Ubuntu Empire Strikes Back

The old "Ubuntu doesn't contribute back" argument cropped up again when Dave Neary released a report of the talk he gave at GUADEC on the contributions made to the GNOME desktop environment. He found that Red Hat and Novell contributed the most, and that Ubuntu and Mandriva (primarily a KDE distribution) were among the lowest. A firestorm of debate ensued, and Shuttleworth was accused of name calling and guilt to try to win the argument.

The report spurred reactions from many community members, and their responses usually depended upon which side of the fence they sat. Greg DeKoenigsberg, former Red Hat Community Architect, held no punches in his scathing criticism of Canonical and Ubuntu. He said Canonical was little more than "marketing organization masquerading as an engineering organization" taking "credit for code that Red Hat engineers wrote." Debian developers have been saying that for years about their work, but as a primarily KDE distro they didn't make the Top 20 list at all, so it appears they are staying out of this fight. Other distribution developers have been overheard expressing the same sentiments as well. DeKoenigsberg even touched on another one of Mark Shuttleworth's battle cries that really rally his troops while rubbing most of the Open Source community against the grain. He said, "they have the gall to suggest that Red Hat should change its release schedules to make it even easier for them to ride the gravy train." Most people will remember the many speeches given by Shuttleworth calling for "cadence" or the releasing of products (for example, GNOME) when it would be most advantageous to Ubuntu's release schedule.

Adam Williamson of Red Hat and formerly of Mandriva wondered if Ubuntu's success is any real success at all given that Linux represents less than 5% of total desktop usage amongst computer users, and that number hasn't grown significantly since Ubuntu's inception or rise to popularity. He did say that "if you show up with a couple of graphic designers, anyone who’s passed Media Relations 101, and a bit of cash, you can pretty much win by default, which is what Ubuntu did."

Sam Varghese, known Linux detractor and journalist, reminds us that Canonical didn't make the Top 30 in a report from the Linux Foundation on kernel contributors. On the same subject, "Greg Kroah-Hartman cited statistics that showed Canonical's contribution to 2.6.27-rc6 was 100 patches against Red Hat ... with 11,846 patches. Novell had 7222 patches." Varghese asks what everyone's trying to ask, "How about giving back a little more?"

Carlo Daffara, Open Source researcher, said that "GNOME is only one of the projects and they measure too little." He asserts that "bringing Ubuntu to millions of people is a contribution; every time Canonical manages to bring a press release out it is making a huge contribution." He sums up by saying this isn't a contest. "We should be happy for every, small, large, strange or different contributions that we receive." Chris Jones, Canonical employee, suggested "it would generally be more useful for people to be talking about solutions than arguing about who is the most or least evil."

Fortunately, Canonical let their voices be heard. Jono Bacon, Ubuntu Community Manager, offered a calm response pointing out the work Ubuntu developers do that is not part of official GNOME modules or those hosted and developed elsewhere such as Launchpad. He said, "There are also many projects built on GNOME technology that are not taken into account due to non-inclusion in GNOME modules or being developed outside of GNOME infrastructure." He continues to list several projects for which Ubuntu developers code and do not ship upstream. It seems he inadvertently confirmed the heart of the controversy. Debian formed their "Front Desk" in hopes of encouraging derivatives to share back.

Then Shuttleworth strikes back with his response, but it's not clear if he addressed the issue, or avoided it. Does Canonical's silence mean they don't care about giving back? Are the opponents being unfair in their expectations? Perhaps Jeffrey Stedfast summed it up best with "This is just how Free Software works. Don't like it? Cry me a river."


Susan Linton is a Linux writer and the owner of tuxmachines.org.


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Long elusive user friendliness?

LinuxLover's picture

Sir, put the crack pipe down! You'll never convince me that firing up a terminal and typing 'sudo blah blah blah' is even close to firing up the Mandriva Control Center and doing it with a few clicks. Long elusive user friendliness my foot!


Cycron's picture

What are you talking about... "firing up a terminal and typing 'sudo blah blah blah'" Ubuntu has a GUI installer too... it's called "Ubuntu Software Center".

I'm talking about configuring

LinuxLover's picture

I'm talking about configuring anything. It takes a terminal session and lots of "sudo" calls to get anything done. That's user friendly? Buahahahahaha! Yeah, right... Again, put the crack pipe down. Both Suse and Mandriva have long had point and click solutions to configuration that leave Ubuntu in the dust. There's nothing special about user friendliness in Ubuntu.

what exactly...

jmite's picture

what exactly are you trying to get done that you need so many sudo calls? Ubutnu us almost 100% configurable from the GNOME apps, just go system->preferences, or system->administration. They're not in one single program like mandriva, but that's a minor design issue. (Many have criticized the single control panel as being too windows like. Not I, but it's a legit reason). But if you actually need to be firing up the command line, either you're a power user, which is great, or you're getting instructions from the wrong people, which is not so great.

