The Ubuntu Ethos

I love working with the Ubuntu community. I love the opportunities, challenges and people that occupy it. Each day is filled with a diverse tapestry of challenges, be it growing new teams, refining governance, developing strategy, or simply chewing the fat with Ubuntu and upstream contributors from around the world. No day is ever the same.

Something has been bothering me though recently. On my team we work on a huge range of different topics and ideas. We work closely with our community to identify areas of focus and scale, and we indulge in a raft of technical and social puzzles. Despite the hundreds of emails and hours of discussion, I have recently felt like something was missing. It was if we have overlooked something; the small detail in the painting that makes it all make sense.

This conundrum was beginning to chew me up. Although work distracted me with the day to day goings on in the community, when taking a walk to my local coffee shop, driving the car or taking a shower, my mind was trying to uncover this missing link. I knew the answer was buried away in my brain, but I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I mentally cycled through all the different parts of our community, the teams, the people, and the direction to try and find it. Nothing.

Then while at the recent Ubuntu Developer Summit, it finally struck me.

Ubuntu is a remarkable phenomenon. A worldwide network of enthusiasts united by the desire to make a difference. Some join us for the technology. Some join us for the community. Some join us to narrow the digital divide. Each of us is attracted to Ubuntu for our own reasons, but a great many of these reasons have one underlying element.


Whether freedom of technology or choice. Freedom of accessibility, language or collaboration. Or possibly the freedom to innovate and inspire. Ubuntu is a philosophy forged in software; a striking opportunity to make a real difference to real people.

This is not a theory. This is not a formula conceived by social scientists in a university. Millions of people around the world are using Ubuntu right now. Each one of these computers, whether a laptop, desktop, netbook, mobile device or media center is infused with our shared ethos.

It turned out that the missing link I was searching for was simple. We need to regularly reconnect to our ethos. We need to fall in love with Ubuntu again.

Right now, we are a fork in the road. Do we want to compete, or do we want to win?

Like the wider Free Software community, Ubuntu grows every day, and as we have matured we have taken on the responsibilities of growth. Across the hundreds of Ubuntu teams all over the world, our swarm of contributors manages thousands of packages, bug reports, documents, translations and more. We have developed open governance and councils for handling this growth. We have produced systems and processes to handle the dazzling variety of activities and avenues of contribution that are available in our community. We have also had the spotlight shone on our baby. Ubuntu is regularly the subject of reviews, books, features on television and radio, conference coverage and more. We have all worked long days and late nights and each and every day more problems are solved and more details are painted into the Ubuntu portrait.

Throughout this seemingly endless stream of emails, bug reports, wiki pages and more, its easy to lose sight of why we are doing this. It can be easy to let the details dominate our thinking, obscuring the incredible opportunity before us. It can also be easy to forget that every contribution we make to Free Software is helping to drive forward that real and tangible difference I spoke of earlier.

Ethos is a powerful force. Throughout history, people have come together to challenge the status quo. They are driven by ambition, finding strength within themselves to make things different. This is what our community needs right now: we need to reconnect with our ethos. It has always been there, but as we grow and face new challenges, we need to use our ethos to define our solidarity. Ubuntu will always change and grow, new blood will join our community and our elders will retire, but the ethos that binds each and every one of us never changes.

The potential is electrifying. Just look at LoCo Teams as one such example. We have over 180 LoCo teams spanning nearly every country on the planet. Every day these teams get out there and spread the word of Ubuntu. We have teams such as the French LoCo who had over 4000 people attend their Intrepid release party. But it doesn’t stop there. The Ubuntu Forums have over 700,000 members contributing over 6 million posts. Our community is actively translating Ubuntu into over 190 languages. We have over 300 diverse teams covering pretty much any technical and creative endeavor you can think of.

But throughout all of this potential, we all need to take the responsibility to remind ourselves of the ethos that binds us all.

Shortly after I joined Canonical as the Ubuntu Community Manager I received an email from a contributor in Africa. The sender informed me that where he lived there was sparse Internet access and little access to computers. He told me that he had seen Ubuntu demonstrated in a local town and our ethos inspired him to join the community and participate. To do this he walked two hours to the local town to an Internet cafe, used his own money to buy an hours worth of Internet access to contribute to Ubuntu, and then walked two hours home afterwards.

That email has always stayed with me. Firstly, it is a reminder that we need to make every second in his and everyone else’s hour count. We need to smooth every interaction. We need to optimize every process. We need everyone to not only feel that their hour was productive and satisfying, but it was fun and rewarding.

