The Shade Of The Ecosystem

One of the things I love about human nature is that it can be so unpredictable at times. It is this essence of the human condition that generates untold surprise and pleasure, tender moments that define us in so many ways. Unfortunately, the very same condition causes clued-up people to write essays of total unparalleled nonsense. I know I am a bit late to the party, but I felt compelled to write a few words.

Adam Williamson, community wrangler at Mandriva, a friend of mine, and someone who I have shared an over-sized coffee with, has posted a vitriol filled rant entitled Why I don’t like Canonical. In his diatribe he claims that “what Mr. Shuttleworth did with Canonical and Ubuntu was divebomb the distribution pool“, going on to assert that “Ubuntu is fundamentally in a position of deeply unfair competition within the Linux distribution market“. He goes on to claim that we ‘orrible people at Canonical have been “patently unfair” in producing Ubuntu and believes that Mark has used his millions to shake up the distribution economy unfairly. He says that Canonical is “not remotely self-supporting and does not plan to be self-supporting in any reasonable timeframe“.

Bollocks.

Lets take a look each of these delicious nuggets of nonsense and break them apart.

Lets first of all focus on Adam’s belief that we have “divebomb[ed] the distribution pool” and that we have been “destructive to the ecosystem of Linux vendors“. I am not entirely sure how exactly the impact of Ubuntu has been destructive to distributions. Red Hat is profitable, Novell is so too. Linux has been growing extensively as an Operating System and moving into more and more markets. Netbooks are shipping a range of Linux distributions. Oh, and according to Adam himself, Mandriva “is currently not profitable, but its losses have been reducing steadily for a while, and we are projected to hit break-even reasonably soon, if all continues according to plan“. Strange, if Ubuntu was so destructive, surely Mandriva would be making more losses instead of fewer? Of course, Adam may be referring to the impact of Ubuntu on entirely free distributions with no commercial backer such as Gentoo and Debian, but in his article he builds a metaphor around a wood carving economy and a rich man. I don’t think Adam will be losing sleep about Gentoo and Debian tonight.

With his focus clearly on Canonical as the poisoned challis, he asserts that “Canonical doesn’t have a business plan, it has a collection of vague aspirations and a distinct tendency to throw money all over the place and hope it sticks somewhere (viz. Ubuntu Server)“. He goes on to refer the “pile of flimflam that is Canonical’s services page” and encourages us to “compare it to a real company’s“. That real company he refers to, rather interestingly, is not Mandriva, but Red Hat. Oh and just for good measure he says that we can be compared to Microsoft for such a flagrant abundance of problem solving, George Washington style-ee.

Friends, I can assure you that our business team does not have “vague aspirations“. Quite the opposite – they are a pretty determined bunch with a nose for where we can monetise Ubuntu, and they live and breath the goal of getting Canonical profitable with a passion; they are not exactly sat around playing Frozen Bubble and twiddling their thumbs. But importantly, a very significant focus in what we do is to deliver Free Software to people. We are all (business team included) incredibly passionate about Free Software. We believe that Free Software is positive for IT, positive for technology, positive for culture and positive for business. Even though Adam criticises us for ShipIt and sending out millions of free CDs, the reason why we do that is to get Free Software in people’s hands easier, and I would argue that that significant investment has been worthwhile. How is this a bad thing?

There is no reason why Canonical can’t have a strong commitment to Free Software and build a profitable business around Ubuntu to not only help further the development of Ubuntu and Free Software, but to bring it to new and exciting markets, such as laptops, netbooks and more. To do this, our senior management team have invested extensively in business operations across the company, touching every aspect of what we are working on. And this has reaped rewards including deals with Dell, netbooks, custom engineering, ISV and OEM relations

Sure, when Canonical started out life it was a heavily engineering based company, but this is no different to every other tech startup. It usually starts out with a bunch of geeks in a garage, except in our case it was a bunch of geeks in Mark’s kitchen. When the early incarnation of Ubuntu was ready, Canonical expanded and diversified, adding products, business units, training, administration, HR, and more. This is not any different to any other company. If Mark really had no interest in making money, why would he build Canonical as a business? Why not just register a charity? It just doesn’t make sense.

