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Struggling with Canonical

  Date: Nov 26    Category: Unix / Linux / Ubuntu    Views: 280
  

I have been using Ubuntu in one form or another since it began and it
has been my main distro since 2006. In that time, I have always had a
nagging doubt that has grown into mistrust. It essentially has to do
with my advocacy of open source and Canonical's fence walking on the
issue. Now it seems that Canonical is going to keep some parts of its
code proprietary and never release them as open source.

Many of you will wonder what the big deal in that is. For me, it is
huge. It means that Canonical is taking the from open source and only
giving part of it back. This leverages the work of many people who
labour for free and adversely affects the open source community. I am
not saying that Canonical is not contributing back a la Apple. But
that they are gaining advantage by taking for free then adding to it
with the money of Shuttleworth. Without the work of the open source
community Ubuntu would not be where it is today.

The parts that specifically bother me are those parts that distinguish
Ubuntu from Debian, such as Software Centre, Ubuntu One, MeMenu, and
the notifications and a few other bits. I don't have a problem with
Canonical being a corporation and wanting to make a buck. Let's look
at Ubuntu One. It is set up to sell services, music and server space.
I don't have a problem with either. What I don't like is that Ubuntu
One's code is not all open sourced. Therefore if you install Ubuntu
then you are installing proprietary software whether you want to or
not. This compromises the ability to go totally open source. It also
means that other distributions cannot have their own version of Ubuntu
One which is in the spirit of open source. You take, but you give
back. Canonical could still implement its plans to sell music and at
the same time release all Ubuntu One code as open source. They choose
not to and this is troublesome for someone like me.

I am not 100% open source. I think that there is a place for
proprietary software (unlike purists like RMS). However, I want clear
lines and I want to know that I can avoid proprietary if I choose to.
Ubuntu has always done that in the past. You could tick a box that
would only install open source. However, the latest release does a
Mint. It gives you the option of installing installing proprietary
codecs and drivers. I have no problem with that. I can leave it
unchecked. However, if I choose not to install them then I get Ubuntu
without those proprietary codecs and drivers, but I am running
proprietary software after choosing not to install it. It does not
make sense.

Canonical is blurring the lines between free and open source and it is
selling a false bill of goods. It is masquerading as an open source
distribution when it is not. Most of you don't care because you just
want something that works. I can make anything work and I happen to
care about open source and want it to be here for the long haul. I
fell that Canonical is eroding open source and most people are not
aware because it has been incremental and slow.

I have been a big K/Ubuntu and Canonical supporter, but am now openly
questioning my own faith in the project. I would like your thoughts as
I am seriously thinking of making the switch to another distribution.
I respect your opinions and any advice would be helpful.

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13 Answers Found

 
Answer #1    Answered On: Nov 26    

As long as it's possible to freely obtain and use ubuntu, I see no harm
in them offering extras for a price, so no, I have no problem whatsoever
with canonical offering optional, closed source features.

The idea that linux users are a bunch of cheapskates demanding
everything for free is a harmful stereotype that I try to counter by
buying good commercial linux software whenever I can find it.

 
Answer #2    Answered On: Nov 26    

I don't care because I just want something that works.

But no, while it doesn't concern me to the extent it does Roy, I sympathise and
I do think it's to say the least rather offhand of Canonical. Something akin to
Microsoft bundling IE with Windows as a Netscape killer.

it's not that Canonical is offering optional extras for a (monetary)
price - that would be perfectly fair. It's that these cost-free but proprietary
extra features are NOT presented as optional, and to make matters worse, at
install time you may have unchecked a box to say you specifically don't want
anything whose source code is not available to the community, and yet you get it anyway.

It's not a case of paying for what you get and getting what you pay for, it's
more the insidious encroach of something proprietary sneaking in under the
covers of something claiming to be entirely open.

 
Answer #3    Answered On: Nov 26    

There is free as in beer and free as in free speech. I am talking about free
as in the second case. I have no problem with Ubuntu One charging for
storage, the Ubuntu Music store charging for music downloads and selling
merchandise, etc. I am concerned that an open source company which is what
they call themselves is keeping code to themselves. This cuts to the core of
what open source is all about.