But possibly the most salient of lessons in that email was just how much commitment people can have to an ethos they share and want to be a part of. When we feel the ethos and the mission, we are ready to take on the world.

I want us to regularly reconnect to that ethos. I want us to celebrate it, enthuse each other and unite behind it. But this is something we need to do together. We all need to regularly share why Ubuntu and Free Software is important to us. We need to regularly inspire each other and help balance out the day to day details with the wider opportunity before us. Winning is not just about producing great software, it is also about building strength in each other to really knock the ball out of the park.

So, today I would like to ask each and every one of you reading this to do one simple thing to help us all reconnect and share our ethos. If you have a blog or use Twitter or, I would like to ask you to take five minutes to write down why Ubuntu is important to you, and what aspect of our ethos attracts you and motivates you about Ubuntu. How does our ethos around freedom excite you about the project? If you don’t have a blog, use IRC, mailing lists or anything else you can think of. The key point here is in sharing with others about what Ubuntu means to you. If we work together to continue to share our ethos, it will not only be healthy for our community, but also healthy for the next important chapter in the Ubuntu story.

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  • Flimm

    If I had to summarise the Ubuntu ethos in less than twenty characters, I would say “humanity to others”, not “freedom”. That’s what makes it so great. Freedom is just the most appropriate means to the end. The freedom ethos ensures that hackers (not crackers) can hack, the Ubuntu ethos makes the hacking beneficial to everyone. The freedom ethos does not include community, but community is essential to the Ubuntu philosophy. The latter insists on things like localisation and accessibility, the freedom ethos does not consider it. That’s why Ubuntu is being praised as being so user-friendly. When people contribute to Ubuntu, they’re expected to do so in a way that’s useful to everyone, not just the techie elite. All that resulted in more GUIs, more intuitive programs and in less hassle for the user. Plus, the Ubuntu philosophy covers things like support which the freedom ethos doesn’t. It’s more inclusive. People don’t need to be hackers to be ubunteros, just humans that use technology. Isn’t it great? :smile: And we still get the cool stuff that freedom offers with Ubuntu.

  • LinuxCanuck

    It took me more than five minutes, but my effort is here: I owe much to Ubuntu and to Linux in general. Taking the time to write is the least that I could do and hope that many more will take up the challenge.

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  • ethana2


    p>I am what Ubuntu means to me. I don’t just use it, I contribute to it, I personalize it, I spread it, I support it. My entire family and, er, circle of friends, knows I’m an Ubuntu fan. With much help from fabrice_sp, I packaged the latest stellarium for intrepid– lately he also helped me create a new package for the driver for this digipro graphics tablet.

    I want to be able to boot Jaunty off a CD, plug in a digipro, have it Just Work and be able to say that I did that. I am Ubuntu. Of course, it’s bigger than just me… If some random person on the street asked me for Ubuntu support, I’d give it to them. Heck, I met an Ubuntu user in my History of Architecture class and did just that. I don’t think any other platform has that kind of community. As for my packaging efforts, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if it weren’t for the fine people who actually know what they’re doing, guiding me every step of the way– they’re very helpful, very patient, very polite. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them, and many people I know wouldn’t be where they are without me. –That is the Spirit of Ubuntu.

  • redbrain

    Ubuntu for me means a greater set of learning in total freedom and total ease of use! No longer should innovation be led by judges and marketing people but by the enthusiasts! And ubuntu brings this to a reality :)

  • Alex Turner

    The sad part is that producing a quality product is not part of the ethos in the open source community. Linux has been around far longer than OS X, and yet lags behind horribly on the desktop. What is the point of being free if all you get to eat is rice and beans. Linux is rice and beans compared to OS X’s steak and lobster. I used to think Linux was the answer, and then time passed, and linux crawled along, and Apple gave us OS X from almost nothing. I couldn’t even figure out an application in linux that could download a simple podcast every week, there are a dozen mp3 players, and I can’t download a podcast regulalry from a single one, I can’t print to a single one of my three printers, and wireless network access is even more flaky than in Windows Vista. Not the hallmarks of a winning OS IMHO.

    I’m not trying to be a naysayer for the sake of it. I’m trying to give people a realistic sense of where Linux is, but few in the community have any sense of perspective. There are thousands of developers, with no plan, and no direction, all building the same application a dozen times over, all failing to implement the advanced features user’s want and need because they all started from scratch. This is the open source community. 20 window managers, 20 mp3 players, and 0 decent diagramming tools. Let’s talk about what the implications of a development community with no good diagramming tools are. Do they have any way of effectively communicating ideas or drawing out a plan. It would seriously appear that they don’t. This is why I gave up on the open source community. I hope yet to be proved wrong. But I’m not holding my breath any more.

