On March 4, 2007 I started the Ubuntu Maryland Local Community Team. Now on March 4, 2011 I’m announcing to the community at large that I’m stepping down as leader of the group I founded.
This is a decision that has been coming for a while. Part of it is just the amount of time I’ve had with the role of leader. I believe I’ve taken the group as far as I can. I don’t feel that I’ve blocked any thoughts or ideas in my time, but I want to make the change as visible as possible and allow the group to take things in a different direction with new blood at the helm.
The other, larger part of the decision is that I don’t believe that I’m the right person to lead the Ubuntu Maryland team in the change (from my perception at any rate) of Ubuntu as a Canonical driven and managed project rather than a community managed project with guidance from Canonical.
When I began this group I believed in the Ubuntu project was a community driven distribution that was supported by Canonical and guided in some ways to their commercial needs. After all, they were a company that were going to specialize in support for the Free Linux distribution. They were going to develop software and services around the distribution, some closed and some open source. In order for them to do so they needed some say in the technical direction of the software that was being included and some configuration nudges here and there. For the money they are putting up to support it its a fair and easy trade off for the project.
I was happy with Canonical’s position and guidance until the announcement of UbuntuOne. Here was software in two pieces, one open source and one closed source. The client on the desktop is open and free for anyone to use, modify, etc. However the piece that makes it all useful, the server, is closed. When I read articles and heard podcasts on the matter I kept hearing ‘the client is open source’ and when challenged about the server being closed ‘well that’s Canonical’s right to do’ which I agree with. The fact that it is closed was disappointing but my bigger gripe was the use of the Ubuntu name in the product. The Ubuntu brand, to me, meant that the software was as open as possible. Here our guiding hand took the name the community had built around openness and applied it to a closed product. The claim (true enough) was they were doing what they are allowed to legally with the trademark. But what about the ethical aspect of the decision in this situation?
Then we have some design changes made in the last LTS release, including the controversial ’buttongate’. In the Ubuntu LTS release we wind up with a desktop whose design looks and feels much like a MacOS desktop down to the buttons being moved to the left rather than the right. This desktop was a design change made, from my understanding, inside of Canonical and thrust upon the Ubuntu community. A standout disturbing memory of this time period was the interview with the Canonical Design Team Lead Ivanka Majic on the Ubuntu-UK March 17 podcast. At least one of her staff used Photoshop for their work rather than push for retraining. A little odd but okay, that’s what he’s comfortable with using. The big bombshell was that, when asked, she didn’t think the interface was very Mac like, “I don’t…I really don’t” [the part in question is from 58:05 to 1:01:16] (she admitted to owning a Mac and Windows machine, so she’s used it before). After being pressed by Popey she said there was some back peddling, I think, and she ultimately admitted to ‘I’m happy to be compared to Mac. They do design well’.
Another issue, around the same time, was an announced switch from Google to Yahoo as the default search provider. Okay, by going with Yahoo the search referral fees would be better for Canonical. Not a problem, except that even for those upgrading their default search provider would be changed. Really? Changing a preference like that due to referral fees? That’s making changes to a decision that users have made for their workflow. There may be some that don’t care, but at least ask first before making a key change to a users experience. Its two clicks to get back but a rude invasion.
Next up, assigning of copyright to Canonical is a bad idea. Why not just GPL the code contributions? What this means, from my seat, is that a project like Unity can at any time become a closed product from Canonical. As Unity is the default desktop going forward, contributions and work will be focused on this desktop. A year from now(for example) Canonical can close source Unity, offer an API for developers and effectively prevent others from using Ubuntu as a base for other distributions. What of the work the volunteers have done for the desktop experience? Should it be closed, Canonical can prevent a fork by claiming copyright to their significant portions of the code.
Now we’re at the Banshee amazonmp3 plugin issue, my tipping point. Canonical has done what they are legally allowed to do which is modify a plugin that is under an open license. However the modification affects the donations that the Banshee project makes to GNOME. The Banshee project decided to create this plugin to purchase MP3s from Amazon and use a referral link that would send 100% of affiliate fees to GNOME. They ship what would be their donations directly to where they want the funds to go to. Canonical made a ‘poorly worded’ offer to the Banshee group saying we will ship the plugin and take a 75% cut of the proceeds and 25% goes where you want it or we don’t ship the plugin. Banshee responded that they would choose not to ship the plugin. Canonical responds ‘We’re doing it anyway but for the PR spin we’ll also contribute 25% of UbuntuOne music sales via Banshee to GNOME’. The community was never told of this decision to modify the plugin until it was announced.
So I went to the IRC Community Council meeting on 3/1. If you search the logs starting at 21:19 you’ll see the topic change to the Banshee plugin discussion. I’ll leave it to you to read through it and think about what quotes are important in context and which are not. My take away from that meeting was that Canonical is of the opinion that any app that uses affiliate fees to generate donations is a fair target for them to intercept. From all the comments made from the Canonical side of the table (official statements from Mark, Canonical employees and unofficial statements made by Canonical employees) it would seem that the upcoming donation framework in the Software Center will be subject to percentages taken by Canonical, which I see as a fair thing to do overall. Where my mind goes is will the percentages between Canonical and Banshee set the precedent for the divisions of donations made via the Software Center?
Another puzzlement I have after that meeting is wondering if I’m part of the peanut gallery or not as I am not sure who in the Ubuntu world exactly falls into that category.
There was one other item that happened and I attempted to get it resolved privately in email. I am not going into the details here as it was never a public issue. There were some email communications between myself, Community Council members and Canonical employees and the situation was never resolved to my satisfaction. Between the action that led to the initial email to the final email which promised more communication that never happened I was a bit upset.
With all that to take into consideration, I am stepping down as the leader of the Ubuntu Maryland team. My last official day as leader and contact will be April 30th unless we transition things before then. Our group is an informal one and as such we don’t have a chain of command. I’m currently leader by right of no one else claiming the title. Now we need someone to step up and claim it. As I mentioned in my email to the team earlier this week the fairest way I can come up with is to ask for volunteers who wish to take over leadership of the team to drop me an email. I’m setting a March 31st deadline for those who wish to step up to let me know of your desire. On that day I’ll take the list of volunteers and we’ll get together in person, on IRC or some other manner and hash things out from there.
I’m not planning to disappear or go away. I still see myself using Kubuntu (my preference for some time) going forward. I’ll still recommend Ubuntu or Kubuntu as preferred distributions for new users. My involvement in other groups such as the Columbia Area Linux Users Group and OpenSource Maryland will go on unchanged.
(As normal, the above is my opinion and thoughts and not that of any group I am a member of)