If they do not want to release their code they do not have to, but let's cut
the pretenses and call it what it is. Ubuntu is only partially free to use
and modify. It is a hybrid of open source and proprietary at present, but
these changes have been quite recent. It used to be 100% open source and
people still associate Ubuntu with the old ethic and the new one is being
kept under wraps. It is underhanded and that is what bothers me.

In the end I would like to see Canonical do the right thing and release all
of its code. Right now you can colour me suspicious just because of the way
they are doing things. Things seem to be released only after people complain
about them developing their own code and not releasing it. Launchpad was
released this year, but it has been around for several years now. I don't
think that this is the way to run an "open source" operation.

Backdrop:
www.itworld.com/.../canonicals-disconnect-linux-developer-\
community
www.itworld.com/.../shuttleworth-answers-ubuntu-linuxs-cri\
tics

There is a side issue that has been going on for years now about how much
Canonical contributes downstream to GNOME for example. Fedora contributes
several times (16x) what Canonical contributes. Canonical admits that it can
never catch Fedora, but says that it is doing better in recent times. I will
take their word for it.

What troubles me about this is that Canonical is spending more time on
developing things that Ubuntu alone has. Like Launchpad there is a trickle
down where these things may or may not be released as open source and maybe
only then when Canonical is pressured by the community. It just leaves a bad
taste in my mouth. As someone who has been around Linux since well before
Ubuntu, I see a dangerous trend where Canonical in trying to differentiate
itself is creating barriers.

I am only expressing disappointment at this point. I am using Kubuntu mostly
and it is by and large let out of the discussion. It does not come with
Ubuntu One, the MeMenu and the issue of window controls.
My concern goes deeper as I wonder about Canonical and the direction that it
is heading. I think that they could do a better job in communicating their
plans. I really don't know what they are. I am just concerned about the
disconnect in the community. I used to be proud to say what I used, but now
I have to almost apologise for it.

 
Answer #4    Answered On: Nov 26    

I have enjoyed following you on this yahoo group for almost 2 years. And I have
learned (from you and others) how to use Ubuntu and I have shared this with many
of my friends. I hate to hear Canonical is heading in this direction.

If you give up on the Canonical distro's, what would be your distro of choice
for the future? I am not Linux geek nor do I develop software. I just like using
it.

 
Answer #5    Answered On: Nov 26    

I have not given up on Canonical or its distros. I am now using Kubuntu and
have for over a year now. I started my Linux adventure with Mandrake which
was a KDE only. My next big distro was MEPIS which was also KDE. Then I
switched to Ubuntu and used GNOME for a time. So in many ways going back to
KDE is a good fit. I like Kubuntu a lot. It has all of the advantages of
Ubuntu, such as big repositories and the ability to use PPAs, but none of
the draw backs. There has been no Ubuntu One, tinkering with window buttons,
or MeMenu which does not work for me. I don't have Mono and I can use parts
of Ubuntu that appeal to me.

All through my Linux adventure I have used many distros on the side, so I am
well familiar with other distros, how they work and like things about each
one. I have about seven or eight different distros installed at any given
time.

The distros that fit best with me are Fedora, aptosid (formerly Sidux, a
debian distro based on Sid), SimplyMEPIS 8.5 and PCLinuxOS. I would also
consider some Ubuntu based distros like Mint or SuperOS. I would have to
look into them some more before I decided if they could work.

Fedora has the most pluses, but its repositories are limited and I would
have to change how I do a few things. I can live with that if I have to.The
community s great. I like Aptosid and can do most of what I do in Ubuntu. My
problem is with the Debian community which I have no love for. SimplyMEPIS
could work. It is Debian based and I know it well. It's biggest problem is
its rate of development is slow for my tastes. I like more bleeding edge.
PCLinuxOS is like MEPIS, but is RPM based. It has a good community, but it
small and only has 32-bit. I could go with Arch on my netbook as my needs
there are more modest and it would be fun to get back to basics. I could go
with Sabayon on my desktop. It is a wonderful KDe distro based on Gentoo.

