Today is day 7 of my “10 Days of Ubuntu 10.10 Feature Requests” series. See the series introduction here.
Day 7 – Mend Key Relationships
Today’s article does not discuss a “feature,” per se, but it’s something so crucially important to the continued success of the Ubuntu project that it’s worth discussing here.
Ubuntu has a lot of fans, and rightfully so. It’s a great distribution that continues to do great things for The Linux Desktop.
But as time passes, the opponents of Ubuntu become more and more vocal. In order to ensure continued growth and support, Canonical needs to mend three key relationships.
The Women of FOSS
If you haven’t heard of the recent uproar caused by Mark Shuttleworth’s LinuxCon speech, you eventually will. Though I have yet to see an official transcript or video, word on the street is that Mark made a comment along the lines of “we need to make Linux easier to explain to girls.” Some in the Linux community have taken this opportunity to question whether or not Shuttleworth is a chauvinist, while others have gone so far as to discuss boycotting Ubuntu.
Personally, I (and others) like to believe that we live in a world where people should be considered innocent until proven guilty. A video or transcript of the speech has yet to emerge, so anyone jumping the gun on this issue needs to take a deep breath and wait until details emerge. Even if it turns out that Shuttleworth did say something along these lines, let the man have a chance to explain and/or apologize. I highly doubt he was using this statement to claim that no girls understand Linux. Women are a key part of FOSS and Ubuntu has a thriving women’s organization.
But regardless, this is a relationship that needs to be mended as soon as possible. By the time Ubuntu 10.10 rolls around, the Ubuntu project would benefit enormously by re-establishing itself as an organization that greatly values women and their many contributions to FOSS.
Upstream (Especially Debian)
Bad blood between Debian and Ubuntu goes way back. In 2006, ITWire posted a great article that analyzed some of the emerging discontent between the two groups. Nearly three years later, not much has changed.
It’s well-known that the Debian project is home to any number of loudly outspoken individuals, and these individuals have only polarized further and further as the project continues to wrestle with a number of ideological issues.
But I think it’s difficult to argue that either Debian or Ubuntu is going anywhere but forward. Contrary to what some may say, Ubuntu is capable of bringing great value to the Debian project – but they need to make it a priority. In the next 12 months, I’d love to see Canonical continue to make strides to repair its relationship with Debian.
And they shouldn’t just stop there. The Ubuntu project needs to make it abundantly clear that they take their upstream relationships seriously. The start of the Ubuntu Upstream Report last year was a good idea, but it remains in beta and needs additional work before it can really be demonstrative of a “serious” upstream commitment.
Users of other Distros
Some amount of distro fanboy/girlism is inevitable, but Ubuntu seems to polarize the Linux userbase more than your average distro. The majority of Linux users I’ve met are either big fans of Ubuntu or they think it’s the worst thing to hit Linux since binary blobs. A recent tuxmachines.org survey related to boycotting Ubuntu reveals some intriguing numbers – if the site were to boycott Ubuntu, 40% of respondents would visit less or not at all, 40% would visit the same, and 14% would visit more. Think other distros would generate a similar response? I don’t.
I’m not sure what Ubuntu can do to address this issue, though mending the two relationships already discussed wouldn’t hurt. Popularity will always incite some amount of bitterness, but I (and others) would love to see Ubuntu gain more respect from the entire Linux userbase. Strong performance numbers, quality releases, and continued unique contributions should all help in this arena.
Ubuntu 10.10 is more than a year off, and I’m sure all the relationships mentioned above will continue to evolve between now and then. Canonical can’t maximize its success without support from all the groups mentioned in this article, so I stand by the notion that mending the above relationships should be a key “feature” to implement by the time Ubuntu 10.10 releases.