    I wish you the best of luck, and the day when Open Source gives me a serious alternative, I’ll be off of proprietary crap in a heartbeat. Until them, I’m forking out a fortune in software licensing every year.

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  • BobCFC

    Be excellent to each other

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  • eddy

    @ Alex Turner: i personally know 8 other people using ubuntu without any problems. we’re talking different printers, mp3 players, and wireless. all no problem. i’m also a podcast junkie and absolutely love the newsreader in opera. no problems there. if freedom was that important to you, you would buy compatible hardware and stop complaining. after all, you bought compatible hardware with OSX, didn’t you?

    i actually get more done in linux than with windows. and i don’t need the eye candy, wallet robbing MAC addiction. i guess i’m just a genius.

    and oh yeah, great article jono. keep the faith.

  • Ben

    After reading what you wrote and sympathizing with you, I think the problem may not be a “missing link”. You might need a more efficient and straightforward management team. Basing a non-profit organization in a business (IT development) setting is a contradiction in terms. It leads ultimately to confusion of roles. Those who worked really hard at the beginning to “make it happen”, end up hiring other people to “make it happen”, but for less money than the executives. If it’s a non-profit, why do the managers make more than the “employees”?

  • Kieran Simmons

    @Alex Turner – OS-X was built on a large amount of open source software but you know this, I assume. Apple took FOSS and bought in proprietary components and glued them together with pretty. Bizarre Cathedral 1 pretty much covers my thoughts on Apple. Why one button (or zero on the new laptops)?

    Maybe there is an Ubuntu community but I have yet to find it. I know that everywhere you find a Linux person you find someone willing to help and to me the best part of Ubuntu is the forums. I don’t even remember a distro having forums before Ubuntu but I am likely to be wrong about that, Linux used to mean mailing lists.

    The worst part is probably the bug reporting system which seems to consist of either asking whether the bug was fixed by the next version of Ubuntu 6 months after the bug was filed or dismissal out of hand. If I compare the Debian community to whatever Ubuntu has, I find the Ubuntu one lacking. This is probably an issue with scale and it’s probably fair to say that if you can figure out how to install Debian you have a little more geek in you than is required for Ubuntu and that leads to bug reports being taken seriously.

    For me at least, Ubuntu is currently the best bad option and it will be relegated to a vm as soon as I can replace it. Maybe I need to be back on Sid for a while to remind me how often I ended up without X.

    Maybe you have to be at the top of the Ubuntu community to see it?

  • sulfide

    It’s quite funny that if you take away the non-free software from this free ethos you’re left with something quite unusable for the average person. BTW I totally agree with you Alex Turner.

    I do hope everyone the best of luck and one day maybe mom and pop could use a Linux desktop.

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  • Shane Kerns

    Nice blog entry. Is Ubuntu working on new artwork other than the changing desktop wallpapers whose basic color still remains the same? I really hate the crappy color (no pun intended). I love Ubuntu coz it is truly end user friendly but lately I have noticed both Fedora and OpenSuSE closing that gap faster than Ubuntu is able to handle. The artwork for example changes significantly on those distros with pretty much every new release. Usability wise I have no complaints. I think it stems from the fact that it is easier to find help for Ubuntu than any other distro since it is soooo easy to use that even tech writers assume that everyone is using Ubuntu when they write How Tos and things like that. Quite frankly I hate that because it gives end users the impression that Ubuntu is Linux and vice versa. Generic how to like compiling from source are more helpful than asking someone to type apt-get that way the how tos would work for any distro. I know, I know new users hate using the command line, its a story as old as sliced bread but I think we need to embrace Linux for what it is right now until someone writes a universal package manager that can and will be used on ALL distros. I know of package kit but its not really usable ready just yet. I think Linux distros should converge around one package manager and user friendliness be it a power user or programmer or just an end user. The fact that there are over 500+ distros out there is quite frankly highly redundant and useless to over 95% of the Linux community not to mention mid boggling.

  • Arthur Marsh

    I can share some of Alex Turner’s frustration (having run Visio before and after Microsoft took it over, and for another example try finding a SIM card reader that works with GNU/Linux), but would like to know what distribution he runs and what specific printers and wireless networking he has that doesn’t work.

    I am currently running Debian unstable with which remains fairly current with the vast proportion of free software whilst working, and use the mailing list to newsgroup feature of to read and post to relevant mailing lists for Debian and specific packages.

    All GNU/Linux users who want to contribute to the community should at least be constructive about what doesn’t work for them (filing bug reports and having some contact with other users via mailing lists for example), and help make the software and community a better place.