Adam’s assertion that we “throw money all over the place and hope it sticks somewhere” is also naive. We have a desktop product (Ubuntu Desktop), a server product (Ubuntu Server), a mobile/embedded product (Ubuntu Mobile), a netbook product (Ubuntu Netbook Remix), a development portal (Launchpad), and a systems management product (Landscape). We also invest in the bazaar project and various other Free Software projects. None of these to me seems particularly unusual. Every Linux distributor has a desktop, server, mobile and netbook products, and with Adam’s angst based around the Linux distribution world, I fail to see how we are throwing money at the problem – I see us producing products that compete.

But this is the crux of the issue. Adam’s carping seems to be founded in the norms of a free market. The Linux distribution space is one with a theatre of characters, and each of these different characters has notable and less-notable points, us included. I can understand how people may disagree with our decisions, but I fail to see how investing a lot of money in Free Software is a bad thing. Mark has invested heavily in Ubuntu because he believes in Free Software and believes it is important in technology, and he believes that he can build a business around it. I am not expecting you to believe him or even believe me, but I fail to see how this investment is a bad thing. Whats more, its not just us – the same goes for Red Hat, Novell, Intel, Collabora and others. Many of those companies invest hugely – Red Hat do excellent work in many areas of the stack, Novell hire people like Miguel and Bockover to work on Free Software, Intel do extensive driver and stack work, Collabora work on multimedia technology. I didn’t see Adam complaining when IBM invested $1bn in Linux back in 2001. Adam goes on suggest that Mark has been somewhat selfish about investing millions of dollars of his personal wealth in Free Software; “I think, if he’d been willing to be more selfless, he could have had a more positive impact with a plan which worked together with the existing ecosystem instead of just blowing it out of the water and saying ‘it’s my way or the highway’“. Astonishing. Not because Mark is my friend and the founder of Canonical, but I find that perspective astonishing when applied to anyone who has invested so much time or money into Free Software and to accuse them of being selfish.

Personally I am intensely excited about the market around Free Software. I am excited that Canonical shows such promise and that there is healthy competition with Red Hat, Novell, Mandriva and Xandros. I am also excited about the ecosystem of smaller development companies – companies like Collabora, Opened Hand, KDAB, BitRock, ThinkOpen, Imendio, Songbird, Fluendo, and hundreds more across the world, all managing to make a buck with Free Software in new and different ways.

And you know what the best thing is? When we all stand shoulder to shoulder against Microsoft, whatever the flavor of Free Software desktop, thats a pretty big army…

  • http://jonreagan.wordpress.com Jon Reagan

    Sounds like Adam has a few sour grapes over Ubuntu’s success…

  • http://www.mikesplanet.net Mike Basinger

    Brilliant response Jono.

  • http://www.fooishbar.org daniels

    Guh. The argument makes no more or less sense if you s/Ubuntu/Linux/, and s/Mandriva/Microsoft/. Seems a bit ironic for a ‘free software’ company to be cracking the shits at free software, but that’s life, I guess.

  • http://paul.kishimoto.name Paul Kishimoto

    (here via Planet Ubuntu) Addressing Adam Williamson’s criticisms is sort of needless; they are grossly misplaced because he hasn’t grasped the goals of Ubuntu. (He also doesn’t seem to like anonymous commenters, so you get an essay)

    That you assert “Mark has invested heavily in Ubuntu because he believes [etc.]” is telling. A lot of people in Ubuntu do that, but you rarely see it elsewhere. Mark Shuttleworth does a thorough and excellent job of articulating a vision and a set of values that define Ubuntu. Everyone in the community seems to know, share and repeat them.