People tell you to sudo bla bla bla because 99% of the time, it's faster to cut and paste that then doing it via GUI, but the tools are there to do it all by GUI, they're not hidden.

Really,Kubuntu made a KDE

Anonymous's picture

Really,Kubuntu made a KDE Contrl Center which have been adopt by upsteam....

In the same place it is now.

idiot_buster's picture

In the same place it is now. Ubuntu doesnt innovate anything they borrow everything. All ubuntu really has is a vocal fanboi collection. The question though itself is a red herring ans one ubuntards pop off with fairly often without understanding what it was when Ubuntu kicked off.

The comparison is between Red Hat and Canonical

Oisin Feeley's picture

The comparison is not being made with regard to the Ubuntu community. It's being made between the two for-profit, commercial businesses: Red Hat and Canonical Ltd.

GDK is clear that he considers that the Ubuntu community has contributed a lot and the problem is that Canonical has failed to contribute upstream.

Previous benchmarks of activity centered on the kernel and when it was shown that Canonical had noticeably lower contributions compared to other commercial outfits it was argued that such benchmarks missed their main area of activity: the GNOME desktop. Now we have more stats to show that the centerpiece of usability on the desktop is in fact disproportionately coded (even when adjusted per-developer) by NOT-CANONICAL. No wonder eyebrows are being raised.

The solution to this? GDK appears to agree with Adam Williamson's suggestion that:
"the optimum solution Greg’s looking for here is not ‘Ubuntu magically goes away’, it’s ‘Canonical steps up and starts making significant contributions to the wider ecosystem’."

Rants about tribalism (and examples of it like your own above) miss the point. GDK's post is a call for Canonical to live up to the promise and potential offered by Free Software instead of making happy-clappy sounds while giving nothing back.

Good grief. If this is how

the_madman's picture

Good grief. If this is how people respond to Ubuntu, I'd hate to hear their opinions on Android, a project that gives literally nothing back to the Linux kernel.

No, really, you don't

Adam Williamson's picture

No, really, you don't want to hear my opinion of Android. The profanity filters couldn't handle it. =)

(If it's any indication, my phone runs Windows Mobile, since I can't find one that runs Meego with the right bands. Ironically, Windows Mobile phones tend to be marginally more hackable than Android ones...)

i advice you read this instead

Anonymous's picture


same argument, pragmatic view. linux isn't just code, give it a rest. else, cry me a river.

You must remeber the bias of the author of this piece

Nick Haddock's picture

Unfortunately, you must not take this piece as being unbiased as Ms Linton has a long and well documented sworn dislike of all things Ubuntu, why I don't know.

I use Linux - specifically Ubuntu on the desktop as it just works. I use Redhat on servers and I have used pretty much all of the major distros at one time or another - I equally appreciate them all. At this moment in Linux's evolution, if you want a great Linux desktop experience , then *buntu should be your choice. This doesn't mean I'm going to stop using Redhat on the servers, I just use what is best for a purpose. You must also remember that this brings a lot of jealousy from some people, it's human nature.

I was at a FreeBSD talk in London last week, and people there started talking nonsense about Linux, until I talked them around and we started talking facts.I can see that ZFS is a great filesystem , so why can't they see that btrfs is also great, whats the issue. It is as others have commented, human nature I'm afraid.

To say that *buntu has not contributed to the development of Linux, is I'm afraid just very silly, and makes the people who say such things also sound silly. There are more people using Linux today , than at any point in it's history, and only a fool would not credit at least part of that to Ubuntu.

You must also always remember that there is now a commercial angle to this whole debate, Redhat/Suse and Canonical are all competing for enterprise dollars/pounds, which I'm afraid can cloud the judgement. I have been in a meeting where a Redhat salesman was using all this nonsense to prove his case, and it just sounded ridiculous.

Well, I'm not an OS bigot I enjoy using them all. I use mostly Linux , but I have started using Mac OSX on an iMac and iPad, and they are good if a little too locked down. I have several Windows virtual machines for when I need access to applications that just run well on that system, and there are a few. I have an Android phone - which some people don't even consider runs Linux - even when you do an about, and it shows the Linux kernel release.I will no don't get an Android tablet later this year, why wouldn't I?

This argument is just daft and a waste of everyone's time.

Alas, the Real FOSS Emerge

Linux for College Students's picture

Fact is, per the terms of the GFDL, Canonical could contribute absolutely ZERO code to GNOME and the Linux kernel and it'd still be 100% within its rights. I suggest that there may be some correlation between how downstream one is with the percentage of their code, er, upstream. Count me as completely unsurprised at the current dist-up.

As a thrice-removed downstream actor within the Linux world, I'd fully expect Canonical to be principally involved in downstream affairs. And it has indeed done that in an enormous way. Canonical is often slammed for its marketing efforts, fueled by its otherwise nonsensical six-month release cycle, but such is precisely the appropriate domain of a downstream distro. It does what the folks upstream just are not.