  • Troberg

    Well spoken, and I agree completely.

    By the way, is there anyone with a spare laptop to send to the diehard Ubuntu fan in Africa? He deserves it.

  • Dave Lane

    To me, Ubuntu and Debian are two of the greatest examples of “enlightened self interest”. We contribute because by doing so, it makes it better for all of us. I participate because a) I can make a decent living doing it, and b) because by living that way, others can similarly “scratch their itches” and find inspiration and passion. The somewhat cryptic translation of Ubuntu – I am what I am because of who we all are – seems to me to be the best way to create a more personal version of “enlightened self interest”. It’s the real free market.

  • David Gerard

    My favourite thing about Ubuntu is: if a newbie says “I don’t understand how to do this”, Debian says RTFM … but Ubuntu considers that a reportable bug that should be fixed. That’s humanity to others.

  • rob enderle

    I gotta agree with thw freedom part. It is what drew me. That and the gratis part.

    I got Ubuntu on a Dell Mini 9 and it looked like total ass. I tried to work with it and got rid of the god awful Rhythmbox and Totem and installed VLC and Amarok instead then flushed the craptastic Pidgin for Kopete because I like to use the webcam with Yahoo IM. The freedom (and free is good too) to do this is what makes Linux unique to the user. Some people might like being told to eat only vanilla ice cream.We free software users have the freedom to make GNU-Linux what we want it to be whether it is to run a desktop like KDE which gives me the freedom to to choose as opposed to the ‘we know what’s best’ atittudes. It gives me the freedom to use XCFE on old computers we recycle on our free time and give out to various organizations. My OS suits MY needs just as it suits the needs of my parents who are the traditional web surfers and who prefer something like gOS.

    Some people cant deal with frdm. Too much choice scares them.

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  • Rod Anderson

    Ubuntu means a system for my computer that works far better than my windows 98 worked. I have programs that do everything i want and more and they didn’t cost me a cent. As a retired blue collar worker with a limited income, I simply wouldn’t spend much money for software. If someone E-Mails me something that won’t open, thats their problem not mine. I don’t have the technical ability to contribute, but I want to thank all of the people that do. My contributions are limited to telling my friends. I do believe open source software will dominate in the long run. Why would you pay for what you can get free.

  • Antton

    Ubuntu has been really a turnpoint in my computer history. First time i use Linux in 1999 but experience was more fear and depression than joy. 9 years ago i was sure that this kinda Linux will never make breakthrough. But after installing Ubuntu Hardy Heron at june 2008, i feel that first time since early 1990’s i was intrested in computers. Ubuntu has worked so good in my computer that i propably will never come back to Microsoft OS. I’ve told people about Ubuntu and seven of my frieds have started to use it.

    But i guess the best in Ubuntu is Ubuntu forums and xommunity. You can’t find that atmosphere amoung Microsoft users. That’s why i can say that Ubuntu has been one of the best things in computer world during last 5 years.

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  • Paul

    I’m sitting here in my Ubuntu t-shirt on my heavily ubuntu branded netbook running ubuntu. I work at a probably one of the largest multinationals in the world.. and while while we have our statutory windows computers running IT dept prescribed software, more and more are being reformatted and starting to run ubuntu instead each month. It’s not that it is free… we have windows and office site licences… it just works, and you don’t need a an MSCE degree to get things working when they break; you just need Google and vim.

  • Mackenzie

    @ Alex Turner: Hi, I live mostly on rice, beans, and noodles. I love it. I’m so glad my parents no longer force me to force down their disgusting fillet mignon. I only gave in once on lobster. I had one bite. Never trying that again.

    Rice & beans taste much better than steak and lobster. You need a better analogy.

  • Zac

    Very nice piece Jono. This is what it’s all about, you’ve hit it. Thanking everyone for making this all work so we can all enjoy it. May all have an ubuntu season. :)

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  • erl

    I do agree with Alex Turner.

    I did try using linux when RH relaese their 5.2 version ( I still have the disk and manual). I had one computer at that time and since I do not know much about linux then, I was not able to boot the computer after installing RH, lost my files when I had to reformat the hd and reload win 3.1.

    Since then I have not touched linux until I saw ubuntu 6.0 (x). Liked it and continue to learn thru Ubuntu forums and searches. But still I relagated it as spare OS to fiddle around. Can’t spread the word to use Linux/Ubuntu coz if I, who has been using computer since 8088s came out have a hard time configuring Linux/Ubuntu, how much more for those who are just starting? Someday, when it is able to allow the grandmas to operate it without the hassles of configuring everytime you need to run something, then maybe I will go full throttle with Ubuntu/Linux.