    That is a sign of strong leadership, and also one of the things needed to accomplish transformational change. Most Linux distributions change only incrementally. Shifting development foci each release requires lots of effort getting people behind the vision for change; it is risky; and people who can’t understand the vision, or are used to slow progress (Mr. Williamson), are rubbed the wrong way.

    However, there’s also a greater potential reward. Everything the SABDFL says makes it clear the goal is neither financial nor short term nor does it even depend on Ubuntu; it is solving Bug #1. Canonical will eventually be profitable, certainly—but anyone who closely examines the Ubuntu vision knows that is only a means to an end.

  • ethana2

    Rock on, don’t let the naysayers get you down. We’re changing the world. ~Typed from my Ubuntu Dell. Who would have thought I’d have the freedom to choose Dell with Ubuntu? Not this dude, evidently.

  • Götz Waschk

    In Germany, we say “Wes Brot ich ess, des Lied ich sing”, that’s absolutely true for you (and Adam).

  • Jean Azzopardi

    I have to say the same, sour grapes. Even though I don’t use Ubuntu anymore (I prefer Arch Linux now), and Ubuntu wasn’t my first distro, actually Fedora Core 1 was, Ubuntu was the first distro that really worked on my machine. Mandrake never worked well on the machine I was using then, and neither did Mandriva. Subsequent releases of Fedora were hit or miss, SUSE’s Yast put me off, etc. With Ubuntu, I found a nice community at the ubuntuforums.org, a stable distro with very good hardware support, and it was pretty damn easy to use.

    I suspect that had it not been for Ubuntu, I and several of my friends would have been stuck with Windows. Ubuntu was the distro that really focused on enabling desktop users, and got them hooked to Linux. Sure, it has its faults, every distro does, but for what’s it’s worth, I thank Mark for divesting his resources into enabling Linux for the masses.

  • http://nermal.org Nermal

    Don’t feed the trolls … :)

  • Mark Coleman

    I think its pretty transparent to anyone who read his blog that this is pure jealousy. What Canonical have, and what you cannot monetize is brand. As an unintentional side effect of Canonical’s hard work, people in blogs, Digg and other social sites are now saying “How to clean your Ubuntu desktop” and “how to install MAME in Ubuntu” etc etc, and they feel that their contribution to the Open Source community is overlooked. If I were working on a distribution or in the Open Source community I would want a single brand to become popular. Linux is viewed as niche, difficult and fragmented. Canonical’s Ubuntu is rallying point for evangelist to highlight the benefits of Open Source, and push widespread adoption. He should be pleased, because it enriches the whole Open Source community. Lets get people off of Microsoft’s products first, and worry about infighting and who’s best when the war is over!

    I enjoyed reading this post. Thanks!

  • Zac

    Well said Jono. I know Mark and you and everyone involved in Canonical/Ubuntu is doing great work. I like to see to a competitor to Microsoft to give to the people, and you guys have that vision. I made a promise to myself that for every six months of using Ubuntu I would make a donation, it’s the only way I can give something back at this time. Maybe, if people can afford it, give a small donation and if millions do it, it does add up to fair amount. It will help to make Ubuntu/Linux improve at a faster rate. I just find it hard to use my Ubuntu for free, whereas with Windows I spent many hours of grief and had to pay for it! I would rather give my money to this cause than a cent to Microsoft, they don’t need it. Anyway, that article he wrote was brainless.

  • sgtrock

    @Gotz Waschk

    Could you translate, please?

    thx

  • Benjamin Otte

    You failed to explain what you think will happen when Mandriva and friends are bankrupt and Mark loses interest in funding your job.

    I agree that that’s an ulikely outcome, but I’d be interested how one arguments the case of never earning enough money.

  • http://blog.zrmt.com andylockran

    meh.. this is a good response, but this kind of post happens all the time.

    When will people see that the future of free software lies in building a profitable business ‘around’ free software – as is the case with Canonical. Red Hat have a fundamentally different approach, as they monetize the software directly.