Mandriva and openSuSE are out. Mandriva has a commercial side that is
struggling and the project is always on the edge of collapsing. Novell is up
for sale and I am not happy with their decision to cave in to Microsoft.
They did not stand tall for open source when they could have. They have as
much as apologised, but I can't trust them.

I am staying the course, but considering all options. I am hoping that
healthy discussion will win the day and Canonical at least see the need to
improve their PR and explain themselves better. I think that they owe it to
the community to be transparent. I am also hoping that by community support
here that I can overcome some of my reservations.

 
Answer #6    Answered On: Nov 26    

I think Puppy Linux is great if you have older hardware. Mine will run
Compiz with full effects, so Puppy is probably not for me.

Anything based on Ubuntu does not seem to be a problem for me because
offending proprietary code would have to be stripped out. Even Kubuntu is
not a problem for me, so maybe I just need to be looking at a netbook
solution which is where I run Ubuntu and leave Kubuntu on my desktop. In
that case, Puppy would be a good solution provided that you could add Ubuntu
repos and this I am not sure about.

 
Answer #7    Answered On: Nov 26    

finding lost partitions is easier in puppy. but that's me. plus it can be
ran only in ram.
I buy/am given old HD and puppy does help to redo the partitions on them.
get old computers too. puppy is the first choice to put on anything over 15
yo. after you get puppy on it, most times I can put Ubuntu 10.04 on it and
have it running.

 
Answer #8    Answered On: Nov 26    

I do not have a good opinion about Lucid Puppy. I am goig to use only the
older Puppy versions or the puplets based on those.

 
Answer #9    Answered On: Nov 26    

I have tested a lot of distros on my first hard disk CentOS, Suse, Fedora,
Debian, Mandriva, Sabayon, Mepis, Antix Mepis and more and I still came back to
Ubuntu and Mint. I also tried some more (PcLinuxOS, Granular, Kanotix, Zenwalk,
Knoppix) but the older versions gave graphics problems.
To me Ubuntu is the best choice.
I have even tried older, dead distros (successfully), like Redhat Shrike and
Lorma Linux but Ubuntu and its derivatives are a lot better.
Unfortunately, Ubuntu seems to be the best one. Easy to use, fast to install
programs, large repositories. Great functionality. Easy to get the right answers
to the problems.

 
Answer #10    Answered On: Nov 26    

You are right and I do the same. I wonder though if this allows Canonical to
take us for granted. They know that we are hooked and they can do as they
please. I hope not, but sometimes wonder.

 
Answer #11    Answered On: Nov 26    

I think that as long as Canonical feels they have a winner they will
only improve what we are getting. If on the other hand if they start
feeling they are loosing users they will listen and change as needed.

Users are free to choose, and developers know this. As a user I will
make the choice that works best for me as most do with time. We can
only benefit from the lead developers in the Linux community, so keep
using what you feel is best of class.

 
Answer #12    Answered On: Nov 26    

The best defense is to be informed. Unfortunately for me I am too informed
and drift too much with the ebb and flow. I should approach it more like the
stock market and look more at long term trends than daily blips. However,
the long term is not so rosy either. When I started with Ubuntu is was OTB
GNOME with a bit of theming. Now it is radically different and some of that
is the proprietary things that worry me. Maybe it is better to just have a
short memory. What was I just writing about?

 
Answer #13    Answered On: Nov 26    

If a company finds profit in someones work, The company should not be
underhanded in the contracts they have with the workers.

Most of the people working on Ubuntu volunteer their time, Not to help
keep a company in business, but because they believe in Open Source.
The efforts to build something that no one company can thwart.

By playing an underhanded role, that is behind closed doors, by adding
code that is not open into a product that is advertized as being so, may
one day destroy the Ubuntu community of volunteer developers. In the
process making the code produced by volunteers, difficult to separate.

One day these volunteers will leave Ubuntu and the distro will fail,
leaving many developers afraid to help with another distro.

Can you now see the harm that one company can cause to the Open Source
community?

 
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