more precisely GNU/Linux, as an ecosystem. Contributing to this ecosystem constitute helping with Linux development.

    Distribution should contribute to development of the code? Yes, absolutely. But let them do it in their own time.

    Right now Ubuntu looks like a cosy Shuttleworth project. Even he admits Ubuntu is yet to be a viable commercial company and I attribute this partly to their non-participation in kernel development. For large commercial support project they will find that their non-contribution to kernel development is going to be a disadvantage, especially when in competition with companies that do contribute to the kernel code like Mandriva. With large project it is the expertise that matters. Sooner or later, when the small scale commercial market become congested, they will have to contribute to kernel development as part of their commercial edge.

    @Jure

    That is stupid of them and they deserve losing your support.

    I am not really worry about the fact that users of Ubuntu or other Linux distribution does not know a lot about philosophy of FOSS. When your user base grow, this is inevitable. First, I don’t see the point in explaining the virtue and wonder of open source to my granny. Second, the philosophy of FOSS is often lost with non-programmers and quite franky, I don’t care whether they get it or not. With programmers, we are always going to have people firmly in the proprietary world, others in the GPL world and a lot of us in-between. I see Linux distributions and FOSS program as a beacon to existing and budding programmers that there is an alternative to the closed source world, how it can achieve great things and unlike the other side, they can contribute to this greatness. Using Linux distributions and FOSS programs is the first step for them, it was for me.

    Comment by ctrambler — November 5, 2008 @ 12:31 am | Reply

  5. ctrambler: as I said at the end of my post, it’s not just about the kernel, so the point of the Novell guys isn’t proved yet. If it turns out that Ubuntu has contributed a bunch of code to X, GNOME, OpenOffice, and just don’t happen to have a lot of kernel contributions for whatever reason – the kernel guys still wouldn’t be happy, but overall, it’d be fine. As long as you’re contributing back to some important upstream projects, in my view, it’s good.

    “Right now Ubuntu looks like a cosy Shuttleworth project. Even he admits Ubuntu is yet to be a viable commercial company”

    Well, yeah, and that’s what I was talking about ;). But he manages to find the money and personnel to fund maintenance, community relations, PR, distribution; why not contribution to upstream? Canonical has more employees than Mandriva. I don’t think it works to say “well, they just don’t have the time / resources / experience to do it yet”. Ubuntu’s not young any more – they’ve been around for four years. Other major distros were established upstream contributors long before that point in their history.

    LinuxCanuck: “Ubuntu is committed to open source. It is not a commercial enterprise. You can’t pay for Ubuntu, even if you wanted to.”

    Those statements are somewhat confused. “You can’t pay for Ubuntu, even if you wanted to” doesn’t mean either a) it’s committed to open source or b) it’s not a commercial enterprise. It’s a commercial enterprise because it’s backed by a company and developed in the main by paid staff of that company – that’s the definition in my mind, anyway. You can’t pay for Fedora, either, but it’s still a commercial distro. Community distros are those developed entirely in a non-company structure, like Debian and Gentoo. And, of course, “free software” and “open source” have never been about “you don’t have to pay for it”. Free is not necessarily free, and vice versa.

    “How many distros now use the Ubuntu installer?”

    A valid point, but I’m not sure there are many that are not just (official or unofficial) forks / derivatives of Ubuntu itself.

    “Then there is Launchpad which is something that began with Ubuntu, but others are starting to use it.”

    Launchpad is, er, not open source. :)

    “Ubuntu has Brainstorm which is as far as I know unique to them. However, it is an idea that can be copied.”

    Indeed it is, and Ubuntu copied it from Dell. :) It’s a good project – I think it suffers from a low signal to noise ratio, though.

    “This frees them to take risks in ways that other distros can only dream about.”

    I really don’t think this is true. All successful distributions are highly responsive to user input, and I just haven’t seen any evidence of Ubuntu taking risks in ways that other distros can only dream about. It’s actually about the most conservative major distribution, IMHO. The most radical is Fedora, by quite a long way. Fedora is, in my view, the distro that takes risks in ways others only dream about.

    Comment by Adam Williamson — November 5, 2008 @ 1:25 am | Reply

  6. [...] http://ctrambler.wordpress.com/2008/… “I don’t like how Ubuntu is “contributing” to translations. For Slovenian translations it is the distribution with the worst translations. And why this is so? Because they don’t use the high quality translations from upstream, like any other normal distribution does.” [...]

    Pingback by Boycott Novell » IRC: #boycottnovell @ FreeNode: November 4th, 2008 — November 5, 2008 @ 12:35 pm | Reply

  7. Hi,

    What you are saying is a more Microsoftist way not the Unix way.
    The Unix way has always been the way of Developers and that is the only reason Unix is so strong and stable.
    No designer in his right mind would design an editor like vi. But vi and vim were made by and FOR developers and that is the reason why you don’t find ANY graphical/user-friendly editor that comes close to vi’s and emacs’ usability.

    The same is with all the utilities.
    That is the MAIN reason why hardcore Unix freaks don’t like (oops sorry), HATE, graphical environments. NOT because its graphical, but mainly because most graphical environments are NOT made on the Unix philosophy of:

    1. Writing small utilities what do 1 thing and do it well.
    2. Achieve complex tasks by combining 1 or more utilities.

    Most of the GUIs are mammoth programs which try to be monolithic. That’s not the way Linux/Unix is meant to be.

    Linux must stike a BALANCE between meeting novice user’s requirements but NOT at the cost of sacrificing Linux/Unix’s philosophical roots.

    What say?

    Comment by Sadiq — December 18, 2008 @ 9:27 am | Reply


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