    My suggestion to Ubuntu/Linux developers is for them develop this for the ordinary person. Make it such that the benefit of using it is immediately experienced by the user instead of frustrations.

    That’s how Apple’s doing it with using the Free software available. That’s how MS conquered the world.

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  • Jan

    Hi Jono,

    thanks for your introduction. You are right. Spirit and enthusiasm is the driving force, not administration or just solving technical problems.

    Nevertheless I would critizise your analysis a little bit. Freedom is the driving force, not ethics.

    I would define freedom as the right to do everything you want unless you do harm individuals or the society. You are right if you say that not only freedom of choice is relevant but also (or even more important) freedom of (technical) innovation, expression and communication. These aspects (and even more) is bundled in the ethics of “Free Software”.

    That is why Richard Stallman (whom I admire, because he made with his GNU license the best hack ever in world history) defined his “four rules of freedom”. But even his (im my opinion visionary) concept does not tell you what ethical behavior outside of software hacking is. And that for good reason.

    We should be careful to invent to much ethic rules. Ethics is like politics very difficult to define and often not precise and accurate. You can argue very easy what ethical behavior is or not. And if a community finds a compromise it lasts only same weeks or months. The question “what is ethical behaviour or moral behaviour?” is in a permanent state of flux.

    We should concentrate Ubuntu ethics on ethics of producing software code. We should concentrate on spreading the word of Stallman’s “Four Freedoms of Software”.

    This rule set gives everybody an unbeaten offer of freedom of (technical) innovation, expression and communication. Moreover it has good effects in society. People get the chance to understand our modern communcation framework (Internet, Email, next-generation-telephone VoIP, etc.). They can take part in inventing the future and are enabled to influence communication processes. In my opinion this is a kind of democratisation.

    This should be communicated. Freedom is something that grows by use and shrinks by non-use.

  • Michael @ QuinnCo

    @Alex Rhythmbox will regularly download your podcasts, it is Ubuntu’s default music player and comes pre-installed.

    Also, I have extensively used Dia for diagramming. It’s interface is closer to the Gimp than Visio, but I’ve never had a problem getting it to do what I wanted. I especially like being able to convert class diagrams into code templates. It’s available from the repos.

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  • jaduncan

    Do you think so? I have a completely free system save flash, and swfdec is coming along nicely.

  • jaduncan

    You don’t just use Openoffice Draw for the diagrams? Or, as the name would suggest, Dia? (

  • Poulo

    In way of thinking and living the word Ubuntu says i must be more of a human than a lion.what does it mean to be human ? it means to be in a good position of living with other people since “man is by nature a social being not an Island”

  • Poulo

    In my way of thinking and living the word Ubuntu says i must be more of a human than of a lion.what does it mean to be human ? it means to be in a good position of living with other people since “man is by nature a social being not an Island”


  • Poulo

    In my way of thinking and living the word Ubuntu says i must be more of a human than of a lion.what does it mean to be human ? it means to be in a good position of living in harmony with other people since “man is by nature a social being not an Island”.Ubuntu i quess is the dynamic storm for renewal of humanity.To be a lion is equally similar to being a friend only to a member of your kind and that is totally a different ballgame in the spirit of Ubuntu, where there is no margin in relations,in this spirit we all dig our hands in one dish for meal dispite the color and the length of our hairs.

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  • phillw

    As they discuss the dropping of i386 support on the Lucid testers forum – I hope it is not (well, actually, regardless of the pole – it’s not going to be.) Pop on and air your opinion

  • phillw

    A wonderful comment, as we gripe about dropping support for “older architecture” I argue that we must not turn our back on the guy who walked that 2 hours, I have quoted you, but I’d appreciate you popping on and saying how your views of supporting such people has changed in the intervening years, I’m kinda hoping you’re still on the support them – But, you are entitled to change your view. It’s over here –>



  • john

    Just to say I cant put into words how good Ubuntu is but its big in Japan to 😉

    Thanks to all who make this possible and looking forward to see where it all leads, HNY 2 all

    Newcastle UK user version Karmic

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  • Ranch Hand

    Nicely written, nice sentiment. At the time it was written I even believed it.

    One thing that struck me as I read it today was the email from Africa.

    If you folks had any real interest in folks like that Ubuntu would not be one of the hardest Linux OS’ to connect to dialup.

    Perhaps you should try building your “ethos” instead of forging it. I am, among other things, a pretty fair Blacksmith. Ethos is not something you “forge” in the meaning you imply.

    Forge as in forgery, I could now admit may be the truth.