Recently there has been some fire flowing about Canonical in the community. These concerns started off as sporadic at first and then we saw a small blog avalanche (blogalanche, if you will) as a number of folks piled onto the ride.
I feel somewhat trapped in the middle of all of this. On one hand I work at Canonical and I believe Canonical are acting in the honorable interests of Ubuntu in helping to build a competitive and forward-looking Free Software platform, but I also feel a sense of personal responsibility when I see unhappy members of our community who are concerned with different aspects of how Canonical engages. Essentially, I sympathize with both sides of this debate; both have the best interests at heart for Ubuntu.
From my perspective there is a balance that needs to be struck. Our community needs to be transparent and open, but also nimble to react to opportunities (such as the convergence story), but also Canonical play an important role in helping us to drive Ubuntu to the masses. We need to be able to work in a way that maintains our Ubuntu values but also gives Canonical the opportunity to get our platform out to the market effectively to reach these users.
I believe one cannot exist without the other; Canonical cannot deliver this vision without our community and Ubuntu would be significantly debilitated if there was no Canonical providing staff, resources, and other investment into Ubuntu. Canonical is not evil, and the community is not entitled; we all just need to step back and find some common ground and remember that we are all in the circle of friends.
This symbol is as potent to me as it was back in 2004.
When I got interested in Linux back in 1998 and wanted to make it my career, my primary motivation was to bring freedom of technology to everyone. This is what attracted me to Ubuntu and ultimately working at Canonical. I don’t want to be rude to other distros who are quite happy within their remit of making a great OS for Linux enthusiasts, but I frankly don’t want to settle for that. I want Ubuntu to be the choice for Linux enthusiasts, but for us to not stop there and also bring Free Software to people who have not yet been blessed by it, and who may be new to technology and the opportunities it provides.
Achieving that goal is not just as simple as making the source code available for the platform and setting up a bunch of mailing lists. It means delivering simple and elegant user experiences built for the needs of our users, consistent and beautiful design, professional-grade quality, strong hardware and software partner relationships, certification across a range of hardware profiles, training, responsive security, diverse marketing and advocacy campaigns, and many other areas. Both Canonical and the community contribute extensively to provide these things that we need to get over that chasm, and importantly, each provides things that the other cannot.
It turns out that building this simple, ubiquitous Free Software experience for everyone is hard. We can’t just settle for the tried and tested approach of pulling the latest upstream software and integrating it into a single Operating System. That is tough, intensive and grueling work in itself, but to achieve the goals I mentioned above we need to be constantly challenging ourselves to innovate and go faster in how we deliver this innovation to our users. We need to always challenge the status quo…not for the sake of being different, but for the sake of not restricting ourselves to tradition and instead helping us to be better at what we do, and ultimately achieve our goals of getting Ubuntu into the hands of more people.
We saw this challenge with Unity: that was a tough, but necessary decision. While we suffered over the firestorm around Unity, I think it ultimately put us in a better position, and now we have a single convergent user interface that spans across multiple devices and we will soon have a single convergent Unity code-base across these devices too. In an era where desktop shipments are down due to the impact of phones and tablets, we are no longer trapped in a form factor that has had a decreasing scope of opportunity for us; the desktop is just one part of our wider convergence vision. This opens up the market for Ubuntu and the Free Software and Open Source values we encompass. While some people in some comment boxes will still bring the hate about Unity, I think that overall it has put us in a position to get Free Software in the hands of more people than if we didn’t make that difficult decision, and the sheer level of interest in Ubuntu for the phone, tablet, TV, and desktop is testament to that.
Put it in my pocket, on my lap, on my desktop, and hang it on my wall.
While making tough decisions is important, it is also important that we maintain our Ubuntu values too. One core value is that our platform and community are open for discussion and participation, so everyone is welcome to help put their brick in the wall. Our archive has long been open and there are many ways to contribute, and while some of these projects were secret before-hand, now everything is out in the open and available for participation. Some may disagree with the rationale of keeping things private, but particularly in the case of Phone and Tablet, the “big-reveal” helped us to have a big splash and generate more press interest and partner inquiries, and thus help us along to our vision.
Importantly though, we made the source and community on-ramp available as soon as we feasibly could. The code for Unity, Ubuntu Touch, and Mir is publicly available, and we are eager to invite people to join and shape those projects. This week we also ran our very first online UDS, with the goal of making the Ubuntu planning process as open and accessible to all as possible, not just those who could travel, and on a more regular cadence. All of the videos, notes and blueprints from that event are archived here. I am confident for the next event we will have an even smoother, better-run UDS, with even more participation.
We are now in a position with a clearly articulated vision around convergence and cloud orchestration, full source availability, daily builds of images, and public mailing lists and IRC channels to have those conversations. Everything is available in public blueprints and tracked at status.ubuntu.com, and we have many outreach campaigns to help our community participate in this vision, such as the core apps project, port-o-thon, regular cadance testing, charm quality improvements, SDK participation, and other areas. Our community should expect our projects to be open, accessible and collaborative, and if they are not, please raise your concerns with the Canonical engineering managers, or talk to me either publicly on my weekly Q&A video hangout at 7pm UTC every Wednesday on Ubuntu On Air, or privately at email@example.com, or by contacting me on Freenode IRC – my nick is
jono. My door is always open.
Things are never perfect in a community, and I am not suggesting we are perfect either, but I believe we are at the cusp of an incredible opportunity to get Free Software and open technology into the hands of the masses, not just by wishing it to be true, but because there is genuine market opportunity for it to be true.