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."

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