    Personally, I prefer the Ubuntu way.. what we produce is ‘free and open’ – and if you want help with that.. we’ll charge.. rather than ‘pay for this, and you get service too.’

  • Kannibaal

    @sgtrock I’m not german but I think “Wes Brot ich ess, des Lied ich sing” roughly translates to:

    The person/company who gives me bread, that persons/company’s song I sing.

    So in this case Jono and Adam are implied to sing the song of the master that gives them the bread on their table.

    That’s the gist of it. (correct me if i’m wrong)

  • http://grumphog.wordpress.com/2008/11/14/mandriva-vs-ubuntu/ Mandriva vs. Ubuntu « toros and the grumpy groundhog

    [...] Mandriva vs. Ubuntu Érdekes vita alakult ki a szabad szoftveres blogoszférában: Adam Williamson, a Mandriva community managerre kÅ‘keményen odamondogatott blogjában a Canonicalnak. Már a cím is elég beszédes: Miért nem szeretem a Canonicalt. Mondjuk én nem is találkoztam volna ezzel a bejegyzéssel, ha nem olvasgatom ma az Ubuntu planetet (nem a magyart, hanem a nagyot), ahol Jono Bacon reagált a vádakra. [...]

  • Andreas

    @sgtrock The translation is: Who pays the piper, calls the tune. Literarly it’s: Whose bread I eat is whose song I sing.

  • Tormod

    (commenting here since Adam requires login on his blog) Adam says Ubuntu can’t survive on small money like for instance SimplyMepis (=they) can: “Because they use the work of others. SimpyMEPIS is based on Debian. (It was, for a short time, based on Ubuntu). Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this. But it invalidates your example. A ’small distro’ like SimplyMEPIS can only work by being a derivative of a larger distro.”

    Hello Adam, I’d like to inform you that Ubuntu is based on Debian. Get a clue. All others: move on, nothing to see.

  • http://www.blogistan.co.uk/blog/ Matthew Smith

    Last time I checked, Canonical was not involved in Mandriva Linux’s development, so they aren’t to blame for the main reason for its failure to thrive: it sucks. That is the long and short of it – release after release has had bugs which should have been picked up at beta stage, and not exactly subtle and mysterious ones (like the failure of the boot menu configurator to let me add an entry to the boot menu, or the “Wizcancel.” pop up which appears when you back out of an action).

  • Stoffe

    Hmm… Mandriva was one of the distros I tried and discarded before settling on Ubuntu, when I switched from Gentoo. From what I can tell, it has continued to be a worse offering.

  • http://www.happyassassin.net Adam Williamson

    Guh. I really hoped this was going away. I’m frankly sick of the entire topic at this point, and it’s been rehashed to death. I’m entirely unsurprised that all of the above commenters entirely missed the point, for the record.

    “I am not entirely sure how exactly the impact of Ubuntu has been destructive to distributions. Red Hat is profitable, Novell is so too.”

    Red Hat was profitable before Ubuntu ever showed up, and makes its profits in a market where Ubuntu doesn’t basically exist. I talk about Red Hat at length in all the various comments on the original article. Novell, if it’s actually making any money on Linux (the figures aren’t sufficiently split out to be entirely sure), makes them in the same place as Red Hat – the enterprise. The only company making money off desktop Linux at the moment is Xandros, and I’d be very surprised if that lasts.

    “Strange, if Ubuntu was so destructive, surely Mandriva would be making more losses instead of fewer?”

    I would posit that we’d have been making a profit for a couple of years by this point. But that’s basically pulling what-if’s out of your ass, it’s a pointless game.

    “With his focus clearly on Canonical as the poisoned challis,”

    nitpick: chalice.

    “Friends, I can assure you that our business team does not have “vague aspirations“. Quite the opposite – they are a pretty determined bunch with a nose for where we can monetise Ubuntu, and they live and breath the goal of getting Canonical profitable with a passion; they are not exactly sat around playing Frozen Bubble and twiddling their thumbs.”