My own distro, UberStudent Linux, is one step further downstream. Do you think we have plans to contribute to GNOME or the Linux kernel. Not in the slightest.

We do, however, have solid and very tenable plans to advance Linux into a historically hard-to-crack market segments, i.e., the higher education and advanced secondary school markets, places that neither Linux nor GNOME nor Debian nor Ubuntu (or Edubuntu), nor even Red Hat, have really done anything with of note.

You see, UberStudent, is already involved in FULL-TIME matters, ones that GNOME, Debian, and Canonical aren't really thinking about. BUT, what they all *do* think about absolutely makes it possible for UberStudent to think about what it thinks about.

I'm venturing that a good section of the people crying sour grapes at the current dist-up are, at core, crying sour grapes over the first instance of the bare GFDL finally coming to confront them face-to-face. Really, I do understand feelings of having others take your work and "get the credit" and benefits from it. It feels awful, like robbery, betrayal.

But if you dislike this, I suggest that the core issue at play is much more one with the GFDL than anything else. And yea, that's got far larger any implications than the current dust-up.

To get credit isn't the problem

KimTjik's picture

As one who is a bit irritated at Canonical, something that has grown since the day it evolved, I can honestly tell you that I'm not at all concerned about not knowing users and watchers giving Canonical credit. If Canonical would have been as frank about it as you are, instead of making statements that implied something else, all would have been fine.

I don't fully understand your argument about downstream activity. If there ever will be any point in downstream activity suggestions and solutions have to go upstream. Otherwise we'll only end up with bunch of ugly and differently patched distribution.


Bas Hekking's picture

What a stupid discussion. Everyone seems to forget that Ubuntu did more for (desktop) Linux adaption in the world than all the other distributions together. It's not all about contributing code. It's about marketing linux and making software usable, in which Ubuntu is defenitely making the biggest progress.

No, it didn't.

Adam Williamson's picture

"Everyone seems to forget that Ubuntu did more for (desktop) Linux adaption in the world than all the other distributions together."

Oh really?


I don't think there's any proof whatsoever of that assertion.

I believe Canonical group has

Jakes's picture

I believe Canonical group has less business motive. Being an Ubuntu user I am glad to hear that they are back

@Filtered by Mark

cbleslie's picture

His blog. He'll do what he wants.

Well might be the reason that

Anonymous's picture

Well might be the reason that RH has 3000+ employes and keeps hiring especially to engineering and Canonical has about 300? Don't menitoning Novell that has even more associates...

Such math doesn't work

KimTjik's picture

What you forget is that Red Hat might have a log of employees, but they also add code to a lot of ongoing projects, kernel, virtualization and whole list of bits and pieces we all use in our systems. Whatever we think about Novell, that company too is involved in a lot of projects making the desktop a more fun experience.

Since these companies already are very busy and Canonical claimed that they instead focus on the desktop, which in this case must mean Gnome, then we could expect to see some significant Canonical footprint. You don't need a lot of engineers to make an impact, especially since a company like Red Hat doesn't make the desktop its main focus.

Its also apparent that after

Arup's picture

Its also apparent that after Canonical's announcement recently that they are entering the enterprise server market which is RH's territory for its bread and butter, this sort of response from RH was all to be expected. Greg is a former RH architect after all.

'Former' being the key word

Adam Williamson's picture

Yes, 'former'. So why would he care what happens to Red Hat now? It can go bankrupt for all Greg cares.

I dunno. I stay loyal to a

mikesd's picture

I dunno. I stay loyal to a few placed I've worked at that treated me well.

That which does not kill me only postpones the inevitable.

Sure, but

Adam Williamson's picture

Sure, but there's a difference between 'staying loyal' and 'fighting their battles for them'. Obviously I overstated for comic effect, I'm sure Greg would be sad if Red Hat went bust or something, but he's not likely to spend his time fighting Canonical in the server market on Red Hat's behalf when he's not actually working for Red Hat any more. He has a new day job after all =)

Debian is primarily KDE? News

Micah's picture

Debian is primarily KDE? News to me.

Same. The install CD's/DVD's

Chen Xiao-Long's picture

Same. The install CD's/DVD's install GNOME by default.

Filtered by Mark

LinuxLover's picture

Of course, Mark uses a 3rd party to filter anything other than glowing praise from the comments to his blog. Very Steve-ish...

Filtering for spam only

Mark Shuttleworth's picture

@Filtered by Mark

Akismet is a standard service for filtering blog comments against spam. I've been using it for years and it works very well. There's nothing in the filter that's specifically aimed at criticism, constructive or otherwise.

Akismet flags some messages as "definitely spam", I never review those, there are thousands every day. It puts others up for moderation, and I review those every couple of weeks. If your message is in there it will get posted. And some it lets straight through, usually if they don't have any links, and don't look like they could be advertising anything.

And I only delete messages that are particularly vile and unprintable. I think I've deleted less than 10 messages in the years the blog has been up. You wouldn't want them on your blog either, regardless of your views on Ubuntu, Canonical or me.