    …a great introduction to a follow-up paragraph that doesn’t happen…the one where you explain what it is your business team does, rather than sitting around playing Frozen Bubble. (fact fans – FB was written by a Mandriva employee. :>). You “can assure us” of this – oh, goody. I’d prefer not to be assured, I’d prefer for your or Mark to just TELL US WHAT THE FRICKING PLAN IS ALREADY! Is it that hard? Is it really?

    “How is this a bad thing?”

    I explained that perfectly clearly in the post. You don’t really seem to engage with any of my points, so I don’t see the value in re-hashing them.

    “There is no reason why Canonical can’t have a strong commitment to Free Software and build a profitable business around Ubuntu to not only help further the development of Ubuntu and Free Software, but to bring it to new and exciting markets, such as laptops, netbooks and more. To do this, our senior management team have invested extensively in business operations across the company, touching every aspect of what we are working on. And this has reaped rewards including deals with Dell, netbooks, custom engineering, ISV and OEM relations”

    More baffling with bullshit. Indeed you have ‘reaped rewards’, but apparently these aren’t making any money yet. Are they going to? How?

    “Every Linux distributor has a desktop, server, mobile and netbook products”

    No, they don’t. That’s just plain wrong.

    “I fail to see how we are throwing money at the problem – I see us producing products that compete.”

    …backed by gigantic piles of money no-one but Red Hat or Novell can match. That’s my point. It’s a lot easier to ‘compete’ when you have a giant money spigot.

    “Astonishing. Not because Mark is my friend and the founder of Canonical, but I find that perspective astonishing when applied to anyone who has invested so much time or money into Free Software and to accuse them of being selfish.”

    ..aaaaand there goes the Thou Shalt Not Criticise Saint Mark approach again.

    A lot of us invest our time and money into free software, including myself and you. I get criticized all the time. Frankly, this is the kind of argument that really bugs me. It’s like saying you can’t criticise some rich nobody, ever, because they once gave 0.1% of their total wealth (phrased as “several million dollars!”) to a charity. If investing our time and money into free software was a free pass against criticism, then you and I should receive nothing but fawning praise for the rest of our lives. I don’t expect that, why should you expect it for Mark?

    “Many of those companies invest hugely – Red Hat do excellent work in many areas of the stack, Novell hire people like Miguel and Bockover to work on Free Software, Intel do extensive driver and stack work, Collabora work on multimedia technology. I didn’t see Adam complaining when IBM invested $1bn in Linux back in 2001.”

    Yes, exactly. Everyone contributes. IBM invested $1bn in supporting existing development projects; it didn’t say “screw you guys, we’re going to do the exact same thing you’ve been doing all along, only with more money”.

    “and that there is healthy competition with Red Hat, Novell, Mandriva and Xandros”

    I don’t consider that healthy competition. Red Hat and Novell are not in the same market (no, Jono, you are not in the server market. There’s less significant use of Ubuntu Server than there is of Mandriva Corporate Server, and we wouldn’t register as a ripple on Red Hat’s radar). Mandriva and Xandros are pretty thin pickings on the competition scale: Xandros are only even significant because they got the Eee deal which turned out to be a rabid success. I doubt they’ll keep it a lot longer. Who else is competing in the desktop Linux market? That’s the problem.

    Okay, I’m done. This is pointless. You’re not engaging with any of my points, just going on and on about how spending lots of money on developing a distribution is a valuable contribution to free software development. I don’t really think it is, and I explained why. If you want to have a constructive discussion, answer the points I raised, don’t just grandstand.

    And commenters – for people who are accusing me of sour grapes, you sound pretty freaking bitter yourselves.

  • krill

    I globally agree with Adam Williamson. Not everything is black or white, so some of what he said might be reconsidered, but still. Jono replied in a pure “Ubuntu zealot way” : no arguments(what’s the business team doing?), bad arguments (IBM invested money IN Linux, not created a copy of it), etc… What made me run away from Ubuntu is this kind of zealot attitude.

  • http://root37gmailcom.postsome.com/2008/11/29/screenography-1014-capture-screen-to-movie-or-flash-formats/ New blog of root37gmailcom » Blog Archive » Screenography 1.014 – Capture screen to movie or Flash formats …

    [...] We are not evil. Really. [...]

  • me

    Disclaimer: I’m not a native speaker and i’m not familiar with blogpost, comments and available formatting. Despite those shortcomings I will try to express my opionon as reasonably as possible.

    Overall i like Ubuntu and what Ubuntu did when it entered the market was important, it was a needed Wake-Up Call vor Desktop-Linux, but… When all’s said and done, Adam Williamson has a point and You (Mr. Bacon) know it und try to dismiss it as “a vitriol filled rant”. I’m sure you know he has a point, the alternative would be (no offense) you being to small-minded to see past his mildly vitriolic statements. An yet this isn’t a viable alternative, because throughout your whole blogpost you bend his arguments by citation and omission, how only a highly intelligent person could do it.

    To give this babble of mine some meaning: I have to ask you, Why?

    You start out calling Mr. Williamson “a friend” of yours, but then pick his arguments apart by part-citation and delibarate omission, like one (me at least) would only do to friends in private and then only to tease. Doing this in public, seems to imply your out to ridicule him. If you are (out of good reason) convinced that he’s truly wrong with his opinion about Canonical, you should have countered his arguments with sound reasoning. Best regards, me.

  • http://volkerradke.wordpress.com/2009/01/29/goodbye-ubuntu-hello-fedora/ Goodbye Ubuntu, hello Fedora « Volker Radke

    [...] Antworten, die Spaleta und Williamson erhielten, haben mich letztlich davon überzeugt, künftig eine andere Distribution als Ubuntu zu [...]

  • Dale Clarke

    As a serious non-geek newbie of 5 years to linux. I have one comment Ubuntu allowed me to access linux while the others could not even get passed the installation stage. Simple.

  • Fred McKinney

    I detect little more than jealousy run amok here myself. Mandrake was, in fact, my first official introduction to Linux, back in 2004, a few months before Ubuntu even debuted. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of cool things Mandrake (now, of course, Mandriva) did that I liked, and my computer I had at the time worked fairly well with it, but like another poster said in here, it was not without bugs, and that ultimately drove me to check out other distros.

    Given how buggy Mandriva has always been, at least in my experience, if you want a good solid reliable desktop that’s a lot like Mandriva, I would suggest PCLinuxOS instead, which is based on Mandriva, but is much more stable than Mandriva. I had that on my computer for quite a while until I saw for myself what KDE4 was like via a live CD of another distro (don’t remember what distro that was).

    I liked PCLinuxOS real well and was a big fan of KDE3, but I absolutely felt completely lost in KDE4. To me, it sucked so bad that I switched to GNOME — and Ubuntu — and that’s where I am today. Like Adam and others like him, I used to think that Ubuntu was little more than overhyped. Now that I use Ubuntu, I’ve come to the conclusion that I was wrong in that assessment. To me, Ubuntu mopping up the floor with Microsoft can only be a good thing, and I believe that all Linux distros will ultimately benefit as a result.

  • Alessandro

    Great!!! Linux is great! Ubuntu is great! Ubuntu is linux! Who needs problems? Who needs Windows? All we need is Linux! If is Ubuntu it is better! So long

  • http://twitter.com/MichaelKargl Michael Kargl

    Well I have to say that both blog entries were the best and most interesting discussions I have ever read. Even though these are a little old though. I am very glad you clarified all of those points and I totally agree. Marks dreams are clear. He follows both OpenSource, in bringing free software to the market, and FreeSoftware, in bringing free and reliable software to the masses. Personally I never felt like there is a downside when using this operating system, nor did it ever occur to me that I am somehow misled by canonical nor limited in the use. I hope that canonical accomplishes its goals and it grows in his lovely and hard working community.